No Greater Love (by Krystyna)

Summary:  Murder and an accused, and trouble in town.  But is all as it appears.  Fifth in the Home is the Sailor Series.

Rating:  T  (201,700 words)

Home is the Sailor Series:

Home is the Sailor
The Iron Horsemen
There will Always be Rainbows
The Pledge
No Greater Love

No Greater Love

Chapter 1

The roof collapsed in on itself sending up a sprawl of sparks and dark smoke in the midst of which could be seen the vermilion reds and oranges of flames. Small at first, gathering momentum from the winds created by the furnace that in itself were created by the fall of the wooden shingles and trusses.

Glass that was still left in the few windows exploded, bursting out from the walls which in themselves began to fold in upon themselves. It seemed as though every action was slow, to the point of frustration to the man watching, but bit by bit the walls collapsed, and he had to edge his horse away as the heat became hotter than a furnace.

Finally when he was quite satisfied he turned his horse aside and made his way from what had been a peaceful home, a happy home. Now it was nothing more than a funeral pyre …

He gave it no more thought now. The job was done.

…..

A man lay among the grasses, long grasses that hid him from view of any one who passed by. It was night, and it was dark. There were stars in the sky and anyone in that vicinity would have wondered why at times some of them seemed obscured, as though smoke clouds or storm clouds perhaps, had drifted across them.

He didn’t notice. He lay there very still and the blood from a head wound seeped into the ground to feed the roots of the grass in which he had fallen. Nearby his horse cropped the grass, if the man were conscious he would have heard the sound of the animal munching contentedly but as it was, he was totally unaware of anything.

Not so far away a small stream trickled over rocks, making its way to the river some miles further along. The horse ambled its way to the water and drank long and deep. Afterwards he shook his head, and then returned to where his rider still lay. He nudged the man with his muzzle, but getting no response to his urgings he wandered off and slowly settled himself down to sleep.

The clouds drifted over the face of the moon and everything was shrouded in darkness. it would seem that no one would know about a cabin that had burned down, the smoke could not be detected and the flames had died down to mere flickers, hidden by the sloping hillside that had kept the couple hidden away for so long. No one could see the man lying in the grass with his horse, still saddled and bridled, sleeping close by.

The man who had sat and watched the destruction of the house, knowing he was also watching the death of a man and a woman, continued riding through the dark night. He didn’t need the light of the moon to show him the way, he already knew it by heart.

Because he knew the track so well, and the man in the grass was totally unaware of it, he rode past the other man, never noticed the horse. He whistled a low tune, soft and melodic for he enjoyed music. He didn’t hurry his horse, there was little point in doing that, he would get to where he wanted to go soon enough.

Chapter 2.

Some people in town called it the Fall Festival, and others referred to it as the Autumn Fete. Most of them acknowledged the fact that for them this would be the last big social occasion when they could get together on the meadow and enjoy some fun and games. Those who had not won any prizes in the spring festival, hoped they would gain something now. Those who had not entered any of the competitions may be tempted to do so this time. Best of all was the fact that since they had last met up in Spring time there would be changes and whether it was to do with profit and loss, or family matters, romantic or otherwise, there would be a lot of catching up to do.

It was still like summer. The grass was dry because of the lack of rain, but no one complained on this particular day because who wanted to be strolling around through wet grass or on muddy soil. Bunting flapped and snapped in a breeze that was still warm and did not give any hint of whether or not there was snow on the mountain tops. The trestle tables were set up and gaily decorated, and it was not long before they were laden with the usual bounty … jars of this and that, cakes little and large, hams, chickens, steaks all cooked to a turn and off side a little was the carcase of the steer donated by the Ponderosa, dripping with the sauces Hop Sing had created for everyone to enjoy as it roasted over the big open fire.

It was a Fund Day too. Several worthy causes would gain much from the competitions and games and from the bidding on various items that would be put forward in an auction later. The Orphanages and Foundling Homes would certainly benefit for as Paul was only too willing to tell everyone, they were growing fuller all the time. Obviously no one paid that much attention to the Preachers, Pastors and Ministers sermons on maintaining high morals.

Everyone dressing in their best and meeting together, mingling and gossiping.

Adam Cartwright smiled down at his wife, Olivia, as she strolled alongside him, carefully guiding the stroller over tussocks of grass in order not to bump Nathaniel too much. It wasn’t that he couldn’t use his legs now, for he was no longer a baby, but it was because he could use them too well and so his mother had felt it safer for all concerned to keep him restricted to the stroller.

“You look as lovely as the day I first saw you,” Adam whispered in her ear, and she smiled, her eyes smiled at him and she didn’t have to speak for him to know she loved him. A slight pressure on his arm was her thanks, a small smile playing around their lips sufficient for any to see how content they were with their lot in life.

Reuben and Sofia watched all the proceedings with glee. He put his hands in his pockets to resist the temptation to touch anything, while she skipped alongside her father, snatching at his hand and smiling up at him. She had been dismayed at discovering that even now, after all this time, her friend Ella had not returned to town. It seemed to her that enough time had elapsed since her friends departure but today, well, today she was going to pretend that it didn’t really matter. She would just enjoy being there and now she could see Rosie Canaday and waved her hand releasing that of her fathers in order to do so.

Joe and Mary Ann Cartwright walked towards them, arm in arm, with Daniel kept close to his father for who could forget the time when he had helped himself to the very bottom cake of a pile of the most delicately pink iced dainties, with the result of the whole mountain of them toppling down and rolling all over the table and onto the ground. Constance looked adorable in her stroller and squeaked excitedly at seeing Nathaniel, who ignored her stoically.

“Seen Hoss?” Joe asked amiably, “I’ve looked in all the usual places but can’t find hide nor hair of him.”

Olivia laughed “He’s with Hester over there -” and with a nod of the head indicated where her brother in law was standing with his father, talking earnestly to Candy while Hester and Ann appeared to be comparing notes with regard to their youngest infants statistics. Erik Cartwright with his freckles and red hair, kicking fat legs in protest at being restrained and Samuel Canaday squealing for attention.

Sofia ran to meet her cousins Hannah and Hope, all wearing their prettiest and newest dresses, and ribbons in their hair. Nathaniel upon seeing Hope, shouted “Hope, Hope …” and stretched out his hands to her, but she just ran on, wanting to be part of the little group of girls who were now hurrying to join Rosie Canaday.

It was fun to run among the adults, to find their friends, to wander among the stalls and buy sticks of candy or bags of popcorn. Sofia and the girl’s ran in a cluster of multi coloured ribbons and skirts, flounces of petticoats of pinafores.

Reuben found himself surrounded by The Gang. David Riley had strutted up looking very important with his face alight with some grand scheme and his hand clutching some Chinese crackers.

“Where did you get them?” Tommy Conway exclaimed, hardly daring to believe his eyes and fearful of some calamity about to fall upon them.

“From Ho Chin”

“Did you?” Reuben’s eyes opened wide, and he fingered the crackers thoughtfully, “What shall we do with them?”

“Well, the greased pig is over there,” David said and jerked his thumb in the direction of the fenced enclosure where the greased pig snorted in all its splendour.

“Wow”” exclaimed Reuben who had never realised his potential to be the naughtiest and most easily led child in town.

“You could tie it on the pigs tail.” David said with a smile of impish delight.

“Why me?” Reuben said, hesitant now and stepping back from Davy. He saw Tommy looking anxious and Jimmy thoughtful.

“Because -” David took in a deep breath “Well, because no one will think it was you. You’re such a goody-goody, Reuben. Now, me -” he thrust out his chest as though he were about to show off a full range of medals for good behaviour “they’d expect it of me. But not you …”

Jimmy and Tommy nodded. The newest member of The Gang, Richie Bellshaw, looked pensive and wished he had been asked, like an initiation he thought, but good naturedly he shrugged and let them get on with it.

Reuben promptly accepted what had been said as some form of compliment and took the crackers with excitement mounting up inside him. They now wandered off to the greased pigs pen in an innocent, swaggering way. Reuben slipped into the pen, having first paid his cent for the purpose of the game was to try and catch the pig and keep hold of it for as long as possible. Not many were around to watch just then and after so many attempts already the grease was already wearing off. Reuben fell off the big broad back several times before he could grab the tail and fasten on the crackers.

The pig ran off squealing, throwing him off and against the fencing with a bang. After rubbing his head Reuben scrambled out of the pen and scowled at the pig who ran around and stuck its snout through the railings and snorted at them.

“Well done.” breathed Davy and the other three boys nodded in support.

“How you gonna light them?” Reuben asked now dusting off his pants carefully. It was Jimmy who produced a match from his pocket and they ran and hid behind some crates while Davy pulled out a taper which Jimmy lit.

“Right, Reuben, now call the pig over and give him this old apple” Davy handed the apple over and Reuben sauntered back to the pen.

“What? Back already?” old Bill scowled at Reuben, having been a terrible child himself he had an instinct for trouble and sensed that something was up now. Of course, his childhood stretched into the far distant past so far as Reuben was concerned.

“I’ve got an apple for him.” Reuben said and produced the apple “It’s a bit bruised, but he’ll still like it, won’t he?”

“Sure he will” Bill replied and grinned, even patted Reuben on the head in a silent form of apology for thinking bad thoughts about him earlier.

As he turned to call out to others to come and try the game, Reuben offered the pig the apple, he could feel its hairy chin tickling his fingers for he didn’t want the animal to snatch the apple away before the taper had been lit.

When Riley beckoned to him he ran off and the pig finished the apple and turned to the centre of the pen. Phillip Pearce came along, paid his cent and went into the pen.

“Oh no,” Davy groaned, “He would, of all things…I didn’t reckon on him turning up. He’s such a fearsome big baby.”

“The pig’s big and Phil’s only small” Reuben said, fearing the worst and scared now that Philip would be hurt.

But it was too late to worry about that now. The crackers went off, fairly zipped into action. Everyone nearby jumped for gunshots and crackers often sounded very much alike.

The sheriff was soon running in the direction of the whiz bangs with his gun in hand, ready to shoot the gunslingers. Mr Garston dropped the slice of cake he was eating and it fell into Mrs Garston’s parasol which was so daintily rolled by her side (she found it several days later when she opened her parasol on the way to church. Everyone was shocked of course, but much too polite to say anything about it ..to her face anyway).

Mr Hansworth split the wine he was tasting all over Mr Saunders’ shirt (his only one and beautifully pressed that morning by his wife). But worst was to come…because the pig went plain mad!

Never had the poor creature been so terrified. It squealed and squealed in frenzy and ran round and round in circles. Philip was knocked down three times and when he finally managed to get to his feet he made a run for the gate. The pig reasoned that the lad was the sole cause of all his problems and ran full pelt at him, which made Mrs Pearce squeal much like a pig herself.

Then Philip fell over and hit his head on the ground and lay very still and the big pig ran at him very fast but Old Bill managed to hold him back a little so then the big pink pig raced through the stalls as the crackers continued to bang and snap behind him.

To add to the poor creatures misery were the squeals and shouts that were going on all around him. Old Bill ran and yelled behind the pig who had taken complete leave of its senses and was now charging down the Main Street. Behind Old Bill ran the five naughty boys, and several townsmen, including Joe Cartwright, Candy Canaday and the new sheriff, Nate Carney. The more people joined into the chase, the more terrified the pig became.

It ran under one of the stalls. The tail end of a linen tablecloth somehow got entangled around the pig so that when he reappeared at the other end of the table he was trailing a long white sheet behind him. The stalls display of pyramids of fruit, so beautifully polished and arranged by Widow Hawkins, Bridie Martin and several other ladies from the Hospice, rolled onto the ground and were trampled underfoot and ruined.

Old Bill was the first to slip on the crushed fruit and fell over. This resulted in those closest to him tripped over him, so that instead of pyramids of fruit there were now pyramids of people, with arms and legs gyrating in all directions.

Doctor Colby was in his buggy en route to the fields when his horses saw the big pink pig and the trailing white sheet and heard the squeals and shouts, and the snap and crackle of the crackers so that they reared up onto their hind legs and then galloped forward. Thankfully James was able to dismount before the buggy hurtled down the Main Street and thus came to no harm. The horses however took the buggy five miles out of town before they decided they were safe from pink pigs and white sheets.

Reuben, Davy, Jimmy and Richie were unable to run any further. Tommy had given up long before and disappeared in an attempt to appear innocent of this particular adventure. Although the other four were horrified at the chaos they were, sadly, also highly amused and collapsed with laughter, holding their sides and rolling on the ground from uncontrolled mirth. While Widow Hawkins and the other ladies lamented their loss of fruit, and Old Bill cursed his flying pig, and everyone was crowding around and either chasing the pig or gathering up the crushed fruit, the boys just laughed and laughed until they were nearly choking and were quite purple in the face long before order was finally restored.

Now came the recriminations, the accusations and the lamentations.

Old Bill remembered Reuben and the apple, and Mrs Pearce recalled David and Jimmy hanging around.

“No,” Mrs Carstairs “My Jimmy would not get involved in anything like that…”

“Certainly not,” Mrs Riley protested, although not quite so confidently as Mrs Carstairs had previously, “David would not do that…”

Olivia was not sure. Reuben had always been such a good boy. It was Uncle Joe who sighed, shook his head and looked at his brother “You had better go find him.”

Perhaps it was because Uncle Joe had done worse during his child hood and, like Old Bill, had an instinct about such things.

The four culprits (Tommy had remained as far away as possible) were found hiding under one of the trestle tables, sadly looking anything but contrite for their lips still twitched and although they stared at their feet and shuffled them a lot during their scolding their shoulders still shook every so often so that they had to be taken outside to be dealt with more severely.

When Reuben passed his mother, dragged along by the scruff of his shirt by Adam, she shook her head and looked so sad that his heart was filled with remorse and the realisation of what he had done hit him hard. He wept a little and begged to go personally to apologise to everyone, even the furious Old Bill, and even more furious Widow Hawkins! He remained very quiet for the remainder of the day.

By evening all was forgotten and forgiven and the dancing began and the Chinese lanterns twinkled in the trees around the town hall like a myriad glow worms, although glow worms could never have looked so colourfully pretty.

When the time to return home came, Reuben was nodding off to sleep, his face the picture of innocence complete with a smear of chocolate across his cheeks. He was tucked up in to bed and the door closed behind him very softly.

He yawned, opened his eyes and looked up at the ceiling and then he began to giggle. Chastisement forgotten, discipline ignored. All the wretched child could remember was the fun of chasing that pig down the street with everyone frantically going full pelt after it.

In her bed Sofia pulled the covers over her ears and grinned. It had been a good day, little Philip had not been hurt, and that fat pig had been the best thing to happen in years. She began to giggle, struggling to suppress the laughter with her hands across her mouth but the harder she tried to control the laughter the more it popped through her fingers in odd squeaks and snorts until soon she was laughing so loud that Reuben heard and then he began to laugh more loudly than ever.

Downstairs Adam pursed his lips and rose to his feet, he walked to the mantle and leaned upon it as he considered what to do … Olivia looked at him and sighed, shook her head

“It’s too bad,” she said quietly, “I can’t understand what got into him.”

Adam shrugged and glanced up to where the sounds of childrens’ giggles trickled downwards. “Give them a few minutes to calm down …”

He paused and smiled slowly, memories of Joseph Cartwright’s many exploits trickled into his mind, memories also of how Ben dealt with such escapades. He grinned over at his wife “Even when I was chasing after that fool pig I was thinking what a good day this was …” and his eyes twinkled roguishly.

Olivia frowned, and shook her head at him. Did men ever really grow up, she thought. She glanced upstairs, there was silence now. Sofia had drifted back into sleep, thinking of the letter she would write to Ella and the picture she would draw of the big pink pig. Reuben…he was too tired to think anything….

Chapter 3

Dr Finlayson had taken considerable care in piecing the bodies together once they had been extricated from the burned out ruins of their home.

It had taken days for the fire to burn out and then the shattered burned out shell to be safe enough for the Sheriff of Blakesville to attempt an exploration as to what had happened to cause the fire. It went without saying that the investigation included recovery of the bodies.

It didn’t even need Dr Finlayson’s expertise as a doctor to realise that the fire was not the cause of death to either Mr or Mrs Tombs. Deputy Matheson realised that as soon as he discovered the charred remains and that both bore a hole between their eyes that had shattered their skulls. Dr Finlayson argued on that point, claiming that the heat of the fire would have caused the skulls to shatter, as it had their teeth, but there was no denying the holes so neatly made between the empty eye sockets.

Once the good doctor had completed his task in laying out the bodies the sheriff came in to survey them. He was not above middle aged and had never seen or experienced the sight so it took him a little while to recover. The smell of vomit was an ever present aroma in the room for some time to come.

“So, they were shot and that was what killed them?” Sheriff Blakely said, holding a handkerchief to his mouth and trying to control his breathing as he looked down upon the remains of Mr and Mrs Tombs.

“I thought so at first,” Finlayson said quietly, and then stooped beside Mr Tombs remains and pointed to the rib cage “But he sustained these wounds before he was shot in the head.”

Blakely didn’t reply, he wasn;t looking too closely so it was Matheson who said in a rather dry tone of voice “Shot in the body several times?”

“And here.” Finlayson pointed to the leg where it was clear the fibia had been broken by a bullet at close range.

“What about – Mrs Tombs?” Blakely asked and stepped back a little so that the doctor could pass him and move onto the other body.

“Same …shot several times over before being shot in the head. Personally I would say that they were already dead before someone fired that final bullet. A sort of coup de grace kind of thing.”

Matheson nodded and sighed, wondering what the doctor actually meant but not daring to ask. Blakely understood that though, he also nodded and frowned, “So not content with killing them he made sure with a bullet in the head.”

“No,” Finlayson said as he stepped back from the tables and covered the bodies with a sheet “They were already dead. Quite dead. Whoever shot them – well, he did it for his own satisfaction I’d say.”

“If they were already dead, then what was the point of doing that?” Matheson asked and glanced over at Blakely who was staring at the white sheeted bodies with a blank look on his countenance.

“Well, once you find out who did it, perhaps he could tell you. Other than that I can only make random guesses.” Finlayson replied as he removed his spectacles and observed the two lawmen through myopic blue eyes.

Blakely and Matheson left the surgery and walked slowly back to their premises further down the block. Both men remained silent, deep in thought and sombre for neither had encountered such a situation before and solving the mystery now seemed like a mountain for them to climb.

As they pushed open the door to the Sheriff’s office a young man rose to his feet, hat in hand and ashen faced as he turned towards them “What news?”

Blakely’s shoulders slumped as he surveyed Grant Tombs, his adam’s apple jerked as he swallowed bile at the memory of the bodies, the parents of the man now seeking news, none of which could be good, after all he already knew they were dead.

“Sit down, Grant.” Blakely said, “Care for something to drink?”

Grant Tombs shook his head, he wasn’t really sure he had heard right, voices sounded at a distance to him just lately and he couldn’t always fathom out what was meant by the words people uttered. He hauled in a deep breath, and sat down, holding his hat tightly between his hands,

“Well, what did you find out? What killed them? The fire?” he glanced from one to the other “Was it the fire? Could have been, my Pa liked his drink, he may have been drunk and …”

“No, it wasn’t the fire, Grant.” Blakely sat down and then thought perhaps he should have remained standing, put a hand on the mans shoulder or something like that to show he had some sympathy for him. He cleared his throat, “Grant, was there anyone you know who had a grudge against your folks? Hated them perhaps?”

Grant Tombs stared at the sheriff and then turned his eyes to the deputy who surveyed him solemnly, both men blinked rapidly as though the scrutiny was too much and turned their heads away. Blakely cleared his throat again,

“Did you hear what I said, Grant? Do you know anyone who would have held a grudge against your parents?”

Grant sighed and bowed his head, he stared hard at the desk, then at the floor. He sighed again, “My folks were always on the move, going from town to town. Even as a kid I wondered why we had to move so often but they never said ’cept once Ma said it was because it was safer.”

“Safer from what?” Blakely asked and leaned back in his chair to survey the young man carefully. If he was lying then Blakely would know, he had an instinct for that, or so he claimed.

“I don’t know.” Grant shook his head and chewed on his bottom lip, “This cabin – this place where they were living, Pa said it was the perfect , I heard him tell Ma once that it was the best place they had found since it had happened.”

“Since what had happened?” Matheson this time, curiosity aroused. He had never liked the Tombs overmuch, their secrecy, reclusiveness, had made him feel uncomfortable.

“I don’t know. They never told me.” Grant shook his head and sighed again, his brow creased into furrows of concentration “They weren’t poor, you know.”

Matheson and Blakely nodded. That was a fact they knew to be true, whenever the Tombs came to town they were well dressed and the woman wore good jewellery, the likes most women in Blakesville could never afford. Not only that they had financed Grant’s education in college and there had been talk of them setting him up in business, although what kind of business no one knew, nor ever would now.

“Do you think they were killed for their money?” Grant asked, “I mean, you don’t seem to think the fire was an accident, do you?”

“No, it wasn’t an accident. The fire was a deliberate attempt to conceal the real crime.” Blakely said quietly as he leaned forward and looked at Grant’s face very intently.

“Real crime?” Grant stammered and blinked, looked at them both in turn and shook his head “You mean, it was the money …?”

“We don’t know about any money, Grant. We can’t tell you why they were killed, but it wasn’t the fire that killed them.” Blakely once again cleared his throat, “I am sorry, Grant, but whoever set fire to the cabin had already killed your parents, they were – shot down. In a manner of speaking you could even say they had been executed.”

Silence. Just for a moment. It hung heavy in the air before the word seemed to permeate into Grant’s head “Executed? I don’t understand?”

In as kindly a manner as possible Sheriff Tom Blakely explained exactly what he meant. Grant Tombs listened, his face whitened and his eyes bulged. He shook his head in disbelief

“I don’t understand ..” he whispered, “Why would anyone want to do that to my parents?”

Blakely stood up, he was a tall man and towered over Grant even when that man was standing “Grant, you’ve had a shock, yet another to land on you and I’m sorry, but it may be best if you go back to your rooms at the hotel, and try to remember anything at all that may give us a clue as to who would want to do this to your folks. Is there anything in their past or anyone you can remember …”

Grant nodded and stood up, then he sat down again because his knees had gone a little weak. Matheson was about to suggest some coffee when Blakely poured out some brandy from a bottle kept in a drawer of his desk, he handed the glass to Grant “Here, lad, drink this…”

Grant looked at the glass, shook his head “No, it’s alright, sheriff, I don’t drink.”

He stood up and straightened his shoulders, “I guess I need to organise a funeral, I mean, funerals…”

They watched him leave the building, feeling sympathy for him and glad that he hadn’t asked if he could view his parent’s bodies. Blakely gulped down the brandy and sucked in his breath before sitting down to write his report.

Chapter 4

Joseph Cartwright flung off the bed covers and twisted his legs away from the centre of the bed so that he could place them on the floor. For a moment he sat on the side of the bed and stared at the far off wall for a brief moment before running his fingers through his tousled head of hair. He could hear the sound of Mary Ann’s breathing, and from outside the wind shifted uneasily around the house. From somewhere downstairs a casement rattled and caused him to frown. It was that sound that must have woken him, and with that thought in mind he rose to his feet, rubbed his face and eyes with one hand and quietly left the room.

The window casement moved back and forth in the breeze, and he caught at the catch and pulled it to, and then fastened it down. Outside it was dark enough for him to see his reflection in the glass. Now, with the window closed the sound of the wind was not so intrusive but even so he was awake now, and knew he would find it hard to get back to sleep.

He went to the kitchen and poured out a glass of water which he carried over to the table at which he sat down. He drank, yawned and rubbed his head. Then he frowned, there it was again, that wound in his skull, and he worried at it for a moment as he thought back to how he had received it … of all things, falling off his horse?

He grinned and emptied the glass of water; fancy falling off his horse. But then he had been tired, exhausted. His Pa said he should have stayed overnight at a hotel instead of carrying on but when did Joe think about doing a sensible thing like that?

He leaned back in the chair and thought over that night, odd really, such a strange night. He couldn’t understand why there was so much blood but then the doctor in the town said he had sustained a deep cut to the scalp, and because of the thinness of the skin there it bled a lot. He frowned again and got to his feet to fill the glass again …had he fallen off his horse, because he was wounded, or because he had fallen asleep? He couldn’t remember. He had been in a strange place and was grateful to have found a town and a doctor willing enough to patch him up.

He looked up at the sound from the door and smiled at the sight of Mary Ann standing framed in the doorway, the shadow she cast, standing among shadows, was provocative, and as she came towards him he reached out for her hand and kissed her fingers.

“Hi, Beautiful.”

“Couldn’t you sleep? Is your head hurting you again?” she came closer, the bed warmth was still on her, so too was the lingering smell of her perfume, “Did you have another bad dream?”

“I don’t have bad dreams,” he said and pulled her onto his lap, caressed her shoulders and kissed her throat.

“Yes, you do. You have done ever since you came back from that visit to Mr Rawlins in Boulders Creek.”

“I never -” he paused, and frowned, sighed and shook his head. Pain trickled between his eyes as a result and he winced.

“It does still hurt, doesn’t it?” she stroked his hair back from his face and looked down at him, deep into the hazel green eyes, “Joe, you must go and see Dr Colby or Paul, and get that head wound seen to, it worries me that you are still in pain with it.”

He looked at her and the concern on her face was sweet, the downturn of her mouth was alluring, he leaned in and kissed the corner of her lips and she shook her head “No, Joe, don’t try and ..”

“I’m not trying anything,” he protested and laughed, caught her face between his hands and brought it closer to his, “Oh Mary Ann, I love you so much.”

“You will go -”

“Hush,” he whispered and smothered her mouth with his kisses, who could think of doctors at a time like this and very gently he plucked her chemise from her shoulders and let it fall to the floor.
…………….

The funeral of Mr and Mrs Tombs was a sombre affair. Not many of the townsfolk turned out to attend the service or the burial of the two coffins in the local cemetery. Grant Tombs was not surprised after all his parents had not taken much time to ingratiate themselves with the townsfolk of Blakesville, founded only recently, still in the process of being built and currently with a population of 500…well, less two now.

Some who attended came out of curiosity and some because they heard it was a crime and felt sympathy for the young man standing so alone by the graveside. The sheriff and deputy, Dr Finlayson and his wife, stood a little to one side and observed him thoughtfully, but for different reasons. Finlayson because of concern for the man’s health and emotional well being, and the lawmen because, just perhaps, the man’s body language would tell them something that he himself would not want revealed. Sheriff Blakely was a great one for interpreting body language.

But there was no great revelation. The poor man stood with hat in one hand and the other clasped to his chest in the locality of his heart. He threw a rose into the grave of his mother and shuddered as it fell. When it was time to leave and everyone began to trickle back to their homes they offered their sympathies as they passed him, and were embarrassed to see his face wet, tears still falling.

Mrs Finlayson approached him and offered him the comfort of their home, for him to recover. He shook his head, thanked her but said no, there was no need.

“Where will you go? Will you stay here?” she asked kindly.

“I will until they find my parent’s murderer.”

“Will you stay at the hotel?”

He bowed his head and with one hand wiped away tears “I have no home to go to, Mrs Finlayson. The hotel is the only place I can stay.”

She nodded as though in understanding and stepped back for her husband to approach the young man and speak to him, she saw Grant shake his head, and then walk away.

…….

Nathaniel Cartwright concentrated very hard as he gazed into his father’s brown eyes. It seemed that no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t work out how his father closed one eye but kept the other one open. He gripped his spoon tightly in one hand and stared, wrinkled his nose and furrowed his brow which made his mother laugh, and caused him to lose concentration so that he turned his dark hazel eyes onto her and blinked, with both eyes.

“He just can’t do it, can he, daddy?” Sofia said and leaned forward to give her little brother a kiss on his cheek. “Look, Nathaniel, look at me…see, it’s easy.”

Nathaniel wasn’t impressed by his sister’s ability to open and close one eye in rapid succession. He stared impassively before turning to his father “Daddy – me do it.”

Reuben put down his fork and looked over at his father with a quizzical expression on his face. Adam relinquished the moment of play with Nathaniel to await what was coming next, he cleared his throat and raised his eyebrows as Reuben said “Pa, do you know who our new teacher is?”

“No, son, I don’t.” Adam cut into his ham and put it into his mouth slowly, glancing at Reuben as he did so. His son appeared to be nonplussed by the answer he received.

“But, Pa, didn’t anyone tell you when you went into town yesterday?”

Adam shook his head, chewed his food and swallowed “Why would they tell me? I’m not on the School Board anymore, son, so there’s no reason for them to mention who it is, is there?”

“Oh I guess not.” Reuben sighed and pushed himself away from the table.

“What difference does knowing make, Reuben?” Olivia asked with a smile as she began to clear away the plates, having a little tussle with Nathaniel as she did so for he didn’t want to relinquish his meal just then.

“Well, you see,” Reuben frowned and looked at Adam and then at his mother, “There’s a saying about being forearmed is being forewarned. And I wanted to know and prepare myself for whoever it was.”

“Being forwarned is being forearmed, young man.” Adam smiled and stood up, he placed his arm around the boy’s shoulders, “Whoever it is I know you’ll do your best to work hard for him, after all, it’s to your benefit, don’t forget that.”

Sofia slid off her chair “What does it mean anyway? What did Reuben mean, daddy?”

“It doesn’t matter now,” Reuben said sulkily, and shrugged “We’ll just have to make do with what we get, I suppose.”

“That’s not the right attitude, young man. Whoever your teacher is you work hard at what he or she teaches you.”

Sofia looked at her father thoughtfully, then leaned in to kiss him “Daddy, what if he is a horrible man?”

“I’m sure he won’t be…” Adam assured her and kissed her brow, before giving her a gentle push towards the door

“But what if he is…” she protested.

“Off you go now, the sooner you’re there the sooner you’ll find out.” Adam laughed and looked again at Reuben “Alright, son?”

“Yes, sir.” Reuben sighed and then smiled, “Maybe Miss Brandon’s come back.”

Olivia laughed at that and shook her head “I doubt it, Miss Brandon was married a few months back and you know that a married woman can’t teach school, no matter how good a teacher they were before marriage.”

Adam nodded and raised his eyebrows at Reuben who slumped his shoulders and whose mouth now turned downwards “Guess I’ll have to find out the hard way then.”

“Guess so.” Olivia replied and turned to wipe drool and food from Nathaniel’s face.

The boy walked alongside his father to the door and when they were on the porch he turned to look up at the long legged man by his side “Pa, do you think the teacher would know about how I found the conquistadors?”

“Perhaps, son. I should imagine Mrs Conway would have found a way of letting him or her know all about Tommy’s bravery in rescuing the lot of you from all those dead men.”

He chuckled as he spoke and Reuben knew that his father was making a joke so grinned along with him. He stepped down one step with Adam close behind him,

“Pa, remember I said I wanted to be a horse breaker?”

“I do…” Adam inclined his dark head, still dark despite the grey strands that could be seen among the black curls.

“Well, I was thinking that perhaps I would like to be an archaeologist like Mr Stevens. It would mean a lot of travelling all around the world, wouldn’t it?”

“Not necessarily. You didn’t have to travel far to find our piece of history here, did you?”

“Oh,” Reuben frowned, then nodded “I guess not.”

“And you would have to work hard at your studies so that you could go to college.”

“Yeah I guess so.” Reuben sighed again, and then shook his head “It’s real hard knowing what to do when grown up, isn’t it, Pa?”

“Well, you’ve a while to go before you have to make any major decisions on that score, son. Now, off you go, Sofia and Ezra are waiting on you.”

The first day of school and no comfortable familiar face to greet them at the school door. Yet another stranger who would take up unnecessary time getting to know them all and for them to get to know him. Reuben felt unsettled and restless. School holiday had been such fun this year what with the gang and the discoveries. He mounted up beside Sofia on the bench seat and clutched his books, and turned his face towards town. By his side Sofia began to chatter, she thought that Mr Evans would be there, back from wherever it was that he was going and without his wife. Reuben listened and then drifted into thoughts of his own so that by the time Ezra had left the yard and turned onto the main track to town Sofia had talked herself into silence.

Adam watched them go and shook his head thoughtfully. Going to school on a regular basis had been a situation he had never known. Ben had taught him as much as he could, and when they had stopped anyplace long enough if there was someone teaching a form of schooling then Adam was sent along for the time that Ben intended to stay.

Really it had only been Joe who had had the privilege of education from a young age. Not that he had enjoyed it, or appreciated it, but he had, somehow or other, picked up the rudiments of a good teaching program that had got him through life. With thoughts of his brothers escapades at school running through his head Adam turned back into the house.

Nathaniel was running around the large room with no better purpose than the fact that he had the freedom to do so. He had one hand held out in front of him and the other behind him and when he saw his father he grinned, displaying little white teeth. “Horse.”

“Ah well, of course.” Adam smiled and continued on into the kitchen where Olivia was pouring him another cup of coffee.

He had a few moments before leaving to go the big house and meet up with his brothers. Ben had decided it was time to clear out the water holes to make sure that they were clean and that when the rains did come there would be no cause for flooding. Not that that had ever happened yet, but Ben always liked to be ahead of the game…

“Adam, how has Joe been lately?” Olivia sat down and turned an enquiring face up to her husband, her eyes were large and dark, lashes so long they were tangled together. Adam thought she looked beautiful and got lost in thoughts that had nothing to do with Joe. “Adam, has Joe been alright ?”

“Joe? Yes, of course he’s been alright.” Adam picked up his cup and gulped down a little of the coffee, “Why? Shouldn’t he be?”

“Mary Ann’s worried about him.” she blew on her coffee to cool it, from the other room Nathaniel’s voice drifted to them, reciting Three Blind Mice with all the words mingling into one another.

“Why?”

“Well,” she looked at him thoughtfully, “Is it usual for a man of Joe’s experience to fall off his horse?”

“He fell asleep before he fell off his horse.” he smiled at her and emptied his cup.

“Alright. Well … how many times have you fallen asleep in the saddle and fallen off your horse?”

“I don’t make a practise of it.” he grinned and his voice contained a chuckle. He was obviously not taking the subject seriously.

“Adam?” her brow furrowed. Nathaniel had begun to sing “Humpty Dumpty…”

“ALright, well, I haven’t fallen asleep in the saddle since I was a boy. Most men know when they have reached the limits of wakefulness and that’s when they get off their horse, dismounting in the usual way, and using their bed roll to sleep in.”
He paused, “Joe obviously decided to push his limits, as Joe tends to do, and consequently fell asleep and out of the saddle.”

“But it isn’t usual, is it?” she insisted and her eyes darkened even more so. Her husband leaned forward to kiss her but she turned her head away “Adam, I’m being serious.”

He sighed and glanced at the clock, “So am I, I need to be out of here. Pa will be chomping on the bit if I’m late…”

“Mary Ann says Joe has been having bad dreams. He isn’t sleeping properly either.”

She left the table and slipped her arm through his, as they walked together to the door. Nathaniel came running and held up his arms for attention which he got immediately as Adam leaned down to scoop him up into his arms.

“Could be because of that crack he got on his head. When I saw it I was surprised he hadn’t had a concussion.” Adam smiled at his son while his words were addressed to Olivia who nodded thoughtfully,

“Perhaps so. But .. I don’t know… Mary Ann just feels that there’s something wrong, something worrying him.”

“Well, there will be something worrying me soon if I don’t get to Pa’s. See you later, my sweeting.”

He kissed her cheek, then her lips, let his eyes linger upon her face for a moment and then swung Nathaniel into her arms.

“Wave bye-bye to Daddy, Nathaniel.” she said and smiled, proud of her son, proud of her husband.

Adam looked back at the sight of them, a woman with a child straddling her hip. Pride and love swamped him, after all, she was his woman, and the child was his son…sometimes the thought created so much emotion in the man people assumed had no feelings that he felt an actual pain in the gut.

Chapter 5

Ben finished reading his letter while Joe and Hoss waited patiently for their parent to realise they were waiting for him to speak. Finally he glanced up at Joe,

“How was Rawlins when you saw him, son?”

Joe grimaced and shrugged “He was alright, grumpy as ever.”

“Hmm,” Ben frowned and resumed reading the letter, “He says that you seemed in a hurry to leave town, left the money and mounted up without stopping to catch breath!”

Joe said nothing, for a moment it seemed as though his mind had blanked out his father’s voice as he thought back to when he had met up with Rawlins in Boulders Creek. Ben looked up from the paper and with a furrowed brow glanced at Joe as though in that moment he sensed that something was wrong, he snapped out his son’s name brusquely “Joe!”

“Sorry, Pa, what did you say?” Joe released his breath, and quirked his eyebrows

“I said, Rawlins writes here that you were in a mighty hurry to get back home.”

Joe grinned “I sure was, I thought if I stayed overlong he would be inviting me to stay over for the night and I didn’t have the stomach for him and Mrs Rawlins.”

Hoss chuckled at that, Mrs Rawlins was not grumpy like her husband, but there was no denying the fact that when she had any man staying over she was mighty friendly.

Bens’ eyes lingered a little upon his youngest sons’ face, he shook his head even as he folded the letter away and slipped it into its envelope. “Are you feeling alright, Joe?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” but he spoke the words defensively, as though whether or not was none of anyone’s business.

“That crack on the head you got -” Ben’s voice was full of concern, he made to step forward but as he did so, Joe stepped back.

“It’s fine. The doctor patched me up and it’s fine.”

“Which doctor?” Ben demanded now and inclined his head to the side as though by doing so he could tell whether or not his son was being honest or not.

“I don’t recall his name.” Joe said with a shrug of the shoulders, “But he cleaned me up, stitched me up and let me sleep for a while before I was well enough to ride on.”

Hoss picked up an apple and rubbed it on his vest as he looked at his brother thoughtfully. He bit into the fruit and munched on it noisily, receiving an irritated look from both his brother and his father. He sighed and bit into it again, forced to munch quietly meant that an apple lost something in its flavour. He tossed its remains into the log basket.

Hester came down the stairs now with Erik in her arms, the little girls hurried down behind her looking very pretty and holding one another by the hand. Ben thought the little group of them looked enchanting. She smiled at them all and bestowed a kiss on Ben’s cheek

“Are you brow beating them again, Pa?” she laughed, and avoided her son’s grasping fingers as he reached out to catch one of her long trailing golden red curls.

“What if I am?” Ben smiled back at her, “They deserve some brow beating now and again. it’s the only way I can get honest answers out of them.”

She looked at him with surprise and then laughed “Oh I see, and which of them has been causing you trouble today.”

Before anyone of them could reply the door opened and Adam entered the room, pulling off his hat as he did so and smiling over at Hester, stooping down a little to receive the little girls who had run over to hug him.

“Well, now, what’s going on?” he said once he had straightened up and disentangled himself from Hope’s arms while he settled her back onto the ground.

“Nothing.” Joe said too quickly.

Hoss shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. Ben made a growling sound in the back of his throat and Hester just laughed.

“Seems Joe’s in trouble again.” she said and winked over at Joe who sighed and shook his head as though the load upon his shoulders was becoming too heavy to bear.

“Oh, is that so?” Adam turned his dark eyes onto his brother and shook his head, “Well, not too much so to prevent him working today I hope.” and he laughed and added “Or has he fallen off his horse again?”

Joe flushed a little, the area around his collar reddened “I only did it the one time, and that was when I fell asleep.”

Hoss gave a guffaw and put his arm around his little brother’s shoulders, then with outstretched arm he began to sing “Rock a bye baby, on a tree top….”

Hope clapped her hands and giggled, she loved seeing her daddy being silly, but Hannah put her hands over her ears and shouted “Stop it, daddy, stop it.”

Almost immediately Hop Sing ran into the room and looked around “What that noise?”

It was too much for Joe, he gave a snort of disgust and grabbing at his hat left the house. The sounds of laughter trickled out in the air behind him.
…………..

The three brothers rode out as they often had in the past … three horsemen riding close together. Not one pulling ahead of the other as though anxious to get on with the business at hand, nor lagging behind wondering how to avoid it.

Adam rode with a slight smile on his face and nothing particular on his mind. He was allowing himself to work out distances between each water hole, the time it would take for one man to clear one before going on to the other and comparing it with the time taken for three men to work on one before approaching the others. Of course if one added Candy to the equation it meant that two parties of two men could do a hole each … his mind now trickled over to whereabouts they had arranged to meet Candy.

Hoss looked dreamy eyed with a smile on his face as broad as can be although occasionally he sneaked a look at his brothers to make sure they couldn’t see him. He wanted to surprise Hester and knew that she would be overjoyed if he were to go home that evening with the bonnet she coveted and which was on display at Ridleys Ladies Outfitters (although Amanda called it The Ladies Emporium). So far as Hoss and countless other men were concerned it was a place where ladies got fitted out, so that was what it would be called…sort of! He frowned now, he had to think of some way he could get into town without his brothers thinking he was getting out of his share of the work.

Conscience forced him to admit that that was exactly what he would be doing and he chewed on his bottom lip for a moment or two as he thought of how to go about this matter. The only solution he could come up with was the fact that Candy was going to be working along with them.

He sighed and his smile returned, but sadly it had been noticed and Adam’s voice said quietly “What’s on your mind, Hoss?”

“Huh?”

“What’s on your mind, brother? “

Hoss glanced at Adam and scowled, what right did he have to go poking and prying into a man’s mind. He shrugged and jutted his chin out in an obstinate display of ‘not telling.’

“Well,” Adam drawled, and nudged his horse closer, before giving Hoss a close scrutiny “One moment you’re smiling, then you’re scowling, then you’re smiling again and now you’re being plain stubborn. Seems to me you have a lot on your mind, brother.”

“I ain’t.”

Adam shrugged as though he didn’t care anyway. Hoss knew that was a ruse and so he kept his eyes straight ahead of him to make sure that his brother couldn’t get a hint of what was going on in his head right now. He glanced over at Joe who was saying nothing.

“Hey, Joe, you alright?”

Hoss’ voice trickled through to Joe who had been deep in thought ever since they had left the house. It hadn’t been Hoss’ singing that had driven him out, it was more to do with the fact that – well, something was missing. Something that he felt was important but he couldn’t figure what it was for the life of him. The more he thought about it the harder it was to focus on anything because his head began to hurt.

It was like at night when he had those dreams. He always woke up when the pain began and by then he couldn’t remember what the dream was about at all. He wanted to remember because he knew deep down that it was important that he should remember, but it was that something…that missing something.

“Joe, are you alright?” it was Adam asking now, he had turned his horse so that he had ridden behind Hoss in order to get alongside Joe, “You don’t look well.”

“I’m alright.” Joe shrugged and tried to look nonchalant. “Nothings wrong I was just thinking about those danged water holes.”

“Really?” Adam looked doubtful and his eyes narrowed, giving Joe that ‘I don’t believe a word of that!”

“Yeah, you know how I hate the job, it always makes me feel ill.” he forced a laugh, and Adam looked more suspicious than ever. Joe’s cackle was natural, drove him mad, but this forced laugh was what it was … nothing like Joe’s laugh at all.

A shout from the rim rock caused all three to look upwards and slow their horses as Candy rode down to meet up with them. He grinned good naturedly, and nodded a good morning to them.

“Nothing I like more than clearing out water holes.” he laughed and then frowned, and shrugged “Well, you three look as cheerful about doing the job as I feel.”

“Which reminds me..” Hoss began and took a deep breath as he plunged into the excuse he had decided would provide him with the perfect escape.

Of course, they didn’t believe him. Of course he rode off to town anyway.
……………

Jericho Silverman was better known to people in the town of Blakesville as Jerry. He didn’t actually like being called by that name but like a lot of things in his life he had learned to live with it. His mother had been a slave on a cotton plantation in Carolina and his father had been a full blood Cherokee. He had no siblings, both his mother and father felt that one child was enough and that one had been a mistake. They lived in dangerous times for a slave and an Indian. The offspring of both would learn all about that if he survived his first tender years.

And Jericho had survived and had learned to take the knocks, the beatings, the rough end of the stick as they called it. He had learned to keep his own counsel and mind his own business, to do what he was told or asked, irregardless of who told or who asked.

He was a handsome man. Somehow his parents had bestowed upon their son the best of everything they had, even though there was no mistaking his ancestry there was a certain nobleness about him that had, even if he didn’t realise it, protected him on many occasion.

For some years he had been employed by Sheriff Blakely as a scout, or a spy, or a blood hound. Whatever designation suited a person to call him, that was what Jericho happened to be. His current task was to check out the cabin that had been burned down with the Tombs inside it, and to find out everything he could from whatever he could … no easy task considering the number of people who had come and gone and milled about the place since the fire.

He squatted on his haunches now and chewed on some pemmican. He chewed slowly because he had a lot to think about… not that anyone would have thought he was thinking if they had seen him just squatting like he was there by the cabin. But he had been there for two days now, just as he had been for two days right after they brought the bodies out.

Nothing much had changed really in the few weeks since that fire except that things had settled, dried out, some things had got clearer, and some things more obscure. But there were one or two things now that made some kind of sense which had not beforehand, and the making of some sense of them would be up to the sheriff once he had told him what he had seen and noticed.

His black eyes flashed as he saw movement on the hill. Something had shone, gleamed momentarily as though the sun had caught something to beam upon. He frowned and returned to look at the cabin again. Then quickly he looked back to where there had been that light, as though by doing so he could surprise it into shining again.

There was nothing. He knew it was not his imagination so he rose to his feet and slowly made his way to his horse. He kept the animal well away from the cabin, he hadn’t wanted yet another set of horses hooves to mark the ground, there were enough of them there already. Laid down and overlaid, criss crossed and zig zagged enough to confuse a man, unless the man was born from the Cherokee.

Grant Tombs watched as Jericho approached him. He saw nothing on the handsome face, not a glimmer of the sense of satisfaction the man felt at realising the sun had caught on the man’s glasses and caused that flash of light. Grant nodded,

“What you doing here, Jerry?” his voice was calm, pleasant and conciliatory.

“Just doing what the sheriff asked me to.” Jericho replied and watched the other man carefully.

Jericho had a bad feeling about Grant Tombs. Not a sad one, not one of compassion because the man had lost his parents in the fire. It was more the feeling of danger. He watched Grant now like he would have watched a snake. Wondering when it would strike. Perhaps not today, perhaps some other time.

“You going back to town?” Grant said in his polite kindly voice and his eyes glanced down to the ruins of the cabin and he winced as though he physically hurt at the sight.

“Yes.”

No point in saying more. Jericho was a man of few words and he didn’t want to waste any of them on Grant Tombs. He wondered why so many in town liked the man. They thought he was a man to be admired, respected. But Jericho couldn’t think of a single thing the man had done to earn that respect, that admiration. He rode on with his back straight and his eyes on the track ahead and his ears alert. He preferred Tombs to be in front of him, but the man chose to ride side by side … well, so be it.

“Find anything interesting?” Grant asked and jerked his head in the direction of the cabin.

From where they were riding they were looking down on the place now, it looked like a burned out child’s toy. Jericho allowed his eyes to wander up and down and then he realised that he was looking at something he had not noticed before.

“You ride on, I have something to do.” Jericho said and dismounted. He walked towards the rocks and made to look as though it was a call of nature, and he knew that Grant Tombs was fastidious and didn’t like to ‘do things like that’. As he suspected Tombs gave a curt nod and rode on. “I’ll catch up with you.”

He didn’t much care if he caught up with Tombs or not. He waited until the sound of the other horse had faded, waited long enough to be sure that the man had not sneaked back to spy on him. That was the kind of man Grant Tombs was, a man who sneaked about …
Now Jericho left the boulders and walked over to inspect what he had seen. He wondered why he hadn’t noticed it before but then he hadn‘t been looking for anything this distance from the cabin, and this high up on the ridge too.

A man had lain here, it would seem for some time from the depth of the indentation of a body in the grass. A horse had ambled about, eaten and dumped and ambled on. There was blood too, quite a large patch of blood. Jericho touched it and rubbed what stained his fingers before smelling it and then with a sigh he began to look around a little more closely. He walked back and forth with his eyes constantly on the ground, back and forth and occasionally squatting down to examine something ..a hoof print, a boot print, a spot of blood.

It told a story, but every story has a beginning and an end. He wondered what the beginning of this story had been, and knew the end was yet to come.

He walked further up to where there was a clearer track to Blakesville. Perhaps the man who had fallen and bled in the grass hadn’t realised or known about this track. Perhaps the man was a stranger to these parts and had taken to the higher ground in the hope of finding … protection? A hiding place? Or had he just been hurrying to reach the higher ground and get to the road to town in order to escape from something ? Speculation of course and only the marks on the ground to give any clue as to what happened, and clues could sometimes be read wrongly.

On the track to town there were a lot of hoof prints, wheel ruts, the sign of activity that had taken place due to the cabin burning down. Jericho recognised hoof prints here and there, he had seen them at the cabin, in the yard, where they all milled about and got messed up.

He returned to the place where the man had bled into the ground. He followed the tracks. They eventually led up further to where the road led to the town. So that meant that the stranger had found the road, and followed it along, and had eventually made his way to Blakesville.

Chapter 6

Throughout the journey to town the children pondered over who the new teacher would be and whether or not Mr Evans would have made a return to school. Rosie Canaday was experiencing what it was like now to make the long journey from home to the school. It had been arranged that whoever took the Cartwright children would collect her at the junction where the track to her home joined the main thoroughfare from the Ponderosa. It took her twenty minutes to walk there. But in a few years David would be joining her and then there would be Hannah.

It seemed to Reuben’s logical mind that it would have made more sense for his Aunt Mary Ann to teach them all their lessons at home. Why did it matter so much just because she was married. He spent a while trying to work out a system that could work without breaking the law should it ever become necessary.

Sofia was excited at travelling to town every day with Rosie. Although there was no blood tie between them as there was in the case with Hannah and Hope, she was quite happy to consider Rose Canaday as her cousin every bit as much as they did. Rosie was not quite as comfortable with the idea; she had been living in town long enough to appreciate the advantages of being a town girl going to the school just a short walk from home. She had also enjoyed the prestige of being the daughter of the sheriff. She felt at a disadvantage now, and was worried about how her friends would view her seeing that her father was no longer sheriff but worked for the Ponderosa and had a small ranch of his own to tend.

So while Sofia chattered and speculated about the new teacher and if only this and if only that, Rosie sat very quiet clutching at her books and lunch pail, and Reuben only spoke when he thought he had something sensible to say.

The school yard was full of children. Annie and Betty Sales waved to the girls and The Gang hurried over to Reuben. The first words spoken were “It isn’t Mr Evans.”

“He hasn’t come back to us.”

“It’s some ex-army chap.”

Whispers between the children sped around the yard, little groups formed, girls stopped skipping and singing, boys clumped together. The news didn’t sound very good and Sofia looked at Reuben who was staring hard at Davy Riley, that fount of all wisdom, as the news about the new teacher spilled forth.

“But why didn’t Mr Evans come back?” Sofia insisted and Davy Riley gave her an impatient shrug of the shoulders,

“Because he didn’t, I don’t know, ask him!”

“How can I?” Sofia could have wept. Even without realising it she had built up this picture of going into school and seeing Mr Evans there just as always. Rosie looked equally lost and forlorn, the news Betty and Annie Sales gave her had not been in any way positive.

Rosie was a pretty girl, black haired and blue eyed like her father, and Ann had dressed her so smartly for her first day back at school. Now she approached Sofia and grabbed at her hand,

“Will you sit with me?”

Sofia blinked, Rosie had never asked this before and she wondered why she asked now. She hesitated and Rosie blinked back what looked like tears,

“Annie and Betty are going to sit together, and they said that the school teacher – he isn’t nice like Mr Evans – and I don’t want to sit with anyone I don’t really know.”

Sofia nodded and glanced sideways to where Reuben was in deep conversation with Jimmy Carstairs. Then the bell tolled and it was time to line up and enter the school room. Rosie grabbed at Sofia’s hand, another first, and clung on like a barnacle to the hull of a ship. It gave Sofia quite a warm glowing feeling to have someone dependent on her and she sighed contentedly. After all this time, she had found a friend.
…………..

“I am your new teacher. I have written my name on the board for you to see. Now be seated with as little noise as possible and let us begin.”

Such was the introduction the school children of Virginia City received from their school master in the fall of 1878. Not one child there doubted that Mr Peter Crook was not a man to trifle with… from the moment he strode down the aisle and took centre stage before the writing board they knew that when Mr Crook said silence, you were silent; and when he said ‘Blow your nose’ you blew, good and hard!

He stood on the raised platform beside the desk looking like a bad tempered bull with small black eyes and a crown of black hair and a thick neck above very broad shoulders. He was short in stature, no taller than 5’ 9” but so sturdy of frame, and so muscular his legs and so fierce his mouth that he seemed to swell by inches every minute he stood before them. Legs apart, hands flexing the cane between his fingers, and glowering at them with his mean black eyes while he rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet. The youngest ones were terrified of him immediately, Sofia felt her insides turn to water and she had to really keep her legs tightly close together to keep control of her bladder. She could see from the expressions on some other little girls and some boys that they were having the same difficulty.

Each child had to go to the front and tell the teacher who they were, even though some he already knew from seeing them in town and having been introduced to by their parents. Whether or not this was an advantage remained to be seen. Mr Crook was a man who obviously liked to keep things close to his chest.

Little fluting voices from the little children gasped out their names. There were several new children, very young, who sniffled and gulped as they relayed the information to the teacher and they returned to their desks looking relieved as they flopped back onto the seats.

Even the really big boys due to graduate that coming year were unsure how to proceed with this fellow. Two lads stood taller than him, but even they gave their names in an almost apologetic manner. He stared at them all as they spoke, terrifying the girls and confusing the boys.

At their first recess the children were very quiet. Two of the very small children were crying and saying they wanted to go home. They lived a distance from town so knew that they would have to stay but whispered to Sofia that they would ‘never ever come back.’ Sofia wanted to say the same but knew it would serve no purpose.

…………………..

“Joe?”

The sound of his name seemed to come from some distance and the grip on his arm was so tight that it hurt. He winced and tried to pull away from whoever was holding onto his arm but when he looked up it was to see his brothers face looking down at him.

“Joe? Look at me…?”

“I’m looking. What am I supposed to see?” Joe replied and blinked as he tried to see his brother’s face through a fog that obscured the corners of his vision.

“Here – have some water.”

A canteen was thrust into his hands and he took it, gulped down some water and looked back at his brother with a slight frown as Adam took it back and smacked in the stopper.

“What happened?” he asked “Did I fall off my horse?” he grinned, his hazel eyes sparked green and he began to get to his feet.

“No, you didn’t fall off your horse. You were sitting here and went into some kind of ‘other world’.” Adam replied and pulled at his brother’s arm in order to get him to sit down again.

He sat down as well, the canteen held in his hands between his legs, “What’s wrong, Joe? Are you – unwell?”

“I’m fine. To be honest, Adam, I’m just tired. I don’t seem to be sleeping too well just lately, but that’s all.”

He stared into Adam’s face and forced a smile. How many times in his life had he tried to convince his brother that something was other than it was, and how many times had Adam looked at him with that same narrow eyed ’Don’t give me any of that nonsense -’ look on his face.

“I’ve told Candy to get into town and bring the doctor here to see you. I don’t trust you to get there yourself.”

“What?” Joe started up like the fire cracker he was, and started waving his arms about “Why’d you do that? I told you I’m alright, there’s nothing wrong with me.”

“I think I’m a better judge of that than you are just now, Joseph.” Adam replied and grabbed at his brother’s arm again, gripping it tightly with his fingers, “Now, listen to me, somethings wrong and I aim to find out what it is even if you aren’t wanting me to because whether you believe it or not, you mean something to me and this family. Now get some sense into that thick head of yours, and just do as I tell you.”

“Haven’t we had this conversation countless times before?” Joe scowled and pulled his arm back again, “I must have been all of three years old when I got that self same lecture from you, Adam Cartwright, well, lest you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m not three years old any more, and I can fend for myself thank you.”

“No, Joe, you can’t.”

Joe opened his mouth to protest, but the look on Adam’s face stopped him from saying another word. There was no anger there, no impatience or desire for a confrontation, only deep concern, fear even…

“Look, I’m sorry, Adam, I didn’t mean to sound off at you, but honestly, I don’t need to see a doctor.”

Adam stepped back a few paces and observed his brother thoughtfully, he sighed and shook his head,

“Look, Joe, would you just see the doctor for me? As a favour?”

“You’re asking? Not dragging me there by the scruff of my neck?” Joe laughed, more of a chortle than anything.

“Not this time, although I will if I have to…” there was a smile on his face, but the words were blunt, there was no humour in them.

“Look, Adam, I told you, I’m tired, I’m not sleeping so well lately and sometimes I find myself just drifting off ..you know… day dreaming, that’s what it is …just day dreaming.”

Adam shook his head, he placed his hat on his head and nodded over to the horses, “No, Joe, you weren’t day dreaming. You went white, you swayed about, your eyes rolled up and I thought you were going to die. So, shut up, get mounted and let’s get to my place. I don’t want to worry Mary Ann by taking you there and I know Olivia is out of the house…”

“And you want to avoid Pa?” he grinned and walked to his horse.

Adam didn’t grin, he just gave his brother a steely look “It’s you who should want to avoid Pa. Now, get mounted and let’s go…”
………….

Nate Carney, the new sheriff of Virginia City, had spent an interesting hour chatting with one of the town’s ex sheriff’s. Roy Coffee had decided it was time to share a while with the new man, and find out whether or not he measured up to the standard set down by both himself and Nate’s father who had been a circuit sheriff along with Roy many years previously.

Now Nate watched as Roy ambled back to his home. He hoped that somehow or other he had reassured the old man that his town was in safe hands, and he had also found himself promising Roy that should there be any need to do so, he would go calling on the old sheriff for any assistance he required.

He was easy going was Nate, Nathaniel Nathan Carney to be exact, easy going but no fool. He knew the value of the man who was walking down the main street, experience was worth a bag of gold any day in the week. He nodded to himself as though in affirmation of his thought and looked over to where a big man was leaving Amanda Ridleys establishment with a big striped box in his hand.

“Hoss, good to see you in town.”

Hoss Cartwright nodded and tried not to blush, he glanced down at the box in his hand “A present for my wife.”

“Uh.huh, didn’t think it was for yourself.”

Hoss guffawed, “Wouldn’t suit me none,” he replied and stepped up onto the sidewalk.“I see you met Roy then?”

Both men involuntarily glanced in the direction Roy was taking, Nate nodded, “He was an old friend of my fathers, they worked together as circuit lawmen years ago when Virginia City was merely a gold camp.”

“Yeah, I can remember them days.” Hoss replied and rubbed his chin.

Children were appearing now, Hoss estimated that it must have been school closing time. Had it really taken him that long to choose a hat, then he felt guilty as he remembered the steak dinner he had treated himself to at the Internationale. Then he had had a few beers at the Bucket of Blood and then…he cleared his throat, and looked apologetically at Nate although there was no reason to do so, he had nothing to apologise to him for

“Guess I lost track of time. My brothers will nail my hide to the wall when I get back home.”

“Well, I’m sure your wife will be happy to see you.” Nate smiled and his eyes narrowed as he watched a buggy weave its way down Main Street.

Hoss saw it too and turned to watch the man driving his one horse buggy down Main Street.

“Who’s that guy?” he asked

“That’s the new school master.” Nate replied, moving forward slightly away from the post upon which he had been leaning.

“He sure looks a mean kind of guy.” Hoss murmured as he followed the buggy with his eyes.

“He’s only been in town two weeks.” Nate said quietly, and rubbed his chin with one well shaped hand, “Keeps himself to himself.”

“Yeah, good thing huh?” Hoss murmured and grimaced, the man couldn’t have been more different from Edward Evans than a fish was to a bird.

Peter Crook stepped from the buggy and stood on the sidewalk to survey the town. He turned his bull like neck this way and that to scrutinise the people that were passing by, some of whom he acknowledged politely enough but none of whom actually showed much enthusiasm for his presence.

For some reason the school teacher’s eyes stopped at the sight of Hoss and the sheriff. The beady black eyes fastened onto Hoss’ face and he stared coldly into Hoss’ eyes as though to imprint the man’s features on his brain. He raised his hat and nodded, as though acknowledging him for some reason, and then he turned and walked into the store where the swinging doors closed around him and swallowed him up out of their sight.

“Odd. Do you know him?” Nate asked and turned to look at Hoss with a puzzled look on his face but Hoss shook his head,

“Never seen him before in my life.” he replied and shook his head, as Nate said, it was ‘odd’, the way the school master had looked at him. Hoss shivered … a trickling foreboding hastened down his spine.

Chapter 7

“Now, Joe, tell me what’s going on?”

The brothers were seated opposite one another in the big room of Adam’s home, and for a moment Joe reacted as he usually did when approached in this manner by his elder brother. He closed down on himself and simmered, tightened his mouth and glared either at Adam or at the wall behind him.

Adam simmered too, but kept it below boiling point. He placed a hand on Joe’s shoulder and looked into the stubborn face with as gentle an expression on his own that he could muster.

“Look, brother, I want to know what’s going on with you so that I can help you any way I can.”

“I don’t need help.” Joe growled and narrowed his eyes, green sparks shone among the hazel.

“I think you do.” Adam replied and glanced up as Cheng Ho Lee entered the room with a tray of fixings for coffee which he put down on the low table.

No one spoke until Cheng had gone, leaving Adam to pour them both coffee, although neither of them picked up a cup to drink it. Joe shifted restlessly in his seat and looked as though about to get to his feet and leave.

“Don‘t go, Joe. Candy will be here soon with the doctor, it wouldn’t be fair to have him dragged all this way for nothing…”

The quieter tone of his brother’s voice was calming and Joe knew that even if he did leave Adam would just send the doctor to his place anyway which would alarm Mary Ann. He shook his head and rubbed his hands together,

“It’s just since I fell off that horse. I must have landed on a rock or something.”

“Can’t you remember?”

“No. To be honest I can’t remember much about what happened at all.”

They looked at one another, both looking confused at the statement. Adam nodded as though by doing so he could see a glimmer of light in the darkness, he picked up a cup and drank some coffee before returning the cup to its saucer.

“Alright, let’s get this straight…can you remember taking the money to Rawlins?”

“Of course I do.” Joe scowled as though the task of delivering so much money to the bank at Boulders Creek had really been beneath his ability and therefore no one had the right to question him on that point. “Rawlins invited me to return to his place for the evening and I turned him down. I told him straight I had a pretty little wife and family waiting for me back home and wanted to get back as soon as I could.”

“So you were on your way home from Boulders Creek… “ Adam intoned slowly, and Joe heaved a sigh as though he couldn’t believe he was sitting there listening to his brother going through his movements so meticulously.

“I said already…”

“Then what happened?”

Joe sighed and slumped back against the cushions on the settee and then frowned, for a moment there could be heard nothing by the ticking of the clock and in the background sounds of Cheng Ho Lee preparing food in the kitchen. Joe finally leaned forward and took up the cup of coffee, he held it between both hands for a while before drinking it.

“I rode home…” he frowned, paused and then emptied the cup and replaced it on the saucer. He shrugged, “I rode home and that was when I fell off my horse.”

“Was it dark?”

“I think so…”

“Don’t you know?” Adam frowned and looked puzzled, he shook his head, “Was there a moon? Had you lost your way and gone off the track?”

Joe shook his head and shrugged, “I can’t remember. All I know is that I came round to find myself covered in blood … I managed to get back into the saddle, and followed a track that led to a town.”

“What town?”

“A town! Look, I don’t know what it was called, I didn’t see any signpost that I can recall. I just wanted to get to a doctors to see about my head. I dismounted outside the livery stable and saw to my horse, and asked for the surgery. I found it, I think I passed out because the next thing I know I was waking up to find myself staring at this chap who said he was the doctor and he had stitched me up. He told me to stay where I was and he had given me some medication because I was going to have a mighty bad head ache.”

“Was that all? I mean, didn’t he check your eyes, or tell you whether or not you had a concussion or fractured skull?” Adam leaned forward, elbows on his knees, chin cupped within his hands.

Joe mirrored his brothers posture almost exactly, he said nothing but it was obvious he was thinking over the question. He shrugged again and then leaned back before asking for more coffee.

He sat for a while nursing the cup in his hands while Adam waited and watched, knowing for sure now that there was certainly something very wrong with his little brother and feeling more concerned the longer the silence dragged on.

“I fell asleep.”

“Was it night time? Were there lamps alight in the surgery? Could you tell whether or not he was alert or was he tired, an old man disturbed from his sleep?“

Joe grinned, “No, he wasn’t an a old man. It was night time though, I can remember him lighting another lamp, saying it wasn’t light enough to see by. I went to sleep and when I woke up there seemed to be a lot of people in the room. Lots of coming and going…I can remember feet scraping along the floor boards, and then he told me to get over to the hotel and find a bed there.”

“Did you? I mean, did you find a hotel?”

“Sure, it wasn’t difficult to find. I had to push through a crowd of people though, I think I saw a sheriff’s badge flash as he walked into the surgery…but that’s about all I can think of really. I got a room and headed for my bed. Slept until noon the next day.”

Adam winced, the thought of his brother being so unwell, as he must have been, made him feel reprehensible in some way. Perhaps that was how he always felt when anything happened to Joe or Hoss and he hadn’t been there to help them, protect them. He sighed and now poured himself some coffee, it was lukewarm now and he drank it, emptying the cup.

“When you left the town was it calm…?”

“Calm?” Joe frowned and then his face cleared as he realised that Adam was referring to the melee he had just described earlier, “Oh sure, it was just like any other town.”

“Did you notice the name of the place?”

“No … the hotel was called …” he narrowed his eyes as though he would recall it better if he could imagine the legend above the door “It was called Stewarts Hotel.”

“And what happened after that?”

Joe looked blank again, he shook his head “Nothing.”

“You mean you can’t remember anything, or that nothing happened?”

Joe heaved in a deep breath and became restless again, he shrugged and rolled his eyes “Look, nothing happened. I just came home. Took me two days but I managed it without any further mishap.”

“Does it usually take you two days to get from Boulders Creek …?”

“I wasn’t at Boulders Creek. I was someplace else.” Joe raised his arms and waved them around a little as though to convey to Adam that he was making a big deal out of nothing.

When his arm waving antics appeared to have no effect on his brother Joe leaned forward once more, he lowered his head and surveyed the table that separated them, then he sighed “I know it doesn’t sound very sensible ,but it happened like that, and I’m sorry I failed to notice the name of the town, or the name of the doctor, but there just seemed to be a lot going on while I was there and so it was just best to slip out quietly without asking any questions.”

“Didn’t the hotel receptionist or Manager talk at all, ask you who you were .. You did sign a register didn’t you?”

“Of course I did. And – no, they didn’t. They didn’t ask me anything … I do remember they seemed deep in conversation between them both, made me feel as though I had no right being there.”

“And when you left? Did you have anything to eat?”

“Oh for goodness sake, Adam? Let up will you? What’s with all these questions?”

Adam frowned, he shrugged and then passed a hand over the back of his head as though perplexed “Sorry, Joe, I didn’t mean to interrogate you like that, it was just that …” he glanced over at his brother and forced a smile, “Sorry, Joe.”

“Heck, you made me feel as though you suspected me of robbing a bank or something.”

Adam didn’t respond to that, but leaned forward to pour out more coffee he had just done so when the sound of horses came to their ears and Joe groaned,

“Here they come, another inquisition.”

It was James Colby who came into the house accompanied by Candy, there were smiles all round and Joe stood up to have his hand shaken. James, so different from the haggard weary looking man who had moved to Virginia City in the early spring, shook Joe by the hand while his eyes fixed upon the young man’s face. He nodded,

“Well, let’s see what’s going on here, shall we?” he smiled, Joe groaned and the three other men decided to make themselves scarce.

In the yard Candy looked at the brothers and raised his eyebrows “What do you think’s wrong?”

“Yeah, Adam, what happened? Candy said Joe had a kind of weird look on his face and nearly passed out?” Hoss looked anxiously from one to the other, he saw the look that they exchanged between them and frowned more deeply, “What’s going on?”

“We don’t know, that’s why we got the doctor to come.” Adam replied and shrugged.

“Hasn’t Joe said anything about what happened to you?” Candy now asked, and absent mindedly picked at the wood in the fencing with his thumb nail.

“No, but there is something wrong.” Adam cast a look back to the house, then shook his head “It’s the time lapse, and what he can’t remember.”

“What time lapse are you speaking about?” Hoss demanded and narrowed his blue eyes anxiously.

“Just that there were several times when he was unconscious and can’t account for why or how he came to be like that …” Adam bit down on his bottom lip and then shook his head “I’m probably making too much of it…”

“I reckon so,” Hoss muttered, preferring to think that way rather than believe that something bad had happened that involved Joe.

“It could just be the result of that bump on the head,” Candy suggested quietly, “Probably no more mystery to it than that …”

The two brothers both hoped that Candy was right. They said nothing more until James came out of the house, swinging his medical bag in one hand and his hat in the other. He smiled, and nodded, behind him Joe came out of the house looking grumpy.

“Well, it seems that Joe has been over extending himself.” James said blithely, “He should have had intense bed rest for at least a week when he sustained the injury, instead of just a few hours.”

“Has he a concussion?” asked Hoss.

“Did he fracture his skull?” Candy wanted to know.

“He did have a concussion, and a bad one at that….that’s why he should have stayed put in bed and had a doctor attending to him during that time. It’s delayed shock that caused the kind of black out he experienced this morning, but I’ve given him some sedatives. He needs to get home.”

James turned to Joe and smiled, they shook hands and he clambered into his buggy. They watched him ride out of the yard and Joe turned and grinned,

“Well, that get’s me out of clearing the water holes.” he chuckled, “so good to have you back with us, Candy.”
………………

The day had dragged on and not one child there had ever known a day when time seemed to stand still before. When Ezra drove up in the wagon he was quite bemused by the silence of the three children as they clambered aboard and took their seats. Each of them looked as though they had suffered ship wreck!

Olivia was home when her children returned from their first day back at school. She ran to greet them at the door with a bright smile, which slowly slipped from her face as she watched them both practically sleep walk to the house. No joyful bouncy running to her with smiles on their faces and the ‘can’t wait to tell Ma all about it’ look they usually bore. They passed her in silence and then slowly slumped into the big settee whereupon Sofia burst into tears and Reuben just sat looking shell shocked.

“What on earth has happened?” Olivia cried and rushed to comfort her little girl, gathering her up into her arms and holding her close while her eyes looked at Reuben for an explanation.

“The new school teacher.” Reuben said and shook his head.

“It wasn’t Mr Evans…” Sofia wailed, and tears dripped down her cheeks, “It wasn’t ..Mr Evans …and I thought he would be there and he wasn’t…”

Olivia shook her head and stared at Reuben who was glaring at the far off lamp, “Is that all? For goodness sake, what on earth made you think it would be Mr Evans?”

“Because – that’s all – because -” Sofia sobbed and buried her face into Olivia’s blouson, sobbing as though her heart was broken.

“Silly girl, what a carry on…” Olivia said quietly while still waiting for Reuben to speak, but when he remained silent she said “Reuben, what happened?”

“We’ve a new teacher.”

“Obviously, so what’s wrong with him…or her..?”

“He’s a bully. He’s cruel.” Reuben said quietly and stood up, “I have to do some homework, Mom.”

Olivia watched him trail away up the stairs, his head cast down and the books he carried trailing along behind him. She turned to her daughter who was now just weeping silently “Sofia, its his first day … he’s probably just trying to establish himself.”

Sofia didn’t understand what that meant, she pushed away from her mother and shook her head “He’s a horrible man. He even hit little Betty Sales and made her cry and then told her if she kept on crying she would get another one … and then she – she wet herself and he shouted at her and made her clean it all up. Annie tried to help but he said if she moved from the desk he would have her standing in the corner all morning. And Betty was crying so much, mommy….” her voice trailed away into the keening cry of a child whose worst fears had taken place.

Olivia just felt as though her own heart was broken.

Chapter 8

Leaning against the edge of the table with his arms folded across his chest, Adam listened attentively to what his wife was saying. He kept his head bowed and his face concealed from her, shutting off his expressions so that she had full flow of what she needed to say.

He had returned home late as, after dealing with the matter of the doctor and Joe, he had had to return to work. Upon his return the children were in bed and sleeping, although that in itself was a wonder! But Olivia had all those hours from their return from school to when he had come home to have the matter churn over and over in her head. The more she had thought about it, and endured Sofia’s silent sobs, Reuben’s stoic silence, the more turbulent her heart had felt.

When words finally stuttered to a halt Adam sighed deeply and walked over to her, held her close to him and put his arms around her. He could feel her tension, her distress. It was like holding a small bird within one’s hand, the feel of the fluttering heart beat, and the tension in the body. He kissed her softly and heard her whisper “What shall we do?”

He didn’t answer right away. His mind returned to his days at sea, to the thought of how a Captain was king of his ship, and in that statement one could also say a teacher was king of his classroom. No crew member would think to disobey his captain, and no doubt, every school teacher had the same idea about his class.

There were Captains who were cruel, merciless and should have been drummed out of the service, just as there were good and fair minded ones. It went without saying that the same rule applied with school teachers, so far out west many men, and some women, made up their own rules, and were petty tyrants who still expected their children to muster up for their lessons.

“Adam?” she held herself away from him a little and looked up into his face, “Well, what do you suggest?”

“This is just his first day, sweetheart. Perhaps the children expected too much, hoped that Mr Evans would return and disappointment has coloured their opinion of Mr Crook?”

She shook her head “No, no it hasn’t. He treated the little girl so cruelly, and Sofia said that no one dared breathe especially when he happened to look at them.”

“Sofia is one for over dramatising things, Livvy.” he said softly, “What did Reuben say?”

“Reuben was just very quiet, very – subdued.” she sighed and pulled away from him, and shook her head, “I know Sofia can exaggerate but both of them were so unhappy and quiet.”

“Well,” Adam rubbed his chin with his long fingers and looked at her thoughtfully, “Let’s give the man a chance, shall we? He may just be wanting to stamp his authority on them, after all, he must know that Mr Evans was a very popular teacher.”

She nodded and gave a slight lift of the shoulders as though she already sensed failure in her quest on behalf of the children. He came up behind her and slipped his arms around her waist “Let’s give the man a chance, huh?”

“And then what?” she was relaxing a little now, thinking that perhaps Sofia had been exaggerating, that Reuben may have had other things on his mind.

“Well, if he is that terrible, we’ll have just to run him out of town.” Adam chuckled, and it seemed to her that had he been home and spoken to the children he would have understood better, and realised it was certainly no laughing matter.

Adam noticed the slight clouding on his wife’ s face and pursed his lips while he led her to the settee. He gently sat her down and then took his place close to her while he took hold of her hand in his and gently stroked her fingers with his thumb,

“It’s hard, I know, seeing the children upset but ..”

“But you weren’t here to see them, Adam.” she said but not with anger, she knew he would have understood had he had the chance, and she knew the reason for the delay because Cheng Ho Lee had told her all about the visit of the doctor to see Joe. She cleared her throat and turned to look at him, “I know when Sofia is acting and just trying to get her own way, but she wasn’t this time. She was – so distraught. And Reuben was being so chivalrous, trying to put it behind him and carry on despite it being an ordeal. I dread the morning ..”

He nodded as his brow furrowed and his eyes narrowed at the thought of the scene come breakfast time, “I do understand, Livvy. But -” he shrugged very slightly, “they have to have an education and if Mr Crook is the only means we have of them getting one then they have to face up to it.” he gently turned her face towards him, “We can’t protect them from the harder things in life, that would be unfair of us to do so. No matter how much we would want to , we have to let them face the problems as they come along.”

“I know, I know you’re right…” but still she looked distressed and her eyes filled with tears, “I know it would be wrong to try and wrap them up in cotton wool, it’s just that I find it so hard .” she now gave a little shrug of her shoulders and a wan smile drifted over her lips “I never had a school education as you know, and apart from your college days you didn’t attend school when you were little either, did you?”

“Not really, just an occasional opportunity if there was something like a school functioning at any of the towns or settlements we passed through.” he replied quietly and leaned back, drawing her into his arms so that her head rested upon his shoulder, “They had a good holiday, didn’t they?”

“Reuben did ..with his gang …” she smiled, her face lightened a little as she thought to the sunny bright smiling boy who would rush home fully of excitement at the days adventures, then her face fell “That’s what makes it harder now, to see such a change in him and after only one day.”

“Well, let‘s be optimistic about this, shall we?” he leaned over to face her, “It is Mr Crooks first day, and tomorrow could be a whole different thing altogether.”
……………

Candy frowned and shook his head “There isn’t anything we can do about him, Ann. He’s the school teacher, and he has rights, legal rights.”

“That doesn’t mean he can bully and treat the children so badly, Candy.” Ann Canaday snapped, and paced the floor for a moment while Candy tried to eat his meal.

A nuisance having to work so late and miss chatting to Rosie. She was such a level headed little girl, her version of the events may not have been quite as colourful as his wife’s. He sighed and pushed the plate away, then turned to catch hold of her hand,

“Ann, I’m not sheriff any more, and so far as I can see, he’s not broken any legal requirements as a teacher, there really isn’t anything I can do about it.”

“There are other laws other than the legal ones, Candy. There are moral laws, standards, and those are the ones that a school teacher should be living by, surely?”

He nodded “Yes, I know, but -” he paused and looked at the food congealing on the plate, “as school teacher he has a right to teach as he see’s fit, and if he is a little sterner than Mr Evans, then perhaps Rosie has made a bigger thing of the matter than is true.”

“Candy, you can’t believe she would tell a lie?” Ann looked amazed, her eyes widened and her hands went on her hips so that she looked the very epitome of a frustrated and irate house wife.

“No, I didn’t say that…just that the difference between the two teachers may have made Rose feel some antipathy towards Mr Crook.” he paused, he was about to suggest that this was one way Rosie was using to try and get them to move back to town. He knew soon enough not to mention that or Ann would go through the roof like a sky rocket.

“Cant’ you take it to the school board?” she sighed again, and sunk down upon a chair, reaching out to take hold of his hand and turning mournful eyes towards him.

“Ann, he’s only been there a day. We have to give him a chance. Let’s see how things go for the rest of the month.”

A whole month. Ann felt her heart sink and yet knew Candy was being fair about the whole matter. Mr Crook was new to the job, and perhaps he was right, perhaps Rosie had exaggerated a little in order to get them back into town. She left the table and walked to the stove in order to get the coffee pot which she carried to the table, as she settled it upon the wood and drew two cups closer she nodded, a month…well then, a month it would be!
……………

Sheriff Blakeley leaned back in his chair and stared out at the wanted posters on the wall. It had been a long day and his arm ached from writing down his reports and the statements he had collected on the Tombs situation,

Ever since Jericho had returned and told him his findings Blakeley had realised that the situation regarding the murder to the couple in that cabin had far reaching consequences. One thing of which he was relieved was the fact that whoever ‘did it’ was not a member of his town.

He sighed and frowned, and picked up the first page of his report. The statement of Hugh Morgan. It had been Jericho’s suggestion that the injured man would take his horse to a livery, it was a thought prompted by the fact that there had been no strange horse hitched to a rail waiting for its owner. Someone obviously needed treatment from a doctor but realised that his horse would need attention also, so they had trawled through the liveries until finding Mr Morgan.

Blakeley read through the statement yet again…

“Sure I remember that evening of the cabin fire and this man rode up, reeling in the saddle, looked bad he did. I told him he should go see a doctor and he said straight off “That’s what I intend to do, but I need to see my horse is alright first.” So I said it would be better if he got to the doctors and leave the horse with me. He almost fell out of the saddle and I had to support him for a moment. I said “You got a nasty crack on the head there, mister.” and he said “More than just a crack on the head.”

“He asked me where the nearest doctors surgery was but he was sagging at the knees so I had to support him and take him over to Dr Finlayson’s. He was none too pleased to see us but the poor guy was practically on his knees by then.

“I didn’t see him again, not for about two days, and he came and paid for the horse, thanked me and I asked him how the head was but he just said it was still on his shoulders. Then he mounted up and rode on out.

What did he look like? Well, he was a handsome man, in his 30’s I would say. He had dark hair, curly you know, and he had a real nice smile. Must be about five feet ten inches, he weren’t as tall as you, sheriff. He didn’t look as if he would do any man any harm, no, sir, he looked a mighty pleasant young fella.”

Blakeley sighed and put the scribbled notes face down on the desk and picked up the next one. The statement of Doctor Finlayson.

“Morgan came with a young man about 1 a.m. I had just retired to my bed and was non too pleased at the racket Morgan was making, woke up the whole household. The young man nearly fell into the hall, Morgan and I had to drag him into the surgery between us and heave him up onto the table.

“I could see he had sustained a deep wound in the skull. No point in giving you medical terms you wouldn’t understand them…just that he had bled a lot, and the wound must have been sustained about three hours before hand. The blood was congealing but I had to cut a little of his hair away so that I could clean it out.

“What caused it? Well, it was deep, and furrowed…had he been hit with a rock it would have caused indentations, spider like fissures in the skull but this was deep, and clean. Like a bullet had seared across the bone. You know, by rights he should have been dead.

“Anyway I cleaned it up, sutured it and told him to rest. He was out cold throughout my tending to him, came round just was I was putting a blanket over him. He wanted to get up but I told him there was no chance he could walk away just yet. He needed rest. I gave him a sedative as he started rambling and I thought he was getting delirious. Talked about a lot of money, he had thousands of dollars he needed to deal with….and he wanted to get home to his wife. I remember he kept on saying she was real pretty, his wife…

“Well, about half an hour later, just as I got settled in again, you came charging into the surgery demanding that I went with you as I was needed at the Tombs. So I left him in the back room sleeping off his injuries.

“All that coming and going that morning, by the time I got back I was plain exhausted, there were about six people I had to treat with burns and smoke inhalation you know….I plain forgot all about that stranger until noon time the following day.

“But when I checked he was gone…there was money on the table, guess he felt he had to pay me my dues. Never saw him again and no, I don’t know what his name was…is …I didn’t ask and he was in no condition to tell me.”

Blakeley rose to his feet and stretched. It had been a long day, or rather, another long day. Usually nothing much happened in his town, crime was minimal, he spent more time playing checkers or cards with his deputies than rounding up criminals or organising posses. He rubbed the back of his neck where there was a niggling pain. So if this stranger didn’t collect his horse for two days but had left the doctors the day of his arrival in town, where did he go?

He looked up as a door opened and his deputy Matheson entered the room with a sour looking man walking beside him. Blakeley sighed, and nodded “Good evening, Mr Cavello.”

Cavello removed his hat. He was Italian and Manager of the hotel known to all in the locality as Stewarts Hotel, named after the man who had built it but lost it in a card game to Cavello. He was not a happy man, even what some would have considered a stroke of luck was more like a mill stone around his neck although he had turned down several offers to sell.

He clung to his hat and followed the sheriff as though he were about to face the hangman. ‘Guilty as charged’ was written all over him, and he sunk down upon the chair as though a noose confronted him instead of the genial face of the local lawman.

“Mr Cavello, you have something to tell me?”

“Si, a leetle …not much you understan’?” the dark eyes that always reminded Blakeley of a sad bloodhound swivelled around the office before coming back to rest upon the sheriff “It ees about the man…the stranger…who come to the ‘otel the night of the fire.”

“The Tombs fire you mean?”

“Si, that is the one.” greasy black locks of hair fell over his brow, and he hastily brushed them back with one hand which trembled slightly.

Blakeley glanced over at Matheson and wondered why the hotel owner was so nervous, what secret from the past haunted him to make him such a nervous wreck now.

“What happened, Mr Cavello? In your own words if you don’t mind?” Blakeley muttered and picked up his pen.

Cavello shrugged, almost dropped his hat, retained it and set it down on the desk. “I am in reception when this man he come in. There is blood on his clothes. I think perhaps … he is going to murder us? He had very pale face and dark eyes. He say “I need room, a bed.” So, I say, “Plenty beds here, you have what you like.” and give him key to No. 23. Very nice room…” he glanced at the deputy “You should bring your wife sometime, she would like very much.”

“Did he sign the register?” Blakeley asked without looking up as he carefully noted down all that Cavello was saying.

“Not then, he was not well, swaying on his feet …I say to him “Register please” but he took key and went to the room. I did not insist, he was unwell, I unner-stan. “ he nodded and frowned, then shrugged “I did not see him again until he come to leave. He sign register and paid. He look much better. A handsome man, a very nice smile. I say “You feel better now?” and he say “Much. I just needed a good sleep.” so then I say “A good sleep. Un buon sonno…you sleep nearly two days” and he laughed and shake ‘is ‘ead.”

“Was that all he said?” Blakeley asked and looked at the little man anxiously, he cleared his throat noisily “What name did he give on the register?”

“He write down Joseph Cartwright, The Ponderosa.”

Blakeley’s heart plummeted, and he stared at Cavello as though the man was responsible for all the sins of the world “You’re sure?”

“Si. I ‘ave it in the register. You not believe, you come see?”

“No, that’s alright.” Blakeley muttered and stared at a wanted poster on the far off wall, “The Cartwrights’ of all people.”

Cavello glanced from one to the other and then scrambled to his feet “Is alright, I go now, eh?”

“I want a written statement from you, Mr Cavello…” Blakeley said and then shook his head “The Cartwrights’ ,,, “

“You know ‘em?” Matheson asked stepping back a pace or two to let the little Italian scamper out of the room.

“Haven’t you ever heard of the Ponderosa, old Ben Cartwright and his three sons?”

Matheson shook his head “Can’t say as I have.”

“Then you must be one of the very few around here who can say that ..” Blakeley growled, and pushed himself away from the desk. “Come on, I need a drink and you can buy me one.”

Chapter 9

Sofia acted in a quite unusual manner – for her – at breakfast time. Although there was the occasional silent sob, the sidelong wide eyed look of appeal to her mother, there were no histrionics, no wailing or demanding throughout the meal. The silence from both children was quite unnerving and when Adam asked as calmly as possible if they were feeling all right, both of them nodded and continued to eat without comment.

“ I – er – I believe that your new teacher is a bit different to Mr Evans?” he said when the silence had gone on too long.

Reuben nodded “Yeah, more than a bit though.”

“Oh!” Adam rounded his eyes and looked from one to the other, “In what way?”

“He’s nasty.” Sofia said, and calmly spooned in more oatmeal into her mouth.

“He’s fierce.” Reuben sighed, “He’s not very kind and he doesn’t care who he shouts at.”

“And he spits too.” Sofia nodded “I noticed. When he shouts he spits.”

Reuben nodded agreement. Nathaniel volunteered to demonstrate spitting but got a stern look and a warning finger from his mother so swallowed instead.

“Well, a lot of people shout when they‘re nervous.” Adam said quietly as he dabbed his mouth with the napkin, “Perhaps today he will be calmer, having come to know you all he will no doubt be much – er – kinder.”

Sofia shook her head and put down her spoon, “I don’t think so, daddy. I don’t think Mr Crook knows how to be kind.”

Adam looked at her thoughtfully and then at Reuben, “You’re not too worried about going into school though, are you?”

“Rosie is scared of him. I said I would stay with her so she wouldn’t be too scared. So if Mr Crook does scare me too, then I shall run away.”

Olivia looked at her with a frown and eyes darkened “No, you won’t, my girl. You’ll stay where you are and brave it out.”

“But it’s hard to be brave when you feel scared and your tummy is all squiggly.” Sofia protested and blinked what looked like tears from her eyes.

“Pa, Mr Crook doesn’t care who he hits, he uses a leather strap on girls as well as boys. And he doesn’t care what age they are either…” Reuben fidgeted in his seat, and grimaced over at Sofia who nodded her head slowly.

Adam said nothing for a moment or two but surveyed them thoughtfully. The clock chimed the hour and he knew he had to leave in order to meet Candy in the south pasture, but as he got to his feet he squeezed Olivia’s hand gently in his own.

“Reuben, Sofia…” he paused and smiled slightly as they both turned their faces to him, even Nathaniel looked at him with a serious expression on his little face.
“Keep your heads down, don’t get his attention and don’t look him in the eyes. Be hard working and … and do your best to keep out of his way.”

Sofia bounced down from her chair and ran to him, hugged him and kissed his cheek, “Daddy, if he does bash me with that strap, will you go and thump him?”

“I’d rather you gave him no cause to thrash you, Sofia. Just be good…” he sighed and smiled at Reuben, caught his eyes and winked, pleased at getting a responding wink back. He gave Nathaniel a kiss on the top of his black curls as he passed and then was gone. The door closed behind him with a soft thud.
……………….

His second day as school teacher and Crook was happy to be thought of as a tyrant which was the accusation that Mrs Sales made to him that morning. He whistled a jaunty tune as he walked up the steps to the school and pushed open the door. For a moment he stood in the aisle between the desks and stared at the platform, at the board, and smiled slowly. This was his domain. He was going to make the most of it.

The clock ticked away the minutes as he prepared the desk for the lessons for the day. The leather strap hung on a hook from the desk in full view of all the children, a reminder of what each would get should they dare to even think of misbehaving during lessons. He walked to the window and watched as the children began to arrive…those from town walked, or ran, into the yard. Others from out of town were arriving in wagons, or buggies. He watched each and every one of them as they gathered together in groups or ran around in playful games for the few moments before he would ring the bell.

The bigger children were there, those whose graduation would come at the end of the year. He looked at them for a moment as they stood close together talking and from their body language it was obvious that they were discussing him. The covert glances over at the building, the lowered heads that met close as they whispered together. He simply smiled, gave a slight shrug of the shoulders and walked to the door.

Activity in the playground stopped. He could see a boy, and two girls, clambering down from a wagon and walking to the school yard. He reached out a hand and pulled the bell rope with one hand while he pulled out a watch to look at the time with the other. As Reuben, Sofia and Rosie passed him he said quietly “You had just one minute to go, or you would have been late. Make sure you’re on time tomorrow.”

The three of them said nothing, only lowered their heads and hurried into school with their friends. How could they be late they reasoned when they were going into class with everyone else?

Before anyone was seated Mr Crook separated the big boys and girls, they could whisper all they like outside of school, but in his class room he preferred them to sit where he could see them on their own. Although their faces showed their disapproval none of them risked saying a word but took their places with a lot of scraping of chair legs across the plank flooring.
……………..

Sheriff Blakeley was a worried man. He had taken his horse and gone with Jericho Silverman to the ruins of the cabin where he had spent some time looking around at the things his companion pointed out to him. He was not a bad tracker himself having served as an army scout during the Indian wars but no eyes are as sharp as an Indians and he realised that during his earlier searches he had missed out a lot.

Memories of the evening rushed in upon him too. Memories of the fire, and the smells. Horrible smells and even now he wondered if he would ever be able to eat roast meat again. As he stood in the doorway of the burned out cabin he thought over the rush and turmoil of that night, with Tombs falling into the office and screaming for help, begging for assistance and yet …what assistance could they give? The cabin was a two hour ride from town. How were they expected to save a building, let alone the lives of the couple living within it? What had Grant Tombs expected from them?

He sighed and shook his head, and slowly replaced the hat that he had removed out of respect for those who had died there. He remembered getting Matheson to ring the alarm bell, ,to get as much help as possible but not many really came to assist, not when they realised where the fire was located. If Grant hadn’t come for help no one would have been any the wiser unless the smoke and smell had drifted towards town.

He followed Jericho away from the cabin and noted the horse prints that the man pointed out to him…. Prints that led away from the cabin and towards the incline that had the rider realised could have led him to town. There was the blood, and he squatted down to examine it and thought to himself that there was a lot there for just a head wound.

After a while he left that area and followed to where the horse had found the track into town and taken it. The horse and its rider of course. He nodded to Jericho and rubbed his thumb thoughtfully up and down his jaw line,

“Well, what do you think, Jericho?”

The other man said nothing but shrugged and raised his eyebrows. Blakeley nodded and without another word remounted his horse and rode slowly into town.

Finlayson saw the sheriff dismounting outside his office. He could see from the window of his surgery all the comings and goings to the sheriff, but this particular time he had been waiting for the man to return from wherever he had been. Without a word to his associate Finlayson grabbed his hat and jacket and hurried out of the surgery. By the time he had reached Blakeleys office he had succeeded in struggling into his jacket and was still buttoning it up as he stepped across the threshold.

“Sheriff, there was something I needed to mention, something I forgot earlier.”

Blakeley nodded but continued to walk to his desk, remove his hat and then sit down. Once he was comfortable he looked at the doctor and nodded, his hand reaching out for the folder in which the doctor’s statement had been placed.

“Go ahead, Dr Finlayson … “

“It isn’t much really, just a small point but one that I should have mentioned, but it completely slipped my mind.”

“Happens when it’s just a small point…so what was it/” he dipped his pen into the ink well and jotted down the date and time…then looked up “Cat got your tongue, Doctor?”

“No, of course not. I just wanted to mention that when the young man was brought in, the one with the head wound … it occurred to me that there was a lot of blood on his clothing, too much for just a head wound. Of course, head wounds do bleed a lot, far more than most people realise but that being so, most of the blood would be around the collar, along the shoulders ..not down the front of a man’s jacket … “

“Unusual then, is it?”

“Yes, well, pretty much so.”

“Tell me, did he smell of smoke?” Blakeley looked at Finlayson who stared back at him, “It’s another small point you may have forgotten.”

Finlayson said nothing for a while as he searched back in his mind for a memory of that and then he shook his head, “No, there was no smoke. Just the usual smells of a man who had been hurt, had ridden on his horse for too long without bathing.”

Blakeley nodded “No smoke then?”

“Not a whiff. I can even vouch for the fact that the man never smoked a pipe or cigerette …”

Blakeley shrugged, that information didn’t interest him but he jotted it down since Finlayson had seen fit to mention it. He pushed the paper across the desk and pointed to where the writing ended “Just read it through and sign it if you feel its accurate.”

Finlayson nodded and took the pen, he paused and looked over at the lawman, “I don’t want to get anyone into trouble …”

“You said what I’ve written, doctor, so just sign it.”

Finlayson dipped the pen into the ink, and without any further hesitation signed the paper with a flourish.

When the door closed behind the doctor, Blakeley got to his feet and walked over to the stove where the coffee pot was steaming. He poured himself a cup of coffee and then returned to the desk. There was a lot to think over, but still a few more people to talk to first.
………………

The children sat quietly getting along with their lessons and all the time the tension in the room grew tauter and tauter. It was hard to concentrate on what Crook was saying and even worse trying to read and pronounce long words correctly. The little children who had just started school the previous day were feeling sick and longing for the time to come for recess so that they could relieve their bladders. Every so often there was the sound of a hic-cough which disguised a child’s attempt to suppress a sob.

This was only his second day and he had his class of children terrified of him. He thought he had … but at the back of the class one fourteen year old youth decided that he had had enough of sitting there seeing the younger children so scared they couldn’t think straight. He leaned back against the chair so that the two front legs were off the floor; he put down his pen and stared at the teacher for so long that eventually Crook became aware of his scrutiny and stared back at him.

Lucas Brady recognised the second that he had stared at the teacher for too long. That fraction of a second when Crook turned from curious to furious. If he quavered a little inside himself, Lucas didn’t show it. He had no intention of showing the school master any hint of weakness, cowardice, fear …he remained firmly seated and waited for the teacher to approach him.

By the time Crook had stomped his way down the aisle to reach Brady the lad was wondering what he was going to do next. His act of bravado was, he sensed, about to come back on him and he tensed himself, ready to use his fists if necessary. But still he didn’t move or change from his lounging position in the chair.

By now he had the attention of most of the class for the redness of Crook’s face and the snarl of the thin lips had not gone unnoticed by the children who had turned to follow his progress all the way down the aisle. Brady raised his eyebrows in an act of stupid provocation,

“Mr Brady?” Crook clasped his hands behind his back and surveyed the youth with dark narrowed eyes, “It is Lucas Brady, isn’t it?”

“It is.” Lucas replied without a hint of a tremble in his voice although his heart was thumping twice the rate it usually did but Brady was a veteran of fights, even at such a young age, and being a big lad for his age he was as tall as Crook and almost as wide.

“Stand up when I speak to you.”

Brady paused a while as though he were thinking about it, and then slowly uncoiled himself from his chair to face the teacher with a smirking grin on his face.

“Wipe that grin off your face and walk to my desk.”

“Why’s that?” he rocked on his heels, his head raised at a jaunty angle. He saw his friend Chas Carter looking anxiously over at him from where he was seated, and gave him a wink.

“Because I told you to…and because I am asking you politely – this time.”

“Oh polite is it? Alright, since you asked so polite.” and with a cocksure shrug of the shoulders Lucas turned to leave his desk.

He was half way to the platform where the teacher sat when he felt a blow to his back, between his shoulder blades. It was so sharp, sudden and heavy that it drove the wind out of his lungs, he gasped for air, and fell forward. There was nothing and no one to prevent him from falling, and when he landed with a thud on the floor there was stunned silence for several seconds.

Then one or two of the little ones began to cry. Rosie reached for Sofia’s hand and gripped it tightly, while Sofia clung to hers. Reuben felt his mouth go dry. He wanted to help Lucas to his feet and when he saw Charles Carter stand up as though he were going to help he realised that it was best to do what Pa had said and shrunk back closer to Dave and Jimmy.

Crook spun round to face Charles “One more step, young man, and you’ll be getting six of the best from my friend on the desk.”

Everyone looked over at the leather strap, everyone caught their breath and resolved not to move an inch. Lucas, still on the floor, was struggling to get his breath and Crook nudged him with the toe of his boot,

“As soon as you’ve caught your breath, Brady, you can go and stand with your face to the wall and not move until I tell you that you can.”

Brady groaned and Crook narrowed his eyes “Did you say something, Mr Brady?”

But Lucas could just shake his head while he tried to breathe. Crook returned to his seat at his desk and stared at them. No one moved and he nodded,

“Did I give you permission to stop work?” there was an instant rustle of papers, pages being turned, pens scribbling across paper, “Good. Let that be a lesson to you all…behave well and you’ll learn a lot, misbehave and you suffer the consequences. Mr Brady….” he snarled out the name and pointed to the far off corner of the room “Face to the wall.”

Chapter 11

Grant Tombs entered the sheriff’s office and quietly closed the door behind him which prompted Blakeley to put down the sheaf of papers in his hands to observe the younger man. Not many people closed the door as quietly as he had, and it struck the sheriff as strange because when people entered the sheriff’s office they were either belligerent and slammed the door or nervous so forgot all about it.

Tombs was neither one or the other…although Blakeley smiled him a welcome his mind was wondering why the fellow was coming to see him. A fleeting thought that perhaps it was to confess came and went. Blakely nodded

“Everything all right with you, Grant?”

Tombs nodded, his sandy coloured hair flopped over his brow and his blue eyes seemed as faded as ever. He was dressed smartly, as though he felt it his duty to appear as his parents’ would have wished him to do, for although they lived in isolation, they were always very smartly turned out when they visited town.

“Well, er, I heard tell that you have a suspect?” the man stammered, “For my parent’s murder.”

Blakeley raised his eyebrows and then slowly shook his head “No, I can’t say that I have, Grant. I wish it were so, but at present I need more proof than I have to point the finger at any one.”

“But you do have someone…I mean,you just need more evidence is that right?”
He clutched his hat tightly against his chest and blinked his eyes as though he had some kind of eye affliction. Blakeley hadn’t noticed that before and he wondered what kind of stress the man was under, then chided himself when having to accept the fact that the man’s parents had just been murdered. He had the right to be stressed.

“I have only circumstantial evidence, Grant. Not enough to go and make an arrest.”

Grant slumped down into a chair and hugged his hat and sighed “Oh, I thought you had, I had hoped that you had I mean…”

“Not yet. I still need to make more enquiries.” Blakeley paused and looked at Grant thoughtfully, “Talk me through what you were doing that evening your parents were killed. If I recall rightly you were quite near the cabin..” he began to shuffle through the papers, looking for the statement of Grant Tombs.

“I told you, I went to see them in the evening, I didn’t ride fast, just slow you know, I had a lot on my mind that I needed to talk to them about.”

“Such as?”

“Well, just things … about what kind of work I was going to do, and what capital they were going to invest in me. I didn’t want them to lose out in any way, after all, I accept that I’ve not got the business acumen my father had, but even so, if they were going to back me, I wanted to make sure it was alright by them.”

“Any reason to doubt that it would be?” Blakeley murmured and kept his eyes on Grants statement.

“My father can sometimes surprise me by changing his mind on things at the last moment. I wanted to make sure this wasn;t going to be one of those occasions.”

Blakeley frowned and looked at Grant thoughtfully, in his previous statement Grant had not been so forthcoming with information, but of course, he was under shock at that time. He nodded as though prompting for more, and Grant rolled his eyes up to survey the ceiling before he recommenced talking.

“There isn’t anything further to add really. I was rehearsing what to say to Pa if he had changed his mind, and then thinking of what I would do if he had, when I saw the glow of the fire through the trees…you know that bend where the trees grow and obscure the view of the cabin? It was just there that I saw the flames, the fire…at first I wondered what Pa would be burning at that time of night. Then I realised it was the cabin…”

“And you went down to find it well and truly ablaze?”

Grant shifted uncomfortably in his seat and nodded, “I don’t know – I mean – yes it was, well and truly as you say. I felt – helpless – I didn’t know what to do and I yelled for them. I yelled loud, good and hard. I thought perhaps they weren’t there, they could have been out, they could even have seen the fire and gone to one of the neighbours. But then I thought my Pa wouldn’t do that, he would have tried to put the fire out.”

“So what did you do then?”

“I couldn’t do anything, the fire – it was too much for me to deal with – and I wanted to get away. I – was scared – so I rode away and thought I would get help from anyone in town – “

“You had a long trek to town for help…” Blakeley said with a touch of irony in his voice, and Grant nodded,

“I know. I realised that but it was all that was really left for me to do. Even if everyone in town just said it would be too late for them, or that I was stupid to have bothered I still – kinda – hoped. I was grateful for those who did go out -”
His voice trailed off and he again turned his attention to staring up at the ceiling rather than look at the sheriff who was scribbling things down on some paper.

“Grant, you hadn’t argued with your father or mother, had you?”

“Not at all. Fact is, no one argued with father. He was always right, you see?”

Blakeley paused and looked at the man opposite him, and Grant gave a faltering smile “I wasn’t being facetious in saying that, it was true. My father was a sound clever man, he always knew what was best. No, I never argued with him. There was nothing to argue about.”

“And if he had decided not to fund your latest enterprise, would you have argued then?”

“No, as I said, I was already preparing in my mind what to say, and what to do if he did change his mind. Pa would always have something alternative to offer or suggest.”

Blakely nodded and after folding his arms on the desk he leaned forward to look into the man’s eyes, “I would suggest, Grant, that as yet you have never found anything or anyone in your life that you truly loved, have you?”

Grant swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down and he blinked again, several times, then shook his head “Would that make a difference?“

“Oh yes, I’d say it would have made a lot of difference…” Blakeley replied and smiled slowly, his craggy face creased pleasantly and Grant felt that somehow he had passed an examination that he hadn’t even realised he had been taking.
……………

Long shadows stretched across the ceiling of Joe and Mary Ann’s bedroom, and Joe lay with his eyes closed trying to avoid looking up and seeing them like so many pointing fingers accusing him of – something.

By his side Mary Ann slept deeply and her soft even breathing was the only sound to be heard in the whole house. Daniel and Constance slept the sleep of the innocents in their own room. With a long drawn out sigh Joe swung his legs over the side of the bed and placed his feet on the floor, his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands.

He was so tired. His body was weary with being so tired but as soon as he closed his eyes he had those dreams. Strange mixed up dreams that slipped away from his memory like mist. Sometimes he would catch just a slight glimmer of one, like seeing someone turning a corner and thinking…I know you…and then …gone.

His head ached but only from being so tired, there was no pain with it at all now. Colby had said if there was he needed to take a sedative and rest. He had rested all day and now, still as weary as ever.

Hoping he would not disturb his wife Joe pulled on his dressing gown and made his way downstairs. In the big room he was just another shadow among shadows that twirled in the moonlight that shone through the big windows. He made his way to the tantalis and poured out a drink of brandy, then sat down in one of the chairs by the hearth.

He knew now, thanks to Adam’s probing, that something must have happened between leaving Boulder Creek and arriving at that doctors in that town…if he could only recall what it was named. It wasn’t really so far away, two days ride? He could check it out on the map. Must be recently built, not a long established town, otherwise Adam or Hoss would have known it immediately.

He would have done too…and with a sigh he gulped down some brandy and then coughed. Brandy hit his throat, always made him cough. But he drank some more and emptied the glass and then sat holding it in his hand and wondering what to do about all that had happened, or not happened. He really needed to find out for sure, for himself.

He fell asleep then, having made a resolution in his own mind he just drifted into sleep.
…………….

Jericho Silverman watched as a tall man dismounted outside what had been a well known brothel. The ladies in town had objected to such an enterprise and it had recently been closed down. The man glanced around him and then walked to the door, knocked twice and when it was not opened to him he fussed about in a pocket and drew out a key.

Jericho watched him open the door and close it, and although he had entered he did not light any lamp or candle. The windows remained dark. Jericho thought that to be very interesting, it indicated that the man knew his way around. He sighed, probably a lot of townsmen had got to know their way around during the short time that the business had thrived.

Out of curiosity he strolled over to the horse. There was a bright moon, and Jericho had eyes that could see quite clearly in such a light. He stroked the animals neck and noticed it was sweating, so the man had come some distance or ridden the animal hard. He then bent double and lifted a foot and then another, until he had seen all four and then, satisfied, left the animal to nod over the rail.

For a while he stood in the shelter of a doorway watching the building until the man came out. He timed it at fifteen minutes. Then he watched as the man walked to the horse, remounted and rode away.

Jericho wondered what to do now, perhaps he should get the sheriff? He was unsure after all, there was only one ..perhaps two..things that aroused his curiosity and suspicions and Blakeley never liked being roused from sleep on a flimsy reason. He sighed and shook his head, rubbed his chin and decided it would be best to say nothing.

He would recognise the man again, and he knew the horse. He also knew where that horse had been recently. He knew Sheriff Blakely would be interested in that, at least, he hoped so.

Chapter 12

Blakeley’s craggy face went rather a mottled colour when Jericho told him about the man on the horse who had stopped and entered the old brothel. He would have blasted Jericho with some choice words but stopped himself in time knowing that Silverman could get sensitive about such things and would likely just turn around and walk out never to be seen again for, perhaps, weeks at a time.

Not that anyone knew where he went when he took himself off, and not that many folk in town cared that much, but Blakeley did, for he respected the man for who he was and what he represented.

“Hell’s bells, “ he managed to say almost apologetically “why didn’t you follow him when you had the chance?”

“Man looked a mean cuss, likely stick knife in Jericho…and why should I follow him just because he stop at brothel. He may be get suspicious.”

“Well, we ain’t going to find out whether he would or not now, will we?” Blakeley shook his head and then rubbed the back of his neck as though he had a pain there that wouldn’t go away. “This is a mess …”

“I see hoof print before…”

“What hoof print?”

“Of horse, I seen where it has been before.”

“Oh? Whereabouts was that?” Blakeley narrowed his eyes and rubbed the back of his neck again as he sensed the direction that this conversation was going.

“At cabin. May be on night of fire.” Jericho delivered the facts with the nonchalance only a Cherokee could; he knew what Blakeley would say and how he would react so when the man’s face went a slightly redder shade than it had before Jericho had the good sense to say nothing.

“At the cabin? You think he may be or may have been there? Even more reason for you to have followed him.”

“Had no horse. He already gone but I know horse, I know horse print…”

“He could be out of town by now.”

Jericho nodded “Could be. But no difficult to follow horse print.”

Blakeley nodded, then sat down again to think ..”Jericho, there are too many anomalies in this case.”

Jericho nodded, he would have preferred if the sheriff had spoken more clearly, stated the fact that there were some irregularities, or things were not stacking up right. He wandered over to the door only to stop when Blakeley asked him where he was going

“Go find man on horse.”

“Then what are you going to do? Arrest him?”

Jericho shook his head “Why arrest him? I just follow, see what he do, who he speak to perhaps.”

He Didn’t mention the fact that up to that point in time the sheriff had never appointed him a deputy so he had no authorisation even to arrest the town dog for having too many fleas.

Blakeley passed his hand over his mouth and thought for a moment then after uttering a word of caution commended Jericho for a good idea, “Be careful, I don’t want to be finding your skin hanging from a rope anywhere.”

Jericho nodded, he had no intention of leaving any part of him hanging about anywhere either.
………………..

Sofia and Rosie entered the school door with heavy hearts, but hand in hand. They made their way to their desks and glanced around the class room warily. Crook was at the board, writing something down with some chalk. He didn’t seem bothered about who was there or not. The clock was ticking away the time but it didn’t seem to matter.

Sofia looked around her and noticed that Annie and Betty Sales were not at their usual seats, nor were several of the very little children. The little girl who had been made to clear up her mess was missing and somehow Sofia realised she had been expecting that, and wondered if the child’s parents had approved her absence.

Reuben sat down next to David Riley and they exchanged the watchful glances between co-conspirators, although so far neither of them had conspired much in the way of what to do about the teacher. There was no sign of Lucas. Charles Carter was there though with his long legs stretched out in the aisle and his fingers toying with a pen.

Once the children were settled and there was a cessation to the scraping of chair legs and the scuffing of boots upon the floor boards, Crook turned to observe them.

His dark eyes seemed to rest upon each one of them, he noticed the ones missing, which was not difficult as most of the front bench was empty. That was where the new and young children sat. He stared at Charles long enough for the youth to tuck his legs under the desk and sit more tidily.

“Lucas Brady? Is he – unwell?”

Charles shook his head and opened his mouth but the command “Stand up when you’re talking to me” shut him up. He stood up and squared his shoulders

“His father needed him for work today.”

“So, not ill then?”

“Not when I last saw him..”

“Yes or no will suffice.”

“No, he ain’t ill. Just working for his Pa.” Charles sat down quickly, anything rather than stand in the full glare of those eyes.

The children fidgeted and sighed, their eyes fixed on the teacher and waiting for him to say something or do something that would make them quake from head to foot. But Crook was wily, he nodded curtly and then turned to the board.

“Ambition!” he said in a loud voice “Who can give me a definition for the word ambition?”

Philip Wiggins put his hand up and was told to stand “It’s a compulsion to succeed, sir.”

“Really? And is that how you feel, Mr – Wiggins isn’t it?”

Philip paled and nodded, gulped and sat down. Crook watched him for a second or two, just to let him think he may be called upon to answer a little more on the subject. His eyes flicked over the faces that were turned towards him, he could see the fear in their eyes, almost smell the fear in the room. He nodded in Reuben’s direction,

“And what would you say was the meaning of the word, Mr ….Cartwright? That is right, isn’t it? Reuben Cartwright?”

“Yes, sir.” Reuben mumbled, and felt as though his tongue had dried up into a piece of leather that stuck to the roof of his mouth,

“Well, proceed, Mr Cartwright… ambition is…what?”

“Wanting to achieve a goal, be successful. I think …” he stammered to a halt, and lowered his head.

“Don’t think, Mr Cartwright. You either know or you don’t…so what is it?” a thud on the desk as Crook brought down his fist.

“A wanting to succeed, to achieve a goal.” Reuben now muttered.

“Louder, Mr Cartwright, so everyone can hear you.” Crooks eyes gleamed, and although Reuben stood looking straight ahead he avoided looking into the man’s face, but stared instead at the word written on the board.

“A desire to succeed, to achieve a goal.” he said more loudly.

“How old are you, boy?”

“Nine, sir.”

“And do you have any ambitions?” Crook rocked on the heels of his boots, his eyes roamed around the room waiting to see anyone there looking more timid than most. Reuben wasn’t thinking fast enough for Crook who snapped loudly “Anyone without any ambition is a fool. Sit down, fool.”

Duly humiliated Reuben sat down and writhed in his seat. He dared not glance at his sister for fear he would burst into tears. By his side David Riley put a hand on his arm, just enough to show solidarity.

The morning slowly unravelled, little girls felt sick and wanted to go home, bigger girls clung together during recess and were very quiet. Charles Carter decided he had had enough and told the other boys he was going home, his Pa wanted him to do some work too.

No one wanted to deliver the message to the teacher. Reuben suggested they drew straws, and as they had no straws they chose blades of grass but that didn’t work very well. By the time they had stopped dithering Crook was ringing the bell, recess was over.

The next oldest boy mustered up the courage to tell Crook that Carter had gone home as he had work to do for his father on the homestead. Hoping that the longer the explanation the more plausible it would be the hapless lad talked on until Crook raised a hand and stopped the flow.

Somehow they staggered on through the afternoon. There was no commendation for anyone, no sign of a kind thought or word being extended to any child there. No child felt they would want to be teacher’s pet to Mr Crook.
……………..

Ben Cartwright put down the letter he had been reading and looked thoughtfully at his daughter-in-law, Hester, as she sat opposite him darning a sock. He wasn’t sure if it was his or Hoss’, but for a moment he just watched as the needle dipped in and out of the sock.

“Hester, I’ve just had news from Emily Soames.”

“Emily Soames?” Hester repeated in the tone of voice of one who doesn’t recognise the name.

“The mother of the little girl Sofia befriended, Ella.”

Hester nodded and smiled, “Of course, I am sorry, Ben, I couldn’t think of who she was for the moment. She was more Olivia’s friend than mine, of course.”

“Well, I daresay that she has written a similar letter to Olivia anyway.” Ben said and slipped the little paper into the envelope.

“Is anything wrong? Ella was having an operation wasn’t she?” she paused in her darning, the needle pointing ceiling wards.

“Yes, she had the operation but it wasn’t the success they had hoped it to be. They are having to stay there for a while longer yet.”

“That’s going to be a disappointment for Sofia, she really misses Ella.” she glanced quickly over to Ben who was sitting very quietly and in deep thought in the other chair, “You were quite fond of Mrs Soames, I think, Pa?”

“She was a very pleasant woman, attractive too…” Ben muttered a trifle self consciously, and sighed, “I hope she is coping alright there in Sacramento, it’s a big place. A person can feel rather lonely in the cities.”

“Did she – er – mention that she felt alone? Or lonely?” Hester murmured as she bent her head to concentrate on her darning once more, although she glanced up mischievously to see the reaction to her question.

“No, not really. Just a thought … I wonder if she is able to afford the bills. She said she was having to find work, a widow with a sick child, hospital bills..it all adds up.”

Hester nodded “Yes, I’m sure it does.” she snapped the thread and looked at Ben with a smile, “Perhaps you should ask her in your reply?”

“Mmm, I don’t know, it’s rather a sensitive thing to ask isn’t it? I mean, we were not close friends.”

“Oh I got the impression you were.”

“Hester, whatever impression you got, you’re wrong…Mrs Soames and I met very rarely. I just, well, sympathise with her situation, that’s all.”

“Of course, Pa.” she smiled, got to her feet and put away the darning basket, then as she passed him she dropped a kiss on his forehead “Just do what you think is best, dear.”

Ben scowled, and then started biting his nails. He wasn’t really sure what was ‘for the best’, nor was he sure that he had the courage to proceed with whatever ‘best’ it was that he decided to do.
…………….

Joe Cartwright carefully unrolled the barbed wire and watched as his brother, Hoss, caught the other end of it and then began to hold it against the timber which was going to support it. While he did that Joe hammered it into place, hammering in nails in several before going back to the roll and unrolling another length.

He hated barbed wire. None of them liked the idea of having to use it to ensure their boundaries were respected but in the short term it kept the cattle in and prevented them from straying. In the long term..it was just horrible having to use it. But trust among ranchers and homesteaders was breaking down, and Ben had felt it necessary to use it on the further boundaries of their land.

Not so far away Adam and Candy were engaged in doing similar work. Whereas Hoss and Joe worked in comparative silence, Candy and Adam were deep in conversation. The main topic of their conversation was the new school teacher, and the effect it was having on their respective children. Candy admitted that Ann was very concerned about Rosie, the effect Mr Crook was having on her was devastating, coming as it did so soon after their move back to the country.

Adam nodded and thought of what Reuben and Sofia had told him. Of course, Reuben had had to admit that Mr Crook had not actually given a little child the leather strap, even though he had implied it in talking of the school teacher. That had been wrong on Reuben’s part, for Adam had had to give him a lecture about being sure of his facts on important issues as just thinking or assuming a matter could lead to serious repercussions.

“I’m glad Sofia and Rosie are keeping close at school,” Adam said quietly, “They’ll need to stick together, I think.”

“The thing is, Adam, what do we do about it? The man’s a menace, surely he has no right to deal with the children as he does?”

Adam hammered another nail into place, and then adjusted his gloves, he shook his head “Teachers tend to be a law unto themselves. Some folks will think it is character building to have a man like Crook teach their kids, but it depends on just how far the man intends to go … “ he hammered in another nail, “He was an army man wasn’t he?”

“Yes, served in Indian territory.” Candy carefully rolled out another length of the barbed wire, taking it to the next post along.

“How come he got the post as school teacher then?”

“He was a school teacher before he went into the army. When he retired he decided to return to it. The School board said his application and references were all above board, quite exemplary in fact.”

“Odd that Pa never mentioned it….” Adam straightened his back and glanced over at Joe and Hoss. He watched them for a moment before finding another nail, “Pa’s still on the school board and…”

“It was while your Pa and Hoss were taking that string of horses to Fort Yuma. That was when Crook had his interview with the school board.”

Adam pursed his lips and nodded, that, he thought, was very interesting.

Chapter 13

Bridie Martin had known Olivia for as long as she had known Adam Cartwright. Their friendship had started when she was Bridie O’Flannery and worked as the cook and housekeeper at Olivia’s home in San Francisco where she trained and befriended little Marcy Jackson who was now Olivia’s sister in law.

How strange life was in its twists and turns, and the way events wrapped around various lives in order to bring them closer together in bonds of friendship, love or hate. Bridie had followed Olivia to Virginia City and had grown to love all three of the Cartwright wives and eventually had married the town’s most popular doctor, Paul Martin. Life for Bridie had been good but then she was a woman who had shown nothing but goodness and kindness to others all her life long, so perhaps it was right and proper for her to receive her due recompense in love and affection in return.

She was more than pleased to see Olivia and Mary Ann Cartwright standing on her threshold when she opened her door. Mrs Treveleyn hurried off to attend to some refreshments while Bridie ushered her visitors into the best parlour. It was a pleasant day outside but in side the house it was chilly so a small fire had been lit, and beside this the two younger women took their seats.

They removed their bonnets, gloves and jackets and then relaxed into the settee just as Tilly Treveleyn brought in a tray which she set down on the low table which separated them from Bridie who sat in the chair opposite. Bridie chattered, her soft Irish brogue so faint now only an Irishman would pick it up….she asked after the children and enquired about their husband’s and being a woman of a discerning nature she noticed right away the slight anxiety that stole across Mary Ann’s pretty face.

“Is anything wrong with Joe?” she asked as she handed Mary Ann a cup of sweet tea, which she knew Mary Ann preferred to coffee.

“I am worried about him.” Mary Ann conceded slowly, and glanced at Olivia who inclined her head slightly, as though encouraging her to speak. “He has such bad dreams, but then when he wakes up he says he can’t remember them. He always wakes up…” her voice trickled away, and she sighed, took a sip of the tea and gave a slight shrug of the shoulders, “He’s restless and tosses about so much when he’s dreaming, and yet he can’t remember them. Lately he has gone downstairs after he has woken and sits in the big room, just sitting …”

“Doesn’t he come back to bed?” Bridie asked as she poured out coffee for herself, and looked at Olivia as though she would have some more information to divulge but Olivia just sipped her coffee and said nothing.

“Eventually. Sometimes.” Mary Ann drank more of the tea and then set down the cup and saucer onto the table, she leaned forward towards Bridie, “I am worried about him, Bridie. He said he saw Dr Colby the other day but he doesn’t seem to be making any progress.”

“What progress is he supposed to make? What did James Colby recommend he do? Did he give Joe some medication?”

“He said that Joe was suffering shock, from the fall he had that time when he went to Boulder Creek. He has shock because he should have stayed in bed and recovered more fully from his wound before getting up and travelling on home. He told Joe to rest and take time to build himself up…I think that means doing as little as possible and eating healthily.”

Her brow crinkled and Bridie nodded agreement with what she had said while Olivia continued to sip her coffee. “Well, did he do those things?”

“I make sure he eats well, now that I’m cooking the meals, and I try to get him to rest but its so busy on the ranch. I mean, it isn’t just Joe, all the men are busy, and I’m just so glad that Candy is back to help … Bridie, what do you think is wrong with him?”

The worry and concern on her face touched Bridie’s heart, and the older woman could only shake her head and assure Mary Ann that, knowing James Colby so well, he would have told Joe all he needed to do. It just needed Joe to comply with the instructions he had been given.

“I can’t tie him to the house,” Mary Ann said quietly, “You know how obstinate the Cartwright men are?” she gave a vague little smile and shrugged, “And his sleep at night is disturbed by these dreams. At first it was not so often, but now it is every night, sometimes twice a night. Bridie, I just don’t know what to do to help him.”

“I am sure you are doing all you can to help, but Joe should take his doctor’s advice, Mary Ann, he should take time to rest and let the wound heal, and his body recover from the shock it has had.”

Mary Ann looked anxiously at Olivia who put out a hand to take hold of hers, then she looked at Bridie again, “I don’t understand how a simple thing like falling off a horse could affect him so badly… there must be something more to that incident, Bridie, but how do I find out when he can’t remember?”

Bridie nodded and agreed that it was all very odd, “It isn’t often you hear of anyone falling off a horse, especially a horseman as excellent as Joe. It sounds, well, it sounds very strange altogether.”

Olivia nodded “That’s what we think. Adam is very concerned too, he said that Joe just isn’t right, just seems …well, he’s not well, and Adam thinks he should see another doctor.”

Bridie went a little pink around the cheeks and blinked “Well, now, James is a very good doctor, Olivia, I’m sure that he knew what he was talking about … it seems to me that Joe’s the one at fault here.”

“I didn’t mean to imply that James was wrong in any way at all, Bridie. Just that he doesn’t know Joe so well as Paul, he doesn’t know the way to talk to him to make him do what he is told.” Olivia smiled as though to soften any indication of criticism that Bridie may have thought from her previous comment, but it was true, Paul knew the Cartwrights boys of old, and whereas Joe would dismiss James’ advice without thinking much about it, he would deal with anything Paul had to say rather differently.

Bridie nodded and agreed that could well be the case and after a moment’s silence suggested that she and Paul took a trip out to the Ponderosa on Saturday, but to make sure that Joe was home and available when they arrived. She was more than pleased to see Mary Ann relax, her smile was less tense and the obvious signs of relief were clearly evident.

Talk changed to other things, and the subject of the new teacher rose to the surface. Bridie sighed and it was now her turn to look concerned,

“A very strange man. Unmarried you know?” both ladies admitted to not knowing and Bridie shook her head, “A school teacher should be married, it helps in so many different ways. But Mr Crook, well, I couldn’t imagine any woman wanting to marry him, or stay married should they inadvertently end up his wife by some mischance. Yes, indeed.” she sighed and shook her head again, “A very strange man.”

“In what way?” Olivia asked now, leaning forward slightly as though she didn’t want to miss out on any word Bridie had to speak.

“Well, he’s rude, and crude. His language out of school is appalling – so I’ve heard from others I should add. He’s a rough soldier and hasn’t adopted the mantle of school teacher in the way a man should. However, at the same time, he is a good teacher. I have heard several comments about how well some students have done since he has been teaching then ..”

“Barely a week.” Olivia muttered and put down her cup upon its saucer with a clutter.

“I know, it’s not much time to judge…which goes every way really, one can’t judge the man on the basis of a week.” Bridie said quietly and looked over at Mary Ann, “More tea, dear?”
…………..

The school day had ended and the children ran, skipped or strolled from the building with far more intense relief than they had at other times. They had survived another day with Crook as their teacher and whether they liked it or not, had to face the next day. It was Olivia and Mary Ann who were waiting to take the children home that day. Rosie Canaday sat between Sofia and Reuben in the back seat and longed to get home. Her only solace had been the friendship that she now enjoyed with Sofia, and for Sofia, she basked in knowing that Rosie and she were now friends.

Peter Crook locked the door of the school house and mounted his horse to ride the short distance home. He could have walked but then that would mean rubbing shoulders with the townsfolk anyone of whom could button hole him to talk about the conditions at school. Riding the horse kept him aloof from them, to some extent. He had already had to endure the Sales’ fury at the way he had treated their youngest daughter, the result being that neither girl had set foot in the school since his first day.

He didn’t particularly care although he had to admit it was a shame for Annie Sales because she had a brain on her, and would now miss on her education. He rode his horse carefully, avoiding anyone that could impede his progress while his mind went over the events of the day.

Crook was a man of limited intelligence in that he was ruled by his passions rather than his intellect. True, he was the school teacher and to him that meant teaching by rote the facts he already knew. To act on his own initiative and to bring out the best in his pupils required both imagination and intelligence. He lacked both.

He noticed from the corner of his eye three horsemen making an orderly progress through the traffic towards the Sazarac. Crook slowed his horse slightly in order to watch the three men more closely. Two of the men were talking to one another, an animated conversation it would seem, one smiled and the other listened. The third man rode along with a distracted air, and was looking at people as they passed by so it was quite by accident that he noticed the school teachers face as the man looked in the direction of Adam and Candy.

Hoss frowned, and then looked back for another quick glance at the school teachers face. Had he been mistaken? Had he really seen an expression of such hatred on his face that it was practically malevolent. He wondered who it was that the teacher hated so much and was trying to work out the direction of the man’s gaze when Candy turned his attention to him and distracted him.
………………….

A middle aged man stood on the threshold of Widow Hawkins Guest house and waited for it to open. When it did he removed his hat and smiled down at her, while she stared at him in the way people often do when they see someone they think they know but are not sure enough to volunteer a name to the face.

“Mrs Hawkins, I was wondering if you would be able to rent me a room?”

“Well, certainly, if you have references…I’m an old lady you know, and I have to be careful who exactly I accept in the house.” she said in a low voice, while her eyes darted back and forth to see if there was anyone nearby to whom she could call for help should she so need it.

“Mrs Hawkins, I know you are an old lady, although if I may say so, a very charming lady at that, and I remember that you waltz very well when you have a chance to do so…”

“You cheeky young chap, what do you know about my waltzing, or anything else come to that…” she exclaimed and stood back to allow him admittance. She looked him up and down “Been ‘ere before, ain’t’cha?”

“I have, Mrs Hawkins. Not so long ago either.” he smiled again, a pleasant smile, although his eyes were sad and reminded Clemmie of an old basset hound she h ad own owned all those years ago when she and her ‘Arry had performed in a circus far back in England.

“Aye, lad, and a rough time of it you have had since you left ‘ere too, so I’m told. Come on in now.” she paused “Put your hat and coat down there, I’ve just made something to eat. Sit down and share something with me while we discuss terms concerning a room, and what brought you back to Virginia City.”

Edward Evans smiled again, just momentarily there was a light in his eyes, but that was soon extinguished. He followed her into the parlour and sat down at the table already laden with food, he glanced up at her

“You’ve guests coming?”

“No,” she sighed and indicated a chair for him to sit on, “No, like yourself I am quite alone in the world, but I like to pretend that I’m not.” she put a plate down in front of him, “Have you ever noticed, Edward, how very empty a table looks when there is just one place, one table setting for one solitary meal ? I don’t like that, I pretend, you see, that my ’Arry is still about to walk in the room and demand ’is supper.”

“I’m still getting used to the idea…of being alone I mean…” Edward murmured and sighed.

She served up a portion of food and sat down, then indicated that he was to help himself to whatever he wanted. “Are you alone then, without that housekeeper of yours?”

“She was an old friend of my wife’s.” Edward said quietly and looked down at the food.

“There’s another school teacher in town.” Clemmie said as she sliced through some beef and placed it on the plate in front of him, “I somehow think there will be a vacancy there soon.”

“Really, is he not a good teacher?” he watched as another slice of beef was set down before him.

“From what I’ve ‘eard … and in a word …no, ‘e’s not. Not much of a hooman being either come to that…”

Edward frowned “Why was he employed then, if he were not suitable?”

“That, Edward, is something of a mystery. We don’t know, ‘aven’t fathomed it out yet.” she winked and sat down, then began to pile up her own plate with food. “But believe me, we will…” she grinned and winked “fathom it out I means.”

Edward nodded. Remembering her reputation he had no doubt about that whatsoever!

Chapter 14

It was while Reuben was concentrating on writing his essay about ambition, and Nathaniel was drinking his milk and entertaining Cheng Ho Lee that Olivia took the opportunity to tell Sofia about Ella. She had wondered initially upon receiving the letter from Emily Soames as to whether to let the matter alone and hope that nothing would come of it. But honesty prevailed and she was sure that sooner or later Ella herself would write or someone else would find out and then tell Sofia, which would make Olivia appear negligent and uncaring.

One of Sofia’s favourite tasks was to hunt for eggs in the barn so Olivia suggested that they did just that and the child was more than happy to skip along by her mother’s side with a basket on her arm and a smile on her face.

For Sofia it was a chance to relax and cast off the dark spell brought about by her day at school. More than once she had hinted to her Aunt Mary Ann that just perhaps she could teach them school instead of having to go into town where that horrible Mr Crook was now. But her Aunt had either pretended not to hear her or had ignored her. Sofia had felt very aggrieved.

But seeking out eggs and running around for them was enough to bring the smiles back to her face and while Olivia leaned against the door frame and watched her daughter, the little girl was more than content. Probably more than she had been all week since the disillusioning moment when she realised Mr Evans was not going to teach school but instead, there was Mr Crook.

She finally carried her basket to Olivia and held it up for her to survey “Twelve eggs, mommy.”

“So there are, well done, darling.” Olivia took the basket and stepped aside for Sofia to walk with her. She lowered her hand so the little girl could grab it and hold it, swinging their arms back and forth together in unison. “Sofia..I had a letter today from Ella’s mommy.”

The arm swinging stopped and Sofia slowed her pace, so did Olivia. Gently Olivia led Sofia to the fencing around the corral and leaned against one of the posts, Sofia turned big blue eyes up to scan her mothers face and then lowered her own.

“Is Ella dead?” she whispered.

“Why no, whatever made you think she was dead?” Olivia set down the basket and knelt beside her child, a hand on her shoulder so that she could turn her round to face her, “No, darling, Ella is not dead. She has had the operation but – just for now she has to stay in the hospital.”

“But she can walk, can’t she? Why can’t she come home?”

There was a slight whine in the voice and Olivia sighed, she hadn’t expected it to be easy, but had hoped that Sofia would wait and listen before making her demands.

“She needs more time for what they call rehabilitation. For a long time she hasn’t used her legs and parts of her body have to be helped in remembering how to walk. Thanks to Dr Chang and all those hours of massage her legs are not as weak they the doctors in the hospital thought, but at the same time, they are not strong like ours are.”

“So she will be coming home soon?” pleading blue eyes and trembling lips looked up into her face, so that Olivia was compelled to brush aside some loose curls from Sofia’s brow and enjoy the fact that her daughter was a very lovely child.

“Yes, she will be home as soon as she can be.”

“But how soon is that, mommy? Will it be next week?”

“No, not that soon. Perhaps not until the winter.”

“Winter? “Sofia almost screeched the word and her lips trembled again, “A whole lots of time yet…”

“It will pass very quickly. You can write to her, as you have done, and you enjoy getting her letters back, don’t you?”

Sofia nodded slowly and reached for her mother’s hand again for reassurance and comfort this time. They walked towards the house in silence and then she said very softly “She wouldn’t be able to go to school.”

“No, not for a while.”

“That’s good. Then she won’t have to see Mr Crook. He’s cruel.” and then she released Olivia’s hand and ran into the house, her feet clattering against the boards on the porch and the door swinging open, swinging shut.
……………

Hoss, Adam and Candy were engrossed in conversation when Nate Carney stepped into the saloon. He glanced around and saw them through the haze of cigarette and cigar smoke, and with a vague smile walked over to where they were seated.

“Joe not with you?” he asked as he pulled out a chair.

“No, we’re going easy on him seeing as how he is still recovering from that blow on the head he got.” Hoss replied and beckoned to the bar keep to bring over another beer.

“Still bad is it?” Nate looked thoughtful, but smiled appreciation when the glass of beer was placed in front of him.

He was a handsome man, a little too tall some would say, being over 6’6” in height. He was lean too, which made his body look longer than it maybe was, keen eyes, bronzed sun burned skin, and an easy going smile. Most of the single women had already decided that he would make one of them an ideal husband. “He will be alright, won’t he?”

Adam nodded, “He just needs to rest and not do so much.”

Hoss added “Which means we’re running around doing extra to cover for him.”

Candy grinned “Which makes it a good thing that I moved back in time to give them both a hand and show them how to do the job.”

They nodded, smiled and raised their glasses before Adam asked Nate if there was anything he particularly needed or wanted. The sheriff shook his head and shrugged “Probably nothing, just an enquiry from some sheriff wanting to know if Joe was in the vicinity of his town some weeks back.”

Adam leaned forward and put the glass down upon the table, while Hoss and Candy looked at one another before turning their full attention to Nate

“What town exactly?” Adam asked quietly.

“A place called Blakesville.” Nate looked at their faces, saw the blank look in their eyes, and sighed “I’ve never heard of the place, but towns are mushrooming up all over…”

“He was at Boulder’s Creek on an errand for Pa. Came right on back.” Hoss declared and nodded with emphasis.

“What was he doing there?” Nate asked carefully and noticed how both brothers narrowed their eyes while Candy buried his face in his glass “I presume that was the errand for your Pa?”

“S’right,” Hoss said, “At the bank with a Mr Rawlins if you want to check.” the defensive tone in his voice was obvious enough for Nate to pick up his drink and swallow some of the beer while he thought how to ask the next question.

“Nate, why exactly is this sheriff so curious about Joe?” Adam asked in a polite tone of voice.

“Well, he never actually said, just mentioned that if Joe had been in the area he would like to speak to him about a certain matter.” Nate pushed the now empty glass away.

“Which certain matter?” Adam now asked.

Nate rose to his feet, uncoiling himself from the chair so indicating that there was no requirement for more beer.

“As I said, he didn’t mention it.” Nate replied, “But if you’re sure Joe came right on back from Boulder’s Creek I’ll inform the sheriff of that fact. Thanks boys…” he nodded and smiled, before turning to leave the building.

Hoss shook his head and picked up his glass, noticed it was empty and got up to go to the counter to order three refills. Candy looked at Adam “What do you know?”

“How’d you mean?” Adam frowned and eased his back a little more into the chair.

“I know you well enough, Adam. You know something about that little trip your brother took that Hoss doesn’t… “ he frowned and glanced over at Hoss to make sure the big man wasn’t in hearing distance “If you know something, Adam, you need to tell Nate.”

“What makes you think I won’t.” Adam pushed the empty glass to one side to make room for more.

“Because I know you’ll check out with Joe first …”

“Of course I will…” Adam gave a grimace and a slight shrug of the shoulders, “He’s my brother, what else should I do?”

Hoss pulled out his chair and sat down heavily causing it to creak under his weight. If he wondered why the two men clammed shut upon his arrival he said nothing but concentrated on putting the glasses on the table and then glancing cautiously around the room.

“Lost someone?” Adam asked casually as he picked up the glass.

“No, just making sure a certain someone ain’t in here.” Hoss replied and picked up his glass to take a deep swallow.

“Someone we know?” Candy enquired and smiled at his friend as he relaxed back into his chair. It was good to be back on this kind of footing with the Cartwrights, he hadn’t realised how much he had missed it until now.

“I don’t know him, but perhaps one of you do.”

“Stop speaking in riddles, Hoss …” Adam frowned and glanced uneasily over his shoulder as though expecting someone to pounce on his back.

“Wal, jest that as we passed the school teacher jest now, he gave one of you a look that I reckon meant he wished ya were dead and six feet under.”

Adam and Candy glanced at one another, both shrugged. Candy drank some more beer and Adam pushed his glass back and forth between his hands. It was Adam who shook his head “I don’t think I know him, haven’t seen him yet though.”

“I have.” Candy said quietly and sighed, “I didn’t think he’d recognised me, perhaps he has … mind you, it’s been some years since we met.”

“You know the school teacher?” Hoss said as though Candy’s comment needed to be verbalised in a way that hammered it home to him. Adam frowned, thought back to his conversation with Candy earlier when no mention had been made of him knowing the school teacher. He scowled down into his glass and waited to hear what Candy was tosay.

“It was during my time in the army. I recall he rode into the Fort as part of the military escort bringing Ann back from New York.” Candy frowned, and his blue eyes hardened slightly, “I never liked him, he was – well, he was a bully and used the Military Rules as an excuse to mete out unjustifiable cruelty.”

Adam and Hoss looked at one another,after all it wasn’t often that Candy got to talk about his past, about the time when he was an army brat, raised in the military. Neither of them felt particularly comfortable listening to him.. Hoss stared down at the table while Adam moved the glass round and round between his fingers.

“He rose in the ranks very quickly. By the time I got to – well – really know Ann, Crook had become a Corporal. Officers turned a blind eye to his dealings because it paid them to do so. Crook knew everything about everyone, including them.”

“You never mentioned this earlier when we were talking about him.” Adam said very quietly.

“I didn’t want to mention it because I didn’t want to believe it to be true.” Candy shrugged and looked at his friends anxiously “Some people you hope never to see again, they haunt your dreams to become nightmares…Crooks one of those kind of men.”

“Why’d he look at you as though he hated you?” Hoss asked now his voice tinged with concern for the other man.

“I don’t know. I never fell foul of him at the Fort, and I don’t think our paths crossed except when on parade. We never went on manoeuvres together or had dealings with each other, certainly didn’t share the same barracks.”

“Wal,” Hoss gave an exaggerated sigh “you may not think you done anything to upset him, but by the look he gave you, you sure did.”

Adam looked away when Candy’s blue eyes fell upon him, somehow he felt that Candy wasn’t being a hundred per cent honest with them, that there was something more to come out of all this, something that perhaps Candy didn’t want anyone to know.

Candy shrugged as nonchalantly as he could but he was unable to suppress the shiver that went down his spine at Hoss’ words and the implication behind them.
…………………

A week drifted past far more slowly than many would have wished. The children returned home quiet and tired. They said little about Crook to their parents. It was as though some code of silence had wrapped itself around them preventing them from uttering any form of protest or fear against the man who terrorised their daylight hours.

Olivia was horrified one morning to find that Sofia had wet the bed. As she removed the damp sheets she consoled the little girl who sat near by, rocking back and forth, her thumb in her mouth and silent tears streaking her cheeks.

“It’s only been a week …” she murmured to her husband when she explained what had happened, “She’s so scared of him. They’re all scared of him.”

“I’ll discuss it with Pa. He can bring up our concerns at the School Board Meeting.”

“Adam, there has to be more done than that…” she protested and her face hardened as it did when she was about to undertake battle on behalf of her ‘cubs’.

Adam sighed and gave the slightest of shrugs “I understand your concerns, sweetheart, but for now there is nothing I can do about it. You have to remember how Sofia used to act when she started school, and she had a good kindly teacher then. A man who -”

“A man who beats children…”

“So far as we know it would come under what he would call legitimate reasons. A teacher has to employ discipline according to the manner of his children. He…”

“Don’t lecture me on what Crook’s rights are, Adam. He’s terrifying our children and should be told to go.”

He put out a hand and covered hers with his fingers, then squeezed them gently,
“ I do understand, Livvy. But sometimes one just has to wait for the opportunity to present itself before acting. Too soon and we could fall flat on our faces, and Crook will come off the winner. Don’t be impatient. He’ll either settle down and become a very good teacher or he’ll go that inch too far … and when or if he does, I think practically every parent with a child at that school will pounce.”

“Do you think so?” she looked at him with the eager anticipation of a child being promised a gift for good behaviour “And will Pa speak up at the Meeting?”

“I’m sure he will. I’ll see him about it today.” he raised her fingers to his lips and kissed them gently, then he stood up and released her hand, somewhat reluctantly, “See you later…”

She watched him go and turned back into the house. A whole week of Mr Crook, the start of the second and she wondered if there would be a third. How long could a tyrant like Crook continue teaching at their little school?
………….

Edward Evans didn’t venture far from Clemmie’s house and when he did it was usually when the evenings were dark and there was little chance of his being seen. Then he would take Clemmie’s battered old buggy and faithful old horse out of town just for a gentle ride to where the hills began to rise and he could sit and just absorb the silence and the beauty of star lit nights, bright moons and soft breezes.

A doctor would have diagnosed a mild depression, such as happens when a man loses a beloved wife. Edward didn’t need a doctor to tell him that, he knew it, he felt it…the loss of Beatrice in his life was more than a void, it was a huge chasm. He couldn’t even explain why he had returned to Virginia City considering how many other places there had been which he and his wife had called home. He could have gone to Europe for Paris, London or Vienna had been places they had both settled in for a few years and been happy. But, no, he had returned to a sprawling town that was already losing its population and, who knew, could be a ghost town within a few years time.

It didn’t matter to him if it did become a ghost town, he carried within him his own ghosts.

No one saw him or if they did they may perhaps have wondered who it was that he reminded them of, but perhaps Teacher Evans had never made such an impact on them to make him memorable. He never went out when there were children on the streets, and he avoided the school house.

He was lonely from his own choice, that way he could handle his loss. But the company of the garrulous and kindly Widow Hawkins touched and soothed his troubled emotions and when he would return from his sojourns she would always have a hot drink waiting for him, and a cheery catch up of the day’s news.

Most evenings the chatter would be about Mr Crook and the school. He hoped that a lot of what she told him was gossip and blown out of proportion. He would listen and nod, and utter his opinion. But he knew better than anyone that Crook wasn’t the only school teacher who employed ruthless means to educate the children. He thought of those he had grown to care about in that class, and knew that none of them deserved a man like Crook to be teaching them in the manner he had chosen. It indicated that there was something more wrong with the man than with the students he taught.

Edward Evans listened and sympathised, and decided he would wait and see what the outcome of this situation would be and whether or not he had been destined to return for a reason after all.
…………….

Peter Crook surveyed his pupils with a glowering eye, and the children quailed beneath that glare as it swept over them. Annie and Betty Sales had returned on the Monday and so had Lucas and Charles. Some of the smaller children had not, being kept at home by gentle caring parents who believed that their little ones were too innocent to be thrown into the lions den of that class room.

Richie Bellshaw hung his head and stared unhappily at the paper on his desk. The writing just seemed to blur before his eyes and the headache he had mentioned earlier to his mother that morning now pounded behind his eyes. Nausea came in waves, up and down, up and down.

Crook pointed with his stick to the board upon which he had written some simple math problem. His voice bellowed over their heads and the stick rap rap rapped on the baord. Richie put his hands to his head to cut out the voice and the tapping sound that echoed and re-echoed and then he jumped to his feet and with a crash that sent his chair toppling over, the boy ran from the class room.

The children looked at one another and froze in suspense. What would happen now? Everyone knew that you did not leave your seat without asking permission from the teacher. The first and last who had tried had been given six of the best in front of them all as a warning example of the kind that would impress them most.

They all sat in silence. Lucas Bradley and Charles Carter tensed themselves as though they anticipated trouble. Most of the other children just held their breath and when Richie came back into the class with his face chalk white not one of them dared to look at him as he made his way to his desk. He didn’t get that far however for Crook’s fingers gripped around his shirt collar and though he wriggled slightly, he was dragged to the front of the class and up onto the platform.

Whack. Whack and whack again across the unfortunate child’s bottom, but before it could descend again a voice yelled “Stop it. Stop being so cruel.”

The shock to Crook gave Richie time to wriggle free, and without hesitation he bolted out of the door and across the school yard into town. The stunned silence that hung over the class room was only broken by the heavy breathing created by the children who had turned to see Tommy Conway standing at his desk, his eyes wide, his lips trembling but firm resolution on his face.

They would have expected it from Lucas…or Charles…but not Tommy Conway. But there he stood, and Reuben, David and Jimmy gave him a nod of the head to show their solidarity behind him.

“How dare you!” Crook spat and reached out to haul Tommy from his seat.

The cane hissed through the air and came cracking down upon the boy’s back, upon his upraised arm, upon his backside. Reuben stood up in protest only to be pulled back down into his seat by David. Annie and Betty Sales began to cry, but silent tears while Sofia and Rosie grabbed for each other’s hand and lowered their heads rather than watch what was happening.

Lucas Bradley and Charles Carter stood up and walked out.
………………

Candy dismounted from his horse and looked around him. He had agreed to meet Adam Cartwright at Mrs Albierno’s Restaurant and now took out his watch to check on the time. He was pondering on whether to get a cool drink from the saloon when someone yelled “Look at that crazy kid….”

Hoss looked just as several other townsfolk did, and saw Richie Bellshaw half running and half staggering along the sidewalk. He looked terrified, and was obviously seeking refuge from somewhere. It was clear to Hoss the boy was unwell, and even as he thought it the boy lurched into the road.

Without thinking Hoss launched himself forward, cutting through the traffic which was all over the place as wagons attempted to avoid the boy. Within minutes the boy was safe in Hoss’ arms and he was hurrying to Dr Martin’s surgery with as much speed as he could while Mrs Garston screamed “It’s the Bellshaw boy, it’s the Bellshaw boy.”

While she was screaming her daughter, Lucy, hurried to where she knew the mother in question was employed. At least she had the sense to realise the woman would want to be with her son at this moment in time.

As Paul and James Colby took the child from Hoss’ arms there came a shriek from half way across the road, and a woman appeared at the doorway with such horror on her face, and another shriek from her mouth when she saw her son, that Hoss was moved to put his hand on her arm and say very gently

“Your boy jest near got trampled on when he fell into the road, Mrs Bellshaw. He’ll be alright now, he’s in good hands.”

The poor woman didn’t appear to hear a word. She threw her arms about her child and held him tight, her tears fell upon his face like a waterfall, and it took the united efforts of James and Paul to lever her away.

“I should never have let him go to school today. He said he was feeling sick, and he had a fever last night, it’s all my fault, oh Richie, Richie, I’m so sorry, my poor poor boy…” she sobbed and held a very limp wet cloth to her eyes.
…………

The class room had settled down at last. Peter Crook paced the floor like a restless bull while Tommy Conway stood in a corner with his rear end smarting and his knees knocking. Every so often the children in the class raised their eyes and stared at the lone child with silent admiration.

Reuben felt ashamed. He felt that he should have been the one to have spoken up in protest, he the one who should have taken the beating, but not Tommy. At the same time he felt a great admiration for the little boy who had been so brave, so unexpectedly brave. Tomorrow, Reuben resolved, he would bring Tommy the biggest bag of doughnuts that Hop Sing could cook up.

Sofia felt sick. She felt as though her stomach was churning over and over and would any moment betray her and then she would get a caning too. She imagined herself vomiting over the school floor and being made to clean it up. She wanted to go home and looked fearfully at Rosie. But Rosie was keeping her head down and doing her best to work out the math problem that the teacher had given her. Rosie didn’t even want to imagine getting a beating, she could only think of ways in which to avoid any such thing.
…………….

Paul Martin and James Colby looked at one another with the same question in their eyes…Colby shook his head and with a sigh put away his surgical instruments while Paul walked to the sink to wash his hands.

“I’ll tell the parents,” James said quietly and Paul nodded, “But before I go, confirm with me what we saw?”

“You mean the welts? Yes, the child had been beaten…very recently.” Paul looked down at the child who looked so peaceful now, sleeping off the effects of the ether, and thankfully, soon to recover.

James nodded and left the room to confront Mr and Mrs Bellshaw. Mr Bellshaw was the blacksmith, a big man who looked capable of felling an ox with a single blow of his fist. Mrs Bellshaw by contrast was a quiet gentle little woman, who was still sobbing in to her wet limp handkerchief.

They both looked up when James stepped into the room, and when they saw the gentle smile on his face they gripped one another’s hands tightly as they hoped their prayers for their boy had been answered. James pulled out a chair to sit with them, for Mrs Bellshaw’s legs had been so weak with fear that she had collapsed into a chair as soon as they had warned her they were going to have to operate. Mr Bellshaw had stood solidly by her side, a hand on her shoulder now as he waited to hear what James had to say.

“A burst appendix,” James said quietly, “But we caught it in time, he’s going to be alright. We will have to get him moved to the hospital, of course, and they will keep him there for a while. But he is safe, and will recover well.”

“He was sick, he said he was sick this morning…but we couldn’t keep him from school. We had our work…” Mrs Bellshaw blew her nose into the handkerchief and her husband’s fingers tightened slightly upon her shoulder as he muttered something like “It’s alright now, love, it’s alright.”

“Mr Bellshaw,” James looked up at the man and decided that perhaps he should stand up to speak to the man face to face “Your son must have been in agony today. While we were preparing him for surgery we couldn’t help but notice that he had been recently beaten ..”

“Beaten, how do you mean ..beaten?”

“There were welts on his backside that could only have come from a beating, earlier today. They were fresh and …”

“I never beat my boy. I would never beat my boy.” Bellshaw didn’t shout, nor bellow, but his voice was quiet and very insistent.

“I see. Do you have any idea as to where he could have got those marks?”

Bellshaw looked at his wife who was staring at James as though he were some kind of apparition. She nodded “The school teacher…”

“You mean, Mr Crook? You think Mr Crook would have administered a beating?”

Bellshaw nodded “He’s the school teacher, ain’t he? That’s what school teachers do, but my Richie, he wouldn’t have done nothing to deserve a beating.”

James recognised the look on the mans’ face, and knew that if he were not careful the man was likely to go to the school house and tear it apart board by board. He stood closer and put a hand on the mans arm, “Don’t do anything hasty, Mr Bellshaw. Mr Crook may have a perfectly good reason for administering some punishment on Richard. I think the best thing you can do is take your wife home, and …”

“No, I want to go to the hospital with my boy.” Mrs Bellshaw interposed and James looked at her, and then at Bellshaw who nodded,

“We’ll go with our boy to the hospital, if you don’t mind, Doctor Colby.” Bellshaw said and in his quiet voice thanked the doctor for his help, then shook his hand.

“Very well, perhaps you would like to come in and see Richard yourself, I’m sure he would like to see you when he wakes up.”

“Is he asleep then?” Mrs Bellshaw asked innocently.

TO that James Colby could only smile, open the door and usher them both inside for them to see their boy for themselves.
……………….

Candy had dismounted outside the Albierno’s restaurant having recognised Adam’s horse. He hadn’t been surprised when he found his friend seated at a table, and after removing his hat, Candy sat down opposite him “Hoss not arrived yet?”

“According to Mrs Garston my brother has become the hero of the moment and saved a lad from being trampled on by Mr Hogans’ horse and wagon. He is being duly rewarded with drinks on the house at the Sazarac.”

“While we have coffee here…” Candy chuckled.

Adam was about to reply when the door opened and closed with a bang. Boots scuffed across the floor, spurs jangled. It seemed as though suddenly all of Mrs Albierno’s customers froze in their seats, their faces became masks of horrified expectation. Candy glanced up and pulled a face, he nudged Adam with his foot beneath the table and Adam turned and looked up.

“I thought I could smell something putrid in here.” Crook snarled, “What do we have here, a stinking white livered skunk pretending to be something he ain’t…well, well, Candy Canaday, we meet again.”

Adam glanced at the clock….sure enough it was time the school recessed for the lunch break, he knew his children would be in the school yard with Rosie and the other children. Candy was obviously thinking the same thing. Crook must have recognised the horses, hurried to get here as soon as he could …

The thing that really worried Adam, and probably Candy too, were the men who accompanied Crook. Candy raised his eyebrows at Adam, while Crook stepped forward another pace. Behind them the door opened, another customer came in and then promptly went back out. Crook put his hands on his hips and stood with legs astride. He glowered at Candy with so much hate on his face that the Albierno children who had just returned from school for their lunch, ducked behind the counter.

“Mr Crook,” Adam said very calmly, “Why not sit down before you fall down.”
He pushed a chair towards Crook with his foot, “Perhaps we could talk this matter over between us?”

“My oh my, Candy…” Crook’s eyes flicked from Adam to Candy, they narrowed and almost disappeared in the creases of his face “Friends with the Cartwrights huh? And not long ago you were the sheriff here I understand? Well, you ain’t the law here now, are ya?”

Crooks fist swung down but Candy’s reflexes were quicker for he caught the coming blow with his hands and twisted the teacher’s arm up behind his back. As much as Crook struggled he found himself in an iron grip.

“You coward, you murdering coward.” Crook yelled frantically struggling to free himself.

Adam stood up, only to feel a gun dig into his ribs. Whoever these men were they were clearly friends of Crooks, and knew whose side they were on now.

Candy now swung the school teacher full circle, releasing him as he went so that he continued on under his own momentum and staggered into the counter. At the same time Adam had stepped back, stamped hard upon one of the men’s booted foot and jabbed his elbow into his ribs, and before either man could do more damage for good measure Adam scooped up a large fruit and meringue confection that sat in splendid glory on the counter and emptied it on Crook’s head.

It was Candy who grabbed at Adam’s arm as he threw open the door to the restaurant, so that they could make as quick an exit as possible while Crook clawed meringue and cherries and cream out of his eyes and from his face, and the whole restaurant seemed to erupt into laughter.

Adam was laughing, but his laughter disappeared when he saw his friends face, he shook his head “What’s wrong? Didn’t you think it was funny?”

“Hilarious.” Candy said with a face as that had no hint of laughter “Adam, you just made yourself an enemy. Crook won’t forget that ..”

“No, nor will I.” Adam allowed himself a snigger and put his arm around Candy;s shoulders “Look, Candy, any friend of yours is a friend of ours, right?” he grinned as Candy nodded, “So then, any enemy of yours, is an enemy of ours, isn’t that right too? And seeing how Mr Crook’s friends had a gun sticking in my ribs, getting a cake in his face I would say …he got off lightly…now then, let’s join my brother in the saloon for a decent drink, huh?”

Candy sighed, shook his head but fell in step with Adam who steered them to the Sazarac still with a grin on his face. As the approached the saloon Adam turned to Candy and the smile slipped from his face as he surveyed the handsome man beside him,

“Well, at least he gave a hint as to what he hates about you…”

“How do you mean?” Candy said with an anxious look in his eyes.

“He called you a murderer, and a coward. Any reason as to why?”

Candy sighed, shook his head “I might remember more over a beer …” he said quietly and pushed open the bat wings of the Sazarac.

Chapter 15

Hoss ambled over to their table and good naturedly set down glasses of beer for them both. “Hear about the Bellshaw boy?”

Adam nodded “Well done, Hoss. Things could have gone pretty badly for him had you not acted so fast.”

“Shucks, didn’t realise you had heard about that so quick…” Hoss settled down and grinned, “So, what have you two been up to. You came in looking as glum as a wet weekend.”

“We had an altercation with the school teacher.” Candy said briefly while Adam drank his beer and rolled his eyes.

“The school teacher?” Hoss grimaced and then shrugged, “How come? Weren‘t he at school?”

“Lunch break. Must have decided to check us out.” Candy murmured and picked up his glass.

“So? What happened? I take it nothing good ?”

Adam chuckled “Well, it depends on your definition of nothing good…or then again …on your sense of humour. “ and very briefly he described the moment when one of Mrs Albierno’s wonderful confections landed on top of Crook’s head.

Hoss laughed so much he was in danger of falling off his chair it was only when he realised that Candy wasn;t laughing along with them that he stopped and nudged Adam, “What’s wrong with him?”

“No sense of humour.” Adam muttered and called over to Jake Solomon to bring along three more beers.

“The fact is, Hoss, that your brother has just landed himself with a whole load of trouble. Crook won’t thank him for what happened today…”

“Look, it saved having a fight in Mrs Albierno’s restaurant, and those friends of Crooks had guns, remember?” Adam looked at Candy as though the man were being deliberately stubborn and obtuse, “Think of the injuries that could have resulted if they had gone off?”

“I know what you’re saying,” Candy said quietly, “But you don’t seem to be hearing what I’m telling you…Crook is no good, he has a memory of an elephant. He bears grudges. Adam, you have to be careful from now on while he’s here.”

“Reckon on him moving out any time soon?” Hoss asked leaning forward as though eager for the reply.

“He’ll stay for as long as it suits him.” Candy replied and pushed aside the empty glass in order to pick up the fresly refilled one.

Hoss nodded and rubbed his chin “That reminds me, I heard tell that some of Crook’s army friends have started moving in. Reckon those two guys who were in the restaurant with him were some.”

“Really?” Adam raised his eyebrows and glanced around the saloon. So far as he could see there was no change in ambience, no hostility, just the usual customers there for their mid-day drinks, gossip, game of cards and mild flirting with the girl.s

“Yeah, ex-army and drifting in from all over so I heard. All of ‘em asking for the whereabouts of Sergeant Crook.”

Candy and Adam exchanged a puzzled look, before Adam ventured to say that it didn’t make much sense for a school teacher to become the focus of so much attention form his ex army pals.

“They are friends of his, arnt they? Not a bunch of men coming in guise of a vigilante mob to string him up?” Adam suggested but got a grim shake of the head from his brother.

Adam turned now to Candy, and nodded “Alright, Candy, I think it’s time you told us a little more about what there is between you and Crook. I can’t believe that the version of the truth you gave us the other day warrants a man calling you a coward and murderer.”

Candy said nothing to that although he went a trifle red around the collar, then he nodded as though he had made up his mind about something and after he had pushed the glass around the table a little, a shove here, a shove there…he cleared his throat, “I told you before I didn’t have much to do with Crook. In fact he was serving at the Fort only a few months before I left, but there was a soldier there that was very friendly with me, and with Ann.”

“Ah, cherchez la femme.” Adam muttered and sighed deeply.

“I guess something like that,” Candy replied and rubbed his jaw with his fingers for a moment or two as he sought to collect his wits. “I didn’t know it at the time but this soldier was a relation of Crooks. The son of Crook’s sister of whom Crook was particularly fond. When she was killed in an Indian attack Crook vowed to raise the boy. He actually didn’t bother much, the army did most of the raising. Anyhow, by the time Crook came to the fort Sam and I were very close friends. Like I told you before, Crook had been part of the military escort bringin Ann back to the fort from New York. During the journey he had got to know her enough to – well – form an attachment for her.”

He gulped down some beer and paused as though his mind was tirckling back to the time he fell in love with Ann, he gave a brief smile, “I fell in love with Ann, and we decided that we would elope, after all, we knew her father didn’t approve of the match so we would have along wait for his blessing. I asked my friend to help me out.”

“This friend who was Crook’s nephew?” Hoss muttered and leaned in closer than ever.

“That’s right. I wasn’t a deserter and didn’t plan to desert, just to marry Ann and then get back to my posting.”

“Despite her Pa being dead set against the match, and your Commanding Officer at the time?” Hoss sighed and rubbed the back of his neck “Wow, they say love is blind, but you sure weren’t thinking straight back in them days.”

“Who does when they’re in love?” Candy said quietly and with a sigh gulped down some of the beer. He was very aware of Adam’s dark eyes staring into his face and Hoss’ blue eyes narrowed in disbelief. He nodded,

“I agree, looking back, as I have often, it was a dumb fool idea. But Ann knew that her father had plans to marry her off to someone else, and I only had a short time to save her from that…what I didn’t realise was just how deeply Crook had fallen for her too. He quite simply adored her. Apparently she was a lot like Sam’s mother, so I guess ..” he shrugged as though there was little point in wandering down that line.

“So you eloped?” Hoss sighed and glanced up quickly at the sound of the door opening and loud voice drifting from the doorway.

“I got a weekend pass.” Candy said, “And we were married … but while we were away Sam assumed my duties and took a patrol out in search of some renegades. Well, while I and Ann were saying our marriage vows, Sam and the patrol were cut to ribbons. Not one of them survived.”

“Hence Crooks’ accusation about you being a murderer?” Adam murmured.

“Yeah, it should have been me on that patrol, not Sam. Perhaps that added to the venom with which Ann’s father treated me. The rest is history as they say…he got our marriage annulled and I left the army … Crook swore he would find me and kill me. Not just because of Sam, but because of Ann…he knew he had lost any chance with her. Well, to be honest he didn’t have any chance with her because her Pa had already got her fixed up with someone he preferred but Crook would not have seen it that way, of course. He had a perfect scapegoat and it was me…”

“And now he’s here..” Hoss said slowly.

“Yes, now he’s here.” Candy repeated and hunched his shoulders as he leaned upon the table and gripped hold of the glass.
………………….

Ben Cartwright wasn’t too happy about riding into town to take part in the School Board Meeting. He rode in his buggy, preferring that to riding Cinnamon that day. The subject matter of Crook weighed heavily on his mind because he knew that there were many teachers who were a little too heavy with the discipline but that didn’t mean they were bad teachers. He also knew that children who didn’t particularly enjoy school, as Sofia and Rosie did not, could be colouring things with a little exaggeration.

Crook had only been teaching for a few weeks, if that even, it seemed hard on a man in such a profession to be called to account because of his use of the strap. In his time Ben had known many teachers do far worse, and use far heavier instruments for discipline.

He left the buggy and horses and walked the short distance from the livery to the Town Hall where he joined Mr Hackett and waited for other members of the school Board to join them.
…………..

Outside the saloon Adam, Hoss and Candy stepped out onto the sidewalk and each took a very deep breath as though it was somewhat of a relief to get out into the fresh air. They didn’t speak, it was as though everything that had to be said for the day, had been said in the Sazarac already. They stopped at Mrs Albierno’s restaurant and pushed open the door to step inside. Mrs Albierno appeared as soon as she heard the tinkling of the bell over the door.

Her face was wreathed in smiles and her olive black eyes gleamed a welcome, but before she could speak Adam said “Mrs Albierno, I owe you some money. And our apologies for what happened here today.”

“Apologies? You Don’t have to apologise.” she laughed “As soon as Mr Crook and his friends left the restaurant we all laughed SO much!” she began to laugh again now, “It’s a long time since we laughed so much…so…no apology.”

She waved such niceties away with a typically Italian flourish of her beringed hand.

Adam smiled and pulled some money from his pocket which he put upon the counter. Then he tipped his hat and together the three of them left the restaurant.
……………….

Peter Crook walked into the school house with his black eyes as hard as two lumps of coal. The children sat their benches and only turned slightly when Crook walked into the class room. Tommy Conway had been treated with greater affection during that lunch recess than he had known in his life, and even David Riley had shaken his hand, thumped him on the back and told him what a credit he was to The Gang.

There was not a sound as Crook entered. Heavy foot steps, smart and clipped. Dull thuds on the floor boards. Then there was a pause. The footsteps moved faster, heavier. The children watched as Crook walked hurriedly to the front of the classroom and stood staring at the board. No one stirred!

Crook blinked in disbelief for under the heading “Our Schoolmaster” was a roughly drawn picture of the school teacher with an enormous cream cake on his head, complete with a cherry on the top. There was a balloon protruding from his mouth which declared “I am the school teacher!”

He turned to face them. The leather strop was snatched up and gripped in one thick fingered hand. He stood with his legs astride, hands behind his back, and his face scarlet.

“Who did this!”

No one answered. A little girl began to sniff with horror, too frightened to cry.

“Who did this?”

He shouted, bellowed out the words. Everyone kept their eyes down on the desks in front of them. It crossed Crook’s mind that it must have been the Albierno children, they had been there at the restaurant, they would have seen it all. Perhaps David Riley? He was always quick to shoot off his mouth about everything or perhaps…. His eyes lingered on Reuben Cartwright a little longer than he had glared at the others. He took a few steps forward and reached out a hand to grab at Reuben’s shoulder.

“Did you do this?” he bellowed and the strop came down with a whack upon the desk making Reuben and most of the other children jump in terror.

Sofia felt sick. She knew her brother had not drawn the picture. They all knew who had and she wondered if the boy would stand up now and rescue Reuben from a fate worse, in her opinion, than death.

Reuben shook his head but stayed glued to his seat. Crook lunged forwards, his fingers grabbed Reuben’s collar and he physically hauled the boy out from behind his desk.

“I did it.”

Crook swung around, his fingers still holding onto Reuben’s jacket, and stared at the culprit. Jimmy Carstairs stood up with his face so white that every freckle on it stood out like so many splodges. Crook’s eyes bulged and the veins on his neck and at his temples bulged …he stepped forward with the strap raised and David Riley, knowing without any doubt at all of the harm that leather strap would cause when used in the temper Crook was in, stood up and yelled “I did it.”

Crook paused, Jimmy who had been expecting the strap to fall at any second had cringed back with one arm raised to protect himself. The children gasped audibly, then Reuben stood up “No, I did it, I drew the picture.”

Crook lowered his arm. Vindicated. He knew it had to be Reuben Cartwright after all it was the boy’s father who had inflicted the disgrace so it just had to be the boy … he knew it, and with a grin he stepped back towards Reuben

“You did what?” the black eyes narrowed, he wanted to enjoy this thrashing, make the boy squirm, make them realise no one made a fool out of Peter Crook.

“I drew it.” Reuben said quietly.

Crook approached the boy, he tapped the leather strap in his left hand, whack, whack, whack as he approached. Reuben thrust out his chin, if Tommy could handle a beating then so could he, even if he hadn’t drawn the wretched picture.

Peter Crook felt an intense loathing for the child, and he lunged forward to grab again at Reuben’s jacket.

“I did it.” it was Sofia, she jumped to her feet and stared at Crook with intensely blue eyes “I drew the picture.”

Unbelievable. A girl!! Crook dismissed her, and began to haul Reuben yet again from the desk.

“No, I did it.” Timmy Johnstone cried out.

“No, it was me.” Harry Davis shouted.

“It was me.” said another.

“Me!” “It was me” “I drew it.”

The whole classroom was in uproar. Crook brought the leather strap down with a crash that sent a desk toppling over. Betty Sales shrieked. A boy laughed and another jeered. Someone threw a ball of paper through the air. Annie and Betty Sales grabbed at each others hands and fled from the school room screaming in fear as they ran across the yard and into town.

Widow Hawkins was talking to Mrs Garston as the children ran screaming into C street. It was obvious that they were crying for tears streamed down their faces as they sobbed aloud “The teachers going mad, the teachers going mad.”

Before Clemmie could say a word (most unusual for her), Mrs Garston had picked up her skirts and was running to the school. The fear that the children could be hurt by a mad teacher foremost in her mind. Clemmie ran, in a manner of speaking, to where some men stood in a group talking together among them Ben Cartwright, upon seeing Clemmie’s anxious face and noticing the distressed children, turned and hurried to the school house. He was followed by others, all of them being members of the School Board who had just adjourned the meeting.

Peter Crook had finally succeeded in grabbing hold of one of the boys by the nape of the neck and was about to bring the strap down across his back when his own wrist was seized from behind and despite his struggles to prevent it, the strap was wrenched from his hand and he was physically hauled away from his victim.

When Crook turned to see who his assailant was he found himself confronting not only Ben Cartwright, but the Mayor, Hiram Woods, Endeavour Sales, Jacob Robertson and Howard Hackett, all members of the town board. The disgust on their faces was enough for the man to see that things were rapidly turning against him. He pulled himself straight, jutted out his chin,

“No teacher should have to tolerate such insubordination.” he hissed through clenched teeth before turning to Ben, “And don’t think I’ve forgotten that your son played a good part in all of this.”

“That’s enough” shouted the Mayor with raised hand and a rather flushed countenance “I think, under the circumstances Mr Crook, we may have to reconsider the situation here.”

Peter Crook said nothing to that comment. The colour faded from his face and he seemed to deflate as he sunk slowly down upon a bench with his hands to his face. Ben was wondering what connection either Adam or Hoss could have had with the matter when Mr Hackett stepped forward

“I think, gentlemen, if you do not mind, we should hold a meeting …” he looked at Crook and frowned, “Mr Crook, perhaps you should go home and settle yourself down. We’ll wait on you to attend as soon as you can.”

Chapter 16

No one entering the Board room felt comfortable after witnessing the foray at the school. Each man there was trying to think of what everyone else would be thinking and what the outcome of the discussion would be, and then fell back to wondering how they themselves viewed the matter.

The Mayor raised a hand for attention as they took their seats. He looked at each one of them in turn and shrugged as though already defeated by the events of the day. He could tell from Ben Cartwright’s face that he could expect ‘hell and the rest’ from that quarter, and from Sales there was a black cloud hovering over his head whilst others seemed bemused, confused and confounded. Mr Brockett the town Treasurer was last to enter the building, looking unsure as to why everyone looked as though the earth had opened up and about to swallow them whole.

The Mayor waited for Brockett to take his seat before beginning his speech. He had decided to tread a neutral path, one that would not be favourable to everyone present. He cleared his throat,

“Despite what we saw today, and the fact that the man’s disposition is rather brusque, to put it mildly,I feel that it would be rather severe to dismiss Mr Crook from his position on the basis of what we have witnessed.”

There was a rumble discontent, disbelief and dismay from the quarters he had anticipated but the Mayor was an obstinate man and after glaring hard and long at those who dared to show their disapproval before he had finished speaking, he continued …

“What is necessary, and fair, is to take into consideration that the man was under extreme provocation. For a man of his disposition he was put into a very – difficult position – .”

Ben had an awful feeling that that particular allusion was to do with Hoss and Adam, so decided to say nothing. Several there nodded and looked thoughtfully at their hands, or the clock ticking away on the wall. No one seemed to want to look their neighbour in the face in case they saw their own apprehensions mirrored back at them.

“The man’s bully,” Sales said quietly and calmly, “My girls have come home in tears from school since he has been the teacher there.”

“My son seems to have got the hang of reading now,” Robertson muttered, “Crook may be heavy handed but the children seem to be learning something at least.”

“Crook is a bully.” Hiram Woods repeated Mr Sales comment, and rolled the pen between his fingers and shook his head, “This morning he beat a boy who was in fact extremely ill. The child managed to reach the doctor in time for an emergency operation. Had Crook had his way the child would have died in the school house.” he glared around the table “That’s the sort of man we have as school master here.”

“Nonsense,” exclaimed another Board Member “Where did you get to hear such rubbish?”

“From the boy’s father himself.” Hiram retorted back immediately and half rose from his seat “And I would advise you to be more careful before calling me a liar, sir.”

Mr Higgins blanched, momentarily he had forgotten that Mr Woods was one of the foremost Lawyers in the territory, and the most formidable. He decided to keep quiet and bide his time.

“I doubt if there are many of us here who have not, at one time or another, taken a stick or a belt to our children.” Robertson leaned back in his chair and glared at one and all with a flash of defiance in his eyes.

Ben frowned, even he could recall using such discipline on his sons at some time or another. He bit his bottom lip and looked over at Sales and then at the others, everyone seemed to have shut off faces.

“What do we know about Crook?” a Board Member by the name of Hackett asked and for a moment there was silence except for the rustle of papers as the Mayor opened a file and sifted through some documents.

“Crook was injured during the Indian wars. He fought with Reno and Benteen at the Little Rosebud during the massacre of Custer at the Big Horn. We can’t dismiss a man who has, time and again, risked his life to protect the lives of people in towns like this and…”

“That’s true,” Robertson said, “He’s a rough man, but then he’s spent most of his life in the Army. By all accounts, from his army record, the man’s a hero.”

“So how did he qualify for this post as the School teacher?” Ben now asked, leaning forward slightly in order to get attention and to be heard. “I happen to have missed being informed of that detail.”

“Oh he had excellent qualifications.” the Mayor said and pulled out some papers, “We forgot, you weren’t here when he applied, but we have all the papers here on file should you want to see them.”

“He was a teacher for some time before going into the army.” Brockett now pointed out as though he felt it necessary to do so, to clear up any further misunderstandings, “He only joined the army when his school was wiped out in an Indian raid.”

“Where was that?”

“New Ulm*” Brockett said quietly.

Ben said nothing more, but nodded slowly as though to indicate he had heard and accepted all that had been said. Sales shrugged,

“Personally I can’t stand the man. He’s trouble, big trouble. But I think if we dismissed him now we could have a far bigger problem on our hands.”

“He’s still new here…” Brockett murmured, quietly, but making sure his voice was heard above the murmurs around the table.

“Let’s give him a few days leave of absence, with pay. I’ll find a substitute teacher to cover while he is away.” the Mayor looked at the others, his eyes gleamed with the light of a man who had found the perfect solution to which success was bound to follow.

At this point and just as Ben was about to mention that Crook should be made to answer for his indiscretions the clerk to the Board scurried in to announce the arrival of Dr Colby and Mr Bellshaw as well as the school teacher, Mr Crook.

Within five minutes all three men were ushered into the presence of the School Board and the Mayor, after making sure all three were seated, rose to his feet to address them as well as the members of the Board.

“Gentlemen, I would just like to remind you that this is not a court room, and no one is on trial here.” at this juncture Mr Bellshaw jumped to his feet and opened his mouth but the Mayor waved him to silence and to sit down which he did. “Some events have taken place which need to be addressed now before things get out of hand entirely and we find ourselves without a school teacher . Now then, first things first …” with a flourish, for the Mayor did most things with a flourish, he turned to the blacksmith who was sitting hunched over and twisting his hat between his fingers, “Mr Bellshaw, please accept our sympathies for what happened to your son today. I trust he is now quite safe and recovering?“

“Recovering in the hospital is what he is,” Bellshaw growled and looked at Crook as though the man deserved to be behind bars. “Dr Colby here, and Dr Martin, saved his life…” he paused and then looked over at Ben “and so did your son, Hoss. He saved Richie’s life when he collapsed in the street after …after that man there, beat him, beat him for leaving the class room without permission. Beat him because my lad was too sick to wait any longer and had to rush out to vomit …but did he – that man there – give my boy a chance to explain, no, nothing…just grabbed him and beat him… if it weren’t for another lad took the beating for my lad then Richie ..”

It was too much, the man’s voice quivered into silence, he attempted a few more words but nothing came forth, he put his hand to his eyes and sunk down onto his seat.

The Mayor looked at Dr Colby who stood up “I only came to back up Mr Bellshaw’s testimony, Mr Mayor. Sadly the boy had a ruptured appendix which we were able to attend to, although it would have been better had the boy been able to come in as soon as he had felt the pain. But I don’t attribute any blame for that on Mr or Mrs Bellshaw. It’s just – “ he shrugged slightly “a condition that comes out of the blue.”

“And did you see evidence of the boy having been beaten?” Sales asked, knowing from his children that the doctor would have done, and when Colby nodded he glanced over at the Mayor with a smug look of satisfaction.

“Yes, two welts recently administered … of course one accepts that in schools today corporal punishment is considered the norm, but I would have hoped the boy would have had a chance to explain why he had left…and would have had help from the teacher rather than the treatment he was given.”

There was a collective sigh around the room. Crook sat with his head down, and his hands clasped between his knees, the very picture of humbled disgrace. He had listened attentively to what had been said and waited for his name to be called. He rose to his feet and stood to attention as though he were still a soldier on parade.

“Mr Crook, as Dr Colby says, quite correctly, corporal punishment is acceptable in our schools today, although personally I hope that one day it will be banned for what I believe it is, an excuse to bully children to fear their teachers instead of respecting them. It appears to us from what we have heard today, and over the recent weeks since you became the teacher at this little school, that you have been somewhat over zealous in your use of the strap. This, I believe, is what you use?” and the Mayor held up the offending instrument of torture for all to see.

Crook nodded and sighed heavily. He then turned to the blacksmith before looking again at the men at the table all staring with different levels of antipathy towards him.

“Mr Mayor, may I first apologise to Mr Bellshaw for what happened this morning to his son. I -” Crook sighed deeply and shook his shaggy head, he put a hand to his eyes as though to wipe away the moisture there, and then he looked at the blacksmith with deep regret on his face “Mr Bellshaw, I don’t have the words to express my regret. I did indeed act hastily, too hastily, and I did not give your boy a chance to explain why he had left the class room.”

Bellshaw curled his lip and narrowed his eyes as though to indicate he was not fooled by this display of contrition on Crook’s part, but he kept silent. Crook sighed again,

“I had punished a boy for doing similar only the previous day, and I wrongly assumed that Richie was blatantly ignoring the warning that the punishment had been meant to show to the class. Had Richie explained that he was ill, even told another pupil..” he paused for effect and cleared his throat, “I have, sirs,” he glanced at all the Members now, lingering a little longer than normal when seeing Ben, “several in the class who are rather rebellious. When there is such an element one has to enforce discipline rather more rigorously than one would wish, in order to suppress it before it spreads – as the good book says “A little leaven ferments the whole.” “

There was a slight shifting in the seats around the long table at which the Board Members were seated. Crook glanced from one face to another, “This afternoon – I had an unfortunate altercation in one of our eating houses. Sadly it involved the parents of some of my pupils, so when I returned to the class room and found the children in uproar and mocking my authority by a caricature drawn on the board, and then open defiance in refusing to admit who had drawn it…well, I had no choice but to administer discipline as best I could.”

Ben leaned forward “By striking out at anyone there?”

“All they had to do, Mr Cartwright, was name the boy who had been guilty of drawing that picture.”

The bright black eyes of the teacher glared into those of Ben Cartwright but before either one could back down the Mayor stood up and nodded “Very well, Mr Crook, Dr Colby, Mr Bellshaw…please leave while we deliberate on what we shall do now.”

The motion was carried in Crook’s favour. He had gained himself some more time.

Ben rode home in a thoughtful mood and clambered down from the buggy in the yard of the Ponderosa. He wished that the town would forget to ask him to the Council Meetings, he was busy enough as it was with his own work on the ranch. He took off his hat and gloves and entered the big room, he paused at the sound of voices which came to a halt as he closed the door behind him.

“Everything alright, Pa?” Hoss asked with an innocent expression on his face.

“I don’t know, I don’t think so.” Ben ran his hand over his hair, and sighed, then looked at the two other men who were either seated or standing waiting for him to speak, “Crook – the school master – “

“Ah, yes, Mr Crook.” Adam muttered significantly and pursed his lips in the manner than intimated he knew more about the matter than Ben.

“Yes, Mr Crook.” Ben said quietly, “He mentioned some altercation he had had with the parents of some pupils, perhaps you could explain what it was that he was actually referring to…”

Adam, Hoss and Candy glanced at one another, looked blank faced and stared at Ben as though an explanation was necessary before they could give any reason for anything at all. From the corner of his eye Ben caught Adam hiding a smile, “And what about you, Adam, what do you have to say for yourself/?”

“Um?”

“Hoss, Candy?”

No one spoke, Adam and Candy both resorted to stroking their chins like two wise old Chinamen while Hoss stared wistfully at a bowl of fruit on the table. Ben sighed heavily and sat down in his chair. He was caught off guard when Adam asked him how the school Board meeting had gone, and what was the future for the teacher and his current class of students.

Ben spoke, telling them of the incident in the class room which led to a major discussion at the Board Meeting relating to Mr Crook’s so called future. Hoss refrained from mentioning his involvement with the Bellshaw boy, and Adam decided now not to remind his father of the drawing on the board or what it may relate to. Candy sighed and sat down heavily.

Ben noticed and immediately looked at the younger man “Did you want to say something, Candy?”

Candy glanced at the other two men in the room, then nodded “I had better tell you now that I knew Crook before, when he was in the army.” and in as brief a manner as possible he lay bare the facts of his past association and how Crook was, by nature, a man who was not the forgiving and forgetting kind.

“So,” Ben leaned forward, his elbow on his knee and his chin resting in the cup of his hand “Do I take it from what you have just told me, that you knew he was moving here when you were still sheriff in town?”

“Yes, I hoped that I was wrong but as soon as I read his details I knew that I was not.”

“And was that the real reason you resigned your assignment ?” Ben murmured while his dark eyes softened in sympathy for Candy released a long drawn out breath before nodding,

“Not entirely the only reason but certainly the one that prompted me to act as quickly as I could. I didn’t want Crook to see Ann. I didn’t want her to come into any danger.”

“But he’s seen you now and …” Ben sighed and frowned, “What do you intend to do?”

“I don’t want Ann involved…”

“But she already is.” Ben stood up and placed a heavy hand upon the other man’s shoulder, “Look, Candy, you’re not alone in this, you have us. I thought you would know by now we are as much your family as we possibly could be.”

To that Adam and Hoss murmured their agreement but Candy still looked uncertain. He stared for a moment at the rug “You feel that I’d be running out…being a coward if I left here?”

“If you were still a single man and on your own, I wouldn’t understand why you’d go and let a low life like Crook get the upper hand and beat you. But you’re a married man, with children…” Ben said quietly.

Adam nodded “It changes things, especially with Rosie being at school and under Crook’s nose every day.”

“Couldn’t you just make sure not to antagonise Crook?” Hoss suggested.

“I don’t need to do anything, Hoss. I’m here. That’s enough for a man like Crook.” he now looked at Adam, “And so are you. You humiliated him today in front of two of his friends and some of the townsfolk. He won’t forget that; he’ll have you marked down as his enemy and he’ll make you pay.”

Adam and Hoss looked at one another, both shrugged. “Good thing Joe wasn’t with us,” Hoss said nonchalantly, “It might have been worse.”

Ben nodded although he wasn’t too sure to what his sons were alluding, he looked at Candy again “Just be careful where you go. Crook was given several days leave of absence to cool down but that decision was rescinded after he had given his verdict of events. I’ve a feeling that several members of the Town Board are more involved with him than the others, they gave him a lot of support, far more than I would have expected.”

Candy nodded, “That’s usually how he works…” he rose to his feet and nodded over to Adam and Hoss “See you tomorrow. I’ll have a talk with Ann this evening and see what she would like to do…I don’t want her or the children at risk from Crook.”

Ben nodded and walked slowly to the door with him, then put his hand on the man’s arm “Candy , is it possible that Crook may have changed from when you last saw him?”

“Changed? Crook?” Candy laughed, not with mirth, a short bark of a laugh, “He came into the restaurant and publicly called me a murderer and coward… he hasn’t changed because he hasn’t forgotten anything. “

“But he’s got a respected position in town, why would he want to risk that?”

“I don’t know…perhaps he won’t risk it, perhaps that’s why he has his so called friends moving in, to risk it for him.”

He nodded his farewell, picked up his hat and slipped it on before stepping out of the front door. They listened to his footsteps fading and then the steady beat of horse’s hooves as he rode out of the yard.

Ben sighed and turned to face his sons, both of whom had risen to their feet in anticipation of a lecture .. Father to sons as was customary.

“I wish you hadn’t done that…what happened at the restaurant I mean.” Ben sighed and shook his head.

Adam shrugged “Hoss wasn’t there, he was the hero of the afternoon, Pa. He saved young Bellshaw’s life by getting him to the doctors in time.”

Ben nodded and smiled briefly at Hoss, then turned grave black eyes to Adam, “Evenso, I wish -”

“Sorry, there was nothing else to do, except draw a gun on them I suppose…three men, two with guns already sticking in my back…and the restaurant full of customers, the Albierno children…what were we supposed to do?”

Adams tone of voice was defensive, and Ben knew that were he to push it further his son was more than likely to stalk out of the house with nothing resolved Not that he could think of a way to resolve the matter, it had been done, and Crook was, as Candy reminded them, not a forgiving or forgetting man. Inadvertently Adam’s action in the restaurant had provided Crook the sympathy from the Board that had overturned the decision in his favour.

…………

In a dry sandy gully some miles north east of Blakesville a man lay bleeding to death among the rocks and boulders. Jericho Silverman had tracked his man down and found him. Sadly the other man had also found him and for once Silverman’s wisdom and knowledge failed him. The devil, they say, looks after his own, and on this particular occasion, the saying proved all too true.

Chapter 17.

His wife was one of the loveliest women he had ever seen and he always counted himself as truly blessed to have found her, woo’d her and married her. She was level headed, intelligent and calm in a crisis…except when it involved her children. Her children! Not his, no, hers! Then her eyes went dark and the colour mounted in her cheeks and sparks flew. It didn’t happen often and as Adam watched Olivia he thought back to the few times when it had, and how true it was that words spoken in anger can hurt.

He reached out a hand and tried to take hold of hers but she pulled her hand away, and shook her head “You just made things ten times worse, Adam. What were you and Candy thinking?”

“Well, I don’t know about Candy but I was seeing those people who had gone in to eat their meal in peace and quiet and …”

“Don’t talk rubbish, Adam, that’s just an excuse..”

“An excuse not to use a gun in a public place? Are you serious? Olivia, listen to yourself now and …”

“When are you going to grow up and stop being such a big kid? Crook is an evil, cruel sadist…”

“Sadist is a strong word!” he pulled a face, and raised his eyebrows but sighed when the only response was a widening of her eyes and several references to just how sadistic Crook was and that loading a cake on his head was not the way to make things any better.

“You – you didn’t think, you just didn’t think of what he can do to our children.” she said and her eyes darkened, her hand went to her brow as though the whole thing was giving her a headache; she wanted to stop her tirade before she said too much but knew she had already gone too far. But it was as though she were on some kind of runaway engine without brakes, she didn’t know how to stop and again when he reached out for her she slapped his hand away, “Pa always said children needed discipline from their parents not from some stranger in a class room. He was so right, and – and I want our children to be taught from home now, I don’t want them to go back to that class room.”

“You’re being illogical, Livvy.” he said in his calmest voice. At least she had got to referring to the children as ‘our children’ that was a breakthrough, a step forward in the argument. He frowned, were they arguing? So far he hadn’t really said much once he had told her of the situation in the restaurant, and the outcome of the Board Meeting.

“Illogical? Just explain to me in what way am I being illogical in trying to find a way to educate the children without them being battered by that – that monster.”

“Oh, for heavens sake, Livvy, Crook isn’t a monster…”

“He beat a child who was sick. He beat a child who was barely old enough to get to school. He scares the children and…”

“And he’s just a man.”

He reached out now and grabbed at her wrist and pulled her towards him. They were nigh on nose to nose, her eyes blazed into his and the heightened colour in her face made her look … well, very appealing. He sighed, and shook his head.

“It won’t do, sweetheart. The children have to go to school, they need an education. Crook is their teacher for the time being and I doubt very much if he will be using the strap so much now. Why not calm down and look at things more rationally.”

She shook her head “He knows Reuben and Sofia are your children, he’ll pick on them and make them suffer. Alright, he may not use the strap so much but men like him know other ways to hurt children. Please, Adam, please don’t make them go to school.”

“No, Livvy, they go to school… like all the other children.”

She pulled herself away from him and shook her head, turned away and stared at the wall rather than look at him any more. How could he, how could he?

“Olivia, our children will not grow up being cosseted and pampered whenever a difficulty arises in their lives. How will they learn to face problems if we remove them from anything difficult that comes along? They need to go to school not just for an education but for their own self respect and for…”

“I suppose you’re going to say it’s character building…. Is that it?” she could have wept, he was using logic now and logic always appealed to her. She hated being reminded that she was typical of many mothers, seeking to protect, comfort, nurture. Emotional, illogical. She bowed her head and heaved in some deep breaths. “I suppose you’re going to say that Luke and I are stupid because we didn’t get a good education, that we’re ..”

“Now you’re being rather silly, I would never think anything of the kind and you know it. Your parents educated you both very well, and you built on the foundation they laid, but …”

“We could educate them here. Mary Ann would help. Please Adam…” she had turned back to him now, her eyes wide and pleading, and she could see his face softening, the lips parting in a familiar smile, the dark eyes smouldering.

“LIvvy, I wouldn’t be doing my duty as a father if I kept them from school and allowed them to be home schooled. True enough, they would get a good education, but …”

“But you prefer them to have to face that man every day, getting beaten…”

“If they were home schooled and were disobedient, insolent, unruly…would you just let them get away with it then?”

“Of course not.”

“What would you do? Give them a tap on the wrist and say Naughty Naughty?” he smiled at her, gently, and drew her back into his arms.

“No, if they were like that they would get – disciplined.” she sighed and leaned against him, her head on his shoulder. “Adam I hate it when men abuse their rights, Crook is a hard man, and the children are so young. I can’t bear the thought of them coming home … being hit by him …and sending them off to school each day knowing he may pick on them.”

Adam sighed and shook his head, and held her closer “You may not believe it but I don’t like it either. But now isn’t the time to keep them from facing what’s out there. This world is changing, Livvy, and in some ways not for the better. They need to face Crook, because as they grow older they will have to face men, and women, who can be a darn sight crueller than him.”

“I don’t think anyone else exists who could be worse than him.” she whispered.

He said nothing to that but stroked her back just as if she were a child herself in need of comfort and reassurance.

“I love you, Adam, I’m sorry I said some things that I shouldn’t …”

“What things were they then? I seem to have forgotten.” he whispered and kissed her gently on her lips, and at the point of her throat where a pulse throbbed.
………………

The heat of the fire was making him sweat. Beads of perspiration trickled down his body and he could barely breathe as smoke writhed around him and curled like a snake to squeeze out life’s breath. He pushed against it, called out for help but no words came. Pain seared through his body and he wondered if this was what it was like to burn alive.

Cool air fanned his face and he was staggering across rocks, there was blood on the stones at his feet, and now he was shivering and his teeth were chattering but even so there was pain. Where was it coming from?

He turned to the left, and then the right…nothing but the relentless sway of tall grasses and the trees bending before the wind storm. Something fell and hit him. It was hard and seared across his skull so that he found himself falling. But he had to look, look behind

“Remember the wife of Lot” a voice whispered with sibiliant stealth in his ear and he remembered because she had looked back so he resolved not to …he would just stay on his feet except that he was falling….

He was still falling when lightning flashed in a black sky and everything around him was momentarily dazzling white with sharp black shapes silhouetted for him to see. Everywhere. It seemed as though he were now spinning, spinning out of control…and falling…

“Joe?” a frantic voice shouting his name and a hand shaking his shoulder. “Joe?”

He forced his eyes open and looked into Mary Ann’s anxious grey eyes. He saw the way her face relaxed now and raised a hand to stroke away a tear from her cheek, “Are you alright?” he whispered.

“Oh Joe…” she sobbed and kissed him tenderly, “You were having a nightmare. You fell out of bed.”

He frowned and sat up, rubbed his head, so that was why his head hurt? He blinked several times and looked around him, saw familiar shadows, the moon light shining through the window where the curtain had not been pulled right across. “I thought there was a storm.”

“No, it’s a calm peaceful night.” she put a hand to his arm, another around his shoulders and helped him to his feet. “Joe, you – you’re not well, you should see Dr Paul again and have him see to you.”

“Because I had a bad dream?” Joe shook his head and released his breath in a ‘humph’ of disagreement.

“Because you keep having bad dreams.” she insisted and walked with him back to their bed.

“Everyone has bad dreams at times. Anyway this one couldn’t have been that bad, I quoted scripture…or someone did…Remember the wife of Lot.” he grinned as he pulled the covers back over him, and nestled up closer to her, “Did I ever tell you how beautiful you are in the moonlight, Mary Ann?”

“Don’t change the subject.” she scolded.

“I’m not.” he groped for her hand, and squeezed her fingers “Let’s go for a walk in the moon light.”

“What now?”

“Why not now? Its warm, and the moonlight will be shining on the water and ..”

“I’d rather stay where we are and talk…”

“Talk??” he laughed, a warm chuckling laugh that she loved “Mary Ann, I think you are turning into an old married lady.”

“I am an old married lady…” she giggled and leaned towards him and kissed his lips.

“I guess that makes me an old married man.” he whispered and drew her closer to him, kissed her lips, her nose and nuzzled into her neck “I love you, Mary Ann.”

The moon slid behind a cloud and the light in the room slipped away with it, and a soft giggle drifted into the air.
………………

Reuben and Sofia were more than delighted to see their daddy seated on the wagon waiting for them in the morning. “I thought Ezra was going to take us to school.” Sofia said with a happy beaming smile on her face.

“Ezra has been relieved duties. Up you come, young lady. Reuben, have you got all your books?”

“Yes,, sir.” Reuben replied and settled in beside his father, leaning up close against him.

As he flicked the reins and the horses obediently pulled at the wagon so that it lurched forwards, Adam wondered just what the children were thinking about now. They had both talked at some length about the incident at the school, although they had not told him or Olivia who had drawn the picture on the board. Sofia had admitted to her fears, and Reuben had told them how brave his sister had been in standing up and saying she had drawn it, along with most of the class of course, but it was obvious he was impressed.

Not impressed enough to let her join the gang though, and that had seemed to bother her more than going into school to face Crook again. Reuben had eaten breakfast with relish and declared he wasn’t afraid of Crooked Crook any more, and Sofia had said that she was, he scared her a lot. But she also said she knew her friends were at school and just as scared as her. Somehow that seemed to make a difference.

So now they sat on either side of the tall man dressed in black with his straight back and his half hooded eyes and slight smile. Reuben soaked in his father’s strength, and Sofia relished in the comfort of feeling his warmth against her body.

They talked about different things, and there was no mention of Mr Crook at all.

As they approached the school house however, Adam could feel the tension in both their bodies, noticed the way they held their books and lunch pails closer and tighter. He said nothing but stopped the horses so that they could clamber down and join with the other children in the school yard. He thought of Barbara then, odd how that happens, a flash of memory and he recalled the young woman tied to the flag pole while the children danced around her whooping like Indians. He shook his head, a lot had happened since then.

“See you later, Pa.” Reuben called and waved a hand.

Adam raised his in salute and flicked the reins, the horses ambled forwards but instead of going on into the main street he turned the wagon into the alley running alongside the school. He clambered down, leaned against the wall with his arms folded across his chest and waited.

From his vantage point he could see the children clustering together. Sofia with the Sales girls, Reuben with Davy and Jimmy. Adam regretted that Rosie had not come with them but then Candy had other issues with Crook than he so dismissed thinking any more about it. He watched Sofia and several others girls run off to play with some rope, and then he straightened up from his leaning posture against the school wall.

Crook was taking his time getting to school that morning. He had a half smile on his face and his piggy black eyes were gleaming. He wore a smart grey frock coat and matching pants, a black vest with silver buttons. He wore clothes that gave him confidence. Adam narrowed his eyes and as the teacher came closer Adam stepped out from behind the wagon where he had been concealed and reached out to grab the teacher by the lapel of his smart grey coat.

“What the …confound you …let me go!”

Crook lashed out with one hand which Adam gripped tightly in his free hand, his fingers curled around the man’s wrist and squeezed. With a gasp Crook found himself pushed against the wall of the school room, with Adam pressing against him.

“Cartwright? You?”

“That’s right .. Me… and I thought I would come and see you this morning, with some advice.”

“Advice? From you?” Crook’s piggy eyes darted back and forth, fear that his pupils would see what was happening loomed large in his mind. But Adam had pulled him between the wagon and the wall of the school house, out of sight. Now his fear was that Cartwright was going to kill him.

“Advice, Mr Crook.” Adam released his hold on him and stepped back, allowing Crook to catch his breath and stand straight.

The man fussed over his clothing, tugging his coat straight, checking on his vest. He tried to blot Adam’s presence out of his sight but eventually had to look up and see the tall broad shouldered man standing in front of him, his hand resting on the handle of his gun, the gun belt slung to fit snugly around his hips.

“You said you had some advice to give me…” Crook said through a dry mouth as he wondered if Adam would dare to shoot him with children so near…

“Just be careful, Mr Crook. That’s my advice to you. If I hear from my children that you have singled them out for any disciplinary measures that are not necessary, or that any discipline you give them is overly harsh …and unjustified…then I’ll be paying you a visit, and you won’t be having to deal with cream cake I can assure you.”

“You’re threatening me?” Crook hissed.

“No. I’m warning you.”

They stared at one another, so close Adam could smell the other mans’ breath and knew what he had eaten for breakfast. Adam stepped back,

“I appreciate that a teacher has to exercise discipline in class, Mr Crook, but you enjoy it too much. Seems you have always enjoyed it too much. Well, now’s the time to stop. As I said, this is just a warning, some advice if you like…but if you value your hide, you don’t pick on my children…in fact, you’d best not pick on any child unless they truly deserve it.”

He didn’t want to say anything else, so stepped away then paused and without looking back said quietly “And you can put away that derringer, Mr Crook. You’d never be able to walk away from a murder charge if you shot me in the back.”

Crook gulped, and the derringer was quickly slipped back into the holster he wore beneath his jacket. Ever the old solder even in the guise of a teacher he needed some armoury around him…he watched as the man in black boarded the wagon and flicked the reins to get the horses moving.

Crook was not the first man in the world to wish Adam Cartwright dead!
……………….

Daniel deQuille glanced up as the door to his office opened. He suffered a slight hiatus in breathing every time the door opened since his altercation with the three men who, not so long ago, had almost beaten the life out of him. Now he relaxed, smiled and nodded

“What can I do for you, Adam? An advertisement for cake perhaps? Or would a new school teacher be more to our liking.”

Adam frowned but allowed a thin smile to touch his mouth. He glanced around the office “I see that the building’s still intact then? Mr Crook hasn’t sent any of his ‘friends’ in to burn it to the ground …”

“Oh..I take it you’re referring to the little caricature I had drawn up in the Editorial after your -er- cake throwing altercation? “ Daniel laughed, but his eyes were wary, “I take it you haven’t come to discuss Mr Crook?”

“No, I wanted to ask you for some help.”

“Help? Me? you’re asking me for help. Well, this is a red letter day I must say.”
He grinned and sprawled back in his chair, and looked up at the rancher with a wary expression in his eyes, “Alright, Captain, what help do you want from me?”

Adam nodded and flipped his hat down onto the desk, then pulled up a chair before sitting down “I was wondering if you had heard of any thing occurring in a town called Blakesville. Some shooting perhaps? A murder … or some rustling…maybe even a bank robbery?”

For a moment Daniels’ face went blank and his eyes closed. Adam could almost imagine hearing the cogs of the man’s brain whirring round and round as he cogitated upon the question. Finally Daniel shook his head,

“Blakesville…never heard of it. I can look it up through my contacts though, if you feel it is important enough.”

Adam nodded “I would be grateful, Daniel. Thanks.”

“Is that all? No clue as to what I’ve got to look for?”

“I gave you all the information I have…a town, and something may have happened there..maybe three or four weeks ago.”

Daniel nodded, “I’ll do my best,” he stood up as Adam moved away and picked up his hat “Oh, if there happens to be a story connected to this…”

“Sure, if there is a one, but not without my knowing all the facts first.”

Daniel nodded, a rather thin lipped smile graced his mouth and he nodded in agreement. He watched as Adam left the building and from his window saw the rancher as he strode down the sidewalk. Then he stepped back to his desk and pulled out his notebook and jotted down what little information he had about a town called Blakesville, so little that it amounted to a single sentence.
……………..

The thump by the door of the sheriff’s office brought Blakeley to his feet. It was still early morning and Matheson was still due to arrive and relieve the other deputy. Blakeley opened the door to find Old Pearly standing there with his gummy grin on his face although his eyes looked sad and forlorn.

Old Pearly had been prospecting or wandering around those parts for years now, and was a regular ‘once a week’ visitor to town. No one knew why he was called Old Pearly, some said it was because he had no teeth … and others that he had once been a wealthy businessman dealing with pearls … in fact whenever anyone was bored the subject of Old Pearly was often raised.

Another odd thing was the way he was always smiling. A man with no teeth should never smile quite as much as old Pearly because it was rather off putting, but once one knew to look into his eyes for a clue as to how he was really feeling, things were much easier.

Blakeley saw the sad look and his heart sunk …”What’s wrong, Pearly?”

“Over there. Found him this morning on the way into town.” the old man jerked his thumb in the direction of his burro where the body of a man was slung. “I would have buried him, but thought perhaps you would prefer to see him.”

“Yes. Thanks, Pearly. I appreciate that.” and to show his appreciation the sheriff slipped the old man some money.

Jethro Silverman, slung over the saddle of an old burro, it made Blakeley feel sick. He walked up to where Jethro’s body was and saw Matheson standing not a few feet away, some early risers were beginning to gather round to stop and stare too. Whatever prejudice some had against the man they did respect him for the work he did for the law, well, most of them did.

“Get the undertaker,” Blakeley said to a man standing in the crowd, and went to look closer at the body of his friend as the man scurried off.

Matheson came and stood with him as they looked over the body …”What do you think, sheriff? There ain’t no bullet wound so far as I can see.”

“No, nor any knife wound…the undertaker may find something when he has him..”

“Reckon he fell off his horse?” Matheson suggested.

“Are you crazy? This is Jericho we’re talking about?” Blakeley hissed and put a hand on the dead man’s back as though a form of protection although from what, he couldn’t say…

He stepped back when the undertaker came and led the burro away with its burden swaying back and forth. Old Pearly started to follow but Blakeley called him over “Where did you find him?”

The old man frowned, rubbed his chin before nodding “Along the Fork road, 6 miles south east of town.”

Blakeley nodded and looked at Matheson “Get our horses saddled up.”

The crowd dispersed. Old Pearly followed behind the undertaker, the burro and Jethro’s body. Matheson walked quickly to the livery to get two horses ready for himself and the sheriff.

Blakeley stood on the sidewalk alone. He stared around him and wondered if the murderer of the couple in the cabin had returned. Then he remembered, his main suspect was a long way off, and according to the sheriff in Virginia City had not been to Blakesville at the time of the murders.

Of course, he thought as he stood alone, there could be two murderers…

Chapter 18

Very few people in Virginia City realised that Clementine Hawkins could keep a secret with the same discretion one would expect from a priest in a confessional. They saw her as a busy body, and a gossip but failed to realise that she listened more than she spoke, and when she did speak it was only to suit herself and find out more of something she found particularly interesting. Nothing she divulged was ever harmful or malicious in any form.

She had kept Edward Evans secret for days now. For all that time she had fussed over him like a mother hen, and in her way tried to get him to seek some form of help other than using her horse and buggy to go wandering off on his own.

She recognised depression when she saw it and felt at a loss now for he seemed so sad, so very unhappy. He couldn’t even give a good reason as to why he had returned to Virginia City except once when he said that it was for the children, they had given him so much at a time when he needed it.

So when she saw Adam Cartwright strolling down the side walk looking particularly thoughtful about something she decided to ’grasp the nettle’ so to speak…and hurried to catch up with him.

Adam was thinking over the repercussions or not of the conversation he had just had with Crook. It had worried him immensely that he had not been able to persuade Olivia to see his point of view on the subject of corporal punishment at school. Until the law changed if one wanted a good education for their children then there was no alternative but to endure whatever teacher was available, or, as Olivia seemed to prefer, to teach them at home.

There were so many advantages to teaching children at home, he could see and appreciate all of that, but there were the disadvantages too, and he had hoped that he had put them forward in as good a way as he could under the circumstances.

He sighed deeply and was surprised to hear a voice behind him say “That was a mighty big sigh, Adam Cartwright.”

He paused and then stopped when Mrs Hawkins came to his side and smiled up at him, her eyes twinkled and he realised with a shock that she no longer had the massive eyelashes that once made her look so lop sided. Holding his tongue, for he had almost blurted out some reference to them, he smiled and bade her good morning.

“It didn’t seem like a good morning, the way you sighed just then, duckie.”

Adam gave a half shrug and then an apologetic smile, “I had things on my mind, Mrs Hawkins. But how are you? You’re looking – er – um – very well. Different, if you don’t mind my saying so.”

“Really? Blimey, can’t think as to why.” she shrugged now and looked puzzled, but only momentarily, before she said “Look, luvvie, I need a bit of help from you. Could you pop over with me only I want to discuss something – someone – on a matter of importance.” she glanced around and noticed Mrs Sherman and Mrs Garston on the opposite side of the street casting speculative scowls her way, “If you wouldn’t mind, that is ..?”

Adam nodded and with a sigh turned to follow her. He wondered as he forced himself to walk at her stride whether or not she was also shrinking as there seemed to be a lot less of her than there had been. He was puzzling over this situation when they reached her house and she opened the door and almost pushed him inside.

“Here you are then, duckie. Leave your hat over there…” she nodded to a bureau and then led the way into the main room where she stood a moment and called out “Coooeeee, are you there?”

Rather confused Adam stayed where he was and glanced around him. He frowned and pursed his lips, then reached for his hat thinking as he did so that if he was in the company of a mad woman he needed to know he could get out quick. As it was there came the sound of someone descending the stairs and a masculine voice responded gently to her summons.

“Ah there you are then, luvvie. Come on and sit down while I make you and Adam a nice cuppa. Not sarsparilla, Adam, don’t worry…it’ll be proper char like what they ’ave in India.”

As she bustled off to prepare her brew Adam turned to be confronted by the previous and much lamented school teacher, Edward Evans.

They were both startled to see each other and seemed uncertain as to what to say, but Adam recovered more quickly and ventured with being surprised to see him, Mr Evans, in town again.

“I’m also very sorry for your loss, Mr Evans.” he added quietly, and extended his hand which Edward accepted and shook with a firmness that was preferable to the weak limp hand Adam had been expecting.

“It was not unexpected,” he said as he led the way to Mrs Hawkins best arm chairs, “Beatrice had been ill for so long. But -” he released a sigh and bowed his head “it still comes as a shock, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, yes, of course it does.” Adam replied and sat down opposite Edward with the low table between them.

It seemed to him that Mr Evans had lost some weight, and the hollows under the eyes spoke their own language with regard to his misery. Neither spoke and the silence was all pervading when Clemmie returned with a laden tray which she set down upon the table, then she stepped back and smiled at them both,

“Now then,” she folded her hands over her stomach and nodded “You just be getting on with it while I go and see to my preparations.”

Another nod of the head at them both and she left them to the pot of tea and chinaware. They looked at one another, and it was left to Adam to see to the honours of tea pouring while Edward shifted uncomfortably in his chair and wondered how he could make a quick exit.

“Does everyone in town know you are here, Mr Evans? Only the children haven’t said a word about you and…”

“No, I didn’t want people to know I was here. Clemmie has kept it very quiet, just said she had a lodger when people made enquiries about the extra supplies she has had to get in.”

“Well, I think everyone will be very pleased to see you back, and surprised too.” Adam smiled as he handed over the cup and saucer, “Can I ask you why you did come back here?”

He didn’t really expect an answer, the man seemed so steeped in misery that he had been surprised at the amount of discussion they had shared already. As it was he had to wait awhile as Edward sipped the tea and stared at the fireplace. Then just when Adam was struggling to think of something else to say Edward said quietly,

“I couldn’t think what to do at first. When Beatrice was buried I just stood there at the graveside and wondered how do I begin again, where do I start? It seemed to me that there was no more purpose to my life, so what was the point of my hanging onto it.”

He sipped his tea again and then set down the cup in its saucer which he placed upon the table. “There were so many people at the funeral, people who had known her in the past, famous people some of them were, and they spoke of her as though they had been intimate friends but they weren’t…none of them really wanted to know her when she stepped away from the concert circuit. They barely gave me any attention, after all, I had just been her manager…and it occurred to me that the most pleasure I had gained out of life in the past year or so had been while I was here, teaching the children.”

Adam nodded and drank his tea. He looked at Edward, saw a light in his eyes and a little colour in his cheeks. Something in the gloom of misery still mattered, shone like a gemstone in the muck. “So you came back to teach school here?”

“Yes … and no.” he smiled slowly at the rancher, and shrugged “I wanted to go back and teach them, take my place there, but when I got here I didn’t have the courage to face any of them. I didn’t – didn’t feel that I could do it anymore.”

Adam nodded again and with head slightly to one side he observed the school teacher thoughtfully “You know, you’re not being there when the children returned to school was quite a shock to them. They became – well, they thought very highly of you.”

“It hardly matters now, they have a new school teacher and so my services are not required any more.”

“Would you go back to the school room if they were?” Adam leaned forwards slightly to see the expression on the mans face, and was pleased at the way colour flushed his cheeks once again, the emphatic nod of the head.

“Oh yes, over the past few weeks I have felt my confidence growing again, diminished only because of the disappointment in knowing my place had been taken. But, if it became available again…yes, I would take up that appointment tomorrow if possible.”

Adam nodded now, and smiled, he stood up “Then just don’t go anywhere for the next few weeks, Mr Evans. And don’t let anyone else know you are here..just yet.”

“But, I thought they had a new teacher…”

“They do, but I have a feeling he won’t be around very much longer.” Adam grinned, a grin that reminded Edward of a wolf who had just had sight of his lunch.
………………..

Tommy Conway was missing from school that day. Davy Riley said that Tommy’s parents had written a letter to the school teacher saying that they were not letting Tommy return until ‘some things had changed’.

“How’d you know that?” Jimmy demanded as he thought over a letter that perhaps his mother could get down to writing later that evening.

“Because Tommy told me. He said that his mother was furious and was all prepared to beat Mr Crook with a stick, Mr Conway said it would probably be the last thing she ever did, so she didn’t.”

That made sense, the boys nodded and sighed “What about Richie?” Reuben asked now, “How is he getting on?”

“He’s alright, but Mr Bellshaw said that if he ever meets up with Mr Crook in the next year or so it will be too soon.”

Another reason to nod heads although they had to think about that for a bit, and Jimmy said “But he’s sure to meet up with Mr Crook sooner than that, after all the blacksmith’s is only a few doors down from where Mr Crook lives.”

No one said anything to that, and talk turned to other things. Then the bell rang and they had to troop into the class room, and when Mr Crook stood in front of them they had to all chorus “Good morning, Mr Crook.”

His eyes swept over them all, registering their faces and recognising the ones who were missing. Then he nodded and told them to sit down and get out their work. They did so in silence and waited for his further direction and when it came it was in a quiet, calm voice that caught them all by surprise. Annie Sales was there, minus her sister, and turned to look at Sofia with wide eyes. But Sofia was more discreet, she just bent her head over her book and began to copy out her work as carefully as she could.
………………..

Candy saw Adam just as the latter was coming out of Miss Ridleys Ladies Emporium. He waited for Adam to reach him rather than stretch his legs to join him. He gave his friend a grin,

“Is this for a special occasion?” Candy asked nodding at the small package in Adam’s hand in its tell tale oyster wrapping and scarlet ribbon.

“No,” Adam sighed, and shrugged “Perhaps yes. A peace offering.”

“Oh – indeed?” Candy frowned, it was hard to imagine Olivia ever being angry enough to warrant a falling out with her husband sufficient enough to require a peace offering.

“We had a disagreement about the school teacher.”

“Oh yes,” Candy rubbed his hand across his jaw and sucked in his bottom lip, “I know what you mean, I had rather an altercation with Ann about the same subject myself.”

“I wondered if you did,” Adam said with a shrug, “We waited for Rosie at the junction but after five minutes we had to go. I presume Ann got her own way?”

Candy looked surprised, his blue eyes opened and then narrowed, then he put his hand on Adam’s arm “You didn’t bring Rosie into school this morning?”

“She wasn’t there at the junction, Candy. I waited for her but when she didn’t show I presumed that you had decided to keep her back home.”

“No.” Candy shook his head, “No, we decided she would come to school and not run out of having an education.”

“I’m sorry, we were there on time and – Reuben said she was always early, and even then…”

“No, it’s alright. She made a fuss about coming into school, she hates it, it’s not just Crook she’s frightened of, it’s the fact that things have changed. I’m no longer the sheriff, and she isn’t a town girl anymore… she resents all of that, but we’re not giving in to her and I know Ann was preparing her for school today.”

“Despite your altercation last night?” Adam gave a slight grin, although he looked worried now about Rose and wondered if he should have waited for a while longer.

“The altercation didn’t really involve the school so much as whether or not we had made the right decision in leaving town. Despite Ann’s connection to the Banking Buchanan’s she was raised like me, in the military … we were ’army brats’ … so she’s not afraid of Crook. To be honest I was the one more anxious about him than she was so all my anxiety yesterday about him rather falls by the wayside.” he chuckled “she’s made of sterner stuff than me.”

“So what are you going to do…?”

“Oh, we’re staying put just now. So long as the Ponderosa is prepared to keep me on …” he paused then and shook his head, “I think I had better head for home. Tell Ben I’ll make up for the time, but I need to know where Rosie has taken herself off to….”

“I’ll come with you…” Adam started to say but Candy shook his head and explained that his daughter would not really want to be embarrassed by her best friend’s father seeing her when he, Candy, caught up with her.

Adam understood exactly what Candy meant by that so stepped back onto the sidewalk to let the other man approach his horse and get mounted up into the saddle.

“Tell her I’ll pick her up tomorrow, same time, usual place.” he called out as he raised his hand in farewell to his friend’s retreating back.

He continued on his way to where he had left the wagon and then paused to look
At the building in front of him. He was standing on the corner of C Street now, and the building opposite him was 537 C Street. A huge building that in 1876 had been hailed the community’s ‘Pride and Glory’ ..the new Fourth Ward School* designed by architect C.M Bennett* was a magnificent edifice built for the education of Virginia City’s children.

Adam stood there for a full five minutes as various idea’s drifted through his mind. He looked at the elegant structure from several angles, walking back and forth, his head first at one angle and then at the other, until he felt quite happy with what he had seen. He remembered someone saying that one third of the town’s population were under the age of 18 which had been the reason this edifice had been erected.

He turned back to where he had left the wagon and clambered aboard. The package he put on the empty seat beside him and then with a flick of the reins he drove down the centre of Main St and out towards home.
………………………………..

Olivia was leaving the dairy when Adam drove the wagon into the yard. The morning’s disagreement had weighed heavily on her mind ever since he had taken the children to school so upon seeing him now she wondered if he had come back to continue the discussion. Nathaniel was more than pleased to see his daddy and came running out to meet him, dimples in his cheeks and eyes twinkling.

“I thought I would come by and make sure you were alright, sweetheart.” Adam smiled over at her while Nathaniel bounced happily in his father’s arms.

“I’m alright, thank you.” she smiled, and hoped that the words didn’t sound trite or dismissive. She didn’t feel that way, she wanted to throw her arms around his neck and kiss him “Are you coming in for coffee…?”

“Gladly.” he followed her indoors and placed his hat on the bureau, “I saw Clemmie this morning, she has a new lodger.”

“Really?” Olivia smiled and continued on into the kitchen with him following. She heard him as he sat down, Nathaniel still on his lap. “Anyone we know?”

He didn’t answer immediately but said “Yes” eventually, before going on to tell her about Candy and the fact that Rose had decided, on her own accord, not to attend school.

“Did Ann say she was to stay home then?” Olivia asked as she handed him the cup of coffee.

“No, they had agreed that they would make sure she went, but she has – er – decided not to go.” he stirred in sugar and as Nathaniel was getting fidgety he put the child down and told him to ’go and play.’

“I thought Ann would prefer Rose to stay home.” Olivia murmured and took a seat opposite him, then looked at him thoughtfully “Adam, you were school teacher for a while, did you ever hit the children, any of them?”

He paused and frowned then looked at her “Well, hitting a child is different from punishing them, Livvy. Punishment is a disciplinary matter, hitting a child is just physically hurting them for little or no reason.”

“Isn’t that what Crook is doing?” she replied trying to keep the heat from her words.

He didn’t say anything for a moment but drank some coffee, “You know, when Millard Fillmore* was President in the early 1850’s he made flogging on board *ship illegal. Did you know that?”

He looked at her over the rim of his cup and she shrugged “What has that to do with what we were talking about?”

“Well, it took some years before the older officers, who had been serving many years prior to that law taking place, actually complied and stopped flogging.”

“So?” she looked at him doubtfully, not wanting an argument, and not wanting a lecture, but realising she was going to have to settle for one, or the other.

“At present the law allows that a teacher can apply corporal punishment provided the pupil is told the reason why, or for subordination or for discipline. They can use whatever instrument they prefer…many prefer a hickory whip, and some children carry the scars for the rest of their lives. So long as the law permits that then there will be men, and women, happy to go along with it.”

“Then the law needs to be changed.” she replied with her lips tightening into the obstinate little rosebud Adam knew so well.

“I agree … so it does. But before they can change that law, they have to change the law upon which it is based.”

“Which is?”

“The law that permit’s a husband to beat his wife with a stick so long as it is no thicker than his thumb. You see, a teacher is an authority figure, and represents to all those children, the head of the family, the father. So a child who is regularly beaten at home, isn’t surprised to get regularly beaten at school.”

She slammed down her cup loudly upon the saucer and glared at him “If you think I‘m going to let you …”

He grabbed her hand “No no, I wouldn‘t dream of touching our children unless you and I feel it is necessary. We have agreed on that, haven‘t we, sweetheart,?” he saw her nod and smiled “No, I’m just trying to explain why things are as they are, just now. Men and women abuse authority…whether isolated on board a ship, or in a school or even at home. If they can fall back on a law which says they can do certain things then they will justify reasons why they will do them.”

“So you didn’t beat any of the children…for disciplinary reasons?”

“No, I didn’t have to …”

“Because they respected you too much.” she smiled. “And I think the girls were in love with you …”

He kissed her fingers then and grinned, “Mary Ann seldom had to use the cane or ruler on them either. But then the boys were all in love with her and the girls all wanted to be just like her… and let me add no man was ever flogged on board any ship I captained either.”

She leaned forwards then so that he could kiss her lips, and afterwards she said “So you’re making allowances for Crook’s behaviour?”

“No, I make no allowances for what he has done….but it is what he may do in the future that requires looking into.” he leaned forward now and kissed her again, “I have an idea.”

She smiled, he could feel her lips move beneath his and smiled as well. Then he broke away and stood up, “I have to go and see a Member of the School Board.”

“Pa?” she smiled again and rose to her feet beside him, linking her arm through his, “Is this to do with your idea?”

“It is,” he said gravely and then paused, freed up his arm from hers and began to fumble around in his pockets before drawing out the little package “For you.”
And then he kissed her again just because he wanted to…
…………………

Note: The Fourth Ward School, Virginia City.
When it debuted in 1876, journalists called Virginia City’s new Fourth Ward School the community’s “Pride and Glory,” the finest of its kind on the West Coast. Architect C. M. Bennett selected an architectural pattern in the popular French-inspired Second Empire style. With its distinctive Mansard roof, the elegant Victorian structure dominated the south end of C Street, the Comstock’s main thoroughfare.
Designed to accommodate over one thousand students, the state-of-the-art edifice featured a modern heating and ventilation system, interior flush toilets, drinking fountains, and single desks for each scholar. Ahead of its time, the Fourth Ward reached another milestone in 1878 when its High School Department was the first in Nevada to award diplomas for successful completion of nine grades. By 1909, the Fourth Ward had added all twelve grades. Hundreds of graduates became fixtures in Nevada society, providing leadership for a new state while always looking back on the school with fondness.

Chapter 19

Ben was not too confident  as he approached the town hall for the second School Board meeting in as many days.  He was less sure of his ground because it was a meeting he had requested from the Mayor with whom he had spent some time earlier that day.

As he waited for the school board members to enter the room and take their seats he tried to assume their feelings from how they were looking, and from all appearances it would seem most were not pleased to return to discuss the subject they felt had been discussed enough.  But it seemed the subject of Mr Crook was not so easily laid to rest as some hoped.

“What’s going on here, Ben?” Brockett demanded as he pulled out a chair and placed his more than ample posterior on its seat.  “I thought we had settled the matter concerning Mr Crook and his suitability as a schoolteacher in this town?”

Ben glanced over at the Mayor who was taking his seat at the head of the large oval table.  It was obvious there was little love lost between the two men. Brockett as the Treasurer to the towns Council resented being passed over for the  position of Mayor at the annual elections and the Mayor equally resented everything he did being picked apart by the man.

It was the Mayor who mentioned that he had called the meeting as he felt it relevant as well as important. No one spoke but there was some clearing of throats and dry coughs.

“With regard to the matter of the situation we discussed yesterday,” the Mayor glanced at them thoughtfully, “We did assume that a satisfactory result had been reached but in fact a better one was brought to my attention earlier today by Ben.” he rubbed his nose thoughtfully at that point and then nodded over to the rancher who rose to his feet and stepped away from the table in order to address the men seated there.

“Gentlemen, thank you for coming today.  I know it may seem rather incongruous to have yet another meeting with regard to Mr Crook but I think we all agree that in actuality Mr Crook is a very large personality.”  he heard a murmur of agreement at the comment and half smiled, Brockett still looked grim.”This meeting will also address a matter that has been overlooked for too long and needs to be considered seriously right here and now.”

He paused to glance once again around the table and noticed he had their attention now that the subject had swung from Crook to some thing else. He gave a half smile by way of encouragement.

“I would just like to take a step back a few years to the fire that devoured our town.  We made a considerable loss of property then and several schools were destroyed…”

“So what?  We had the new school built on C Street to accommodate students ..”. Brockett paused and narrowed his eyes, and his mouth slammed shut like a steel trap.

“Thank you, Mr Brockett, that was just the point I was about to make.”. Ben said with a slight smile, “The school on C Street can take up to one thousand students but currently has half that capacity.   One reason is that the few small one class schools such as the one Mr Crook currently educates …is still functioning as independent schools.”

“Your point being?” Mr Sales asked quietly.

“Just that such schools are too small for a personality as- er- strong as Mr Crooks.   He would be far better suited teaching older students at the Fourth Ward school.  It would be better for the students, as well as for the school.”

“And Mr Crook,” the Mayor nodded with a smile, obviously happy with the idea.

“But what about the Independent schools?”. Harrison muttered. He had been on the School Board for as long as Ben and always had strong opinions about most subjects.
The fact that this matter was being drawn subtly to the attention of everyone there, that the new school should already have accommodated the smaller schools, was a slight reminder to the other members that he had been negligent of his duties.

” Perhaps its time to close them, gentlemen.” The Mayor suggested, “and absorb the children into the Fourth Ward school after all that is what it was built for..to provide the best of education to ALL our children…bringing them under the umbrella of what is a magnifent building.”

Ben noticed Brockett buttoning his mouth to protest and said in a loud enough voice “It will be more economical too …”

Sales frowned “Yes, I can see how it could well be so …” But there was some doubt in his voice,enough to keep Brockett from falling in with the idea. Sensing that Brockett was poised to launch forward some argument Ben immediately said in a very stentorian voice.

“By closing the small Independent schools we save on teachers…Mr Crook will be an asset teaching 14 year olds.  And Mr Fellowes is close to retiring age .”

Sales now piped up “Eb  Hardwick is planning on leaving soon.  His position would fall vacant anyway ..”

“And some of the buildings are needing costly repairs. In fact, it makes their use untenable.” the Mayor muttered.

Brockett nodded slowly, his brow creased and he looked thoughtful.  Ben cleared his throat and once again rose to his feet,

“If I may put forward a suggestion…”

Murmurs around the table were agreeable and even Brockett looked with amenable interest so Ben nodded and continued, “As the new term has only really started to get under way perhaps we could make the changeover as soon as possible so that the students tuition does not suffer too much.”

“It will mean grading children by age and bringing them all together from the smaller schools ..” Matteson now intoned “I think it a very good idea.  In fact I had wondered why such a thing hadn.t already been implemented seeing how the school has been built for that purpose and was ready for the new influx last autumn.”

Heads came together, voices ebbed and flowed around the table with suggestions and opinions being put forth while Ben smiled and nodded as he watched those who would soon be congratulating  themselves for thinking up such a good idea.   He heard someone ask if they should advertise for a teacher to take a particular age group as there appeared a gap in Educators and he raised a hand in order to be heard,

“I believe there is a teacher available who would fit the role very well.”

Brockett laughed “Not your son by any chance?”

“No, of course not,”. Ben allowed himself to laugh along with the man then paused ” I was thinking of Edward Evans.”

” He would be ideal.” The Mayor said with an emphatic nod of the head “But do you know where he is?   Would he want to resume teaching … I believe his wife recently passed away.”

Ben nodded and with a face blank of expression assured the Mayor that Mr Evans could be reached and made aware of the situation.  The members nodded, smiled, and the Mayor called for a show of hands to pass the motion…Brockett wavered but only momentarily then with a coarse laugh he commented on the fact that Crook would no doubt consider it a promotion!………

Adam was waiting for his father in The International, drinking coffee and hiding behind the newspaper.  When Ben joined him at the table he raised his eyebrows and smiled at his father “You look pleased with yourself,  Pa.  I take it the meeting went well?”

“Better than I expected. There were no dissenters at all, not even Brockett.  It was a good idea of yours that I suggested the economics involved.  I didn’t even have to labour the point about the buildings..”. He paused as the waitress brought over fresh coffee and set it down on the table; after thanking her he leaned towards Adam ” I just hope Crook agrees without too much fuss.”

Adam shrugged “If he does not then he will be without a job.  If there’s no school ..”

He left the comment unfinished and grinned, Ben nodded over to his son “And you called me a sly old pirate ?..”he chuckled, and picked up his cup.

Adam said nothing to that but folded the newspaper and handed it his father before pushing himself away from the table and getting to his feet.

“Well, I had better get back to work.” He paused by the side of his father’s chair “Thanks, Pa.”

“You’re welcome,” Ben murmured in the time honoured way.

“And you are positive that it will go through?”

“They leapt at the proposal.  Actually it should have been implemented as soon as the Fourth Ward school opened but nothing was done.   They’re hurrying it through now to make up for lost time.”

“And what about Evans?   Where does he stand in all this?”

“Very favourably.  They want him to teach the younger pupils at the school.  They’ve left it to me to contact him and confirm details.”

“Well, you know where you’ ll  find him, Pa?”

“I do….thanks, son.”

Adam nodded and a quick smile drifted over his mouth as he made his way through the foyer of the hotel and to the main street.  For a moment he paused to go over in his mind the discussion he had had with his father the previous evening.

When he had put forward the idea of transferring the children from the small one room schools to the new building on C Street, Ben had said the Council /School Board would not permit it.  They had not done anything for months about the little Independent schools because no one had thought it necessary to bother and the subject had never been raised..

“For what reason had the place been built then? Its standing half empty while you have one teacher trying to educate five different grades in one small cramped building!”

“Is this some cock-a-manie idea of yours to move Crook away from your children?”. Ben had bellowed, although his roar was more like that of a weary lion eager to roll over and give way to which Adam said
.
“And what if it is?” in a calm even tone of voice while his eyes had darkened and he had glared at his father.

Adam now grinned and pulled on his hat.  If he felt smug he considered he had a right to do so.   His cock-a-manie idea had worked, hadn’t it?

Ben smiled as he watched his broad shouldered son stride confidently towards where he had left his horse. Then he turned in the direction of Widow Hawkins house and prepared his mind with regard as to what to say to Mr Evans. As he knocked on the door he removed his hat and forced a smile to his mouth as it edged open and Clemmie gave her shrill “Oh Ben, how luverly…”
.
Chapter 20

There were not so many people in the town at the time of day that Ben and Adam had parted. Adam had not been unduly surprised at the town councils lack of interest in the little independent schools, knowing from experience that some of the most common sense solutions to matters always seemed to take inordinate time to be dealt with by the powers that be.   It gave him a wry sense of satisfaction, however, knowing that he had given them a nudge in the right direction relating to the problem of Crook, and getting the children from the smaller schools properly graded into the magnificent building in C Street.

Adam rode through the main street mulling things over in his mind and trying to project ahead on various decisions that Crook may make on being told of his ..’promotion.’ There was no doubt in his mind that there were other reasons why Crook was in Virginia City and it wasn’t just to create mayhem in the education system !

Several men strolled down the side walks keeping pace with his horse, and from the corner of his eyes he watched them. They were obviously strangers and men with trouble stamped all over them. Perhaps, had there been more townsfolk about, they would not have been so noticeable, but then again, Adam told himself, perhaps they wanted him to notice them. Crook’s friends? He wondered what really was the cause of the hatred the man had for Candy and how it would now involve them all of them on the Ponderosa.

As he passed the town hall he saw the Town Treasurer deep in conversation with Sales who was shaking his head and looking increasingly hot under the collar before finally walking away.   The look Brockett had on his face as Adam rode by was one of muted anger, and when Adam tipped his hat to him, Brockett could barely curl his lip in acknowledgement. As Adam walked the horse down the street he wondered what really was known about this enigmatic Mr Brockett.   Adam only knew that Brockett had arrived in V.C not long after the big fire and had successfully ingratiated himself with various men, prestigious men, in town until he was himself sitting among them, a ‘Big Man’ in town.

The more he considered the matter the less Adam could recall Ben ever mentioning the man except in brief references of his presence at Board Meetings of the town council.

He set Kami into a fast trot once out of town and wondered what would happen if Crook refused the transfer.  Talking to his father about the matter Adam had been quite sure that were Crook to turn the position down then he would have to resign.  Since seeing Brockett however, he was feeling slightly less confident…..

But it never did to think too much and Adam knew that at times he was inclined to over think matters. In an attempt to shut his mind from the affairs of the day he turned his thoughts to his brother Joe, and whether or not his brother had managed to climb out of the abyss of amnesia. He fretted at the fact that deQuille had as yet come up with nothing with regard to this town ..this Blakesville. As he continued on his way he began to conjecture on the possibility of Hoss and himself taking a trip to find out more for themselves.

…………..

In the classroom the children kept their heads down and worked at their assigned tasks. Crook had been surprisingly amenable, the leather strap had not been employed at all and his voice had quietened to a gentler level. For the little ones it came as a relief, for the older ones it was viewed with sceptism.

Reuben and David Riley had been called upon during the course of the day to recite some poetry and were commended. The teacher’s mean little eyes stayed fixed on their faces and whenever they faltered his mouth would tighten which created nerves in both boys as they awaited some backlash or other. But none came, and with sighs of relief both boys had resumed their seats and then realised that they had actually been afraid. That had caused them both some anxious moments.

Sofia worked hard at writing our her lesson for the day. By concentrating on making her writing as neat as possible she was able to blot out the fears she had about the teacher. When his figure drew close to her desk she just forced her hand to hold her pen more tightly and round out her words more concisely. She knew if she didn’t look up he would pass on by, which he did.

Then came the moment when he paused at her desk and stopped. “Sofia Cartwright isn’t it? One of the Ponderosa Cartwrights?”

She couldn’t let her hand shake, it would spoil her work. She took a deep breath and looked up, her throat was tight and she nodded “Yes, sir.”

He stared at her for a moment, a long moment. Then he looked down at her work and picked it up, he read through it for what seemed an incredibly long time before he put it back down again.

“Well, Sofia Cartwright, this is very good. Very good indeed, I wish more of my students worked as diligently as you have done. Well done.”

Sofia felt a confusion of feelings flow through her, relief yes indeed, anxiety, yes that also for to have Crook’s approval was almost frightening. She watched as he walked down the row of desks and picked up the written work of others pupils but none received any word of commendation from him.

Finally the day ended and they were able to leave their desks and scamper for the door and leave. Fresh warm air greeted them like a caress after being cooped up in the class room. Sofia hurried over to Reuben and grabbed for his hand, and as she did so one of the boys ran past and his shoulder hit against her arm “Yah, teacher’s pet.”

She blinked in surprise, her arm hurt where he had hit against her, and she looked around and saw several of the girls looking at her, their eyes harder, their faces tighter. David Riley strutted by and grinned over at her “How’s it feel being teacher’s pet, Sofia Cartwright?”

“I’m not his pet,” she retorted angrily and tugged at her brother’s hand “Tell him, Reuben, tell him I’m not the teacher’s pet.”

Reuben frowned over at Davy and shook his head “Don’t tease her, Davy, it’s not fair.”

“Yeah, but all the same she’s the only one he ever said anything decent too.” David replied in his defence, “Anyhow, who cares …”

Another boy accompanied by a little girl went by with a smirk on his face “Haven’t we done well then, Sofia Cartwright?”. And laughing he continued on his way.

Sofia caught a little gasp in her throat, at the sound Reuben released her hand and was about to run at the boy to make him “eat his words and apologise” but he had no sooner taken one step when Chas grabbed him,

“Don’t bother” Chas muttered, and glanced over at the school house where Crook stood with his legs apart and chest thrust out, “Crooks watching to see what you’ll do.”

Reuben frowned, shrugged the bigger lads hand from his shoulder “What do you mean?  My sister isn’t Teacher’s pet and no one should say so ..it isn’t true..”

Chas shrugged and stuffed his hands in his pockets, “Well, we know that, the kids don’t mean anything by it, and anyhow, at least Crook spoke decent for once” he grinned at Sofia, who was hugging her books close to her chest.

“He still shouldn’t have said it, nor Davy either ..”

“Well, I reckon had you got into a scrap Old Crabbie would have given you a leathering … Don’t reckon your Pa would be happy about that …!”

He strolled on, whistling a jaunty tune and his hands still in his pockets.  Rosie grabbed for Sofia’s hand while Reuben slouched along, head down, deep in thought.  He remembered his Pa’s advice, not to draw attention to himself.  He shook his head, well, he would really have caught Crooks attention if he had got into a fight wouldn’t he?  In his little boys way he wondered if that had been Crooks intention all along!

Reuben tightened his hold on Sofia’s hand and muttered to her to “Come on, Ezra’s waiting.”

They hurried to the wagon where Ezra sat staring between the ears of the horses at the road ahead and thinking thoughts of what he would be eating later in the day. As Sofia hurried to take her seat Reuben glanced back at Davy but he had already disappeared among the group of town children making their way to their homes.

His eyes caught sight of a pompous looking man approaching the school. He had seen the man about, of course, at the fetes, at social functions, and in the town but he had no idea who the man was, except that he was ‘creepy’. He watched now as Crook came to the door of the building, and the two men shook hands, and then stepped inside. For some reason the encounter made Reuben shiver and long to be safely at home.

Thank goodness it was the weekend, and they could enjoy two days of freedom, away from school, away from Crook..
……….

By the time Ben Cartwright entered his house he felt a very weary man.  He removed his gunbelt and placed it safely away from where curious little fingers could find it. For a moment he stood without moving, like a man caught in a dream and unaware of the direction he should take. Then he shook his head and cast off the wisps of whatever had momentarily engulfed him and walked to his study area where he pulled out the old leather captain’s chair from behind the desk and sat down.  He glanced about him and then stared at the stairs that were directly in his view.  Memories trickled unheralded into his head…memories of a young woman carrying a child in her arms, smiling that “haven’t we been clever, look at what we have achieved” and the baby in her arms looked at him with drowsy eyes, heavy with sleep.

So long ago now, he mused, so long ago since Marie had gone.  “I’m lonely,” he told himself, “I’m lonely for a woman of my own, to love and to be loved.”

He looked again at the stairs and saw a little boy in a white night gown looking at him through the bars of the balustrade.   Those same hazel green eyes, tear laden, watching him as he worked, too busy to play, to tell stories and soon to go away from them leaving a 17 year old youth to make sure the Ponderosa was still there when he got back.

“Pa?”

Ben jerked alert, involuntarily he glanced back to the stairs but there was no one there so he turned to face the anxious countenance of his eldest son, the one who at 17 had been handed the responsibility of running the Ponderosa.   He nodded “Yes, son?”

Adam leaned towards his father, his dark eyes travelled over the features of the man who had been his mentor and guide in life for so long.

“What’s wrong?   You looked …kinda lost.”

“No, not really.”. Ben smiled “just wallowing in memories, not so far off enough to be lost.”

Adam didn’t took convinced but nodded and leaned against the wall, his arms folded across his chest “Did you see Evans?”

Ben nodded and smiled, his eyes twinkled, “Yes, he seems to be thriving under Clemmie’s tender care. Considering his situation I must say his reaction to the news was extremely positive.”

Adam smiled and nodded “That’s good, I was hoping that he would feel that way about things. He certainly seemed keen to get back to teaching when I saw him.”

“Well, it’s a while since I saw a man’s face light up as his did when I told him what had been suggested at the Board meeting.” he pulled out a chair from behind his desk and then glanced over at his son “I didn’t expect to see you here, haven’t you a home of your own to go to?”

Adam chuckled, “I have, but I wanted to know how things had gone with Evans and also, to ask you for some information.”

“Really?  About whom?”. Ben smiled briefly while he leaned into the desk, and clasped his hands together, upon the smooth wooden surface.

Having got his parents attention Adam stepped closer and nodded before asking his father for some details about Brockett, Treasurer to the Council and Member of the School Board  “I only know he arrived here after the fire, no one very important at the time but now a quite prominent man in town,”

Ben nodded. “Yes, he is.  I personally dislike him, but can’t find a reason for why.” he frowned slightly and rubbed his chin for a while, “He had been in the army, years back if I recall rightly.  He’s intelligent and has money behind him, never short of funds.  I often think he wants to be Mayor, he’s thrown his hat into the ring several times but people don’t warm to him, he hasn’t got the people’s confidence.”

“Apart from his being in the army, what more do you know about him?”

Ben shrugged “He was married years back but his wife was killed in the massacre of New Ulm*.  He got a lot of sympathy from the council about that …”. he paused and raised his dark eyebrows. “What’s wrong?   You looked …as though something had caught your interest?”

“Wel, it did just cross my mind, but wasn’t Crook the school master at New Ulm?”

Bens eyebrows rose a little higher “You think there’s a connection?”

“How many other people do you know come from New Ulm?” Adam murmured, and then shrugged “Perhaps I’m seeing too much in it but I can’t help wondering … ” he paused and shrugged, but before he could say anything else Hannah’s voice came from the doorway followed by that of Hope, both of whom ran with all the innocent pleasure of children to embrace and be embraced by their grandfather, and then,in turn, by their Uncle.

Hester came strolling in with Erik in the crook of one arm and straddling her hip, she kissed Ben on the cheek and smiled as Adam kissed her “I’ve been with Mary Ann,” she said with her eyes still smiling “we visited Marcy.”

Ben listened with little real  attention as the girls began to talk together about the babies and Adam, seizing his opportunity made his excuses to leave.  He paused at the door and half turned to his sister in law. “By the way, Hester, how is Joe?”

Hester’s smile faltered a little “Well, I didn’t see him, but Mary Ann did say he seemed better in one way, but still seems distracted and …” She frowned as though attempting to get the right words “Worried about having forgotten something important.”

Adam nodded, glanced at the clock “I had best go, Olivia will be expecting  me, and the children will be home soon.” It was now Hester’s turn to ask him how the children were getting along with the new teacher”I hear Olivia isn’t very happy with him…”

Ben and Adam glanced conspiratorially at each other, Adam shrugged and Ben turned to give the children more attention, “Things could be changing soon..” Adam smiled, picked his hat up and walked out with it between his hands with Hester walking beside him, and little Erik reaching out to his uncle for a momentary hug.

Chapter 21

As he mounted his horse Adam thought over what Hester had said about Joe, and after raising his hand in farewell to his sister in law decided that a few moments with his youngest brother wouldn’t make him too late for home.

Joe was standing at the corral watching Kamille’s colt cavorting around with the abandonment of all young things too full of energy on a pleasantly sunny day.   He watched as his eldest brother rode into the yard, and with his hands thrust into his pockets turned to greet him.

“Joe?   How’re you feeling?” Were Adams first words as he dismounted and strolled towards the younger man, leading his horse behind him on a rein.

“Bored.” Joe grinned and then together the brothers leaned against the corral fence, their elbows touching, and legs stretched long and straight “Better though…”

Adam nodded but didn’t appear convinced.   He said nothing but gave his brother a sharp side long look from the corner of his eyes before turning to observe the colt

“He’s coming along well.” he stated with approval,and grinned at the memory of the colt arriving as part and parcel of the gift from a grateful friend from far away.

“He’s fiesty, and handsome.” Joe agreed with a smile and folded his arms on the topmost bar before leaning his chin on them. They didn’t speak for a while until Joe raised his head and gave his brother a fleeting look, ” I still can’t remember a thing about what happened during the time I left Boulders Creek and finding myself in that town…”  He raised his eyebrows and gave a wry shrug, “I’ve worried so much about it that I’ve decided not to think about it any more.     I reckon I’ll remember whatever it is one of these days without forcing it.“

Adam nodded but didn’t take his eyes from the colt who had approached them in order to nuzzle up to his mother who had pushed her pretty head through the bars. “You don’t want to find this town?  The hotel, or anything?” he finally asked as though slightly exasperated by his brothers  lack of interest but Joe merely shrugged and shook his head slowly.

“I’m  all right, Adam.   I do know what I’m doing ..” He said defensively “perhaps it isn’t what you would do in this situation, but I get such a headache when I try thinking about it all…” he didn’t mention the palpitations, the nightmares, he knew Adam too well to lower his guard that much.  Instead he mustered a smile and shrugged, “Its nothing to worry about, honestly.”

Adam said nothing to that but looked into his brother’s hazel green eyes and wondered whether he should mention a town called Blakesville, whether it would have any effect or whether Joe was right, best to leave it to come to mind naturally. He bit down on what he would have preferred to have said after all Joe seemed so content with his resolution to put it behind him, whatever or wherever that happened to be.. He realised it had been some days since he had seen deQuille and so far the journalist had brought him nothing. He wondered if no news was in deed good news in that respect so he nodded and gave a slight shrug of the shoulders before turning to remount

He glanced over his shoulder once and saw Joe watching him, his head to one side and his face looking like the little boy lost from years before. It was with a heavy heart that Adam looked away and continued to ride home.
……………

The children clambered down from the wagon with gleeful shouts after all it was Friday and ahead were two days of being at home, safe and content in their family surroundings.  That evening they could look forward to the family meal at Grandpa’s.  Cheng Ho Lee helped Hop Sing with the cooking now because there were so many of them to feed!

Adam rode into the yard not long after and as he dismounted he heard the familiar squeak of the swing around the back.  With a slight smile on his face he strolled round to find Sofia swinging back and forth, her eyes closed and the breeze created by the movement sending her skirts drifting about her legs and her hair billowing round her face one moment and flowing out behind her the next. He stood and watched for a moment with that same smile on his face, one hand resting on his hip, the other tapping restlessly on his thigh.

He recalled another little girl with blonde hair who refused on wear dresses, who had lost her teeth, who didn’t like him … at first.

He wondered where little Peggy Dayton was now for as the years had passed so had all contact with Will and Laura.  He was pondering over this when his daughter opened her eyes and saw him.

“Daddy!”

The squeaking stopped, she jumped down and ran to him her face alight with the  pleasure of seeing him.  He caught her in his arms and swung her high before lowering her onto the ground.

“Daddy, do you know something?”. her eyes stared up at him, big and full of mysteries.

“Hmmm, probably not.” he smiled as she caught at his hand and they walked together to the house.

“Well!” she heaved in a big breath, “Mr Crook said I was good, and he liked my writing and ..do you know what? ..the boys at school said I was teachers pet but I’m not, Daddy, am I?”

“I doubt it very much.” he smiled wider, “but it’s good to know he noticed you for good work and not for being naughty.”

She frowned very slightly then before nodding “No ones naughty now.” She replied with a regretful sigh, ” Mr Crookedy Crook won’t let us.” She hugged into him then, and he felt a lift to the heart at the way she clung to him.

The love of a child could smooth away so many crinkles in ones life he thought as they stepped into the house.
,,,,,

The building had stood empty for some months now, ever since the old biddies in town had succeeded in getting the business that was being conducted within it closed down. Sheriff Blakeley stood opposite it for a while and tried to imagine what it was that Jericho Silverman had seen. A tall man who had knocked on the door, and then used a key to get inside. Then a while later ridden away.

Blakeley sighed, and shook his head. If the man knocked it meant he had expected someone to still be there to open up to him. He must have had a vested interest in the property for him to possess the key, but not enough interest to prompt him to stick around.

Again Blakeley sighed and scowled over the problems he was facing concerning the Tombs’ deaths. He was considering crossing the road and peering through the windows when a voice behind him asked him if he were considering buying the property or was just wasting time admiring it.

The smiling countenance of the Bank Manager, Mr Markle, confronted the sheriff when he turned to see who had addressed him in such a manner. It rather irked him to see the smile on the man’s round ruddy face, but he just nodded and thought to walk on when Markle said in a matter of fact tone of voice

“Odd though, once the business folded, and you know the reason why of course,” a wink and nudge followed that comment, “I never heard from the owners again. They seem to have just disappeared.”

“How do you mean? Disappeared? In what way?”

“No replies to any correspondence, nothing. I had to write and tell ’em about the – er – business coming to a close. And then I had to write and ask them for the payment on the mortgage…several times now let me tell you. But nothing, not a squeak.”

Blakeley shrugged, and glanced again at the house before looking once more at the Bank Manager, “Perhaps the owners were relying on the income from the business to accommodate the mortgage.”

“I daresay, but you would have thought there would have been some interest shown in the place. Do I sell it? Do I rent it out?” he shrugged plump shoulders “How am I to know how to proceed and all the time the debt is getting bigger and we’re losing money.”

“Yes, well, of course…” Blakeley mumbled and chewed his bottom lip as he tried to bring to the surface of his brain something that was niggling him. It was the man, the tall man Jericho had seen… why had he been so interested in the house? Or perhaps it wasn’t the house but the occupants… “Did you ever see the owner or owners of the property?”

“Yes, a man, dark complexioned and balding, tall and thin he was…” Markle looked over at the house again, and then opened his eyes wide as he looked back at the sheriff “And another thing that may interest you, Sheriff…he knew the Tombs. He asked about them specifically, wanted me to tell him where they lived.”

“And did you tell him?”

“No reason why not. He said he had done business with them one time in Chicago.”

“Chicago?” Blakeley nodded and rubbed his chin, then nodded again “Did he say anything else about them?”

“No, just that if I wanted a personal reference I could contact Mr Tombs who, he was sure, would be happy to oblige.”

“And what was this individuals name, Mr Markle?”

Markle hesitated a moment, stared at the sheriff’s boots for inspiration and then nodded “Dunlop. Alex Dunlop.”

“And his address?”

“Chicago, of course. But, doesn’t seem much point in trying to contact him there, I’ve tried, countless times.”

Blakeley nodded and stepped back to let the man pass him by. For a moment he stared at the man’s retreating back before hurrying to his own office. It seemed that perhaps one way to answer some of the questions would be to dig a little into the Tombs’ past, and another way…to go to Virginia City and find out for himself just where young Joe Cartwright happened to be on the night of the fire.
……………….

Reuben worked hard at clearing out the stalls in the stable. While his father curried the horses and teased out the burrs and snags in their manes and tails until they looked resplendent again. The boy raked away at the soiled straw and once it was all removed he joined Adam in order to attend to Buster and his own mount. Sofia, of course, should have been looking after Buster but she was practising her music scales, the sounds of which floated across the yard to them.

Later on Aunt Mary Ann would come with the children and while they played with Nathaniel, she would go through the piano lesson with Sofia. Reuben smiled and glanced over at Adam,

“Pa, what did you think about Mr Crook being so nice to Sofia? He doesn’t say nice things to anyone usually.”

Adam frowned and leaned against Sports gleaming chestnut back. He held the brush in one hand and with his other hand stroked the animals neck and looked both grave and pensive. He glanced over at Reuben who stood almost in imitation of his father, leaning against Max’s broad back and looking over at him with a quizzical expression in his eyes.

“What do you think about it, son?” Adam replied turning now to face the boy who moved away from his horse and now looked thoughtfully at the brush in his hand. After a moment had elapsed he shrugged,

“I don’t know. It was good at first, but then the other kids weren’t very nice to Sofia, even Davy …even he said she was teacher’s pet. I was going to – well – tell him not to say things like that but Chas said not to because Mr Crook was watching, that is, until he had a visitor.”

Adam frowned, tightened his lips a little and then turned back to brushing down Sports’ flanks, “Reuben, why would Mr Crook be watching you, did Chas Carter say why?”

“Only that if I got into a fight Mr Crook would probably give me a thrashing. Chas made it sound as though Mr Crook wanted to catch me out, kind of on purpose.”

“Hmmph” Adam allowed a snort of agreement to pass his lips and then turned again to look at his son, “I think that is possible. But, I was thinking that it may be a good idea to look after your sister, keep her close by. I have it in mind that for a while Mr Crook may well single her out and favour her …”

“Oh, why?” Reuben was curious, and he also felt proud of the fact that his father was confiding in him like this, making him part of something that would be just between them both.

Adam though wondered just how far he could explain things to the boy. Knowing Crook for a bully, openly talking about it and discussing it between them was one thing, but there was a line that as a parent he had to be wary of crossing. Even though Crook did not deserve it, in his opinion, the authority as school teacher, what he represented, was still something his children needed to respect. Erode that authority, that respect at home, could lead to problems later for future teachers. Adam smiled slowly and gave Reuben a nod of the head, “Just keep an eye on her and don’t let her have time alone with Mr Crook.”

“Oh there’s no chance of that, Pa. Mr Crook don’t have no one he’s bothered enough with to spend time alone with them.”

Adam smiled again knowing that Reuben had no idea of what he himself was thinking about, which was, maybe a good thing. As he brushed down the horses’ coat though he fretted over the matter a little more. A good tactician knows how to work on people, whether a ship’s crew, an army of soldiers or a class of children. Select one as the favourite, isolate them, draw them away from the rest was a typical ruse of a man who knew how to use people to his advantage. The favoured one becomes despised by the others, distrusted, isolated. And when the favour is withdrawn … often times too late to regain a position in the crowd again.

Crook was clever, he would never touch Adam Cartwright’s children … but he knew other ways to cause them harm. He thought over what Reuben had said and then snatched at a thread of the conversation, pondered a moment and then asked the boy who exactly it was that Mr Crook was speaking to when they were leaving. Reuben stood up to think and said thoughtfully “I think the man’s name is Brockett. Mr Brockett.”

“I see. And they were friendly were they?”

“Kinda. They shook hands and went inside the school house.”

Adam nodded, and returned to working on the horse while he thought of the connection between Brockett and Crook. There obviously was one, and it obviously went back a long way.

Chapter 22……….

Daniel Cartwright was always pleased to be at Aunt Olivia’s. He was the eldest of the three children born in 1876 and thought himself to be the boss of them all. It was easier to make sure Nathaniel knew who was boss because there was nearly a year between them, and at that age that was a big difference.

Nathaniel didn’t particularly care about the pecking order among his cousins. He just enjoyed having younger ones around, children who were more his size, limited in speech, and less inclined to ignore him as his brother and sister did, frequently.

While he and Daniel played together, squabbled and fought and were then soothed by cookies and milk from Cheng Ho Lee, Mary Ann listened to Sofia play her scales and then practise her latest piece of music.

There was no doubt that the child had potential. Every so often Mary Ann would have to correct her, make her repeat a passage of music, correct her fingering, but in most respects the little girl was confident and loved to play. Several times Mary Ann would look over at Olivia and smile, give a nod of the head, as though to convey to her sister in law the fact that in her opinion Sofia was really doing very well indeed.

When Adam and Reuben came into the house Mary Ann left Sofia to practise a new piece, while she joined the adults for coffee. Reuben asked if he could go and visit Joe and see how the colt was…

“Joe’s gone into town. He was getting bored at home.” Mary Ann said, and avoided Adam’s dark eyes as she spoke, leaning down to add a spoonful of sugar to her coffee.

“Is he well enough to do that?” Olivia asked, pre-empting her husband who was thinking along the same lines.

“He insisted.” Mary Ann replied quietly, “I told him to go and see Paul Martin while he was there, but I doubt that he will. He thinks there’s nothing to worry about and says he feels fine.”

“Well, that’s good, isn’t it?” Olivia said rather doubtfully and glanced over at her husband who was looking rather subdued.

“I suppose so.” came the reluctant response which Adam seized upon immediately,

“How’s his memory? Has he told you how he came to fall off his horse?” Adam asked and watched as Mary Ann fidgeted a little before sipping more of her drink.

“He said it’s fine. In fact, I think he’s right because I asked him about that hotel he had stayed at, which he said was called Stewarts Hotel. I asked him how come he remembered that so well, and he said he could remember reading it above the building and how he thought it was because the owner was, perhaps, a Scotsman. So I asked him if he was, you know, a Scotsman and Joe just laughed and said that no, he was an Italian.”

“He remembered that?” Adam raised his eyebrows and gave a half smile, “He hadn’t mentioned it before?”

“No, never. I asked him how had he remembered that and he just shrugged and said because he was, an Italian I mean…” she put down her cup with a sigh and a smile, a rather vague smile, “so perhaps he’s right after all, perhaps he will remember things quite naturally as time goes by.”

Adam nodded, perhaps so, he hoped so anyway. In the background Sofia continued to play her music, diligently working through the passage her Aunt had given her.

Adam swallowed down his coffee and got to his feet, “I have work to get on with, so shall leave you just now. Olivia, don’t forget we have a visitor for supper tonight.”

She nodded, he had mentioned it earlier that morning but had not said who the visitor would be and rather than mention the fact in front of her sister in law, she smiled and nodded as he left the house, followed by Reuben.

“Reuben seems to be growing taller all the time.” Mary Ann said softly and put down her cup, “I had best check on Sofia …she’s doing so well sometimes I get the feeling she doesn’t really need me.”

“Oh yes she does, she’s a lazy little girl, if you were not coming to keep her in check she would avoid her exercises all the time.” Olivia laughed and was about to speak when a howl from the end of the room caused both mothers to stand up in concern “I had better check out what’s happening with those two boys before one of them ends up killing the other.”
……………..

“Hey, Joe…. Joe Cartwright?”.

The man being hailed turned in the saddle to see who had called to him, and saw only a man lounging against the support beam of the Bucket of Blood. Not a man he recognised, so his eyes roved a little to locate who it could have been. He dismounted warily and was tethering the horse when he heard footsteps coming towards him, and then a voice said

“Hey, Joe, you forget old friends so easily?”

He glanced up now and his easy going charming smile flashed across his mouth. He had momentarily feared that his loss of memory was spreading to other areas of his life when he had not remembered the voice of the man, but now, seeing him standing there in front of him, that familiar grin, the twinkle in his eyes, of course, he remembered.

“Hello Jerry,” hands were shaken energetically as happens when old friends meet up and are relieved to discover they had not been forgotten, “Good to see you in town. When did you blow in?”

“Not so long ago, last night in actual fact.” Jerry Cambor grinned and his blue-grey eyes continued to twinkle good humouredly, “Say, you’re looking good. How’s life treating you? You still on the Ponderosa?”

“Of course, and yes, life’s good just now, thanks. How about yourself? Settled down yet?” Joe laughed, it was easy to laugh with Jerry, he had always been like that, even at school all that time ago.

“Oh well, tried it once, but -” he shrugged and pulled a face, “You know how it is, sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. Guess me and Lucy didn’t … we split some years back. How about yourself?”

“Oh married and settled…”

“What? You? Shucks, you gotta be kidding me.” Jerry laughed and slapped Joe on the chest as though it was the best joke he had heard in years, “I never thought in a thousand years to hear you got yourself hog tied. Guess she must be a real looker, huh?”

“She is, the prettiest gal in the territory and some.” Joe grinned, “Mind you, my brothers would probably disagree with me …”

“You mean they’re married too? Even old Granite Head? Last I heard he was on board a ship sailing the world.”

“No, he’s retired from all that, and he’s married with children. Same as Hoss.”

Jerry looked round eyed and his mouth opened, he shook his head, “Wal, go figgur! Don’t that beat all…” he paused and looked around him, “Hey, stead of standing out here getting our brains scorched let’s go inside and have a drink or two?”

Joe was only too happy to comply. It was hot, and he had ridden into town just for the sake of getting away from four walls, a demanding little boy and a wailing baby girl (Constance was teething). Sharing a glass of beer with Jerry was the best thing he could possibly think of and slapping his old friend on the back, the two of them made their way into the Bucket of Blood.

An hour passed surprisingly quickly, glasses were filled, emptied and refilled, memories were swapped and laughed over, reminiscences pondered over, old romances sighed and mourned as lost forever. Jerry seemed to be full of things to talk about, remembering this and that, recalling to mind the time when they did this or did that, and he seemed to be a source of endless memories of girls woo’d and lost.

Joe was beginning to feel a little light headed from the beer, the heat of the room and the constant chatter. He glanced at the clock and thought it would be a good idea to call it a day, but Jerry had other idea’s and pulled Joe back down into his chair, “Look there’s plenty of time. Don’t tell me you’re one of those men who get themselves tied to their wives so they can’t stay out for a drink with old friends unless they have permission?”

Joe grinned and shrugged before he sat down again and beckoned for more beers. Jerry relaxed and leaned into the back of his chair,

“So, anything happening just now, Joe? Anything exciting ?”

“Not really, just the usual .. Ranch work, horse breaking …that kind of thing.” Joe grinned up at Veroon who had brought over the beers, and gave her some money, “What about yourself?”

“Just drifting for now. I made a good business deal some time back and it’s still paying dividends now. I just wanted to come back and look up old friends before I have to consider working again.”

“Really? What kind of deal was it?” Joe asked good naturedly and with the usual curiosity of a man who had linked up with an old friend after many years.

“Aw, nothing you’d be interested in, Joe. No cows and no horses involved.” Jerry leaned back and with his head to one side surveyed his friend thoughtfully “You know, you haven’t changed much at all, Joe. But having said that you do look a mite peeked.”

“No, I’m alright.” Joe said defensively.

“You been in some kind of accident? You look like you used to look when things didn’t go so well at school… remember Mr Lambert? Phew, what a teacher he was, I reckon we were all glad when he left and Miss Jones came along. If I recall rightly, she had a soft spot for your brother Adam, ain’t that right?”

“Sure was, but she’s married now…” Joe buried his face in his glass and swallowed more beer. This was his last, he could feel his stomach beginning to protest.

James Colby saw him as he came into the saloon, the Manager had asked the doctor to come by and check on one of the girls who was claiming sickness. He approached the table and Joe promptly introduced him to Jerry, the men looked at one another and nodded, then James looked at Joe,

“How are you feeling, Joe? You’re looking much better than when I last saw you?”

Joe nodded, “Feeling just fine, Doc. Thanks.”

James nodded, narrowed his eyes and thought to say more then realised that it was not polite or correct to discuss someone’s ailments in front of a stranger, friend though he claimed to be. He bade them farewell and went about his business, knowing that both men were watching him as he strode away.

“You been ill then, Joe” Jerry asked leaning in a conciliatory manner towards his friend, “I said I thought you looked a mite peeked.”

“Oh I fell off my horse sometime back “ Joe said airily, “Nothing too awful.”

Jerry laughed, good natured, without malice or spite so Joe thought, then cocked his head to one side “Could never imagine you falling off your horse.”

“No, nor could I, but it happened. Heck, I sure would like to know how it happened,”

“You can’t remember?”

“Nope, not a thing…well, a few things but not much.” Joe glanced at the clock, “Look, Jerry, I have to be going. How long are you in town for?”

“Oh I guess for as long as it takes…”

Joe nodded, he would at one time have wondered why such a cryptic reply but not now, he wanted to get outside and breathe in some air, and then get home. He stood up and the two men shook hands again, “I’ll see you again soon” Jerry said, and Joe nodded and said that would be great.

Jerry watched Joe leave the saloon and then finished his drink. He also watched as James Colby descended the stairs and passed the table again, noticed Joe had gone and nodded over to him.

After half an hour had drifted by Jerry got up and left the saloon to stroll slowly to the Whitney Hotel. He made his way to a room on the third floor and knocked before entering a large suite of rooms.

A tall thin man was seated in a comfortable arm chair, he put down the paper he had been reading and looked over at the other man.

“Well?”

Jerry grinned, removed his hat and gun belt and placed both on a bureau near the door. He strolled into the room and sat down “He’s not remembered anything. Reckons he fell off his horse, but can’t remember how or when.”

“He remembered you?” the cold voice said in an expressionless voice.

“Why shouldn’t he? We went back a long way …”

Alex Dunlop nodded, he picked up the paper again “Good. Just make sure he doesn’t remember – how he came to fall off his horse.”
…………………

“Is it a surprise, daddy?”

Sofia stood in front of Adam who was surveying himself in the cheval mirror. He twitched at his string tie and then glanced down at the little girl, his reflection did the same.

Sofia was watching herself, twisting here and there, turning her head this way and that in order to see which was the best angle. She was too young to put the action into such words, of course, but she was enjoying watching herself and tossing her blonde curls and twitching at her skirts.

“Yes, I think so.”

“Will I like it?”

“Yes, I think you will.”

He leaned down and picked her up, then carried her in the crook of his arm out of the room, down the stairs and into the big room. Olivia had made it look so homely and pleasing. She smiled at him, her eyes large and gentle, because she loved to see him with the children. She wondered how much longer he would be able to carry Sofia like that, she was growing up, getting heavier and, she acknowledged, getting prettier too.

She was about to speak when there were footsteps on the porch floor, a rap on the door and Cheng ho Lee, who had been waiting for the summons, opened the door wide.

Sofia gasped, her eyes widened in delight and she wriggled down from Adam’s arms in order to hurry a few steps forward. “Oh my…”

Reuben stood up from where he had been seated, bored he said… now he was alert and grinned with pleasure.

Edward Evans stepped inside and nodded, removed his hat, and smiled at everyone. His thin face became flushed with the pleasure of being among friends, and when Sofia ran and wrapped her arms around his legs and said “Oh Mr Evans” about a dozen times he actually laughed.

Chapter 23

It was a Friday evening ritual. Once the marking was done Peter Crook would go to his bedroom and sit in front of the dressing table mirror with a bottle of whiskey and an empty glass. The dressing table was a relic of better times and part of the furniture that comprised the meagre belongings of the landlord to whom Crook paid what he considered far too much rent for property and ‘chattels’.

He stared into the eyes of the man facing him … blood shot eyes in a pock marked face with a bitter twisted mouth. As he poured whiskey into the glass Crook went through the events of the day, slowly, bit by bit, like a vulture picking out the flesh from the bones of a newly found corpse.

The problem was that no one understood him. It failed to register with Crook that no one liked him enough to want to understand him. His whole defensive and aggressive demeanour turned people away instinctively in the same way they would circle round a stagnant pond or a snapping angry dog.

He gulped down whiskey, his reflection did the same and both brought the glass down upon the surface of the dressing table with a thump.

A man should not be drinking alone, he should be drinking with friends in a saloon. Crook scowled and shook his head, he had no real friends. The army types drifting into town, some of whom he knew from a long time ago, were not his friends, he wasn’t even sure why they were there. Perhaps they were waiting for him to start a war.. If so, they waited in vain.

It had all been Brockett’s fault. From the very start everything that was wrong in Crook’s life lay at the door of Sam Brockett. Because once upon a time Peter Crook had been a pleasant amiable man, who had studied hard to become a teacher and had accepted the position as school teacher at New Ulm, in Minnesota.

His sister, Sybil, had married Sam Brockett and they had a son also called Sam. The township of New Ulm was close by Fort Ridgeley* and for some time life had been kind for Peter Crook. He had fallen in love, and been loved, by a young woman and there had been talk of marriage.

Then Little Crow* of the Santee Souix had had his uprising … Crook stared into the eyes of his reflection and then gulped down whiskey. His sister had been killed along with many others, his future wife taken by the Indians along with other women and children. He had never seen her again.

He remembered standing at the door of his sister’s home with little Sam clinging to his legs. Sometimes when he relived those days he suspected that Sam Brockett Snr had known about Little Crow’s impending attack on Fort Ridgeley and New Ulm. He suspected it because the wretched ferret of a man had not been there at the time but miles away ‘on business’. He had never disclosed what the business had been, but had returned to play the part of a grief stricken man.

All pretence. Crook knew Brockett so well now, and as he drank another glass of whiskey he thought of how the man had disappeared from their lives leaving him, Peter Crook, with the boy. All Crook had wanted was vengeance, because somehow something had happened to him and he didn’t understand why or how, but it was as though his heart had been ripped out and a lead box that ticked in order to keep him alive had replaced it. He had taken the boy to the fort and he had left him there to be reared by the military while at the same time he had signed up and become a soldier himself.

He had wanted to kill as many Indians as he possibly could. He remembered his sister, his betrothed, and he recalled Trader Myrick* who had told the Indians to go and eat grass, or their own dung*. When they had found his body his mouth had been filled with grass * … obviously some Indians had taken exception to the man’s advice.

And he had killed, and he had gained a reputation along with his stripes as sergeant. He had taken pride in all he had achieved, and the lead coffin that was his heart had become harder as a result.

He left the mirror and took bottle and glass to the window to look down at the street and the passing horsemen who rode from the light shining from various windows into the darkness of shadow until another beam of light caught them as they rode on through. Life was like that, he mused, dark and light, up and down, throwing you one way and then the other.

He slurped down some more of the alcohol and slumped down onto the bed.

It had surprised him when he had first met Ann Buchanan. She had been a pretty young woman, much prettier than Sybil, but with a look about her that reminded him of his sister. He had been part of the military escort and taken her to the Fort in which he had been serving at the time. Candy Canaday had been there too, as had Crook’s nephew, young Sam.

And that was when life had kicked him in the teeth again. Candy Canaday. He hated the man so much … and Brockett knew that, and the wretch had not even hinted to him that the Canaday’s were here, in Virginia City.

Seeing Ann Buchanan, or rather Ann Canaday, for the first time after so long had stopped him in his tracks. He had stood with slack jaw and his eyes boggling. She had been standing talking to the sheriff and it wasn’t until she had leaned forward and taken the man’s hand that Crook had realised it was Candy. He had felt so sick that bile had burned up into his throat and he had had to spit on the sidewalk in order not to vomit.

Candy Canaday…William Canaday really but he preferred the nom de guerre .. the cause of Sam’s death, and the ruination of Crooks hopes in winning Ann for himself. Curse him.

Brockett had known. But had said nothing… just a letter out of the blue saying there was a good position available as teacher in Virginia City. “Ever heard of it, ,Pete?” Hadn’t just about everyone heard of the Comstock? He had been teaching for a few years but needed to move on, the usual reason, no one understood him, or his methods of teaching. The chorus of disapproval had grown disproportionately loud and this invitation had come just at the right time.

Now he was no longer The Schoolteacher, just one teacher among many.. On Monday he would no longer be going to his little school but making his way to the Fourth Ward School. Of course it made sense. Brockett had stressed that point, economically as well as practically, “it made sound sense, Pete.”

He cradled the near empty bottle of whiskey in his arms and closed his eyes. There was still his Nemesis to deal with, and add to him…Adam Cartwright.
……………..

In their home the Canadays were eating their evening meal. David was eating with his usual little boy enthusiasm, Candy and Ann talking over their meal as they ate and Rose Canaday pushing her food around her plate.

Rose Canaday was black haired like her father with the same bright blue eyes,and she was pretty like her mother. She was the same age as Sofia Cartwright, perhaps a few months older. She was miserable and no one seemed to care.

She had been spanked and scolded once Candy had found her paddling in the pool near the house the morning she had decided not to go to school with the Cartwrights. She had wrongly thought that her father would be busy and never find out about her hiding away. She had cried and spluttered an explanation but it had not been accepted, and she now felt full of pent up anger.

She pushed her plate away and threw down her fork so that it clattered into David’s “I hate it here.”

She hadn’t screamed the words, just uttered them coldly and David had stopped chewing and stared at his sister and asked what was there to hate “Why do you hate it, Rosie?” only he was younger and called her Wosie which annoyed her even more.

“Because I do. It’s horrible and I want to go back to town.” and for good measure she kicked the table leg.

Candy stood up and approached her, picked her up from her chair and set her down on her feet “Apologise to your mother, sit down and eat your meal or you will be going to the barn with me…do you understand?”

“I don’t want to…I don’t want to go to school. I hate Mr Crook. I hate it here.”

“That’s fair enough…” Candy said sharply and picked his daughter up and carried her to the door, where she was put down to walk.

They walked to the barn, the moon shining brightly and wrapping the two dark figures in moonlight. Like shadows they stepped into the warm building and Candy led her to where he could sit on a bale of straw and talk face to face with her.

He didn’t spank her. Instead he put his arm around her and drew her closer to him, so that slowly the rigid tension in her body eased away and she sunk her head upon his chest and wept.

“What’s this all about, sweet heart? You used to love being here, why do you hate it so much now?”

She didn’t have the words to explain to him after all, she was still only a little girl. She snivelled. “I liked the town. I had friends to play with and now they don’t even talk to me at school.”

“Then they can’t be very good friends, can they? Friends don’t act like that just because they don’t live close by any more.”

“And I don’t like Mr Crook.” she wiped her nose on the corner of her apron and sniffed.

“No one does.” Candy replied honestly “But he is your teacher, Rosie. For the time being anyway.”

She didn’t say anymore just leaned against him listening to his heart beating beneath her ear.

It was darker when they returned to the house and Ann was pouring coffee into cups for her and her husband. Rose apologised for her behaviour and the apology was accepted with a mother’s indulgent smile and gentle kiss on the brow. After that she made her way to her bed. David was already snoring, totally unconcerned about his sister’s outburst and subsequent absence from the table.
………………..

Edward Evans did not return home that evening but remained as a guest much to Sofia’s delight.

She had played some music for him on the piano and when he had clapped she had modestly said “It’s not my best, but I am practising.” and when Adam had invited him to stay the night as time had been ’ticking away’ she had been so excited and had said “Oh yes, do please stay.”

She had fallen to sleep with the sound of her father and Edward’s voices drifting up the stairs and sneaking under the door to her ears. It was almost like music.

But there had been a lot to discuss about the new school arrangements and Adam had been pleased to discover that Edward was very quick to assess the pro’s and cons of the position. To his delight he would be teaching Sofia’s class and Reubens’ grade, sharing the responsibilities with another teacher, a Miss Hayward.

As for Mr Crook there was, Adam assured him, little reason for their paths to cross during school days as the building was large and the grade of student Crook would be teaching was distant from Edwards classes.

They ended the evening with few concerns, a glass of brandy, and the thought of a comfortable bed awaiting them.
……………

Mary Ann had wanted to know all about Jerry Cambor. She had sat beside her husband, hand in hand, and listened to him spinning the yarns of old schooldays when he, Jerry and Mitch had been a threesome, a trio of rebels, well deserving the ’rod of discipline’ when it fell.

She had laughed along with him at some of the antics he told her, and expressed her sympathy for poor Miss Abigail Jones especiallyat the story of the time Jerry had got a box of candy, and Mitch some flowers, and he, Joe, had found a scrap of poetry written by his brother Adam …”How do I love thee, let me count the days…” which they had attached with a ribbon (filched from one of the girls Joe sweet talked into ’lending’ to him) and left at Miss Jones’ front door.

It had been Jerry who had knocked and then joined them to hide under the tree opposite the house to watch Miss Jones’ reaction.

“Poor Miss Jones. That was a horrible trick to play on her.” Mary Ann had sighed and leaned upon his shoulder. “I would have been so miserable if my pupils had tried that on me.”

“I know that now… but she was such a silly woman, she just couldn’t help making it so obvious to us all that Adam was her love interest. Still, you are right, we deserved the discipline we got.” and he laughed again, remembering how he had tried to hide from Adam and had succeeded for two full days before his brother had ’caught up with him.’

“Why is he here? That Jerry…what brought him here?” she asked lazily, her voice soft and drawling.

“Oh, just passing through, thought he would look the place up for old time’s sake. I was wondering about asking him for supper tomorrow night?”

He looked down at her and smiled, his hazel eyes twinkled. She had not seen him this relaxed and happy for so long that she could only agree, after all, what harm could it do?
………………..

The moon shone brightly that night …it sent shards of light scattered across the sleeping form of the teacher cradling the now empty bottle of whisky in his arms.

Spangled light came through the drapes of the bedroom in which Evans slept, dreaming of piano music and hearing the sound of song running through his head.

Rose and David snored softly, as softly as did Sofia in her bedroom and Reuben in his..totally unaware of the bright light that beamed down upon them, casting light and shade over the room, over their faces.

It peeked through the gap in the drapes where Olivia lay in her husband’s arms. She wore the gift he had brought her as a peace offering…a sweet musky perfume. She didn’t bother to wear the nightdress and chemise …

Chapter 24

Sofia was a little dismayed when she peeked into the guest room early the next morning. There was no Mr Evans. The bed was neatly turned down and the window just slightly ajar to allow a little breeze to drift past the curtains. But no Mr Evans.

She closed the door very quietly and stood there wondering if she had dreamed it all. If it was a dream it meant that on Monday they would be facing Mr Crook again. They would have to go to that cramped school house and wonder what kind of mood he would be in, would he shout and spit, thump the desk and bash the boys? Or would he be gentle and complimentary so that one never really knew where one was with him!

Reuben came from his room playing cup and ball and counting beneath his breath. He saw Sofia and muttered “50” and continued on but Sofia cried in a shrill voice “Mr Evans isn’t here! He’s gone.”

“Of course he’s gone, nitwit. Gone downstairs for breakfast…and now I’ve forgotten where I was and missed the ball. Sofia, you can be SO annoying at times.”

“I’m not.” she retorted hotly and ran down the stairs, her feet thudding upon the wooden treads as she went with Reuben in hot pursuit yelling to Olivia that Sofia had spoiled his game.

“..and I was nearly at 60, Ma, and then she comes along bleating on about Mr Evans not being here.”

Olivia nodded and pointed to the table where their chairs were awaiting them. Nathaniel was already there, watching his siblings and wondering what the fuss was all about. He saw the cup and ball and immediately reached out for it,

“Mine!”

“No, it isn’t, Nathaniel, it’s mine.” Reuben sat down and began to play with the toy, the ball hit the rim of the cup, it fell out and he whispered “Darn it.”

“Reuben?” Olivia’s voice contained the warning and Reuben scowled and started again.

“Is Mr Evans here, Mommy? Is he staying here with us?” Sofia looked flushed and excited, her brother’s discomfiture meant nothing at all, nor Nathaniel’s vain wriggling attempts to reach the toy.

Olivia smiled and straightened her back, smoothed down her apron and pushed back a curl behind her ear, “Yes, Mr Evans is in the barn with your father. Go and tell them breakfast is ready, will you please.”

“Ma?” Reuben put down the toy, just beyond Nathaniel’s reach although the little boys fingers stretched out to grab at it.

“Yes, son?”

“Why can’t I say Darn It? Uncle Hoss says it all the time, and I heard Pa say it too.”

Olivia sighed and was about to speak when Nathaniel managed to get the cup and ball, it rolled, and then went over the edge of the table to land on the floor. “Oh” the child cried “Darn it!”

Olivia sighed “That’s one reason…”

“Darndarndarndarn” chanted Nathaniel and clapped his hands.

“That’s enough, young man, or you’ll be in trouble. Quiet now.”

Reuben realised the wisdom of remaining silent, he picked up the toy and handed it to the child, then resumed his seat while he waited for everyone else to enter the room.

It was a pleasant meal, and afterwards Mr Evans was taken by the children to see the horses in the corral, and eventually found himself sitting in the hayloft, legs dangling over the edge above Sport’s stall eating an apple with Sofia beside him.

Beneath them Reuben and Adam went about their late morning chores, their voices a low cadence of sound as Edward and Sofia ate their apples and enjoyed dust motes dancing in sunbeams and smells of straw and warmth rising up from the floor.

“Mr Evans, are you glad to be back here now?”

“I am indeed, Sofia.”

“Even if you are living with Mrs Hawkins?”

Edward chuckled, “Mrs Hawkins is a wonderful woman, Sofia. Never judge a book by its cover, how many times do I have to tell you? She has had some wonderful experiences in her life, we could all learn a lot from her.”

“Even you?” she gazed at him in wonder, the apple remaining in her hand half way to her mouth.

“Oh yes, I’ve learned a lot of very important lessons from Mrs Hawkins.”

“Will you teach them in class?”

“Maybe … if there are students there willing to listen to those particular lessons.” he smiled again, his eyes twinkling.

It had been so long since he had felt like this…free of burdens, free of misery and loneliness. He realised after Bea’s death that he had been lonely for a very long time, but had never noticed, just carried on regardless because as a dutiful husband that was what he felt he had to do.

“Were you very sad?” the little persistent voice asked at his elbow and he looked down at the enquiring little face with the big blue eyes, the moist mouth from eating apples and the freckles chasing over her nose.

“When Beatrice died? Yes, I was…” he sighed and stared over at the rafters where the sun just touched on a spider’s web. He had been sad for a long time, even before her death but Sofia was too young to understand that, or the reason as to why.

“You won’t be sad any more now, will you?” she smiled, the beaming smile of a child who believed that she had hit on the solution to all man’s problems…particularly this mans.

He didn’t say anything to that, but leaned forward to peer between his legs at the man and boy working together below them. At that point Adam glanced up, saw him and nodded “I’ve got your buggy ready …”

He nodded, time to go, things to do. He clambered down the ladder and picked up his jacket which he had left folded across the rail. Adam nodded over to the yard to indicate where the horse and buggy, Clemmies of course, awaited him.

“I’ll ride in with you,” Adam said quietly, “I have a few things to do in town.”

“Thank you, it will be good to have company,” Edward said and immediately Sofia cried “Can I come too?”

“Not today,” Adam replied as he walked to the house wiping his hands on a rag, and then whistling a tune beneath his breath as he pushed open the door.

“Oh, I wanted to come too,” Sofia sighed and slipped her hand into Edwards, “Can I come with you?”

“You heard what your father said.” Edward smiled down at her, and then glanced at the door, before he squatted down to her level “Thank you for a very nice evening and morning, Sofia. I really enjoyed it.”

“Did you?” Sofia beamed, and shyly lowered her head, “I did too.”

Edward smiled, stood up and looked over at Reuben who was leading Kami out of the stables. They shared a smile and then Edward clambered up into the buggy and waited for Adam to return.

Both children waved them goodbye before Sofia turned to her brother with bright eyes and a big smile “Isn’t it exciting , Reuben? A brand new school and Mr Edwards our teacher. No more Mr Crook.”

Reuben nodded, but warily so after all Crook was not a man who would disappear just because they wanted him to, and he wondered just how the man felt at being moved to the ‘Big School’ on C Street.

Adam left Edward at Clemmies and rode on along the main street to where the Territorial Enterprise offices and printary were situated. He passed the Silver Dollar and recognised Joe’s horse, standing alongside a large raw boned black Morgan who looked as though it had seen better days. Both horses nodded over the trough as though they didn’t like each other very much but were forced to make the best of it.

Daniel deQuille nodded as Adam entered the building and indicated that his office was free and they could talk in there. The hum and thump of the printing presses turning out the latest news was not really conducive to conversation but once the door of the office was closed, the noise level dropped considerably.

“I found out a little about that place you mentioned, Adam” Daniel said and pointed to a chair where his guest could sit once he had removed a pile of books.

“Anywhere near to Boulder’s Creek?” Adam asked and Daniel paused in the act of opening a drawer, he nodded and then extricated a notebook from the drawer and set it down in front of him.

After licking thumb and finger he proceeded to flick over several pages until he came to the page he wanted. He nodded, and then looked up at Adam,

“A double murder took place there some weeks ago. A few days had elapsed before it was realised it was a murder because the property in which the couple lived had been set on fire. They lived two hours from the town, their son saw the fire when it was already beyond control but rode back to town for help….not that there was anything anyone could do. Eventually when they got the bodies out they discovered they had been shot first…”

“Young? Old? Any reason given as to why they were shot and then …”

“No reason. They were past middle aged and wealthy, apparently she was always flouting her jewellery about…”

“Robbery then?”

Daniel shrugged “No one has indicated any reason for the murders. The sheriff is still trying to find a suspect who rode into town that same evening, covered in blood and needing doctors attention.” Daniel stared at Adam, who stared back.

“Any name given … to the murdered couple?” Adam asked, turned his hat slowly round and round between his fingers.

“Tombs…Jethro and Cynthia Tombs. Their son is Grant Tombs.” Daniel leaned back in his chair and surveyed Adam thoughtfully, “Anything you want to add to that, Adam?”

“No, should I?”

“I just wondered, perhaps you may be thinking that your brother may have known them, or their son…perhaps he may have been riding by and …”

“Don’t assume anything, Daniel, you could get yourself into a lot of bother should you do so.. And you’re barking up the wrong tree anyway, this has nothing to do with my brother.”

“Well, thought I’d ask. It’s no secret that Joe took longer than was expected to return from Boulders Creek, and that he had a bad fall ..or something …and that he can’t remember much about it.”

Adam shook his head and rose to his feet, he looked at Daniel thoughtfully, before he gave acurt nod of the head “Thanks for the information. But just by way of warning, Daniel, you say anything you may even suspect I won’t like…then you’ll be in trouble. Understand?”

Daniel nodded and sat back grinning, twirling the pen between his fingers. As soon as Adam had left the room, he began to write furiously in the notebook…

Once he had left the Enterprise offices Adam made his way to the Silver Dollar. He stroked Navejo as he passed and cast an eye over the other beast before he pushed open the bat wings and stepped into the building. It wasn’t difficult to locate Joe talking to another man, a glass of beer in front of them. The day was still early and customers were few. There were no girls strolling between the tables as most of them were empty anyway, devoid of customers.

As he passed the counter Adam asked for coffee and then pulled up a chair, before sitting astride it, his arms folded on the top bar. “Morning Joe…you’re in town early?”

“Things to do, brother …. And no earlier than yourself.” Joe grinned, that slight edge from the past gilding his words. “Adam, remember Jerry Cambor…?”

Adam turned his head to look into the face of the good looking man seated opposite him, he nodded “Jerry Cambor? Well, it’s been some years since you left town. What brings you back?”

“Well, it’s good to see you too, Adam.” Jerry laughed, but his eyes were hard, and the off hand welcome Adam gave him had not gone down well. “Just passing through, catching up with old friends.”

He stared hard at Adam then, as though to impress upon Adam that as far as he was concerned Adam was no friend of his…it was Joe who came into that category. Adam understood the message and nodded, then glanced at Joe, thanked Veroon for bringing over the coffee for which he paid her and then in silence picked up the cup and took a sip.

The other two men watched him as though they were mesmerised by the action. It was Joe who finally broke the spell by asking his brother what had brought him into town so early,

“I came in with the school teacher.” Adam replied with a slight shrug.

“Crook?” Joe scowled and shook his head “Are you kidding?”

“Evans. No, I’m not.” Adam sighed and looked at Jerry, who was lolling back now in his seat with a faint grin on his face, “So, Jerry, what is the real reason you’re here? You see, looking up old friends may be part of the reason, but you’ve always had more than one reason for doing anything, and if you’re looking up old friends there must be some particular purpose for doing so.”

Jerry shook his head and grimaced, he looked at Joe and laughed, Joe laughed, just a little in return. “Ain’t that just like your big brother, Joe? Always suspicious, always thinking bad of your friends. Seems to me you must have had a great time when he was playing with his boats away from home so long? Must be hard being back on the short leash again.”

Joe frowned and shrugged “I’m not on any short leash, Jerry. Anyway, Adam’s right to be suspicious. You and me, and Mitch, we did kind of get into trouble a plenty of times.” he grinned and nodded over at Adam, “especially with regards to Miss Jones.”

Adam raised his eyebrows but allowed a faint grin to touch his mouth, Jerry was laughing aloud, and nodding “You sure are right, we sure stitched him up more’n once if’n I recall rightly.”

“You did.” Adam replied, and put down his cup, “Which is why I have my suspicions about you now, Jerry.” he stared intently at the other man “You can’t be surprised at that, surely?”

Joe was about to speak when two men approached the table, both were big men, both men wore sheriff badges and neither of them looked too happy being there at that moment in time.

A momentary hush settled upon the whole assembly there, even the bar tender stopped polishing his glasses to watch what was about to unfold. Then there was a clink of a glass, the brittle laugh from somewhere in the distance and everyone resumed what they had been doing before the two lawmen had stopped at the Cartwright’s table.

Adam glanced over at his brother and his heart missed a beat, while Joe smiled and waited, expecting of the men to address Jerry, after all, he was the unknown quantity, the stranger in their midst who could have done, well, just about anything.

Nate nodded at Jerry and made it clear that it would be better if he left, so after a hasty consideration of what would happen if he didn’t Jerry collected his hat, his glass of beer and hurriedly strode over to the counter where he could watch the proceedings through the mirror.

“What’s going on, Nate?”

It was Adam who addressed the sheriff, and Nate acknowledged the question with another nod of the head and then turned to Joe,

“Joe, this is Sheriff Blakeley from Blakesville.”

Joe gave Blakelry a pleasant smile and a clear hazel eyed gaze. Blakeley grunted a hello, instinct already told him that this was going to lead to some unpleasantness, mainly because he couldn’t see, couldn’t feel, that this young man had ever committed a crime in his life.

“Sheriff Blakeley, this is Joe Cartwright and his brother, Adam Cartwright.” Nate’s voice had a hint of weariness about it, as though he was already sick and tired of the whole matter despite it being totally new and fresh to the two brothers.

“What’s this about, Nate?” Adam asked although he already had a feeling that he knew exactly what it was all about. Daniel’s voice droned through his head..two murders, Blakesville, trying to locate a stranger ! He sighed, it seemed as though they had located the stranger alright and there he was, sitting there, smiling like an idiot, an innocent idiot all the same but …

“We need to ask Joe some questions, Adam.” Nate said pleasantly, and he smiled, in a tight lipped fashion, at Joe, “Would you mind coming to my office, Joe, just to chat about something that may or may not concern you.”

“Oh, you need to eliminate me from your enquiries, is that it?” Joe’s smile had become a forced grin, his eyes were wary now, the green in them predominated.

“Yes, that would be the term we would use.” Blakeley muttered and turned to Adam “You needn’t come…”

“Oh, but I’d prefer to do so.” Adam said immediately and stood up, reached for his hat and slipped it over his head. Beside him Joe was doing the same.

Jerry watched as the four men walked out of the saloon and left the bat wings swinging too and fro. “Wonder what that’s all about,” he muttered to no one in particular.

“Cartwright’s are always in some kind of trouble,” no one in particular grunted amid the rattle of coins and the roll of a dice.

Jerry nodded and ordered another beer. There was no need to rush, if he waited long enough perhaps Joe would come back and explain what had happened. Or perhaps not, he frowned, paid for the beer and wished he could have been a fly on the wall in the sheriff’s office.

Nate sat down on his side of the big desk behind which Roy Coffee had sat for so many years. He sighed and looked over at Blakeley who had pulled up a chair to sit upon while the brothers found chairs of their own.

Clem Foster poured out coffee and when given the nod by Nate, left the building. Rather anxiously he looked up and down C Street in the hope of seeing another Cartwright in the area, but although the town was busy there was no sign of Ben nor of Hoss.

“Right, now…Joe ?” Nate glanced at the younger man and smiled, tried to soften the taut lines on his face but didn’t quite succeed. “Some weeks ago you went on a trip to Boulders Creek?”

“That’s right. I had to see Mr Rawlins at the First National Bank. It was an errand for my father.”

“You didn’t stay over ?”

“No, I was invited to but I wanted to get home. There was no point in delaying the return trip for longer than necessary.” Joe shrugged but he was feeling uncomfortable and glanced at Blakeley out of the corner of his eye.

“How long does it usually take you to get to and from Boulder’s Creek?” Blakeley now asked.

“Oh not long, a few days only.” Joe stared at the map on the wall and then at Nate, “I was delayed though.”

“What happened?” Nate’s deep voice, slow and moderate, was sincere, almost grateful for the information offered so naturally and willingly.

“Well, I was tired, guess I was pushing things a bit and perhaps I should have stayed over at Boulder’s Creek, but I had promised Mary Ann to be back as soon as I could. But…” he paused and licked his lips, gulped slightly and glanced again at Blakeley “I know this sounds weird, but I fell off my horse. Cracked my head badly.”

“Do you often fall off your horse, Mr Cartwright?” Blakeley asked and yet looked keenly in Adam’s direction before switching his gaze to Joe.

“No, of course not. That’s why I said I must have been really tired and should have stayed over after all” Joe replied a trifle testily and he scowled. He felt the nudge of Adam’s booted foot on his, a caution to keep calm.

“So what happened? You fell and cracked your head?” Nate asked pleasantly.

“Yeah, when I came to there was blood everywhere…I was feeling really dazed, groggy, you know?” he looked at them both, as though seeking understanding for something he didn’t really understand himself, “Anyway, my horse was nearby and I mounted up, found a track and I think I lost consciousness, because the next thing I remember I was in a doctor’s surgery and he was telling me to keep still while he cleaned me up.”

“Do you know where you were at the time?” Nate asked, jotting down notes carefully.

“No, as I said, I was in the doctor’s surgery, can’t really remember how I got there. Things were hazy… I remember feeling really ill, then there seemed to be a lot of people in the place coming and going. Then I was in the street and saw a hotel, Stewart’s Hotel.”

“You remember the name of the hotel but not the town?” Blakeley said, with a slight edge to his voice.

“I remember the hotel…” Joe’s voice was slow, his face earnest as he tried to remember facts that would answer the questions asked of him, he shook his head, “I remember the hotel.” he repeated and sighed, screwed up his face in concentration “I remember thinking a Scotsman must own it, and was surprised when the man I spoke to was an Italian.”

“You remember that quite clearly?” Blakeley asked his eyes narrowing and he looked again at Adam perhaps expecting some trouble from him, rather than from Joe.

“Yes, can’t remember what he looked like though, except that I had to sign the register. I remember thinking that I might blot the paper, my hand was shaking…I really just wanted to sleep, to lie down and sleep.”

Nate nodded sympathetically and Blakeley just stared in a way that made Joe feel uncomfortable, there was silence for a moment then Blakely asked Joe if he could remember the room Number or any other detail, like what he had eaten, whom had he spoken to, but Joe shook his head,

“ I can’t remember. I slept apparently for two days from what the Manager told me. I paid the bill. Collected my horse …”

“You remembered where you had left your horse?” Nate said quickly.

“Not really, just went there, saw the livery stable and there he was, my horse, so I paid the bill, and rode out.”

“You didn’t speak to anyone? You never stopped to eat anywhere? You would have been hungry after sleeping that long?” Blakeley persisted in asking.

“I guess so. I don’t remember eating anything except when I was camped up later and ate what I had in my saddle bag. I shot a rabbit the next day for supper. I think so anyway…to be honest I cant really remember very much that clearly. My head was hurting badly and I just wanted to get home.”

“So you didn’t know the town you stayed in, only the name of the hotel?” Nate asked and looked up into Joe’s anxious face, then into Adam’s which was shut off, wary.

“I didn’t look at the name of the town, just rode straight on out I guess.” Joe licked his lips, his face creased into a scowl and in an angry voice he snapped “Look, mind telling me what this is all about? Was there a robbery at the hotel or something?”

“We’ll ask the questions, Mr Cartwright. “ Blakeley said, not unpleasantly, but in a manner that indicated he would brook no nonsense from Joe, nor from Adam.

Joe narrowed his eyes and looked as though he were about to get to his feet and storm out, he looked at Adam who nodded briefly and indicated with a lift of his hand that he needed to remain calm and to do what was asked of him.Joe swallowed his temper as best he could and tried to relax, It wasn’t easy, his head began to thump and he could feel sweat prickling down his back.

“While you were out riding, before you fell off your horse, do you recall where exactly you were?” Blakeley now asked.

Joe scratched his head and narrowed his eyes in the effort to concentrate, he sighed, “I was several hours out of Boulder’s Creek, north east direction and making good time. I think that was why I was so tired, I was pushing it to get home sooner, and thought I would keep on until dark…except that it was dark…” he faltered, and paused “Yes, it was dark and I .. I can’t remember except that I was just riding along and then must have fallen off my horse.”

“Must have fallen ? You were quite sure you had fallen before ..” Blakeley said sharply.

“Must have..did..what difference does a word make? I fell off the darn horse and cracked my head.” his voice had risen in that sharp edge that often gave it a shrillness of indignation, and again Adam’s foot nudged that of his brothers so that Joe breathed in deep to calm down . He narrowed his eyes and looked at Blakeley “First off, before I answer any more questions, you tell me what this is all about, right?”

Nate looked at Blakeley and raised his eyebrows, the other sheriff shrugged and looked at Joe “There were two murders committed that night, in the area where you conveniently fell off your horse.”

“Well, I didn’t murder anyone. Or two…” Joe replied and leaned back against the chair with a frown on his face and his eyes clouded with doubt or anxiety. He looked up at Nate “I didn’t kill anyone, Nate.”

“I’m sorry we have to ask you these questions, Joe. Someone killed those two people, and if you didn’t it is possible that you saw or heard something that will help us find out who did. That’s why you are really quite an important witness and we need to get the information you can provide.”

“I’m sorry I can’t provide much more … I really can’t remember. I’ve been having bad dreams and so on, and the Doc here said I had a slight amnesia, due to the fall, and the cracked head.” Joe said trying to put a touch of humility into this words and hoping that would cover the gaps in the answers he was giving them.

Blakeley nodded “We heard from Dr Colby, he seems to think your injury was something other than a fall on some rocks.”

Joe frowned, and glanced at Adam who raised his eyebrows and shook his head, “Dr Colby confirms that Joe has amnesia though.” Adam said quietly and both sheriff’s nodded. “Then you can’t expect Joe to be able to answer all your questions, can you?”

Blakeley stood up and after picking up his cup of coffee walked over to the window where he stood for a moment or two watching the people strolling about. He noticed the man who had been sitting at the table with the Cartwrights leaning against the upright post of the saloon. He turned slightly and saw where another man was observing the sheriff’s office, notebook in hand, glancing up at the sign on the building he read “Territorial Enterprise” , he shrugged and turned back to Joe

“Mr Cartwright – Joe – before you fell off your horse, did you come across a cabin, a well appointed cabin, not some prospector’s shack, but a real nice home?”

Joe blinked, shook his head “I don’t think so…”

“There would have been flowers on the window cill…a pretty kind of cabin…you sure you didn’t stop and ask for some water perhaps?”

Joe shook his head “No, I didn’t…I would have remembered…” he paused and heaved in a deep breath “I think I would have remembered that…was that who was killed? The people in the cabin?”

“A couple, man and wife. Name of Tombs. You recall ever knowing anyone called Tombs?”

Joe shook his head “No.” he turned to Adam “Did we ever have dealings with anyone called Tombs?”

“No, not that I recall.” Adam said quietly, “Where is this leading, Sheriff? Are you thinking of charging my brother with murder?”

“I only want answers to my questions, Mr Cartwright. And, as by rights you shouldn’t be here, I would advise you to keep quiet.” Blakeley insisted, and his eyes were cold and on the verge of being unpleasant.

Nate sucked in his bottom lip anxiously, the conversation was obviously taking a turn that made him uncomfortable and he edged away slightly from the desk, leaning further into the back of his chair as he did so. “Joe, when you’ve made this trip before have you ever noticed a cabin en route to Boulder’s Creek?”

Joe shrugged in an attempt to appear calm and nonchalant, “There are several. Some I’ve stopped over for a brief time or two, but I know – we know – them all. There’s the Blairs and the Monroes, and Mr and Mrs Purdue. But no Mr and Mrs Tombs.”

Blakeley frowned and leaned in towards them “The Tombs bought the cabin belonging to the Blairs several years ago.”

Joe frowned and then shrugged “I didn’t know that, but as it is I never went past the Blairs – Tombs – cabin. I would usually only go there if I was running short of water and needed to refill my canteen. Last time that happened was years ago, when I was making the trip on a very hot summers day.”

“You seem to remember that pretty well, Mr Cartwright.” Blakeley almost purred and Joe frowned and nodded,

“I’ve no reason not to, the Blairs were good people, very hospitable.” his frown deepened “I didn’t know they had sold up though, it’s been that long since I went in that direction. I think Hoss was the last one to go to Boulder’s Creek for any reason.”

“The Blairs moved on to Genoa.” Blakeley said as though this was a normal conversation. “Is it possible that you went there that night, to fill your canteen as usual, have a chat over coffee perhaps? Then during the evening there was an altercation, in which you killed the couple?”

“Why would I want to kill two complete strangers that I had only met that first time? Doesn’t make sense. Sorry, sheriff, but you’ll have to find a better reason than that to pin these murders on me.”

Blakeley looked thoughtful for a moment and tapped his fingers upon his chin as though contemplating what to say next. Nate felt it wise to keep silent and Adam was wondering whether or not this would be a good time to suggest leaving…or getting their lawyer involved.

“Mr Cartwright, do you know many people in Chicago?” Blakeley asked and looked at Adam as he spoke before turning his eyes to Joe.

“No.”

“Done any business with anyone there?”

“No.”

“Do you know anyone by the name of Alex Dunlop?”

Joe shook his head, sighed deeply and ran his fingers through his hair in exasperation. He reached for his hat

“I think we’re done here, Sheriff, I’ve answered your questions as honestly as I can. If I remember anything else then I will let you know but at present that’s all I can tell you…I don’t know the Tombs, never did, and I certainly didn’t kill them.”

“But you were in the vicinity of their cabin the night they died?” Nate said quietly, “You must see how it looks to us, Joe?”

His genuine concerns for the other man was evident in his face, for Nate was very expressive. But Joe only shrugged and shook his head,

“I don’t know about that, I never saw the Blairs’ cabin, I don’t even recall remembering being near it, all I know is that I fell off my horse…”

Blakeley shrugged and turned back to look out of the window, the journalist had gone but the other man was still there, leaning against the post.

“I heard tell from folk in town that you’re the best bronco buster in the territory. Is that right, Mr Cartwright?”

“Some people might think so.” Joe replied glumly and getting a sense of the direction this was going to go.

“Wouldn’t you say it was highly unusual for a good bronco buster to fall off his horse?”

Adam stood up and picked up his hat, “That’s enough, we’re leaving as of now. Joe, you’ve said all there is to say. If you want to speak to Joe about this again you do so with our lawyer present.”

Neither Nate or Blakeley moved to stop them leaving. When Blakeley looked out of the window, the man at the saloon had disappeared and the Cartwrights were mounting their horses and heading out of town.

Chapter 25

Neither brother spoke for some time on the journey homewards. Both were deep in thought and stared just ahead with tight faces and anxious eyes. It was Joe who eventually pulled his horse up causing Adam to turn Kami around and join him.

“Looks like trouble, Joe.”

Joe nodded, the ‘little boy lost’ look that often tugged at Adam’s heart appeared and caused his older brother the usual concerns. Joe’s hazel eyes were large in his face as he observed Adam “I just can’t remember, Adam. I keep thinking that I should remember, that it is important but it just slips away… those dreams I’ve been having lately, seem meaningless…”

“Do you remember anything about them at all? It might help if you did?” Adam leaned forwards, both hands clasped around the pommel of his saddle as though begging for his brother to pluck something out of the pit of his memory but Joe shook his head and looked mournful,

“Nothing. Sometimes I wake up and think, well, imagine that I have remembered something but it goes … like smoke…” he shrugged and bowed his head, “I remember the Blairs, they were good people, loved the land there, I never thought they would move away in a month of Sundays.”

“But you haven’t seen them in some years?”

“No. Had no need to go to Boulder’s Creek, not for some time. Hoss went last time because there’s an Apothecary’s shop there that Hop Sing thought sold some herbs he needed. Turned out it was shut down. If I recall rightly Hoss didn’t see the Blairs, he was too danged annoyed for going on a fool’s errand.”

Adam nodded and passed a hand over his brow, pushing his hat away towards the back of his head as he did so. “Joe, it seems to me that Blakeley is pushing for an arrest.”

“Yeah, that was the impression I got as well.” Joe sighed and twisted awkwardly in the saddle as he looked back towards the town. “Nate doesn’t seem so sure.”

“It isn’t Nate’s territory, in a way it’s out of his hands. Blakeley may want you to go with him to Blakesville, you do realise that, don’t you?”

Joe nodded, grimaced and then shrugged “I guess I can understand that after all, although I didn’t do it, it appears I was near the scene of the murders so may have seen something.” he paused and frowned “Do you think I did see who did it and they shot at me which caused me to fall off my horse?”

“It would explain about the wound in your head…Colby didn’t think it was caused just by landing on a rock, did he?”

“So, if someone saw me and tried to kill me, but … “ Joe screwed up his eyes as though struggling for a moment with his thoughts, when he opened them again it was to see Adam looking at him, that anxious care worn look that was so familiar to him by now. He smiled slowly, although his eyes showed no mirth, “You know, Adam, I sure did miss you when you were at sea. Seeing your face whenever I was in trouble was kind of reassuring…”

“Well, little brother, although this is no consolation, I have a feeling you’re heading for trouble unless you remember what happened.” he paused, frowned, “And then you could still be in trouble because I doubt if whoever shot at you, would want you to remember anything.”

“That’s if they did shoot at me…they may not even know I was there.” Joe tried to sound hopeful, but it sounded more doleful to Adam who simply turned his horse around and led the way home.
……………

Jerry Cambor lounged back in the big arm chair and scraped dirt from under his nails with his knife. He flicked a glance over at the other man every so often and said nothing. He had told Dunlop all he had seen and heard, the Cartwrights had left town, there was nothing more for him to say.

Dunlop stopped pacing the floor, his head lowered and his chin resting on his chest, his hands clasped together behind his back. He looked now at Camber

“Didn’t you mention something about Cartwright inviting you around to his place this evening for a meal?”

“Yah, but I reckoned he wouldn’t want me around just now.” Jerry muttered and slipped the knife back into it’s sheath, “Why? Do you want me to go out there and see if the invite still stands?”

“I don’s see why not, after all, a good friend would want to show some concern too, as well as hope for a good meal.” Dunlop’s grin wasn’t pleasant, but then, he wasn’t intending it to.

Jerry nodded, shrugged “Sure, I’ll go and check out what I can.”

“I don’t like Blakeley being in town.” Dunlop muttered and walked over to the window to look down at the main street, “He wants an arrest badly, more so since Jericho Silverman was killed. But if he remembers you…”

“No reason why he should.”

“You were in Blakesville at the time of the murders, strangers stand out in small towns like that and Blakeley has a sharp eye and a good memory. Make sure he doesn’t see you.”

“There’s nothing that can tie me into Silverman’s death,” Jerry said quietly, and stood up, “Nor the Tombs either.”

Dunlop said nothing to that, just narrowed his eyes and his mouth in a way that made Cambor feel very uncomfortable.
……….

Sofia had torn her dress, and Reuben had fallen out of a tree and got a black eye as a result. Nathaniel had chased the cat until the cat decided to fight back and scratched the child across the face. And that was all in the first hour of getting to Marcy and Luke’s … Olivia wondered why she had bothered coming!

Pacifying Nathaniel, taking the dress to be repaired and letting Sofia run around in her petticoat, making sure that Reuben had not broken his nose…all in the space of minutes, so when Marcy came with a cup of sweet tea Olivia gave her friend a smile and sighed out a thank you.

From outside came the sound of children laughing, shouting, enjoying the day. A baby cried and Marcy said “That’s Philip.”

“How can you tell?” Olivia asked and Marcy laughed as she picked up her cup,

“Oh he already has a deeper voice, and Anna hardly cries at all. It’s as though she lets him cry for her.”

Olivia nodded, and smiled over the rim of the cup, then drank the tea. Marcy was doing well, she was plumper now, not the skinny little scrap they had employed back in San Francisco… and she was more confident although only on her own territory. But the children were clean and healthy, the house was tidy and just as home should be .. Jugs of flowers stood here and there in the downstairs rooms, and sweet perfume from them filled the air.

“I don’t need to ask you if you’re happy,” Olivia said quietly, “Everywhere I look just shouts your joy in life.”

“Joy in life..” Marcy echoed softly, “Yes, I think that explains it well. I do feel joy in life. I have so much to thank you for, Olivia.”

She reached out a hand and placed it upon her friend’s arm, but Olivia shook her head, and patted the hand gently with her own, “No, dear, you create the joy in your life, and not only in yours, but in Luke’s, and ours…”

Shouts from outside interrupted what could have become a very self congratulatory conversation and the sound of a buggy arriving … Sofia ran in, her face flushed, “Bridie’s here, Bridie’s here…”

Smears of juice from some fruit covered her mouth, Nathaniel came in with a beaming smile bearing evidence of the same “Bidie cum.” he announced and ran to his mother for a hug and to be lifted up into her lap.

“What great timing…” Bridie said as she stepped into the room and laughed as Sofia and Reuben seemed to flock around her “Both, and all of you, here at the same time.”
…………………

At the Ponderosa’s main house Hester and Ann were concentrating on their quilting. They were cousins and bore similarities despite their colouring being quite different. The sun from the window made Hester’s red gold hair glow like a halo, while it seemed to caress Ann’s dark curls more gently.

Samuel played happily close to Ann’s skirts while Erik sat in the high chair nibbling at a cookie. A scene of contentment if ever there was one. The girls, Hannah and Hope, and Rosie, plus David, had been taken in the wagon to the river by Hoss. There they were going to paddle, and fish, and generally have a good time, or so Hoss had promised.

“Do you remember last year…September 1st?” Ann said quietly as her needle flashed back and forth through the patch she was working on.

“We had a pic-nic here, all the family, except you because you gave birth to Samuel.” Hester smiled over at her cousin, and rethreaded her needle.

“And you thought you would never have a little son of your own…” Ann smiled and looked up at Hester fondly.

They were as close as sisters could be, the Buchanan blood flowed through both their veins, and brought about a bond that Hester could never have with any other woman. Hester smiled back, and nodded, then looked at Erik with his red gold hair and bright blue eyes,

“Just sometimes I have a fear that some Irish family will realise that he is here, and come a snatch him away from us.”

“I doubt if that will ever happen, dear.” Ann looked down at her little boy, just a few weeks older than Erik. “Hester, such a lot has happened during the year, hasn’t it? That terrible time with McGarthy and the mines…”

“I thought I was going to lose Hoss …” Hester said quietly, “but I didn’t, it turned out well, the Bucksburn mine closed down and I had Erik. But you’re right, Ann, it has been a very strange year. We lost Sofia …”

“That was horrible, I often wondered how Olivia survived .. If anything like that happened to Rosie …” Ann shivered, a shudder that spoke volumes.

“Horrible but sad, the woman wanted a child ..so much …well, I understand that feeling, and I had already been blessed with two of my own.”

“You mean, you can feel sorry for that woman, for taking Sofia?” Ann looked at her cousin with big eyes, “Hester, how could you?”

“Because .. That’s all… perhaps I’m selfish enough to put myself in her place because I can remember how jealous I was when you had Samuel. Anyway, it’s over with now and Sofia doesn’t seem any the worse for it, does she?”

They relapsed into silence for a while. Sam crawled over to the high chair and pulled at Erik’s feet, time for play. Hester took her son from the chair and set him down with his red wagon in one hand, and then returned to her quilting.

“I hope things work out alright with that Mr Crook,” Ann now said, “Rosie is so excited at going to the big school. Who would have thought it? Such a building, Hester?”

“Humph, they should have been going there already. The Town Council dragging its feet as usual…” Hester stabbed her needle into her quilt, that’s what she thought about the Town Council.

“Well, it’ll all settle down now, and we can get on with our lives.”

Hester smiled and looked down at the two little boys, she laughed over at Ann, “You know, Ann, they both look like Buchanan’s.”

The look on their faces need not be described, all mothers have worn such a look throughout centuries. Ann sighed and set down her sewing in to her lap,

“I don’t think anything bad can happen now, can it?”

“After the year we’ve had ? No, I don’t think so,” Hester replied and turned to Hop Sing who had entered with a tray of refreshments “Thank you Hop Sing, you always know the perfect time for coffee.”

“Long time practice, Missy.” Hop Sing grinned and nodded before he returned to his kitchen.

Long time practice…never a truer word. Unlike the two ladies, Hop Sing was under no illusion to there being no trouble in the Cartwright household. From experience he knew…trouble followed them around with as much tenacity as glue.

Chapter 26

Ben Cartwright was strolling out of the stables with a bridle and bit held loosely in his hands. He was contemplating a pleasant evening ahead with the grandchildren, and was musing on the time he thought he would never have any due to his sons’ reticence on getting wed. He was smiling at the memory when he heard the sound of horses and upon pausing in his stride to check who was coming was more than pleased at the sight of Joe and Adam. His smile broadened as he raised a hand in greeting,

“Well now, this is a pleasant surprise.” he teased for Saturdays were often devoid of visits from either of them now that they lived with their families in their own homes.

Neither of the younger men commented but dismounted and walked to where Ben stood, his smile now being replaced by a familiar anxious angst ridden grin.

“What’s wrong?” he asked with a note of resignation in his voice.

“Is it that obvious?” Adam sighed and glanced at his brother who was flicking the reins of his horse from side to side between his fingers, “We have problems, Pa.”

“I gathered. Best come on in…” he stopped and shook his head “No, Hester and Ann are there, best cut back to the stable where we can discuss the matter in private.”

“Where’s Hoss?” Joe asked as they made their ways beside their father to the stable,

“He took the girls and David down to the river.” Ben replied rather absent mindedly, “Has this to do with you, Joe?”

Joe nodded and perched himself on a bale of hay, while Adam leaned against the bars of the stall. Ben sighed and pulled up a barrel upon which he sat, “I’m thinking this has to do with that accident of yours that you can’t remember?”

“Got it in one, Pa.” Joe replied without a trace of humour in his voice. “The Sheriff from ..where is it again, Adam?”

“Blakesville.” Adam replied and nodded for Joe to continue.

“Yeah, Blakesville. He claims I murdered -”

“No, he didn’t, Joe…he’s just asking questions for now.” Adam corrected quickly and looked at Ben “He may be intending to arrest Joe for murder but at present just asking questions.”

“Very well.” Ben nodded, and looked from one to the other, “Joseph?”

“Well, he’s asking a lot of questions, wants to know what I can remember about the night when this couple, called Tombs – you don’t know anyone called by that name do you, Pa?”

“No – go on, get on with it.” Ben scowled, his face shut off as though he could concentrate on the problem better that way.

“Well, apparently Mr and Mrs Tombs moved in to the Blairs house…you remember them, don’t you, Pa?”

“I do. A pleasant enough couple.”

“Well, seems they went to Genoa, and the Tombs moved in. They were killed in the cabin the night I fell off my horse. The thing is that I fell off the horse not far from the cabin, and then went to the town for treatment but I can’t – couldn’t – recall the name of the town. I can’t recall a lot of things about that night and even coming home is a bit hazy. But Sheriff Blakeley seems pretty adamant that I had something to do with it.”

“Sheriff Blakeley,” Adam said patiently, “wants to know if Joe saw or heard anything. And, while we’re speaking about it something deQuille mentioned to me earlier, but not only were the couple shot but the cabin was set on fire too. Took them several days before they realised the Tombs didn’t die in the fire but had been shot first. ”

Joe was staring at Adam as though he were seeing a hallucination, he shook his head “You never said anything about this before? You never told me you went to deQuille? Why’d you go to him? Why didn’t you say something before?”

“DeQuille was the obvious person to ask for details about Blakesville, Joe, I never mentioned it before because I wanted you to remember things naturally, not because I was forcing information at you.” Adam replied in the clipped but patient tones of an irritated parent “I didn’t think you needed to know all the details.”

Joe closed his mouth and lowered his eyes, for a moment or two all there men were silent, looking everywhere but at one another. “There was a fire?” Joe muttered.

“Apparently so, deQuille said that once they got the bodies out they saw the bullet wounds, until then it was thought they had died in an accident.”

“What made you go to deQuille in the first place, Adam?” Ben asked seeing that Joe was teetering on the verge of a temper explosion.

“Well, Nate came in and asked us if we knew whether or not Joe had been anywhere near a place called Blakesville. I had never heard of it, but deQuille – well, you know what he’s like for ferreting out information….took him several days though.”

“Why did Nate come to you and mention Blakesville?” Joe snapped, his hazel eyes glinting green at danger levels.

“Because he had received a cable from Blakeley enquiring about you, and as you were unwell at the time, he asked us. Hoss and myself…oh, and Candy.”

Adam pursed his lips, if Joe was going to lose his temper he might as well spread it out as thinly as possible, no point in him getting the full brunt of it.

“You mean Hoss and Candy know about Blakesville too?”

“Only what Nate said, they don’t know what deQuille found out.” Adam replied quietly and then turned to his father, “You sure you don’t know anyone calls Tombs?”

“From Chicago.” Joe added hoping his tone of voice sounded conciliatory and any contribution to information would be gratefully appreciated.

“No, the only Tombs I ever knew was an old seaman who was the purser on board Abel’s ship. Had no teeth and his breath could kill a whale at ten feet.”
Ben replied solemnly.

“Pa, do you know anyone called Alex Dunlop?” Adam now asked and glanced over his shoulder at the sound of a wagon entering the yard.

Ben again shook his head “No, the name isn’t familiar.”

Squeals and laughter accompanied Hoss’ boom of a laugh and the three men looked at one another before Ben walked to the entrance to the yard. His sons’ followed behind him and watched as the girls, David and Hoss clambered from the wagon. Despite their anxieties they all three smiled as Hoss imitated a lumbering old bear chasing after the children, roaring magnificently and setting the little girls screaming and running into the house for shelter.

Hoss grinned, stood upright and then turned to face his father and brothers, “Hey, what have you been doing? Should have come with us, we had a mighty fine time down by the river.”

Joe nodded, smiled and then turned to his father and Adam “I had best go, I promised Mary Ann to be home as Jerry’s coming for supper this evening.”

“Jerry?” Ben frowned , “Jerry who?”

“Jerry Cambor, Pa. An old school friend.” Joe replied and glanced at Adam as though warning him to keep quiet for once.

Hoss scowled, he had no good memories of Jerry Cambor either. But Joe merely shrugged as though what his family thought of Cambor was barely worth consideration.

“Sure, Jerry Cambor. He arrived in town a few days ago. He’s just the same old Jerry, he’s alright, he’s a good friend.”

Hoss shook his head “He was never a good friend, Joe. He always got you into trouble.”

“Well, Hoss, at times I got him into trouble, so it cuts both ways, brother.” Joe replied, not quite angrily but the irritableness was evident in his voice and Hoss raised his eyebrows and shook his head.

Adam walked with Joe back to his horse, and put a gentle hand on Joe’s arm, “Be careful what you say to Jerry, Joe. I don’t trust him.”

“Adam, you never trusted him, so there’s nothing new in that is there?” Joe replied quietly, and shook his brother’s hand free from his arm, then mounted Navejo, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Ben and Hoss were flanking Adam each side by the time Joe had left the yard, after a moments silence Ben ventured to say that he didn’t like Jerry Cambor being in the area at a time when there was trouble brewing for Joe.

“What trouble you talking about, Pa?” Hoss enquired and turned his eyes away from the dust cloud trailing behind Joe’s horse to face his father and brother, “What is it you haven’t told me yet?”
………………

Nate had not been sheriff for very long in Virginia City and so when he was unsure of how to proceed with certain persons or situations he found the best course of progress was to go and visit someone who would know. A man who had experienced many years of turbulent times in Virginia City from the time of its conception until modern times.

Tentatively but firmly he made the suggestion to Blakeley who appeared to accept the idea and so followed Nate along to the premises of ex-sheriff Roy Coffee.

For a while Roy was quite happy to discuss law keeping in general. He shared some experiences of the times when he and Nate’s father shared the circuit law work on the Comstock and listened to Blakeley discuss some of his wrangles in the past but he was too long in the tooth not to realise there was something more than a social call being made upon him.

“Well, best come on out with it, why’d you come fer?”

Nate grinned and nodded, and glanced at Blakeley who shifted uncomfortably in his chair, not only because the springs had gone and the seat sagged, but because he was hoping to avoid discussing the matter of Blakesville with the old man.

“Well, it isn’t really anything serious as yet, Mr Coffee,” he muttered, “I mean..”

“Just say what you mean and stop beating around the bush, young’un. Who’s done what and who do you suspect is behind it all?”

Blakeley blinked and coughed, then leaned forward confidentially. It was possible that the old man could have a good idea of what was what after all. After clearing his throat several times Blakeley launched forth into the tale of the murders, the cabin fire and the proximity to the events of one Joseph Cartwright.

Roy nodded throughout but kept his own counsel, then when Blakeley had finished he got up and poured out coffee, a particularly strong noxious brew he preferred, and then handed out the cups.

“If’n you’re intimating that young Joe Cartwright shot and then burned those bodies in the cabin you’re barking up the wrong tree.” Roy intoned and slurped down some coffee which he strained through his moustache.

“The fact is, Roy, Joe can’t remember what he did that night. Apart from coming into town and seeing the doctor and then going to the hotel, he can’t remember a thing.” Nate said quietly while he looked around for some sugar in the hope that several spoonfuls might just kill the taste of what he was expected to drink.

“I don’t care a hoot about that… fact is you ain’t given me any proof positive that Joe had anything to do with what happened at that cabin.”

“He was there, Mr Coffee. My deputy recognised the hoof prints of his horse at the site where Joe had fallen and also at the cabin.”

“And where’s your deputy now, sheriff? Can he really prove identification of the horse?”

Blakeley sighed “No, he’s dead. He was – murdered.”

“Aaah, murdered was he? And do you know by whom?”

“No, not as yet. I think – I suspect – it’s the same person who killed the Tombs.”

“But that proves it weren’t Joe. And it further proves you don’t think it’s Joe either, else you wouldn’t be so sure that your deputy was murdered by the same person.”

Blakeley went slightly red around the collar and quickly swallowed some coffee, which was always a mistake, as he found out. After he had coughed and spluttered for a while he nodded,

“I do respect your opinion, Mr Coffee, but unless Joe can remember exactly what he was doing on the night of the murders, and can prove that he was no where near where Jericho Silverman was killed, then I do have to pursue my investigations and ask him to accompany me to Blakesville.”

Roy’s eyes narrowed “You don’t realise that you’ll be taking the whole Cartwright family along with you, do you?”

“I heard tell that was a possibility.” the sheriff said unhappily, darting a look of reproach at Nate who was sipping his coffee as experience had taught him.

Roy nodded “Look, young un, you need to find out more facts before you go arresting Joe. He’s a good man, and he would no more kill a woman than you would… unless, of course you have done ..in which case ..”

“I haven’t shot anyone without just cause, Mr Coffee, particularly any women.” Blakeley put down his cup and the saucer rattled against it as he put both on the table, “I had best be going. Thank you for your time.” he paused “and the coffee.”

Roy nodded and glanced at Nate at whom he rolled his eyes and shook his head. Nate sighed, picked up his hat and followed Blakeley out of the house.

Once on the street Blakeley gave vent to his feelings to Nate, a few expletives peppered the conversation giving rise to some raised eyebrows from several passers-by, Mrs Garston for one. Nate said nothing, he merely nodded, expressed his sympathy and allowed all the sheriff had to say to pass over his head.

Eventually when Blakeley had run out of steam Nate said “I think you should return to Blakesville, Sheriff. Try and find out who killed your deputy. If you really think it is one and the same person, then perhaps coming here was rather a waste of time.”

Blakeley frowned harder than ever, glanced around and muttered something about finding a place that served a decent drink. He settled on the Sazarac.

Chapter 27

Jerry Cambor almost dropped his hat in his haste to remove it when Mary Ann opened the door to him. He knew Joe had good taste in women from times back but this young woman smiling at him and welcoming him into their home caught him by surprise.

“It’s good to meet you, Mr Cambor. Please come on in.”

Her voice was like music to his ears, low and husky, and all he could do was nod like a fool and follow her inside. Joe came through to join them now and had an infant in his arms. This was another surprise. Jerry had never expected to see Joe Cartwright as a family man. A little boy ran towards the door, stopped in his tracks to look at the visitor and then ran back into the room. Jerry grinned,

“Hey, Joe, you got two kids?”

“Sure, didn’t I tell you I had…” Joe grinned, “Come on in, Jerry, don’t just stand there, you look like you just seen a mirage.”

“Well, whatever one of them is, perhaps I have…” Jerry laughed a little shyly, and then lowered his voice “I must say, Joe, you sure got a good taste in women. Always did have, I know, but …!”

Joe grinned and said nothing to that, taking it rather naively as a compliment to his wife so led the way into the room where the meal was to be eaten. Constance was put in her chair beside her brother who regarded Jerry with large hazel eyes,

“Y’know, Joe, your boy sure looks like you…” he leaned forwards and nodded at the boy “What’s your name then, son?”

Daniel frowned and looked at his father as though for permission to speak but as soon as Joe nodded he shrunk back in his chair and glowered with his mouth buttoned tight.

“Guess he don’t like strangers.” Jerry said although for some unaccountable reason he felt irritated at the child’s rebuff.

“He is shy, we don’t get many visitors here.” Mary Ann said as she put down platters of food on the table. “Please sit down, Mr Cambor, probably best to sit the other side of Joe as Daniel and Constance aren’t fussy about where their food goes.”

“Guess you don’t get the visitors ‘cos you’re some way out of town, Ma’am.” Jerry fidgeted with his napkin and glanced around the table, Joe was pouring some wine into glasses, and when he looked at his wife he gave her a smile that made Jerry feel like an intruder and that he had no rights being there despite the long journey from town.

“True enough.” Joe agreed as he sat down and pulled himself closer to the table, “You would have passed the main house,Jerry, the one you knew when you used to visit back in the day.”

“Yeah, it seemed bigger …” Jerry frowned, and then grinned, “I thought it would have been smaller seeing how I was just a kid when I last was there.”

“That’s because Pa had some extensions built on. Adam was an architect, remember? He designed this house for us too.” Joe grinned and nodded towards the food “Help yourself, Jerry, don’t stand on ceremony here.”

“There’s another house …guess that belongs to your brother, Adam, huh?” he spoke with his mouth full, shifting it back and forth around his teeth, “Sure seems odd to think your brothers are married. Or does Hoss live there?”

“No, Hoss lives in the main house with Pa and wife and family.” Joe said and deftly turned talk to other subjects, so that it wasn’t long before the two men were entertaining Mary Ann with tales of their exploits as youths.

The glasses were refilled and the talk got louder and the laughter came more often. Constance began to grizzle and Daniel was yawning so excusing herself politely Mary Ann took the children upstairs, Constance in her arms and Daniel trailing behind holding onto her skirts.

Jerry watched her until she disappeared from view and then turned with a grin to Joe, “You sure know how to pick ‘em, Joe. If Lucy had looked anything like your wife I maybe would have stayed with her.”

“Well, Mary Ann has more going for her than looks.” Joe said quietly and Jerry nodded and laughed and made some comment that got him a black look from his friend.

Mindful that he needed to watch himself Jerry ignored the look and switched the conversation away from Mary Ann and married life. He leaned on the table with both elbows, the glass of wine between his fingers,

“So, what happened with those two law men, Joe ? You in any kind of trouble? Anything I can help you by?”

Joe shook his head “I doubt if you could help, Jerry. Unless you saw who killed two people in Blakesville some weeks back.”

“Blakesville?” Jerry shook his head, “Never heard of it.”

“Nor had I. Apparently I was there though, that night I told you about when I thought I had fallen off my horse. Seems I was in the area of the murders and the sheriff wants to know if I saw anything.”

Jerry sipped some wine and after a momentary pause asked Joe if he had, in fact, seen anything or could remember anything at all. He spoke nonchalantly, as though it didn’t really matter whether Joe answered or not. But Joe just shrugged, leaned back in his chair with one arm crooked over the back and told him what he had told so many, that he barely remembered a thing about anything that happened that night nor for the next few days either.

“I heard about that kind of thing,” Jerry said with an emphatic nod of the head, “Do you think you’ll remember anything at all?”

Joe merely shrugged, “I don’t know, Jerry. I haven’t remembered much at all up to now.”

“Oh, so you remember some things?” the other man raised an eyebrow, “That’s hopeful then, perhaps you’ll remember even more in time.”

Joe glanced at his friend for Jerry’s voice was sharper than previous, but then he dismissed it, after all a friend would be interested wouldn’t he? He shook his head “I only remember that the manager of the hotel was Italian. But that’s all.”

“Shucks, that’s not good. So who was it who was murdered? Someone you knew?”

“No, never heard of ‘em in my life…a couple called Tombs.” Joe shrugged, “Odd really, because normally I would have gone there to visit the folk who were there some years back, but …oh well, it doesn’t matter now, here, have some more wine.”

Jerry laughingly refused, saying that he would be the one to fall off his horse if he had another and Mary Ann, who had gone to the kitchen upon her return downstairs, walked in with a tray of coffee fixings and suggested they went and sat in the more comfortable room.

The evening was boring for Mary Ann. She didn’t like Jerry Cambor, the way he kept looking at her made her feel uncomfortable and brought to her mind the time when another stranger had taken a fancy to her and kept her against her will. She felt as though cold water was running down her spine and after a while she excused herself again to check on the children.

When she returned Jerry was getting ready to leave, he shook her hand, holding it just a little longer than she would have liked, and he looked her right in the eyes and smiled. She hoped that Joe would have seen that smile, recognised that look, and never have the man step foot in the house again.

“I sure hope to see you again soon, Miss Mary-Ann,” Jerry said and then turned away, slipping his hat over his head as he disappeared into the gloom of the night.

Once the door was closed and barred she turned to Joe and looked into his face, she recognised the faint look of disappointment in her husband’s eyes and said nothing. Best for him to start discussion about the evening she thought and started to collect up the cups onto the tray.

“You didn’t like him, did you?” Joe said quietly and came up behind her, so that he could put his arms around her waist and turn her to face him.

“He made me feel uncomfortable, Joe. He reminded me of ..Davy…and the cabin…that time when…”

“It’s alright, I know.” he drew her closer and held her against him, “I guess folk change over the years. He used to be fun … “

“Playing tricks on Adam and Miss Jones was hardly fun, Joe.”

“I know that now… at the time it was though. ‘Sides you never knew Miss Jones,” he smiled and kissed her nose, “Guess she has your sympathies because she was the school teacher, huh?”

Her grey eyes widened and then twinkled with mischief, “You know, Joe Cartwright, I really think you are overdue for detention. Perhaps I should get you to write a hundred lines “I will not torment Miss Jones ever again.””

“Hardly possible, she’s Mrs Myers now.” Joe laughed and kissed her.

As he released her his mood changed, he became sombre and quiet, and then turned away to observe the chair where Jerry had sat during his visit “You know, Mary Ann, he sure has changed.”
………………..

Hester lowered the flame in the lamp and slipped into bed beside her husband. She could hear his breathing, it was deep but not the breathing of a man who had fallen asleep so she whispered his name and got an overloud “Huh” in her ear in answer.

“Are you alright? You were very quiet this evening…and so was Pa. Are you worried about Joe?”

“Shucks and darn it, honey, when ain’t I worried about that little brother of mine? Seems I done nothing but worry about him since the day he was born.”

He turned onto his side so that he could face her, and his frown smoothed away as he looked at her profile outlined by the low light of the lamp. “You know, Hester, sweetheart, you sure look pretty.”

“Don’t be silly, Hoss. You can barely see me. I can’t see you hardly at all.”

“Nope, I can see you…that cute nose of yours, and them long eyelashes…heck, last time I saw eyelashes that long was on a little calf that…”

“Hoss Cartwright!”

There was the sound of a hand striking flesh and Hoss laughed softly, and then rolled onto his back, “You always was feisty.”

“Well, for goodness sake…comparing me to a cow…”

“A calf…there is a difference.” her husband assured her and grinned.

She said nothing to that but returned to thinking about Ben and how quiet he had been, and how he had puffed on that pipe of his so much he almost disappeared in the smoke.

“What is it worrying you, about Joe, I mean?” she whispered, tugging at her husband’s arm now. “Is it his loss of memory?

“Not just that, that’s an inconvenience really, leastways, I think it is ..”

“Pa said something about a sheriff questioning Joe about some murders. Do you think that the sheriff – that he thinks Joe did them?”

Her whispers were getting louder as a result of her anxiety and Hoss, whose mind was already on things other than his brother, sighed and told her not to worry, it didn’t matter what the sheriff thought, not really. Facts and proof and evidence was needed for a conviction and he had none of them.

“But your Pa is worried, and so are you..”

Her whispers tickled his ears and he grinned “Honey, forget about Joe just for a moment, huh? And stop whispering…”

“How can I stop worrying when you’re both ….” but that was when the whispering stopped.

There was only so much worrying and whispering that a man can stand when his wife was looking so lovely, lying beside him, with the soft lamplight making her red gold hair glow so soft and mellow…there was only one thing a man could do in a situation like that…so he did it.

“Let’s go down and finish off that gooseberry pie Hop Sing left in the kitchen huh?”
…………….

Olivia returned to their bed after settling Nathaniel down again. He was fretful for he had more teeth coming through and was a little feverish. He seldom cried in the night now, so when he did and called for her, it was only natural for her to hurry to attend to him. If his cries became too loud then they would disturb Adam and the other children.

But upon returning to the bed she found Adam had already vacated it, and although his place beside her was still warm he must have got up not long after she had left to attend to the little boy.

Quickly she pulled on her dressing gown and tying the belt as she left the room, made her way downstairs. Lamplight was glowing in the big room, and she saw him sitting beside the fire, staring into the remains of glowing embers. The evening had not been cold, but autumn was approaching and the nights were cooler, a small fire offset the chill.

“Adam?” she went immediately to sit beside him, snuggling up close and slipping her hand into his, “What’s wrong? You’ve been very quiet ever since you came back from town.”

“Hmm, didn’t mean to be…sorry, Livvy, I had things on my mind.” and rather absent mindedly he picked up her hand and kissed her fingers.

“I realised that, and was waiting for you to discuss it with me, unless, of course, it’s secret?” she looked at him with a slight life of her eyebrows and a smile just touching her lips.

“Ah well, and we don’t keep secrets from one another, do we?” he smiled, more relaxed now, and holding her hand loosely within his own.

“So we agreed all that time ago when you came a-courting.” she smiled and leaned towards him, kissed his cheek.

“Ah so we did…” his own smile widened and his cheeks dimpled in the way that she loved, lazy brown eyes turned to look into her face, and he leaned down just a little in order to kiss her.

“Is it Joe?”

“Why did it have to be about Joe?” he replied with a lift to his eyebrows.

“Well, I know you have been worried about him.” she replied softly, “Or is it about Mr Crook and the children?”

“Mr Crook? Hmmm, partly. He is constantly niggling at the back of my mind all the time, him and …”

“Brockett?”

“Brockett…yes, what made you say that?”

“Well, it isn’t hard to guess…you talk in your sleep when you’re worried about something, and you mentioned Brocket and Crook together the other night. “

“You never said…I’m sorry, did I disturb your sleep…”

“Did I disturb yours?” she whispered with a smile in her voice and he laughed, and kissed her

“Oh I see..it was that night, huh?”

“I have to wake you up somehow.” she replied innocently and then sighed, “Ann told me about Crook, and his involvement with Candy. She said that Brockett was connected in some way. It’s all to do with that friend of Candy’s who got killed, you know, the soldier who was called Sam?”

“I remember, he was Crook’s nephew.”

“And Brockett’s son. The lad was called Sam Brockett.”

Adam’s face grew stern and he drew away from her slightly as though he needed the space to think more clearly about what she had said, then he shook his head, “But Candy has never mentioned any connection with Brockett?”

Olivia shrugged and shook her head “I can only tell you what Ann said. And there was a lot going on at the time Brockett came to town…remember there was the epidemic, and then Candy became sheriff …and … perhaps Brockett just wanted a clean start and to get on with his life.”

Adam nodded “It doesn’t make much sense, but I guess you’re right…” he loosened the hold on her hand for his fingers had tightened more around them during their discussion.

“And .. What about Joe?” she said quietly, leaning her head upon his shoulder and he heard the sigh as his breath slipped from his mouth, “What do you think will happen?”

“If he doesn’t get his memory back I think that Sheriff will try and pin the murders onto him. He shouldn’t because he has no hard evidence … no motive … but he seems eager to have someone and he has Joe in his sights for sure.”

“But Joe wasn’t …”

“He can’t remember anything, sweetheart, so we’re as much in the dark as Joe is… “ he held her close to him now and dropped a kiss onto her brow, “We have to hope he can remember exactly what happened because I don’t think he just fell off his horse, and nor does that sheriff.”

Chapter 28

Grant Tombs very gingerly made his way through the ruins of what had been his parents home. Although they had not lived there for long he still viewed it as such, and now, as he ducked under fallen blackened joists, and edged around burned out remnants of furniture, he once again asked himself why anyone would have wanted to kill them.

He paused at one point in an attempt to figure out where exactly he was standing as no internal walls remained and doorways were a thing of the past. His booted feet scrunched upon shards of glass that mingled with the ashes of barely recognisable furniture. Only the brick of the chimney provided him with a focal point as it rose majestically into the sky which could be seen as he looked up through where the roof had once existed.

He stooped to pick up an ornament, still intact, greasy with black soot. He recognised it as one of his mother’s favourites and he felt a pang of misery as he looked at it, his fingers trying to clean off the filth, to restore its former beauty. His hand reached out to steady himself as he tripped over debris, and ash, and he paused again to look at the ornament in his hand.

It wasn’t right that they should have died in the way they had…a fire was bad enough, but shot? Who would want to shoot them? With a cry of anguish he cast the ornament away from him, and when it fell with a tinkling crash he had to shield his face with his hand to prevent tears.

“You alright in there, boy?”

Hal Matheson’s voice echoed through the ruins and Grant forced himself to stand straight, shoulders back and to gulp back tears.

“Hal?” he turned, nodded and watched as the dark outline of the deputy made his way clear, edging through the burned out building to stand beside him “Didn’t realise you were here?”

“Just riding by, wanted to check something out for myself.”

“Such as what?”

Hal allowed an exhalation to slip by, he stood poised, hands on hips, lips pursed “Jest an idea I had…”

“Yes?” Grant leaned forward, eager to hear more, and Hal nodded,

“Well, your Ma liked to wear her jewellery ain’t that right?” he didn’t stop for Grant to confirm the question but continued “But she weren’t wearing no rings nor nothing when we found her, except of course her wedding band. I was just wondering if, perhaps, she had a jewellery box like women keep for their geegaws, and such. What do you think?”

“You mean… someone may have stolen everything? That it was a robbery? Just a straight forward robbery?”

Hal frowned and looked sharply at Grant, the look of relief on the young man’s face momentarily puzzling him but he nodded and agreed that the thought had crossed his mind. Grant looked about him, as though suddenly what they were looking for would appear before their very eyes, “She didn’t have a jewellery box as such, everything she owned was in a safe. My father always had a safe, or strong box, wherever we lived.”

“Reckon you could hazard a guess as to its whereabouts in this mess?”

Both men looked around them. Ash and soot floated down from the trusses still standing like skeletal fingers pointing in the air, the sun shone down and made the scene of destruction even more cruel than it already was, and despite it’s warmth Grant Tombs felt cold.

They searched among the debris for over an hour before finally finding a strong box, the padlock was still intact. They looked at one another, “You got a key?”

Grant shook his head, he wasn’t sure a key would have unlocked it anyway, not after it had undergone so much heat from the fire, and the deluge of water that had come as its aftermath. Hal took out his gun and after setting the box to one side and stepping back, he shot the padlock free, then pulled the box open…

“Weren’t no robbery.” he said quietly as they gazed down upon Mrs Tombs’ jewels, some papers were also there, but the heat of the burning metal charred them to unrecognisable brown and black flakes.

Grant sighed and closed the lid “I had hoped it would be a theft, it would make some sense of it all…I could understand it to some degree because father wouldn’t give anything away without a fight. But now I’m back to where I was …just wondering why, what was the point of it all?”

Hal nodded sympathetically. He put a kindly hand on Grant’s shoulder and just squeezed it gently, “What are you going to do, son?”

“I don’t know…I can’t stay here, that’s for sure, I mean, in Blakesville. I want to get away from – from it all.”

“You have any contacts, family … friends…?”

“Some.” Grant nodded and then shrugged “I guess I’m stuck here until the sheriff makes an arrest. Do you reckon he will, make an arrest I mean?”

“Well, he’s in Virginia City right now seeing a suspect. Lets just hope he can make an arrest and as soon as it’s over, you can get on with your life.” Hal nodded, and then gave the younger man a smile, “Best get out of here, looks like the rest of what there is here, is about to collapse.”

They returned back to Blakesville in comparative silence…Grant once again mulling over his parents’ strange deaths, his future prospect and Hal wondering if Blakeley were right to suspect Joe Cartwright for a double murder. The strongbox, which Hal said was now evidence, was in his possession and bumping along in the saddlebags .

“Do you remember much about Chicago, Grant?” Hal asked amiably as they jogged along the very track that Joe had ridden over all those weeks earlier.

“Chicago? Oh we lived there for a short while. Pa was in business there.”

“What business was that exactly?”

Grant shrugged “I don’t know, he dabbled in everything. I was only a kid then.”

“Oh, where did you move to after Chicago?”

Grant frowned and thought, “I reckon it was New York, and then we went to Boston. I was schooled there mostly. I liked it a lot there, wish we had all stayed there but Pa said it was time to move on. I stayed at the college though, Pa said travelling around too much disrupts my education and that wasn’t good…so they moved around without me.”

Hal nodded, it fitted the picture he knew about the Tombs and recalled how Grant had arrived in town not so very long ago. The Tombs had taken over the property from the Blairs who hadn’t wanted to live near yet another mushroom town and had then gone to Genoa which was a contradiction in itself. He turned the horse’s head towards the town, slowly mounting the incline until they could see the buildings up ahead.
…………….

Nathaniel was excited, so excited. Sofia had come in with a bulging pocket that wriggled and made noises. He was desperate to find out what it was, and put out his finger to give just a tiny gentle poke but Sofia saw him and turned away.

She was grinning that smile of hers that meant she had a secret that she wasn’t intending to share, not right away. She giggled when Nathaniel reached out again, and then she ran away with him running after her as best he could but she had longer legs and … stopped when she, looking over her shoulder, failed to see her father in front of her.

“More haste, less speed,” Adam said with a smile in his voice.

“Sorry, Daddy.” Sofia giggled causing Adam to frown from curiosity as she wriggled away from him and continued to run “No running indoors, Sofia.”

Her voice drifted towards him encased in a giggle. “Me cuming …Sofee…me cuming…” cried Nathaniel who wriggled mightily when his father scooped him up into his arms. “No, no, down…see Sofee.”

Even more curious now Adam put the little boy down and followed his running figure until they located Sofia who was squatting down in a corner and upon seeing them, gave another giggle.

“What have you got there?” Adam said although from the sound he heard he could guess.

“Sofee got wiggly thing.” Nathaniel declared and pointed to Sofia’s pocket but the naughty girl just shook her head and showed her little brother an empty pocket while a gleam of mischief twinkled in her eyes. “Oh!” Nathaniel looked puzzled and then up at his father, the great solver of all life’s mysteries. “Gone.”

“Show him what you’ve got, Sofia.” Adam said kindly, and he smiled while his eyebrows arched indicating that he wasn’t going to play games with her so she had better obey.

With a sigh she sat back on her haunches to show them what she had brought in from the barn and two little golden chicks cheeped up at them, cheeping for mother and wondering what on earth they were doing in the corner of a room being stared at as they were…Nathaniel put out a curious finger and got pecked.

But it didn’t hurt like the kitties had when he had snatched them up at Aunty Marcy’s, so he reached out again and grabbed one..

“Gently, gently..” Adam cried, trying to prise the fingers loose, “It’s just a baby, you have to be careful.”

“Like this…” Sofia said and carefully picked up the remaining chick which cheeped and pecked at her fingers.

“Aaaaah, cheep cheep” Nathaniel crooned and raised the chick higher in order to give it a kiss on its downy head.

“They’re Matilda’s,” Sofia said, “she hid them away and now they’re hatched. Just these two.”

“Then you had better put them back, she’ll be missing them.” Adam said and stood up, with Nathaniel in the crook of his arm still holding the little chick.

Cheng Ho Lee glanced over at them and grinned, nodded “Ah, too small for pot.”
He chuckled, “Maybe bigger later on fit pot very nice.”

“Oh no, Cheng, you can’t cook them..” Sofia cried with big eyes and holding the little chick up against her cheek, “You can’t cook Cressida and Priscilla.”

Adam smiled and gently managed to get the chick – Priscilla? – away from his son, and handed it to Sofia “Take it back to Matilda.”

“Me want it. Me want it.” screamed Nathaniel, struggling now to get down from his father’s arms in order to grab at the chick.

“Well, you can’t have it.” Sofia replied with a toss of her curls as she ran from the room with the chicks cheeping loudly in protest, and Nathaniel in hot pursuit after her.

Adam chuckled as he watched them and then strolled to the kitchen to join his wife, “I’m just going to take a ride up to Joe’s, do you want to come? I can fix the surrey?”

“I have a lot to do today, Adam. It’s our turn for hospitality tonight, don’t forget.” she smiled and offered her face for his kiss, which touched her lips gently.

He was whistling a tune when he left the house and smiled over the scene of his little girl with the chicks in her skirted lap and Nathaniel holding a blade of grass to them while Matilda strutted back and forth clucking frantically to reassure her cheeping babes that she was close by.

Reuben was in town, hopefully behaving himself with The Gang and not due home for a few hours. As he saddled Kami, Adam did wonder what status Tommy Conway now had with the rest of the boys, since his heroic deed some time back. He rode from the yard with Sofia’s farewells drifting along with the cheeping of chicks and Nathaniel’s “Me now…me now..”

He was warmly welcomed by his brother and sister-in-law, Daniel was racing around the room on his hobby horse and little Constance was calling out to him in her baby coo of a voice, clapping her hands every time he passed her.

“Come to see how our visitor was last night?” Joe asked as he took a seat opposite his brother, a cup of coffee in his hand and watching as his wife handed one over to Adam.

“No. Not at all. I just came to see how you were, that’s all.” Adam smiled a thank you to Mary Ann, and sighed, “But as you mentioned it, how did you get on?”

Joe sighed, and then shrugged “I don’t know, sometimes it just doesn’t pay to have old friends turn up out of the blue, does it?”

“Well, Jerry was always a wild boy, I think that’s what attracted you to him when you were a kid.”

“True enough. He was fun .. And I never thought any of it was meant maliciously.”

“Well, perhaps not…” Adam said more slowly, having reasons of his own to have doubts about that statement.

“No, I mean it…but … last night he was different, and it made me wonder just how innocent our mischief really was; you know, it made me wonder if he enjoyed seeing us in trouble. If I recall rightly he never seemed to get the tannings we did.”

“Mmm, his father was one of those liberal minded kind who believed in spoiling the child and sparing the rod.” Adam remarked and sipped his coffee thoughtfully.

Mary Ann sat down and picked up her cup “He seemed very curious about what happened to Joe at Blakesville. He kept asking questions about it all the time..”

“Not all the time,” Joe said quietly as he stared out of the window and then sighed, “Well, looks like we have company.”

His wife and brother turned to look and could see two horsemen appearing in the yard. They were dismounting by the corral where Kami was already tethered, and making their way to the door.

Chapter 29

Nate Carney felt uncomfortable as he approached the house. He had grown to respect the Cartwright family a great deal during his brief stay in Virginia City. In his own eyes he found it hard to imagine that Joseph would be responsible for the deliberate deaths and then the malicious attempt of concealment of the Tombs bodies by setting the cabin ablaze.

He had attempted to draw from Blakeley as much information about the Tombs as he could explaining as he did so that he felt background knowledge of the couple could lead them to the killers. Surely a more effective attempt at finding the killers would be to find out if the Tombs’ had enemies in their past rather than arresting the first person that just happened to be in the vicinity at the time.

Now he followed Blakeley to the house and stepped back as Blakeley knocked on the door, after all, he was the one who had insisted on coming so, Nate reasoned, he could deal with what would follow as a result.

Mary Ann answered the door and smiled at Nate, although her grey eyes were dark like wet slate when she looked at Blakeley.

“I’m Sheriff Blakeley and ..”

“I know who you are, Sheriff. Hello, Nate.” she swept her eyes from Blakeley to Nate whom she rather liked, and felt could be a good friend to the family. A slight frown crinkled her brow, depending on the outcome of all this, it may be that he would come into the category of ‘a shame, he could have been a good friend…”

“Is Joe home, Ma’am?” Nate asked, feeling it more correct to address her formally, especially in front of another lawman.

“He is, and expecting you.” she stepped back to admit them and both men, who had removed their hats as soon as she had opened the door to them, walked into the house.

Despite the impression they got from the appearance of the house, they followed her to the big room where Joe and Adam were already on their feet, and nodded a greeting. There was no outstretched hand to be shaken by either man, both lawmen could not deny there was a barrier of hostility towards them. Mary Ann discreetly took the children away to another room. Joe indicate the chairs for the lawmen to sit, which, uncomfortable though Blakeley was, they accepted, placing their hats on the floor by their feet..

“Mr Cartwright.” Blakeley cleared his throat, “Just a few more questions …”

“I did say I wouldn’t answer any more questions unless I had a lawyer present.” Joe replied in the tone of voice that was both snappy and indicative of his irritability.

“I appreciate that, Mr Cartwright, but the fact is -” Blakeley paused and glanced sidelong at Nate who remained silent, so he had to clear his throat and continue,” the fact is that apart from Grant Tombs you are the only person who was in the vicinity of the murder scene.”

Adam leaned forward “And Grant Tombs saw nothing?”

“He says not.” Blakeley replied, and looked from one to the other of the brothers.

“He didn’t see Joe in the vicinity of the building then?” Adam murmured.

“He says not.” Blakeley reiterated and his words were now snappy and irritable, the glare he gave Adam was not without warmth, he could barely conceal his temper.

“Then perhaps he could explain why he didn’t see Joe at the scene of the murders.”

“He was too traumatised by the sight of the fire …”

“What fire?” Joe asked quietly, as though he had no knowledge of it, and he looked from Nate to Blakeley, “What fire are you talking about?”

Blakeley said nothing, he stared at Joe and remembered howDr. Finlayson had stressed the fact that although there was a lot of blood on his clothing, Joe had no smell of smoke on his person at all. He licked his lips, and frowned, shifted his feet.

“Well, what fire, Sheriff?” Adam asked and raised an eyebrow while his brown eyes seemed to pin Blakeley to his chair.

“The cabin was set on fire after the murders. It was a rather clumsy attempt to conceal the manner of the couples’ deaths, and …” Blakeley paused for effect “to give the murderer ample time to get away.”

“Well, I’m not a lawyer, Sheriff, but it seems to me you have no reason to suspect Joe, after all, he didn’t get away did he? Due to his head wound he had to get medical attention and after receiving it he went to a hotel to recover, for several days.”

Nate bowed his head and stared at the floor. He could feel the tension in Blakeley as the man sat rigid in the chair beside him.

“I would like to point out, Mr Cartwright,” Blakeley said tersely, “that we do not view your brother as a suspect. Merely as someone who could help us in our enquiries…” he released a sigh and shook his head, “For Pete’s sake, he was in the area, he must have seen something!”

Three pairs of eyes looked again at Joe, who stared at Blakeley and then Nate, and shook his head “I may have done. It is possible but -”

“You can’t remember.” Blakeley said in the tones of one bored with the excuse, and went so far as to roll his eyes and stare up at the ceiling.

“I can’t. Believe me, if I could remember anything that would be of any help to you, I would tell you.” Joe gave a slightly weak grim “It would help me too, if I could recall anything at all.”

Joe was calming down now, he could see and understand their point of view, even though he disliked being the person ‘in their sights’, but it helped him to keep calm, and for a moment no one spoke.

“Joe,” Blakeley leaned forward and clasped his hands together between his knees as though subconsciously pleading with the other man to help him “There is another matter I wanted to mention to you.”

Joe gave a nod of the head, although his eyes narrowed and he watched Blakeley like a man watches a snake. Adam shifted uneasily in his seat, and Nate bit down on his bottom lip.

“”There was another man murdered shortly after the Tombs’ deaths. A man I considered a friend, as well as my deputy. “

“Are you going to try and pin that one onto me?” Joe imprudently snapped and half rose in his chair only to be pulled back by his brother.

“No. I only wanted to know if you were in the area of Boulders Creek or Blakesville at the time.”

“I told you already, I went straight home after I left your town. I do remember that much!” Joe sneered, his hazel eyes green with suppressed anger.

“Jericho was on the trail of something, someone -” Blakeley continued as though the interruption had never taken place, “he was following up on someone he felt was suspicious, and as a result he was murdered, left for the buzzards … “

“I told you, I was not there to commit any murders.” he was almost spitting the words out between clenched teeth and glaring at them from under his brows.

“A tall thin man, balding … would you know anyone like that who may have mentioned being in the area at the time?” Blakeley pressed on despite the mounting frustration obviously dominating Joe’s feelings now.

“Why would anyone mention anything like that to me?” Joe frowned and shook his head “You think I have an accomplice?”

“Joe.” Adam said cautiously, feeling that Joe was about to walk into a verbal mine field, and he put a hand on his brother’s arm in order to warn him.

“Did you? Did you have an accomplice, Joe?” Blakeley now asked seizing upon the other man’s words and turning them against him but the look of disgust on both the Cartwright’s faces brought about a stony silence from all three of the other men.

Blakeley turned to Nate who continued to look ahead, over the shoulders of the two brothers, as though he mentally wished to make himself invisible. It was only when the silence became uncomfortable that Nate shook himself alert and raised his eyebrows at Adam who nodded and rose to his feet,

“Sheriff Blakeley, I think if you are not going to arrest Joe, and if you have no other reason for being here than to ask nonsensical questions …”

“They’re not nonsensical questions, Mr Cartwright.” Blakeley intoned in a flat voice, as though tired and bored of the whole thing. “Three people have been murdered, I want to find out who killed them. I don’t think asking your brother questions that could help me find them are nonsensical.”

Adam nodded, his face lost some of its sternness and he quietly replied that he could see the point, while Joe broke in and suggested that instead of asking questions that he could not answer, perhaps they should go looking for the person responsible.

“I’ve already promised that if I recall anything that could assist you, I will let you or Nate know immediately.”

Both sheriff’s nodded acceptance of that comment and rose as though pulled by the same string. They picked up their hats and turned to leave, as they did so Adam followed them out,

“Sheriff, a word -?”

Blakeley paused and turned, they had reached the door of the vestibule now, Nate had his hand on the door leading to the yard, both looked at Adam, and waited to hear what he was going to say.

“Joe and I were discussing the possibility that others now know he was in the area of the murders.”

Blakeley narrowed his eyes, while Nate pursed his lips and bowed his head as though waiting for more to be said.

“Well, it is just possible that whoever the murderer is, he may not want Joe to remember what he saw, or did not see, at the cabin. My brother could be in danger from the man you should be out looking for…” his dark eyes seemed to bore into Blakeley’s, sufficiently so as to cause the man to swallow hard.

“Mr Cartwright, I appreciate the point you’re making, but not the insinuation that we’re not doing the job properly.” Blakeley muttered as some form of defence.

“How serious do you think this threat could be, Adam?” Nate asked calmly as he slipped his hat on.

“Serious enough for me to be mentioning it to you.” Adam replied and his brown eyes glanced from one sheriff to the other, “If it’s all the same to you, I think I’d like to go and visit your town, Sheriff Blakeley, and just see for myself what happened there.”

“You won‘t find anything helpful now, sir, we’ve gone through the whole area thoroughly. We need to establish motive, and until we find out more about the Tombs -” Blakeley paused, realised what he was saying, and then gave a curt nod. “I don’t want you messing around where you’re not wanted.”

“Why not?” Joe said, suddenly appearing from behind Adam, and his voice sharp and accusing, “Afraid we may find out something you missed?”

Nate put a hand on Blakeley’s arm and gently indicated it was time to leave. Both of them felt they had accomplished nothing, although upon examination of what had been said, or suggested, they realised they had actually found out quite a bit. For Nate the conversation established to him that Joe never killed anyone. For Blakeley the conundrum had just widened out into regions unknown.
……………………

Ben and Hoss listened to all that Joe and Adam told them after they had enjoyed a meal provided by Cheng ho Lee and Olivia. It had been a pleasant relaxed meal, the children had behaved, and Ben had felt in a mellow mood as he had sat back after the sumptuous dessert and surveyed his family.

]“I’m like Abraham, a Patriach.” he mused and sighed contentedly as he watched Hester helping Erik to eat his food, while Hope and Hannah sat on either side of her. “Beautiful Hester, Hoss has been so well blessed by marrying you, and you have enriched my life so much.”

He glanced over at Mary Ann looking rather anxiously over at Joe, which gave Ben the first niggle of apprehension that something was wrong…but the children looked well and healthy, Daniel eating heartily of everything he could reach, just like Hoss would have done, odd that he’s Joe’s son! And little Constance, sitting on her mother’s lap and smiling at everyone with smiles and dimples.

Something’s wrong, must be that matter from over at Blakesville, Ben mused as he observed Olivia with her calm face and sea green eyes. A true Raphaelite beauty, Ben told himself, and he nodded in agreement with himself as he then watched Reuben and Sofia, deep in discussion about some matter of no importance to anyone else. Then there was Nathaniel with his black curls, dimples and resemblance to the child that Ben had toted around the country in a wagon despite wild Indians, hunger and pain.

He sighed and once the meal was over and the children allowed their allotted time for play he turned to Joe, “Alright, what’s been going on since I saw you last, Joe?”

“Best talk privately, Pa.” Joe said quietly and at a nod to his brother, the three of them followed Adam into the study area.

Adam closed the door, and perched on to the corner of his desk, while Hoss sunk into a leather chair, leaving Joe to lean, along with Adam, against the book case as Ben took his seat in Adam’s chair.

He and Hoss listened patiently as Joe unfolded the matter of the discussions with the sheriffs. Once silence had fallen all four looked at one another, Joe and Adam had folded their arms almost defensively across their chests, while Hoss was rubbing his chin and Ben was wishing he had his pipe nearby.

“What do you intend to do?” Ben asked finally.

“Well, Adam suggested going to Blakesville to have a look around for ourselves.” Joe replied and looked at Adam to confirm that that was still viable, at Adams nod he then glanced at Hoss “If Hoss could come too that would be even better.”

Hoss nodded “Just try keeping me away,” he muttered.

“No need to remind you three that you have responsibilities here at home.” Ben reminded them quietly as the sounds of children’s laughter trickled through into the room.

“We know that, Pa.” Adam said evenly, “but we have responsibilities to each other too. I think Blakeley is just waiting for the time he can arrest Joe, he has no proof of anything, he has no motive, he doesn’t even seem to know anything about the victims. He needs a suspect …”

“Yeah, and it ain’t gonna be my brother.” Hoss growled, “We need to find out jest what is going on over there.”

Ben nodded, and sighed, “I suppose it’s impossible to expect any of you to stay out of trouble.” he frowned, then nodded “I’ll make enquiries of my own about these Tombs. It seems as though they have a connection with Chicago, is that right?”

“And there was someone else mentioned, Pa. An Alex Dunlop. It seems to me he may have been connected to Tombs in some way.” Adam suggested, and glanced over at Hoss who seemed deep in thought.

“I’ll check him out too. I have enough business contacts in Chicago and will find out what I can. When do you intend to leave?”

They looked at one another. Each of them feeling the pull of the responsibilities they had at home…Adam wanting to make sure the children settled into the new school, Hoss to ensure that the children were going to be alright and Hester would be agreeable to his going and Joe..worried about his wife, and knowing that she was already anxious about the matter. His absence from home may not be reassuring for her, rather the cause of more anxiety.

“Tuesday morning.” Adam said quietly and looked at Ben, who nodded as though in confirmation.

“Tuesday morning it is then,” Hoss nodded, and he smiled over at Joe, “It’ll be alright, Joe. We’ll get this sorted and back home by the weekend.”

If only it was going to be that simple!

Chapter 30

Candy took Rosie to school in their rig. It was not that he didn’t trust her to get there, but because he wanted to share the transition from the traditional one roomed school to this magnificent edifice on C street.

Nor did Rosie have any intention of missing school this particular Monday. Her stomach was a mass of butterflies flirting with bumble bees…and she clutched excitedly to her father’s arm as the rig trundled down C street to where children were already clustering for admittance.

“Isn’t it beautiful, Pa?” she whispered as they neared the entrance to the building and Candy smiled and nodded agreeing that it was indeed.

Inwardly he was chuckling to himself for how often had he sat in his office as the building was being built, along with his deputies complaining about the noise and the dirt and deriding the notion that there would ever be a thousand pupils. Dodds, who had been a deputy then, had profoundly declared that it was a white elephant and a waste of time and money.

Others had gone along with the notion of it being a wonderful ‘fount of all knowledge’ for the town’s children but once it had been completed and the Town Council had dragged it’s heels, as usual, over closing down the few small schools that still existed after the Big Fire far more felt it to be nothing more than an exorbitant waste of their money.

But here it was..and the buzz of excitement around it’s doors grew as townsfolk gathered with their children to watch them step through those ‘hallowed doors’.

Candy lifted his daughter from the rig and hand in hand with her approached the Cartwrights who had arrived not long before himself. Adam and Olivia with Reuben and Sofia, and Nathaniel struggling to get down from the confines of his father’s arms.

Sofia ran to Rosie immediately and grabbed at her hand, “Isn’t it exciting?”

“Will we have a new teacher? It won’t be Mr Crook again will it?” Rosie whispered nervously glancing around in case the man himself was standing right behind her.

Sofia giggled and squeezed her friends hand, how wonderful to have this extra bit of a secret that even Rosie didn’t know. Above their heads Adam and Candy smiled and winked.

A wonderful building indeed, and how many times had they walked past it? It was after all, prominent enough. Even the paintwork on the frontage screamed out “Notice me!“ It was situated on the southern entrance to the town, in the ‘fourth ward’ of Virginia City near the Gold Hill-Virginia City boundary. Mr and Mrs Sales were there with Annie and Betsy, and came to join them, nodding and grinning as though they had built the place brick by brick all by themselves.

“At long last.” Endeavour Sales declared, and puffed out his chest, “All it needed was an extra push in the right direction to achieve this, should have happened as soon as it was built.”

“Such a waste…” Mrs Sales trilled and patted Betsy on the head, “Such a waste of time and efficiency. But then, that’s the Town Council for you, always happy to line their own pockets if you ask me…”

“Hush, dear…” Sales muttered very wisely, and with a nod of the head indicated Mr Brockett standing not so far away and who would not, seeing he was the Treasurer, be happy to think people suspected him of lining his own pockets with their money.

The building had actually cost *$100,000 and much of the financial burden came from contributions from the mining companies and local businesses, such as the Sales’ Mercantile. Some had thought it a waste of their money when discovering that the architect Mr Bennett* had incorporated modern innovations such as a central heating system* (hot water was piped to all four floors), and the latest Philadelphia* style patented spring loaded self flushing toilets*.

Of course no one was going to complain about such innovations now as their children formed into lines and awaited the moment of admission. Up the steps they went to the big doors, girls in their white aprons over their dresses and boys with their hair slicked down and all of those who possessed them had their boots shining.

Sofia glanced nervously over her shoulder to where her parents and Nathaniel were standing, Adam with his hand on Olivia’s shoulder, and Nathaniel squirming with arms outstretched crying “Me go too .. Me go too”

Inside what seemed an enormous room stood the teachers in a line by the stairs and several impromptu “Mr Evans!” were heard from more than happy students to see him returned to them.

The voices faded into mute silence at seeing Mr Crook glowering at the end of the line, standing next to the Head Teacher who now stepped forward to greet them.

Reuben and Sofia Cartwright, along with all the children for whom this was the first day at the Fourth Ward school, could barely breathe with excitement. Their eyes darted this way and that as they saw the ornate cast iron radiators, the big stove, the beautifully burnished floor boards and most splendid of all, the huge windows.

The Head Teacher was explaining that the school was divided into three departments*, Primary (Grades 1 through 4), Second Grammar (Grades 5 through 7) and High School (Grades 8 and 9). He explained who their teachers would be and then indicated where they were all to be gathered at the beginning of the day here in the big assembly hall.

Then the shuffling around began as children were divided into the three groups and how relieved Sofia and Reuben and Rosie were to know they were to be in the same group even if not in the same class. Reuben was just that bit older and like most of The Gang would be in the room next to Sofia’s. Thankfully they would be taught by Mr Evans and Miss Hayward who would alternate classes.

It was all so vastly different, so amazingly exciting that Sofia could hardly restrain from squealing with delight. Now Mr Evans greeted the class and Miss Hayward smiled (and she had dimples and her hair curled over her brow like a heroine in a romantic novel, Sofia was SO pleased). The two teachers led their pupils to their class rooms and Mr Evans closed the door behind the last little girl and smiled at them all for most of them he already knew, and had missed.

“Oh Mr Evans,” Betsy Sales squealed and Annie Sales wiped her eyes quite overcome by emotion.

Several children called out a welcome, but Sofia just stood there with her head high and eyes bright with pride as HER Mr Evans took his place on the platform by his desk.

He waited just a moment for everyone to settle down and smiled, “Very well now, calm down everyone.”

A gentle deep kindly voice, how soothing, how so very pleasant to hear. His eyes swept over them all and he nodded “It’s good to see you all here today. Very good.”

He paused to clear the lump in his own throat, and once again let his eyes roam from face to face then he said very quietly that he would take the register and after that he would tell them the rules of the school.

Sofia and Rose, Betsy and Annie and the other children who loved and knew Mr Evans didn’t really care about the rules, the fact that Mr Evans was standing there in front of them, was all that really mattered.

Miss Hayward had the same appeal to her class that Mary Ann had exercised when she had taught in Virginia City so long before…the boys were besotted and the girls enthralled.

Chas Carter and Lucas Bradley were not so happy to be facing Peter Crook although they did notice that the leather strap was not hanging from the desk as a warning for good behaviour. The number of children in that class were more than all the children that had been assembled at the one room school and all were boys and girls over the age of 13. The two of them stood in silence among their peers and wondered what the other students really thought about having Crook now as their teacher. Surprisingly Crook modulated his voice and manner, and for that morning at least, peace reigned.
……………

Adam and Olivia took Nathaniel for a visit to Bridie Martin who greeted them with her usual warmth and bustled them into the best parlour while Mrs Treveleyn made refreshments.

After he had drank his first cup of coffee Adam left the ladies to chatter and took Nathaniel with him to stroll through town. He spent twenty minutes with Roy, refusing his coffee naturally, and then left when it was obvious that Nathaniel was not going to tolerate being in the old man’s company for much longer before he mutinied.

He then went to the offices of the Territorial Enterprise where deQuille motioned him into his own ’den’ despite the child wanting to stay to watch the printing presses. Daniel deQuille, having had children of his own, proved that that didn’t actually qualify anyone in the art of child care or even actually liking children. He chose to ignore Nathaniel and concentrate on Adam entirely.

“I haven’t found anything about the Tombs except that they were living in Blakesville almost from the time it was built. They moved into a property that had been owned by a Mr and Mrs Blair.”

“We know them, they are a pleasant couple. Any reason why they would leave? They seemed happy enough there, we were surprised to learn they had moved on.”

“No idea. People do move on, you know, for various reasons.” he frowned, having moved on years ago himself, and leaving wife and children back ’home’.
“I tried to locate the Tombs in Chicago but no leads, I’m afraid. The son, Grant Tombs, he went to college in Boston, seems a brighter than average student. He left there and seems to have vanished from sight until he turned up at Blakesville about a year ago.”

“No trouble with him then?”

“No, model student, intelligent…no problems with him. No doubt he did what a lot do, chose to travel around before joining his family.”

Adam nodded and leaned down to retrieve Nathaniel who was exploring the contents of Daniel’s waste paper basket. “Keep looking will you? I’ll be leaving for Blakesville tomorrow morning, so any information you find cable over to me.”

“It’ll cost…” Daniel muttered with one eye on Nathaniel and the other on Adam’s jacket around about the area where a wallet would be concealed.

Adam smiled and nodded, and after placing some dollar bills on the desk left Daniel gloating as he slipped the money into his pocket and then pulled out his notebook and pen.

The next stop was the Mercantile where Adam purchased a toy for Nathaniel in the form of a bright red wagon with a little black horse attached, a pretty bonnet for Sofia which had forget-me-knots on it and a pink ribbon, and a book for Reuben about clipper ships. He was not too sure about the book, and as he paid for the items he did wonder if Reuben would be as pleased with the gift as he would have been at his age had Ben thought to get it for him.

By the time he returned to Bridie’s he was greeted like a long lost son and ushered into the dining room where Paul was chatting to Olivia and Tilly was waiting to serve up the dinner.

As Nathaniel was passed over to his mother’s doting arms Adam released a sigh and after shaking Paul’s hand, settled into his chair with relief. He wondered how his father had managed to survive all the time of his (Adams) childhood on the long journey to the Ponderosa.
……………

Standing at the bottom of the wide staircase and looking up. Sofia and Rose and Reuben gazed in wonder at the vast windows that let in the light upon the stairs and down into the assembly room. Children milled around them, chattering and giggling, or seriously conversing. It was time for recess, and after tearing their eyes away from the sight of what Sofia thought was ’a heavenly wonderful thing’ they made their way to the dining hall.

“Hasn’t it been exciting?” Rosie whispered as they took their seats, “And seeing Mr Evans here, wasn’t that wonderful?”

Davy Riley came and sat with them, as well as Tommy and Jimmy, it was obvious that the excitement was still trickling through them as well. They could barely eat their food for talking and most of what was said was gibberish.

Peter Crook strolled into the dining room. It was his duty to oversee and supervise recess, and he did so by pacing the floor between tables and scowling at the children seated there. He stared hard at where Reuben and Sofia were seated, and noted Rosie and the boys with them. With a nod of the head he walked on, he knew where they were and not so out of reach as they may have thought.

Chapter 31

Sofia was overjoyed with her new bonnet which she put on as soon as she had it out of the box. She preened and pirouetted in front of the mirror while all the time she chattered on about the school and Mr Evans . Miss Hayward got a mention too but not to the extent of ‘dear Mr Edwards’

In homes throughout the area the younger children rhapsodised about their school day. Just as Sofia declared to her parents the building was like a palace, so many stairs, so many windows, so many classrooms.

Parents, and the Canadays and Cartwrights were among them, breathed a deep sigh of relief knowing that for now, their offspring were safe from the clutches of Mr Peter Crook.

The older ones such as Chas and Lucas were not quite so happy with their teacher even though he was far more subdued. They returned to their homes sullen and resentful, and the children who had not benefited from Mr Crook’s tutelage previously but had heard of his reputation wondered what all the fuss had been about.

The meal time was over and for a while the children were sent to do their homework, or, in Nathaniel’s case, to play with his new toy. Adam resumed his seat at the table and beckoned his wife to join him. Once she was close by he reached for her hand and held it within his own,

“Do you feel happier now? Less worried?” his brown eyes were hooded and the brows were drawn over them as he looked anxiously at her, and when she nodded and squeezed his hand he seemed to relax and smiled “I wanted to make sure that you felt better about the situation with the children at school before I went to Blakesville.”

She didn’t speak at first although she reached out with her other hand to cover his, and her eyes were darker. From the other room came the sound of Nathaniel’s chugg chugg as he pushed his wagon over the rug. Occasionally Sofia’s voice would be raised in question, obviously a request to her brother for help with her homework.

“I wish you weren’t going, Adam. I have a bad feeling about this whole business.”

“So have I. We all have, but it can’t be skirted around any more, Joe needs to get back there and see for himself where everything happened. It could be the trigger to help him remember…”

“And what happens when he does remember? Won’t that put him in worse danger than he is in now?”

He was silent for a moment and then gave a familiar pout “We have to risk that, at least we’ll have some facts, something tangible to work with…in some ways that will prepare us for anything else that could happen.”

“Such as? What do you think could happen?” her eyes were earnest and her voice quiet and very calm, as though she needed to speak in that fashion in order to think the matter through. “I’ll tell you what I think will happen… I think the person who killed those people will do all they can to stop Joe from remembering, and if he does get his memory back, then they’ll stop him from finding them. He’ll be killed, Adam, and …!”

“And you’re jumping too far ahead, sweetheart.” he raised her fingers to his lips and kissed them, his face gentled as he saw the anxiety in the lines of her face, and he reached out to touch her “I think, whoever killed those people, already knows about Joe, and I also think that whoever they are, already has their eye on him. He’s already in danger…”

“Then so are you, and Hoss…”

“That’s why it’s best to go to Blakesville, and draw whoever it is away from here, and get him to reveal his hand when we get there.”

“It isn’t so simple as that, Adam.” she drew his hand to her cheek and leaned upon it, “I think that …” she paused and turned her head to drop a kiss upon his fingers just as Sofia’s voice drifted towards them from the doorway,

“Mommy, Nathaniel’s swallowed the wagon wheel…”
……………

Hester was carefully folding a clean shirt into the saddle bag that Hoss would be taking with him on this latest trip. After the shirt there were clean socks and long johns. She smoothed them and folded them and then once they were in place, she buckled the bag together and set it to one side.

“It’s been a while since you went on a journey like this, Hoss.” she said and turned to look at her husband who was playing with Erik, bouncing the baby up and down on his knee. “He’ll be sick if you keep doing that, I would have thought you’d have realised that by now.”

Hoss chuckled at the memory of his daughters who loved the game but were often sick during the course of it, “Oh Erik can handle it, he’s made of sterner stuff.”

“Oh I see, because he’s a boy I suppose..” she shook her head and curls bounced upon her shoulders, “Well, he’s already looking greener than he did when you started.”

Hoss sighed and stopped the bouncing, instead he picked the boy up and walked with him towards Hester. There he slipped one arm around her waist, kissed her cheek and then passed the infant over to her. Erik scowled, and his bottom lip trembled.

“See, he liked it.” Hoss said and tweaked the child’s nose gently.

“They all like it, it’s their stomachs that don.t” Hester replied and gave her son a kiss on the cheek before turning to Hoss, “I wish you weren’t going, Hoss.”

Her husband shrugged and looked slightly confused, then sighed “Shucks, honey, I don’t have no reason not to go. Joe needs help, and Adam reckons that we need to go to get the matter cleared up once and for all.”

“I don’t think it will be cleared up once and for all.” Hester said rather tartly, “I think it will just be a bigger mess than it is now. Who knows what Joe will remember, if he remembers anything anyway.”

“It’s the chance we need to make, Hester, because otherwise I reckon that thar Sheriff is going to arrest him for a murder, I mean murders, that he didn’t commit.”

“Oh, Hoss Cartwright!” she turned away from him and stared hard at the far off wall in order to stop tears reaching her eyes, Erik squirmed in an attempt to get down “There I was, telling Ann that nothing can go wrong ..after the year we’ve all had too …and now…and what if anything happens to you? What if it turns out to be a wild goose chase and you end up hurt?”

“What reason is there for me to get hurt, honey?” Hoss put his hands on her shoulders and very gently turned her to face him, Erik’s blue eyes looked solemnly at him so he took hold of him, swung him down onto the bed and then returned to his wife, “Look, Joe needs our help. We always help one another, sweetie, you know that?”

“But, I -”

He stopped any further protests by kissing her gently on the lips, and then folding her into his arms “It’ll be alright, Hester, we’ll be home by the end of the week.”
…………

Mary Ann Cartwright kissed her husband and settled into his arms as they sat together on the big settee’s in the sitting room of their home. She knew there were a lot of things she wanted to say, questions and suggestions, hopes and fears, but now just didn’t seem the right time to say them. She wondered when would be the right time after all Joe was leaving early the next morning.

“The children will miss you, Joe. Daniel will want to know where you’re going and why you hadn’t taken him.”

“I’ll miss them – and you -” Joe replied and kissed her again, he thought briefly of the two children tucked up in their beds and drifting into a sweet sleep. It seemed strange to be thinking of children now, there had once been a time when there had been no children, no wife…one just had nothing like such responsibilities upon their shoulders to worry about, or care about, nor fear for.

“Do you think you’ll remember anything?” she looked at him and her eyes were large in her face, making her look frail and in need of him to be there, with her.

“I hope so. I need to remember, Mary, because this not knowing is driving me mad.” he sighed and leaned against her, holding her warm body against his, and thinking that he couldn’t really remember what it was like to live without her now.

Had he really been such a boy that he could mount his horse and just go anywhere at any time, that he had got into so many scrapes and risked life and limb so recklessly? He was about to speak when there was a sharp rat-a-tat on the door and with a sigh he broke free from her and got to his feet.

As soon as he got home he would see about getting someone in to help Mary Ann, even if just to open the door when she was busy or otherwise engaged..and with a grin he pulled the door open.

“Oh. Jerry?” he glanced over the man’s shoulder as though expecting an army of other men to be accompanying him, “I wasn’t expecting you.”

“Shucks, I realise that, but thought I’d call on by as I heard a rumour in town that you were about to be arrested.”

Joe looked at Jerry as though the man was mad, but stepped aside to admit him into the house. No one was ever turned away from the Ponderosa had been their mantra since the day Joe could remember first hearing it, after all, anyone coming to the door had already ridden for several hours!

Mary Ann struggled to fix the smile on her face when Jerry entered the room, after greeting him she mumbled about making some coffee and hurried to the kitchen where she busied herself in preparing the refreshments in order to get herself into a calmer frame of mind.

Jerry Cambor ..what was there about the man that made her feel so wary, so anxious about…was it the way his eyes were always so watchful, noticing things, darting here and there? Or his mouth, always with that smile on his lips as though life was a mockery and not to be taken seriously?

Joe listened to what Jerry was saying with half his mind elsewhere, he nodded on occasion and then when silence fell between them asked Jerry where he had got the information about the arrest.

“I overheard a deputy in the saloon. He didn’t seem too happy about it, said the sheriff was wrong, and that he’d turn in his badge if he was told to come here to arrest you.”

Joe nodded again, and sat down, indicating to Jerry that he could take the seat opposite. “I reckon that was Clem, we go back a long ways.”

“Clem? Yeah, Clem Foster, that’s right, one of the girls said it was him.” Jerry twirled his hat round and round, as his eyes looked to the other room where Mary Ann was preparing coffee “Sorry if it’s bad news, just wanted to give you a warning.”

“It doesn’t matter, Jerry. I wont be here tomorrow anyway. I’m going to go to Blakesville and see for myself where this murder took place. I may remember what happened when I get there.””

Jerry nearly dropped his hat, he shook his head “You sure that’s the wisest thing to do, Joe?”

“I need to, Jerry. It’s not pleasant having a blank space in one’s head about something as important as a murder.”

“Yeah, I guess not, especially if you may be the one who did it.”

Mary Ann nearly dropped the tray but managed to set it down on the table, “My husband didn’t murder anyone, Mr Cambor.” her voice was rigid and tight, the dislike clear to hear, “But he needs to find out who did…”

Joe nodded, “Yeah, I do.”

He took the cup of coffee and glanced at Jerry who looked thoughtful, “I need to find out before Blakeley convinces himself and me that I actually did do it.”

“How’d you mean?” Jerry frowned more deeply, for once the smile on his lips had gone.

“Well, when you have no memory at all about something so important and someone else comes along and starts talking about it and bit by bit building it up so it makes sense, then the blank space starts to fill in …like a story that needs the words and chapters in the right place. But without one’s own memory, well, acceptance of someone else’s story just isn’t good enough, not really.”

Jerry nodded. He thought about that as he sipped the coffee, and tried to ignore the hostility drifting in waves towards him from Joe’s wife.
………….

Sheriff Blakeley placed the cable down on the desk in front of Nate and jabbed at it with his finger,

“If you wanted motive I could give you one…seeing how Mrs Tombs was a very wealthy woman who flaunted her jewellery for everyone to see.”

“Robbery you mean?” Nate muttered and read the cable, then frowned, “But there was no robbery. Your deputy found the safe?”

“So that means we can rule out that motive, can’t we?”

Nate leaned back in his chair. He had hoped that if there had been a robbery the murders could have been pinned on some by passer with an eye for a quick dollar. Joe didn’t need money, or jewels…he had no reason to steal anything…and then he felt ashamed even thinking that, thinking that Joe would even be there for any reason at all.

One thing for sure, Joe Cartwright wouldn’t kill, deliberately murder, a woman. In fact, he wouldn’t deliberately murder anyone, but the thought of a woman involved underlined the fact even more so in Nate Carney’s mind. He looked at Blakeley, his eyes cold and his lips taut against his lips

“Why are you so intent on pinning these murders onto Joe Cartwright, Sheriff?”

“Because a good friend of mine was murdered, and -”

“Your good friend being your deputy who was murdered a week after the Tombs…and on a day I can vouch for Joe being here, in Virginia City.” Nate’s voice rose a notch, and he shook his head “You can’t pin that one on him, Blakeley.”

The Sheriff from Blakesville nodded and remembered how once before he had thought there would be two killers. He had thought so back then, now it was reinforced by Nate’s very words. “I think he had an accomplice. Someone in Blakesville was there to cover his back.”

Nate sighed, shook his head and stood up. He walked to the window and stared out at the darkening streets and wondered what he could do to help Joe while at the same time not hindering the pursuit of the law. But Blakeley was wrong, very wrong.
……………

Reuben and Sofia loved the evenings when they could snuggle up close to their father. Sometimes he read them stories and other times he told them about the things that had happened to him during the time he was with Grandpa. He would make them laugh telling them about the adventures with Hoss and Joe, about the time Uncle Hoss had found leprechauns and no one believed him, or when Uncle Hoss fell down a well and a little old Irish lady hauled him back out.

But tonight he was telling them something serious and neither of them really liked being told this particular kind of story.

“Does it mean you will be away for a very, very ,very long time?” Sofia asked and leaned forward to kiss his cheek.

He had a scar on his cheek which she kissed. It was her special kissing place and she thought if she kissed it often enough then the scar would vanish, after all the princess only kissed the frog once for it to change into a Prince, didn’t she?

“No, not so very long. Probably just a week.” he smiled reassuringly at them both, and then turned to Reuben “You know that if you need any help Cheng will be here..and Grandpa is at the big house. But, apart from that, you do as your mother, or Grandpa, tell you. Do you understand, son?“

Reuben nodded “Will Uncle Hoss be going with you too?”

“He will. He’s the best man to take on occasions like this.” Adam replied but his eyes drifted to look at the rug, at which he stared for some time as he tried to think of what kind of things his brother may find, and whether or not they would help Joe.

“Daddy?”

“Yes, pumpkin?”

“Is it very important you go?” Sofia was twisting the ribbon in her nightdress, and her chest was heaving up and down rather fast. Adam gulped a little when he said yes and hoped that she would not cry, but she did, the tears trickled down slowly as she buried her face into his shoulder.

“Don’t worry, Pa.” Reuben said stoutly, “I’ll look out for Ma and Sofia, and Nathaniel.”

He reached out a hand and ruffled the boy’s hair, smiled and nodded. Then he raised his head and saw Olivia standing at the door, her hands clasped together as she stared at them, her face soft, and if it were true what they said, about love beaming from a persons countenance, then it was true of Olivia right then.

Chapter 32

The three men left the Ponderosa early on that Tuesday morning. The sun was still dozing behind clouds and a faint mist shrouded the trees and buildings in gossamer strands that seemed to dampen their spirits for none of them spoke to the other as they began their journey.

Ben had risen along with Hoss and with Hester by his side had waved the three brothers off on their journey. Hands had been shaken, and he had wished them well while Hester had kissed their cheeks, and bade them farewell.

They had stood together for some time at the door listening to the sound of the horses jogging away, for the early morning mist seemed to amplify the sounds so that they seemed to come from all directions at once.

“They’ll be alright,” Ben said finally and turned back into the house with his arm around his daughter in law’s waist, and she had nodded, forced a smile and drawn her dressing gown closer around her body.

She felt cold and it wasn’t just because of the temperature outside, but from nervous tension and fears of her own. Of course they would be alright, she told herself, of course they would be.
…………..

“Is daddy gone now?” Sofia asked as she sat down at the table for breakfast and gazed longingly at the empty chair.

“Yes, you were fast asleep when he left. He did go and say goodbye but didn’t want to disturb you, nor you, Reuben.” she smiled at her son who, tousled headed and heavy eyed had joined them .

“ I heard the door close….I meant to say goodbye…” Reuben yawned and rubbed his eyes.

Nathaniel said nothing. He stared at the empty chair and his face crumpled, then he looked at Olivia and then at his siblings and noticed that they were getting on with life as if everything was just fine. He sighed and decided he would just wait, daddy would come home soon.
…………

Alex Dunlop stared out from the hotel window at the town that was beginning to start a new day. Store keepers were busy putting out their wares on display, or cleaning windows or sweeping away the dust and dirt careless customers had left on the floors from the previous day. Some early risers were already out and about, meeting one another, heads together for a gossip. Soon the school bell would clang and children would be running and yelling down the street adding their noises to those already to be heard.

His eyes followed the man on horseback who stopped at the sheriff’s office and dismounted, tying the reins over the hitching rail before stepping inside the building. Sheriff Tom Blakeley may have had the feeling he was being watched as he paused at the door before entering, paused and looked over his shoulder.

Dunlop shrugged, and then turned to where Jerry Cambor sat plying his knife’s blade under his finger nails and looking bored.

“I should think Blakeley would be leaving town soon. He’ll not hang around for long once he knows the Cartwrights are on their way to Blakesville.”

Cambor shrugged, he didn‘t much care so long as he didn’t have to go back. He returned the knife to its sheath and then sat there a moment as though waiting for instructions although he was already thinking of plans he had made for himself.

“You’d best tail the Cartwrights, make sure they don’t find out anything that could rouse their suspicions.”

Cambor gave a short laugh, “What can they find? Even that injun didn’t find enough of anything to prove I was anywhere near the place…” he flicked his eyes over to Dunlop who had scowled over at his associate with distaste, “Look, I did what you told me, and it went as smooth as silk, didn’t it? Jericho Silverman found nothing..”

“He tracked us down…”

“Yeah, well, that was his problem. Nothing he has to worry about now though.” Cambor said quietly and turned away from the other man’s dark frowns “If he hadn’t seen you in town he wouldn’t have realised there was a connection.”

Dunop nodded “Very true. If I hadn’t needed to get back to check on the house in Blakesville – “ he paused and rubbed his chin, “and if you hadn’t decided to follow me out of town that morning…”

“For Pete’s sake, what’s the griping for? He followed you, and caught you unawares, didn’t he? If I hadn’t been following you out of town you could well be dead by now..or in prison.”

“I had the matter covered. You acted rashly. That was an unnecessary killing that was far from helpful to my cause.”

“Your cause?” Cambor scoffed and stood up, “Look, Jericho was an intelligent man, he worked out who you were and would have realised what game you were playing eventually. Did you want to risk that? You would never have bribed him to do what you wanted, he wasn’t the bribing sort of man.”

“No, he wasn’t. He was a loyal decent person. A shame he had to die, but, you’re right.” he nodded and turned back to the window, “You’re right, he would have realised what was going on, and if you hadn’t killed him I would have had to have done it myself … much as I detest killing anyone.”

Cambor moved restlessly, he had never really understood how Dunlop’s mind worked. He wasn’t even sure what Dunlop’s real name was, it certainly wasn’t the name signed in the register of this hotel. He stood up and walked over to the window and stood beside the other man, and then stared down at the street below, the school bell was tolling, the first of the children was running out of their houses and he gave a slight smile,

“Odd to think Joe Cartwright and me, we were pals at school. I used to be like them, running out of the house, glad to get the heck out of there and get to school. Him and me – yeah – we were good pals at the time.”

Dunlop glared at him and sniffed audibly “Get those sentimental thoughts out of your head, Cambor. There’s so room for nostalgia now. You just forget all about being friends with Joe Cartwright, you hear?”

“Oh don’t worry, I’ve forgotten all about friendship with him, I know what I have to do. I didn’t hesitate before, did I?”

“Except that you didn’t kill him.” Dunlop said in a voice that dripped ice and he shook his head, “Next time don’t miss…”

Cambor was about to spit back some retort but decided not to bother. He turned instead and picked up his hat, “I’ll be back by noon. I’ve things to do…”
………….

Once the sun had risen and had kissed the tallest tree the three brothers dismounted and made a small fire in order to have some coffee. Hoss was yawning, he had yawned almost non-stop since leaving home and Joe had said if he carried on like that he would swallow more flies in the territory than the biggest bull frog down in Lake Tahoe.

The coffee was good, and refreshing, Adam made some comment about what it had been like years back when they had started early like this and how, somehow, he couldn’t recall aching quite so much first thing in the day.

“Guess it’s because we’re older,” Hoss muttered and squatted down on his haunches to pour more coffee into his mug.

“Yeah. Lots of things have changed.” Joe said, and sighed, “Jerry Cambor came by last night.”

“Last night?” Adam’s voice snapped out the two words and he looked at Joe with a narrow eyed expression that made the younger man uncomfortable, “Why did he come calling last night?”

“Came to warn me that Blakeley was going to arrest me.” Joe said with a touch of hauteur in his voice, “Like any friend would, of course.”

“Well, how come he’d know that, Joe?” Hoss now asked, standing up and the steam from the coffee clouding his face.

“He said Clem was talking about it in the saloon, he said that Clem was going to refuse to come out and arrest me, he thought I wasn’t guilty and Blakeley was wrong.”

“He heard Clem say that?” Adam asked quietly and he glanced over at Hoss who raised his eyebrows.

Joe saw the look and bristled, “He came all the way from town to warn me, to make sure I was alright… that’s more than most would, or did.” his voice was taut, that shrill pitch that indicated his irritation with them. “Look, he’s a good friend, he came to help.”

“Have you ever known of Clem Foster talking about things relating to what goes on in the sheriff’s office?” Adam asked, again quietly and with his mug of coffee held close to his chest.

“Yeah, Clem is pretty close mouthed, he doesn’t usually air his opinions out right publicly. Not like that anyhow..” Hoss muttered.

“Well, he did last night. He obviously feels strongly about the fact that Blakeley and Nate are out to arrest me, and he knows that – that I didn’t kill those people”
Joe tossed the remains of his coffee into the fire, which splattered and hissed as the dregs hit the heat.

Adam and Hoss said nothing, although both of them glanced around their little camp as though anticipating trouble from behind every rock.
…………….

The knocking on the door came just after Mary Ann had put Constance down for her mid morning nap. Daniel was playing with his hobby horse and after looking over at him to ensure that he was quite safe, Mary Ann hurried to see who her visitor could be..perhaps Olivia or Hester with the children.

When she opened the door and saw Jerry Cambor standing there her smile disappeared, her eyes widened in dismay and her throat became paralysed with fear. She actually raised a hand to her mouth to stifle whatever sound she thought would succeed in coming out.

“I wasn’t expecting such a warm welcome,” Jerry said sarcastically, “I was just coming by to see if Joe was still here, or whether he had left for Blakesville.”

“I – oh – yes, well, I’m sorry, I must have seemed very rude, I was expecting someone else.”

Even so she stayed by the door, and even that she didn’t open to admit him, so that he stood there aimlessly flipping his hat too and fro and staring at her. Then he nodded and without a word pushed her to one side as he stepped into the house, and through into the big room. He looked around him and then turned to her, head to one side, smile widening.

“So Joe’s gone and here you are …all on your own. Seems to me you need a man here to – huh – take care of you while he’s away for – who knows how long.”

Mary Ann was naïve in many ways, but when a man looks as Jerry Cambor looked at that moment, she knew this was the time to summon her strength. She was alone in the house apart from the children. She was vulnerable as a woman, and also as a mother. To protect them, and to safeguard herself. Naïve though she was she was not a silly weak minded woman. Life, time, experience had forged a lot of steel in Mary Ann, and she was not going to bend to the will of this man.

She moved away from the door, and further into the room, away from the door that was closed and in which Daniel was playing, Constance was sleeping. She watched his face and was about to speak when he yelled “Stand still,” he cried, “Stand still. I don’t like it when a person keeps walking away from me. When I’m speaking to them, they should have the courtesy to remain still.”

Mary Ann instantly froze. It had been her intention, her hope, to reach the desk where a pistol could be located in the top drawer. She glanced about her, feeling defenceless and alone. She looked at him with candid eyes. He was a handsome man, with a fine physique, attractive hands, and a reasonably deep voice. Looking at him she knew that had she been a single woman she could have been attracted to him, and flattered by the attentions from him. But she was married, and she loved her husband, and this man, was supposed to be her husband’s friend.

“I thought you had come to see Joe.” she was surprised she could still speak, could say the words without them shaking, or being shrill with the fear she was feeling, “I told you, he’s gone and now if you…”

“I know he’s gone, that’s why I’m here.” he smiled, not an unpleasant smile, but his eyes were cold, calculating, mean and – something else that made her flesh crawl.

She had stopped walking, pacing, trying to reach the desk. There was no point, the door had opened and Daniel had peeked out, his face smiles one moment and then confused the next,

“Daniel, go inside and play, look after Constance. I’ll be there in a moment.” she smiled at him, while her heart was pounding so fast she could barely get the words from her mouth.

“Mommy, I heard Daddy..” but Daniel looked over and saw Jerry, and knew it wasn’t Daddy, “Mommy?

“Go into the room and play, dear. I’ll be with you in a moment.”

The door closed, slowly. She watched and listened for the click as it shut and then turned to Jerry, “You had best leave, now, I’m expecting Ben any moment and if he sees you here…”

“Don’t be so stupid…” his voice was rising, becoming shrill. Mary Ann tried to free her hand from his grasp, but his fingers were like a vice tightening around hers despite her efforts.

“Let me go.”

“No, not until you give me what I want….” he lowered his face, his lips parted in a smile that was cruel, hungry, mean.

The pressure of his mouth upon hers repelled her, and with whatever strength she could muster she pulled herself away from him, but then his other hand seized her shoulder, and gripped it hard, he released her wrist now only to seize her by the back of the head, his fingers twisting into the abundance of her hair.

“Leave me, let me go. Let me go.” Mary Ann cried, afraid to scream in case it alarmed her son, afraid of him in case – in case – then he took her into his arms and held her close to his body, and kissed her lips and all the time she struggled, and pushed, and tried to resist him.

The force of his attempts upon her were so strong that she could hardly breathe and in desperation she freed one hand and brought it down across his face, raking her fingers down his cheek with the result that he let out a bellow of pain and surprise. For just enough time his grip upon her slackened and she broke free from him, managed a few steps away, and then was brought crashing down against the side table as he grabbed hold of her once again.

The smashing glass as it hit the floor sent out an explosion of sound, followed instantly by her scream.

The two horsemen dismounted in the yard and left their horses alongside the black Morgan that they had seen in Virginia City regularly during the past week. Nate looked at it thoughtfully and then turned to Blakeley

“What would he be doing here?” his deep voice queried, and Blakeley raised his eyebrows and shrugged,

“Doors been left open.” and he nodded to the door, frowned and indicated that they walked a little faster.

It was Nate who withdrew his gun, and his fingers curled around its handle as he stepped into the house. Blakeley was about to speak but the other sheriff held a hand up, then one finger to his lips indicating the need for silence. A crash from the big room, followed by a scream sent both men rushing through to the other room,

“Mrs Cartwright?”

His voice was just loud enough to be heard above the noise and Jerry paused, turned and looked at the doorway. His face contorted with rage, his nostrils flared and his lips curled back in a snarl. Dischevelled, disarrayed and with blood seeping from the scratches on his face, he pulled out a pistol, and holding it at Mary Ann, began to make his way to the door of the room where Daniel and little Constance were; he was breathing heavily, and felt a pain across his cheekbones. Touching his nose he realised that one of the blows that Mary Ann had struck at him had obviously landed, and if it had not broken his nose, it had certainly done some damage. He wiped blood away with the back of his hand.

Nate took several steps into the room, his gun levelled and his eyes focussed on the other man. Blakeley had disappeared, taking his cue from Nate he had left the main door and was making his way round the back to locate some other entrance, hoping that he could find his way inside before Cambor did anything worse than what had already been done.

Mary Ann had fallen heavily on the floor, and was fighting to stay conscious. Black waves came sweeping up and over her, threatening to engulf her should she make the wrong move. She longed to just rest her head, close her eyes and surrender to the dark, but she had to stay awake, she had to stay alert. God grant her strength. What if Jerry were to get into the other room? What if he tried to kill the children? She struggled to get back to her feet and then looked up and saw Jerry’s face.

The gun was levelled at her even as he inched closer to the other door. She turned her head beseechingly towards him. Even now she was unaware of Nate being there, her thoughts were only for her children, nothing, nothing else mattered. Who would he shoot first? She gave a moan, a cry like that of a wounded animal, like that of any mother who saw her young threatened and felt defenceless to save them.

“Mary Ann, you look lovelier than ever,” Jerry said softly, “Joe always was the lucky one when it came to women. Even when we were kids he had the little girls eating out of his hand. Look, there’s no need for this nonsense, let’s – let’s just -”

He wavered. The gun moved from her towards the door where Nate Carney stood, his gun steady in his hand, his eyes dark as he glared at Cambor.

She saw him too now, and stepped back in an attempt to be out of the line of fire, how her legs managed to propel her away from Cambor she would never know. She turned to Nate, “My children…they’re in the other room…”

Nate raised a hand as though placating her, or perhaps warning Jerry, he kept his eyes focussed entirely on Cambor’s face,

“Cambor, put the gun down. If you take a step closer to Mrs Cartwright I’ll shoot …”

Jerry frowned and the gun swung towards the sheriff and he smiled and shook his head, as though he couldn’t believe what he had just heard.

“Sheriff, you don’t seem to realise I hold the ace card here -” he shrugged “A bullet moves pretty fast, shoot me, and watch her drop because I swear this gun has a hair trigger and she don’t stand a chance.”

The gun swung back to where Mary Ann was now standing closer to the desk. Nate took another step into the room. He glanced anxiously at the woman, who stood with a white face, wild eyes, and her hair is total disarray. Blood stained her brow, and her clothing was torn, ripped at the shoulder, and skirt. One shoe had fallen under the table near the hearth.

“I said, put down the gun or I will shoot.” Nate repeated, and his eyes returned to stare into Jerry’s, willing him to see sense, “Cambor, do as I tell you.”

Mary Ann put her hand to her throat, willed herself not to scream as the two men glared at each other and she thought “Please, please, just do something, one of you, do something.”

Then a door swung open and Blakeley stood in the room with his gun in his hand and a cold blank look on his face as he swung it in the direction of the younger man.

“Do as Sheriff Carney says, Cambor, drop the gun.”

Jerry Cambor shook his head, he looked from one to the other of them and then at Mary Ann. . He brought up his gun and aimed at the woman

“I’ll kill her first..” he whispered and then he smiled, a wide knowing smile and in a swift move raised the gun and fired.

Nate and Blakely watched him as he fell, their guns had blazed simultaneously, catching Jerry in the shoulder and in the side. His blood splattered the walls, and when he fell upon the ground his hand clutched at her skirts, his fingers tightened around them, as though they were the only life line left to him.

Mary Ann stood with her back pressed against the wall as though she had been nailed to the spot. She was totally unaware of the two lawmen in the room, totally unknowing of Ben running towards her, his black eyes filled with fear that Cambor’s last bullet had actually got her.

His hand touched her shoulder, and he whispered her name …then, and only then, did she come out of the fear induced trance, her white lips whispered “The children?”

Ben nodded and put a hand to her face, gently touched her cheeks where the tears were falling, so softly wiped them away. “They aren’t hurt. Are you – are you alright?”

While he helped her to move away from the wall, and towards the other room, they passed the two sheriff’s, Nate was standing by the body of Jerry Cambor while Blakeley was kneeling beside it. It was Blakeley who spoke first

“What was he doing here, Ma’am? Apart from the obvious but how did he know where you lived?”

Mary Ann frowned, looked at them, ignored the body of Jerry Cambor bleeding all over her Aubussion rug. “I don’t understand…he’s a friend of Joe’s. They were friends from a long time ago.”

“And has he been here before?” Blakeley’s eyes narrowed, and he watched her face so closely that it compelled Ben to put a cautionary hand on her arm.

“Yes, he came last night. He told Joe you were coming here to arrest him. Is that why you’re here now? To arrest Joe?”

Nate had slipped his gun into his holster, and turned to look at her and then at Ben, he couldn’t smile in reassurance because he knew that had been Blakeley’s hope, although not his own. He cleared his throat “Why not go and check on your children, Ma’am. We’ll deal with – “ and he glanced down at the body.

It was then that Jerry’s eyes opened, he stared up into the face of Blakeley and looked puzzled “You – shot – me ?”

“Yeah, it was my good deed for the day, Cambor.” Blakeley replied coldly, “So you’re a friend of Joe Cartwright’s – is that right?”

Jerry coughed and blood frothed at his mouth “Yeah, long time, since kids…just came to visit…Joe again …”

“You were in Blakesville some weeks back, Cambor? Ain’t that right?” Blakeley said, and glanced up at Nate as though to warn him to listen to what was being said now.

“Yeah, sure … saw Joe …”

“Where did you see Joe Cartwright, Cambor?”

Jerry smiled slightly, his face contorted and his body shook, he coughed again and this time red blood streaked his lips, he frowned “Guess I ain’t got much longer , huh? You shot me – in the back -!”

“Where did you see Joe Cartwright, Cambor? Was it in Blakesville?” Blakeley hissed.

Cambor sighed, “Cabin, saw him there…saw him at the cabin…” he jerked and groaned, muttered something else and then, nothing.

Ben sighed, he could see from Blakeley’s face that smug look of satisfaction when an ace turns up in the hand that’s been dealt. Nate looked anxious, biting down on his bottom lip. “Mary Ann, go check on the children. Do you think you can manage that? Are you going to be able to do that?”

His kindness touched her heart, and made her long to fall into his arms and just sob away all her fears, but first of all she had to make sure Daniel was alright, even though there was no fear of him having been physically harmed, she knew that, she knew he would just be a very scared little boy.

She pushed open the door and saw her son sobbing silent tears as he crouched into a corner close to the crib where Constance lay, still sleeping. She could barely believe that the baby had slept through all the noise, but the sight of little Daniel shivering in the corner as he wept caused her to cry and sweep Daniel up into her arms and hold him close. His cheek rested against her, and the smell of him touched her nostrils and removed the stench of cordite, and hot blood …

“Oh Danny, Danny…” she whispered and held him close as though she couldn’t bear to let him leave her, not ever.

Ben had watched her as she clung to her son, then he turned to the sheriff’s and the inert form of the dead man.

“I saw you ride by my place,” he explained quietly, knowing that they would want to know why he was there so promptly “I was about to come to check on Mary Ann, I wasn’t far behind you. Not able to help much though.”

Blakeley nodded and glanced around the room, then at Ben “And why isn’t your son here, Mr Cartwright? Or is he busy rounding up cows?”

Ben didn’t answer at first, once again his eyes roved from the dead body to the woman who was holding her son and swaying too and fro, he shook his head “He’s gone to Blakesville…with my two other sons.”
…………………….

It was later when Ben was in the sheriff’s office facing the two lawmen. Mary Ann had been taken to the Ponderosa where Hester and Olivia tended to her, cared for her and the children. Jerry Cambor’s body had been taken into town over the back of his horse’s saddle, swaying too and fro and looking as anonymous as Jericho Silverman’s had some weeks previously.

Ben looked at both sheriff’s and could tell from their body language that they were not in agreement. Nathaniel Carney obviously was not prepared to accept what Jerry Cambor had said with the same alacrity as Blakeley intended, It seemed to Ben that Blakeley had been determined to pin the murders on Joe, and Cambor’s dying words were the very proof he was seeking.

“There’s no motive,” Nathaniel persisted in saying.

“There was, we just need Joseph Cartwright to remember what it was and to tell us. There was a motive, Carney, you bet there was…”

“Nothing would induce my son to murder two people in cold blood,” Ben shouted, his deep voice thick in his throat and his black eyes almost starting out of their sockets. “Joe would never, never, kill a woman. For Pete’s sake, Sheriff, you know him better than that?”

The appeal was to Nate who nodded, and put a hand out to calm Ben down, but Blakeley was having none of it, he merely stood up and reached for his gunbelt, which he had discarded upon entering the office.

“Well, gentlemen, it looks to me as though despite Cartwriht’s loss of memory – which he could be feigning anyway – it’s pretty clear what happened.”

“May be to you, but not to me.” Nate replied, “I can’t agree with what you’re saying, Sheriff Blakeley.”

“You heard what Cambor said?” Blakeley raised his eyebrows in disbelief, that they could stand there and ignore the evidence, the witness’ last statement. “You Can’t deny that Mrs Cartwright admitted the man had been there, socially, twice at least? They were friends, they met up in Placerville, and together they went to that cabin and killed Tombs and his wife. Later Cambor killed Jericho.”

Nate shook his head, and Ben put a hand to his brow in exasperation, then turned to watch as Blakeley began to buckle on his gun belt.

“Joe didn’t do it, Blakeley. You’re being too eager to pin these murders onto him.” Ben’s voice was almost a groan as he spoke.

“No, not too eager just doing my job. Mr Cartwright, Jerry Cambor goes under various aliases, he is wanted in several states for rape, robbery, and murder. We don’t even know how many women he has raped, nor how many he has killed. He’s as slimy as a snake, and I’m glad we’ve got him where he deserves to be now, spares the expense of a hanging. He was scum, he had no conscience and the only thing he took pride in was killing. This -” he picked up his hat “was the kind of friend your son had, and it seems to me that old saying is true, folk judge you by the kind of friends you walk with.”

He then turned to Carney, “The Cartwright boys are moving onto my territory, Sheriff Carney, I’d advise you not to interfere in my jurisdiction.”

Nate firmed his lips and narrowed his eyes, stepping right up to the other lawman he said slowly, as though every word was weighed with meaning ..”Think again, Blakeley. Just perhaps Joe was at the cabin, just perhaps HE saw Cambor kill those people. Don’t you think Cambor would do anything to stop Joe from talking about that? Don’t you think it is even possible that he came to town especially to find Joe, and finish off what he intended to do that night?”

Blakeley shook his head, “You heard what Cambor said, he was dying, why would he lie? Alright, let’s say he was the one shot those folk, but believe you me, Joe Cartwright was right there by his side. Whether the murderer or an accomplice, he was there …”

Carney shook his head “You’re wrong, Blakeley.”

“Just remember this, Carney, you keep out of my territory -”

Carney stepped back to let the other man pass by, his face blank, saying nothing. Ben was the same, he felt as though he had run out of words and when he swallowed, he swallowed bile.

Chapter 34

The three brothers rode at a good clip, not pushing the horses too hard for they were too prudent to do that, but they rode at a steady pace that ate up the miles. They didn’t spare their breath for talking, and only stopped for very brief moments to drink water or chew on what food they had in their saddle bags before they rode on.

It was Adam’s intention to get to the cabin and the area around Blakesville as soon as possible before any more damage to what had happened at the cabin could be done, Hoss was the best tracker he knew but even he could not perform miracles. Joe was totally exhausted mentally by the worry of things he could not remember and the frail wisps of memory that tantalised but slipped out of his reach.

As night was drawing in they paused to make their camp, a small fire, adequate for boiling water for their coffee, the food they would eat had already been prepared by Hop Sing so no need to hunt down rabbits or wild chickens.

“We won’t linger long here,” Adam said “As early a start in the morning as possible.”

“Sure, Adam, reckon that would be wise.” Hoss nodded, and chewed methodically on his food as he considered the events that had led up to this particular ‘excursion’ although he didn’t call it that!.

The three of them were seated around the fire, Joe with his legs stretched out while he lounged against his saddle, Hoss and Adam both with their knees bent and hands holding their mugs of coffee between their legs. All three watched the feeble flames eating into the wood.

Joe sighed, “Do you think whoever killed those people, will be on the look out for me?”

His voice sounded wistful and in the dusky light he looked just like Little Joe of years gone by, young and naïve and feckless. Adam and Hoss looked at him and then at one another, both of them nodded and both of them said “Yeah, I do.”

“Stands to reason,” Adam said, “If you were shot out of the saddle, it was because you saw something you were not meant to see.”

“But they wouldn’t know, would they? I mean, how would they know it was me?”

Hoss snorted through his nose, “Well, Blakeley seems to think it was you, don’t he? Why shouldn’t the real shooter have worked it out as well.”

Joe shook his head, his face looked thoroughly miserable and strangely young, so that his brothers felt that protective instinct within them. 0nce again they looked at one another as though in sympathy for the others anxiety on behalf of this younger Cartwright.

“Joe, we just got to face the facts, even if we don’t like where they may be leading …” Adam sighed again and raised the cup to his lips to drink the dark brew.

“You reckon Jerry may have something to do with it? You think he came to Virginia City on purpose, to see what I knew or remembered?” Joe demanded to know, and he tossed his head before shaking it, “Well, he never even knew Blakesville existed until I mentioned it.”

Hoss gave a wry chuckle, “You know, Joe, there are times when I could shake you jest to get some sense inta ya. Why on earth would he tell you he had been to Blakesville? You should think back along to when you went to school with him and the lies he told that got you into trouble.”

Joe said nothing to that, but shook his head again and stared into the fire. Then he looked over at Adam “You got anything to add to that, Adam?”

“Nope, reckon you’ve enough to think about as it is.” his eldest brother replied and swallowed down the rest of his coffee before putting the cup to one side. “I’ll take first watch, Hoss, you after me …”

Joe said nothing but got to his feet and muttered about getting more fuel for the fire, once he had fed the flames he rolled himself into his blanket and prepared to sleep.

Oddly enough he fell asleep as easily as a baby as though he had no troubles on his conscience nor fears and anxieties lurking about ready to pounce at the least expected moment. Yet as soon as his head hit the pillow and the first light snore had passed his lips he was plunged into a series of dreams that sucked him into the maelstrom of nightmares.

One minute he was clinging to a rock face with the icy winds blowing against him and making his eyes stream so that small icicles formed in his beard, and then the cliff started buffeting him as though he were trapped inside a moving rail car and when he finally fell he landed with a scream and thud on straw covered floor boards of a fast moving train with two faces staring down at him and when his eyes were able to focus he realised they were Jerry Cambor and Adam who were whispering together so fast that he could barely understand a word, and then he was back on the cliff face, clawing on with his finger tips.

His hands ached with pain, and he was crawling up inch by inch from one agonising foot hold to the next while a steady firm hand guided each foot step and took his hand and placed it reassuringly onto each hold hold. Inch by inch he covered the distance from ice frozen rocks to sun kissed grass and he was walking beside his brother and talking to him and they were laughing together.

He could see Adam’s face creasing with a broad smile and the scar under his eye disappeared into the fold of his cheek bone and then there were gunshots and Adam was lifted off his feet and flung across the ground, and falling. Then he stood up and smiled and the rifle fired again and he was lifted off his feet and flung once again across the ground..and falling..and then again and again until Joe moaned and groaned so much he woke himself up.

He rubbed his face and looked about him and shivered. He sat up and listened to the silence, nothing stirred apart from the leaves on the trees rustling, and the occasional snuffle of a horse.

Footseps scrunched nearby and when he looked up he saw his brother Hoss. Four hours must have passed at least if Hoss was now on watch. Hoss was stooping by the fire, putting the enamel coffee pot onto the flames. Joe watched as the big man stretched, looked up at the sky and then relaxed.

And then he fell back into sleep.

Mr Crook was standing there above the bed and his hand held a pistol to Adam’s head and there was smoke drifting from the barrel. Adam’s pillow was black with blood and Joe felt his throat wrung dry as he reached out and put a hand on the man’s arm

“Why did you do that?” he asked.

“I didn’t.”

“You did, you know you did.”

“I didn’t and you can’t prove it because I’m the school teacher and don’t forget, Joe, I know all about you. You hid the chalk so that Mrs Piper wasn’t able to use the board and you broke the schoolmasters cane so that you could get out of a caning, richly deserved may I add. Oh yes, I know all about you.”

And then Mr Crook turned and put the gun to Joe’s forehead, “You deserve to die, you’re nothing but a waste of time, you’ll never amount to anything in this life, just a waste of time.”

“What about Jerry?” Joe cried and his voice was shrill as he shouted the words.

“What about Jerry?” The school teacher asked,and lowered his gun hand.

“You killed him!”

“I did not! And anyway, if you want the truth, ask the preacher.”

“You killed my brother.” and there were tears on his cheeks and in his eyes.

“No,” Crook shook his head and turned to look at the bed and Joe looked down and saw, not Adam, but Ben who was staring up at them with dark eyes wide open “See? I’m always right. That’s because I’m the school teacher and you’re just a waste of time. Joseph Cartwright, you’re late for school again. Go and stand in the corner and don’t fidget and don’t leave until recess. Jeremiah Cambor …recite the alphabet. Stand up when I talk to you…”
…………

Joe groaned and struggled to get out of the dream, he desperately wanted to wake up and when he did he was face to face with Adam , who was leaning over him with an anxious look on his own face, and for a second Joe felt his heart race with fright until Adam put a gentle hand on his shoulder,

“You were calling out in your sleep.” he murmured gently.

“I’m sorry.” Joes’ tongue was thick in his mouth, it was hard to form the words, “I thought for a moment I was still dreaming.”

Adam nodded and passed him a canteen, then swayed back to squat on his haunches as Joe drank some of the cool liquid, easing his throat as a result.

“You were calling my name…” Adam said.

“Well, I guess so.” Joe replied and used his elbows to prop himself into a sitting position. “I had a real mixed up dream, one moment you were dead and then it was Pa. Mr Crook…”

“Crook? The Schoolteacher?” Adam looked puzzled and shook his head “Crook?” he repeated.

“Yeah, he brought up some incidents from the past, with Jerry and … “ Joe bit down on his lip “Funny, the things Crook accused me of -”

“Things Jerry had done and you took the punishment?”

“Yeah.” Joe screwed up his eyes and then rubbed his face, “Must have been what you said earlier…”

Adam said nothing to that but thumped in the bung for the canteen. He got to his feet and looked over to where Hoss was burning breakfast,

“We leave in half an hour.”

Joe nodded, and scrambled to his feet, then paused “Adam?”

His brother stopped, turned and Joe shrugged, “I just wondered…why would I dream about Mr Crook?”
……………….

Mary Ann Cartwright had spent a restless miserable night at the Ponderosa. She slept in the room that had once been Joe’s and that for a brief time they had shared together when newly weds. Daniel refused to leave her side and so had slept with her, a troubled little boy who woke up feverish and whimpering.

Constance was like a beam of sunshine as she lay in her crib, kicking her fat legs and dimpling into smiles whenever Mary Ann or any of the other women looked down at her, or picked her up to change her diaper, wash her or feed her. There was no more contented baby in the whole world, and Mary Ann silently thanked God for that one blessing at least.

Olivia came to sit with her and listened to her as she told her what had happened, Hester and Ann hovered and sympathised and could do little more than listen, hold her hand, comfort her the best way they could.

John Colby came and checked that she was unharmed apart from a few scratches on her shoulder and bruising around her mouth. He confirmed that the worst thing she suffered from was shock. Little Daniel was also examined, and it was confirmed that he had a fever, but that like most children, once he had been fed, slept well, he would bounce back as all children had the ability to do so well.

While in town Ben went to the Telegraph Office and wrote several cables…one of which was to a Pinkerton Agent called Jolyon Pitt. He was based in Chicago and had been a Pinkerton since the Agency had been created in 1850, in Chicago. It’s motto “We never Sleep” indicative of how world wide their reach was, being the largest private law enforcement organisation in the world.

Ben left the building feeling inadequate to the task as he stood on the sidewalk and watched people pass by him as though oblivious to the horrors of what had nearly taken place. He shook his head, he should have said the horrors that had taken place because a man had died, his daughter in law narrowly escaping rape, and now , his son, a murder suspect.

Daniel deQuille passed him and raised an eyebrow, but he said nothing as he pushed open the door to the Telegraph Office and enquired of Eddie if there was anything for him in the mail. Upon receiving a negative response he returned to where Ben was standing, and stood beside him,

“Well, Mr Cartwright, I hear there was quite a contretemps at the Ponderosa yesterday?”

Ben swallowed hard, and narrowed his eyes, then turned to look at the newspaperman as though he were an insect “Call it what you like, it’s none of your business.”

“A man was shot…”

“No comment.”

Ben sighed and wondered how many more times he would use that phrase…with an abrupt shake of the head he stepped into the road and made his way to Roy Coffee’s home, and sought refuge and sanity there.
……….

Alex Dunlop signed the register and paid his dues. A porter came and carried his leather case to the vehicle waiting for him outside the hotel. The door slammed shut and the horses moved forwards, he looked out at the people he passed by and thought them pathetic. He watched Ben Cartwright striding across the road and narrowed his eyes, then leaned back into his leather padded seat.

As he sat there alone with his thoughts he allowed a slight smile to drift over his mouth, a well shaped mouth for he was a handsome man after all. Things were working out very well, with Cambor dead, everything was very neatly being ’tied up’.

Chapter 35

The knocking on the door echoed through Peter Crook’s head like the resonant thumping on a kettledrum. He rubbed his eyes with the knuckles of his fists and scrambled to his feet, kicking aside an empty whiskey bottle as a result.

“Who is it?” he yelled and heard a mumbled reply in a voice that sounded familiar so he staggered to the door and wrenched it open “Oh, it’s you?”

“It is.” the man leaning against the door post replied and stepped past the teacher and into the room. He grimaced and shook his head, “You’ve been on the juice again…”

“So? What’s it to you?”

Crook pushed the door shut, and walked back into the room, picking up the empty bottle as he did so in a clumsy movement that saw him nearly topple over. The man followed him and settled into one of the arm chairs from where he watched Crook thoughtfully.

“Well, Sarge, this isn’t much fun.”

“What isn’t?” Crook frowned and looked at his visitor through blood shot narrowed eyes.

“Being here, twiddling our thumbs, doing nothing.”

Crook shrugged, “I didn’t invite you here, Monks. I don’t even know why you’re here myself.”

Monks shook his head and leaned forward as though about to confide a secret to the teacher who was now sitting opposite him. “You mean you don’t know why Brockett has us here.”

“Us? Implication being that I’m included in this plan, is that it?”

Monks nodded before he leaned back into the chair, his face looked thoughtful, “We came because we thought the old team would be needed for another job.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Brockett merely suggested I came here to fill a teaching vacancy.”

Monks laughed, he threw back his head and laughed as though it was the best joke he had heard in years, his black teeth showed stumps in his gums and Crook looked away in disgust.

“Look, you can fool some people some of the time, Sarge, but not me, not Monks. Didn’t we do some good jobs together, huh?”

Crook thought back to the days when he was younger, when life was full of danger and adventure and it didn’t matter what one did because tomorrow one could be dead. He and Monks and some others, they had formed a gang of sorts, bullied the rookies, harassed the officers, murdered several village full of Indians. He nodded “Those were the days, Monks, but not now… life has changed.”

“You’ve changed.” Monks replied sounding disappointed. He frowned, “What about Canaday, huh? You going to let that go by now?”

Crook frowned and looked away, he tried to remember where the other bottle of whiskey was, and so got to his feet and walked to a cupboard where he located the bottle and two glasses. He carried them over to the table and set them down in front of Monks and himself. Once seated again he poured out the whiskey and nudged one glassful over to the younger man.

“So? What about Canaday?” Monks asked as he raised the glass to his mouth and sipped the rot gut, “I thought you swore to kill him if you ever saw him again, and from what I heard he doesn’t seem to care about making a fool out of you.”

Crook went red in the face and veins purpled, he shook his head “I’m prepared to bide my time.”

“You’ve gone soft, ain’t’cha? This teaching business has softened your brain…” Monks drained the glass and then refilled it, he stared into the amber liquid and shook his head, “Never thought I’d live to see the day Peter Crook reneged on his sworn oath. Remember that day you found young Sam? You said you would avenge him … now you’ve got the chance you’re running out on it.”

“That’s where you’re wrong.” Crook replied, and cradled the glass against his chest, “Sam Brockett never told me Canaday was here when he told me about the vacancy, it caught me by surprise when I saw him…but then …”

He paused and stared into space, and despite Monks repeating the last two words back at him, he couldn’t find the words to explain how he had felt when he had seen Candy and Ann together.

It had been only a few days ago and he was still suffering from hurt pride in being relegated to teaching 14 year olds at the new school. He had come out of the Mercantile and seen them walking together on the opposite side of the road, hand in hand, and she was carrying an infant in her arms. Her likeness to his sister was not really so obvious now, but even so she was beautiful to him, he couldn’t stop staring at her. The infant was reaching out a hand to his father and laughing she had passed him over to Candy who had swung the child up and down and then settled him into his arms.

They had walked on without knowing that Crook had been watching, drinking in every action, and remembering other times when Sybil had held young Sam in her arms and laughed like that, and been so happy. And she had been happy, he had told himself, his sister had really loved her husband and baby, and himself..and then there was the Indian attack, the massacre, and nothing was the same ever again.

He shook away the memory and looked back at Monks, “Did Brockett order you here?”

“No one orders Monks anywhere, not now.” the ex-military man snarled, and he watched Crook with mean narrow eyes as though that was the only way he could keep the man in focus. “What if he did anyway? He said there was a lot in it for us.”

Crook nodded, “Us? Who exactly would that be? I saw Alvarez and Fitzroy recently, so who else have you brought along with you?”

“Well, there’s Deacon and Smith.” Monks replied and looked at his glass of whiskey as though wondering if he could empty the glass in one big gulp. He attempted it and coughed half way through, spluttered and put the half full glass down..

“And what exactly has Brockett in mind?”

Monks shook his head, “If he hasn’t told you then he has good reason not to.” he scratched his head and frowned, “He just told us to sit tight. In the meantime to keep an eye on a man called Adam Cartwright, as well as Canaday. I reckon he thought you would have dealt with Canaday by now. I’ve a feeling he’s a mite disappointed in you.”

“What’s his beef with Adam Cartwright?” Crook asked now and returned to his seat, poured out more whiskey and refilled Monks glass.

Monks watched as the whiskey level rose and then picked the glass up, he stared over at Crook, “Brockett had a friend in the army that Adam Cartwright killed.”

Crook frowned, he had a very vague idea, a memory from a long time back, but it was dim. Brockett and he had parted company after Sybil’s death, that was why he had been responsible in the main for the boy, Sam. Brockett had more or less washed his hands of him. Now and again he had news of the other man though, he would send him information about the boy and at times he would even get a reply but it was seldom. Sam Jnr had never known his father, never met him. Crook sighed and put down his glass, still full, upon the table.

“Alright, so Sam Brockett has a grudge against Cartwright, and I have one against Canaday, but he’s been here a mighty long time, long enough to have dealt with both men before I got here, or before you lot arrived.”

“That’s because he’s been busy behind the scenes, getting folk confident in him. I mean, he’s the Town Treasurer, for Pete’s sake, that amounts to something, don’t it? And you, being a school teacher…the pair of you are perfectly positioned to pull off the biggest haul this town has seen in years.”

Crook sat upright, his eyes narrowed and he paused to think over what Monks had just said. He leaned forward

“Did Brockett send you here tonight? Did He?”

Crook leaned forward close enough for the other man to smell his breath and see the hairs growing out of his nose. Monks grinned, the black crooked teeth wet behind his lips,

“He ain’t sure of you no more, Crook. That’s the truth of it. He reckons you’ve gone soft.”

“Because Canaday’s still alive?”

“Yeah, that -” Monks nodded and stood up, drained the glass empty and set it down on the table, he nodded again “That’s awful whiskey. Don’t they pay you enough to afford the decent stuff?”

On that note he turned and made his way to the door, his legs felt a little rubbery but he wasn’t going to let Crook see that, and pulled open the door. He turned back to the teacher, “Brockett said he’ll be seeing you soon. Things to discuss.”

Crook almost pushed him out into the road, and then slammed the door. He made his way to the chair and slumped down into it. So they wanted Canaday dead…well, what of it? He refilled his glass. What did it really matter if the man were alive or dead?

Since seeing the couple together, Canaday and Ann, with the child, something had happened to Crook. He hadn’t gone soft, he just felt that he couldn’t go through with it any more. All that hate, loathing, bitterness. He found himself thinking that the person he really hated – was himself.
………………………

The sheriff’s office was warm and snug, and Mark Watts, with Vinnie Tyler, were busy checking the rifles and doing an inventory of their weaponry. Clem and Nate were doing their rounds, so when the door opened and Roy stepped inside the building both men put down the rifles and greeted him warmly, strolled over to the stove and pulled out three mugs. The coffee pot was spitting onto the hot plate of the stove and Vinnie poured the dark liquid into the mugs and handed one over to Roy.

“Blakeley gone then?” Roy asked as he settled into a chair reserved for prisoners who were to be interrogated by the sheriff.

“Yep, he left a bit ago.” Mark replied pulled up a chair to sit closer to the stove.

“And Jerry Cambor’s dead?” Roy sipped the hot brew and looked thoughtfully at Vinnie who nodded.

“Dead as a door nail.” the deputy replied, “Nate shot him and Blakeley too. The guy didn’t stand a chance, but it was that or risk Mrs Cartwright’s life.”

“So I heard.” Roy replied and sighed, he brushed a hand over his moustache and frowned, “He was always a wild one, used to lead Joe and some other lads into all kinds of mischief and then stand back and laugh at them for getting caught, because, somehow or other, they always did..get caught I mean.”

“Well, he didn’t grow out of his wild ways, did he? From what I read from the posters he was just pure evil.” Mark muttered and turned as the door opened and Nate stepped inside followed by Clem.

Two more mugs were produced and filled with coffee, by the time Nate had removed his coat and gun belt the mug was on his desk.

“Well, Roy, what do you have to say? Any suggestions?” Nate asked with a slight smile on his mouth.

“About what?”

“About the current situation regarding young Joe Cartwright?”

Roy rubbed his jaw and shook his head, “It’s a bad business, Sheriff. Blakeley’s so keen to make an arrest that he’s not looking at the bigger picture. He’s got Joe in his sights and that’s all there is to it.”

“Cambor admitted that Joe was at the cabin. A dying man’s statement has a lot of weight, Roy.”

“But Joe don’t admit it! Cambor is – was – a trouble maker. He wouldn’t care about making a false statement on his death bed. He’d die laughing at the thought he had landed Joe in a dung heap”

Nate nodded and cradled the mug between his hands, his dark hair fell in loose curls over his brow. A handsome man, taller than Hoss, and slim which made him look even taller. He regarded Roy thoughtfully “There’s not much I can do, Roy, I’ve been warned off …as a lawman myself I can’t encroach on Blakeley’s territory or investigation but…”

Roy nodded and stood up, “I know what you’re thinking, Sheriff.”

He drained his mug dry and set it down on the stove, brushed his hand against his moustache in order to remove any excess liquid. “I’ll see you boys around sometime.”

They watched him as he left the building, Clem turned to Nate and shook his head,

“He’ll probably get himself killed, you realise that?”

Nate grinned and raised his eyebrows, “I doubt it, but if he does, he’ll die happy…”

If Roy had heard him he would have heartily agreed. Nothing like feeling back in harness again to make a man feel he was alive and kicking!

Chapter 36

80 Washington Street, Chicago had been the “home” of Allan Pinkerton’s Detective Agency since he founded it in 1850.*  A robust Glaswegian he had arrived in America in 1842 and after working with the Chicago Police decided to branch out on his own.

Pinkerton’s established a code of conduct that included the refusal to accept bribes or reward money.  Working along with Law Enforcement agencies throughout America their motto “We Never Sleep” became famed and feared in equal measure.   In 1856 Allan hired the first female detective, Kate Warne*  and in  1861 protected Abraham Lincoln from an assassination plot.

When Ben Cartwright’s cable landed on the desk of Jolyon Pitt it languished there a full twenty four hours before the agent discovered it among various other papers that had piled up during his absence on sick leave.

Jolyon Pitt was a tall athletic handsome man of African descent.  He had been hired by Pinkerton’s ten years previously and had become one of its most tenacious agents. He had met Ben Cartwright when in pursuit of a criminal that had taken him all the way to Nevada Territory, during the course of which he was injured and the wanted man killed.

Needless to say Jolyon had been helped back to health by the Cartwrights and a solid friendship had resulted.  Since that time Ben had called upon his services twice  and never been disappointed in the outcome.

He now read through the cable several times before beckoning to a woman on the other side of the room,  “What’s the problem, Joe?” she wanted to know and then took the cable from him to read it through.  Knowing that he was watching   her carefully, she nodded “Nevada Territory, huh?  Your friends from the big ranch there, is that it?”

He nodded and waited for her to speak.  Being a man of few words and she being a woman garrulous by nature he knew she would eventually have something to say.  She  nodded,”Can’t recall anyone by that name myself but I’ll go check the archives and see what I can find.” she picked up a pencil and began to jot down details “So they’re dead, huh? Never heard of this place..Blakesville.  How soon do you need this information.”

“Soon as possible,” he muttered, “and thank you, Miss Weiss.  If I didn’t have this report to type up I’d have done it myself.”

She smiled, nodded and assured him it was no problem.  She would have added how she would have climbed the Rockies if he had asked her.  She had always been more than fond of Mr Pitt.  She also appreciated the fact that during his last ‘case’ he had received an injury to his leg and this being his first day back needed to be “looked after.”

Some years earlier the Agency had started to build up a collection of newspaper stories that could be of use in investigations*.  References to past agents, their families and whereabouts were collated with as much care as “mug shots” and detailed information of criminals, past and present.

Jolyon Pitt began to write out his report.  He would write it in his copperplate writing and then hand it to Miss Jones who would type it out for him on the  Sholes and Glidden typewriter which was manufactured by E. Remington & Sons.* He had not really liked the advent of typewriters.  The clacketty.clacking of several going at the same time ate at his nerves but as several agents, male of course, said, it had brought more women into the workplace!

Every so often he stopped his writing in order to read the cable from Ben.  After the third time he called Miss Jones over and after writing something on a piece of paper he handed it to her with the instruction that she got the cable sent right away.

“Something important, Pitt?” Another agent asked as he watched Miss Jones leave the office.

“Could be, I’ve got a feeling about this one ..” Pitt replied, “something about it doesn’t sit right if you know what I mean.”

The other agent nodded, after a while  a good agent got to develop all manner of instincts, feelings, call it what you will and they knew that one ignored them at your peril……….

Miss Weiss returned with some folders in her hands which she carried over to Jolyon’s desk where she paused a moment before he looked up and smiled, after returning his smile she placed the folders on the desk

“Someone else has been making enquiries about this town, Blakesville.”

“Really? Who?” Jolyon picked up one file and glanced at the paper pinned to the front page, he nodded “Thank you, Miss Weiss.”

Taking that as her cue for dismissal Miss Weiss turned and left, Jolyon read the note and then glanced around the room. There were several other Agents busy in the office but not the man he wanted, so he called over to Miss Weiss

“Is Cruikshank in the building, Miss Weiss?”

“No, he’s out on the field.”

“Is he still in Chicago?”

She nodded and returned to his desk, “He was assigned the Danvers case…”

Jolyon nodded, well, pity the man for that and after murmuring his thanks he began his task of checking the folders.

The note had read Enquiries received from one Daniel deQuille, Journalist, Territorial Enterprise, Virginia City, Nevada. Blakesville. A couple called Jethro and Cynthia Tombs. …No info located…

…………..

Roy had not rushed off as Nate or Clem may have supposed. Experience had shown him the wisdom of caution, and old age the wisdom of extra caution. He prepared well and was contemplating whether or not to ride over to the Ponderosa when there was a rap on the door. Having neither his sister nor housekeeper now to do his bidding for him, Roy sighed, put down the clean shirt he was about to pack away, and strolled to the door.

Ben was leaning against the doorway with his hat in one hand and surveying a piece of paper in the other. He may have knocked on Roy’s door expecting the old man to be home, but even so he still looked surprised when actually confronted by him. Roy nodded, frowned and pulled his spectacles from where they were perched on his forehead to where they customarily sat, across the bridge of his nose.

“Ben?”

“Roy?”

They nodded at one another and Roy stepped aside to let his old friend into the house.

“Well, you’re in town early.”

“Hmm, and you seem busy – early.” Ben nodded over to the evidence of Roy’s imminent departure.

The saddle bag, clothing, provisions lay in full view, the smell of oil used for cleaning guns was stronger than the smell of coffee, dry food was packed on a table waiting attention.

“Yes, well, mmmm.” Roy tugged at his moustache and scowled, “I’m going on a trip as it happens.”

“Oh – visiting your sister perhaps?” Ben gave a sly smirk and placed his hat on top of the book case, a rather dusty one at that, just fleetingly the rancher wondered what Rachel or Dorothea would have thought of that!

“Rachel? Lawks, no…” Roy replied vehemently.

“Where to then?” Ben raised his dark eyebrows and his grin widened.

“Hmmm,” and now Roy scratched his chin, and frowned “Care for some coffee?”

“Wouldn’t mind if there’s some going…”

The two men trailed into the kitchen area and Roy produced the coffee jug and poured out the thick (it was always thick in Roy’s case) liquid into the cups. Then he indicated a chair for Ben to sit upon while he took the other. They sat and for a moment just looked at one another, in silence.

“Well? Anywhere special?”

“What?” Roy scowled some more and pushed his spectacles further up his nose, “Well, I don’t know exactly.”

“You don’t know where you’re going or you don’t know if it’s special?” Ben said and picked up his cup in order to hide his smile.

“You know, Ben, you’re getting into bad habits, you’re sounding more like that dang eldest son of yours every day.”

Ben merely shrugged and sipped his coffee, it wasn’t particularly hot and upon glancing at the stove he realised that Roy had not built it up with fuel but was letting it ’run down’. He nodded “So, where are you going?”

“To be honest, Ben, I was thinking of riding out to see you anyhows as I was thinking it might just interest you seeing how it concerns your boys.”

“Ah!” Ben nodded, and looked at Roy thoughtfully.

“Yeah, well, it was just a nudge that young Nate gave me, seeing how he’s tied up in knots by legal jargon and so forth. That Blakeley don’t seem to be too happy about anyone sneaking around his back yard.”

“No one is-” Ben murmured.

“So anyhow, I’m going to take a trip over to Blakesville and check it out for myself.”

“The boys are already heading that way, Roy. Could be there by now.” Ben sipped the coffee, and nodded “And did you want me to go along with you?”

“Kinda got to like your company over the years, Ben.” Roy grinned and removed his glasses in order to give the lenses a polish with the hem of his shirt.

“Well,” Ben frowned and placed the cup down, then put the cable he had been reading earlier on the table by Roy’s elbow “I received this just now… from Chicago. I sent several off to various people I know there, contacts, to find out what background information was available on the Tombs family.”

“And what did you find out? Anything?” Roy replaced his spectacles on his nose and used them for what they were purposed for, he held the cable in front of him and began to read “Hmm, received yours … looking into the matter…inform you..ah-hum…of more as soon as I find information.Pitt.”

He frowned, “I remember Pitt, a Pinkerton?”

“That’s right.” Ben nodded and lapsed into silence while he waited for Roy to comment further, he didn’t have to wait long.

“Well, they’re thorough from what I’ve heard. I’m thinking that you probably did the best thing by contacting them, Ben. Can’t understand why that Blakeley didn’t think of it. You see, it seems to me that what happened to them Tombs, had to be something to do with their past. I got the impression they were wealthy folk.”

“From what I was told – “ Ben produced another cable, “I got this cable yesterday, from a business contact – the Tombs had a son, Grant. The boy went to a college in Boston, a very expensive college. I cabled them for information but so far have received nothing back.”

Roy nodded, he looked again at the cable Ben had handed to him and shrugged “Well, you can either hang around town here waiting for more information or come along with me..what’s it to be?”

Ben nodded and drained his cup of coffee, then looked at his old friend and smiled, “I’ll get Eddy to re-direct any cables to Blakesville. Just give me time to get some things together and let the family know that I won’t be home for a while.”

Roy nodded and got to his feet, “Like old times, Ben.”

The jocular sound in Roy’s voice was not lost to his friend who smiled, nodded and picked up his hat “I’ll be back,” was all he said as he left the room.
……………

Sofia was running after Rosie in a fun game of tag. The children were happy, squeals and laughter abounded. This was recess time and the school possessed a grand place for play. Reuben, Davy and Tommy were conversing in earnest tones in the corner, while Jimmy sat with Phil, now recovered from his operation, on one of the wide steps to the school house, eating their lunch.

When a shadow fell over them they stopped their munching and glanced up as Crook paused, hands behind his back, and then glared at them. Both boys fully expected him to produce his ’old friend’, the leather strap, from behind him, and felt their hearts miss a beat. After looking at them for a full moment Crook walked on.

He was on patrol, that was how he thought of it because otherwise it would be too demeaning to admit he was on ’playground duty’. He walked on slowly, pausing here and there and quite enjoying the frission of fear that he could see waft over the children he had taught earlier before they were all moved to the Fourth Ward School. Now he came upon Reuben, Davy and Tommy and here he stopped, his shadow passing over them and as it didn’t move on, they looked up.

“What have we here? Planning some mischief?” his voice was hard, each word intended to create fear especially in Tommy Conway whom he had still not forgiven for his outburst at the school during his disciplining of the other boy.

“No, sir.” they chorused and he looked intently at each one, noticed the defiance in Davy and Reuben’s eyes, the uncertainty in Tommy’s.

“You know what would happen to you if you were…” he rocked on his heels, and tapped his hands behind his back. A menacing threatening presence, and Tommy went pink, gulped, Davy and Reuben stared back as bravely as they could, until even they had to lower their eyes under the force of such a baleful glare.

When he walked on the three of them released their breath in a long drawn out sigh, then looked at one another “I didn’t think we would be seeing him again, I thought he would – kind of – just be with the older kids.” Tommy muttered.

“Well, the bigger kids have recess here too,” Davy said and glanced around him, then watched as Crook continued on his way, pausing every so often to instil fear in whichever group of children he stopped at before moving on.

Sofia ran by the school teacher and because she was looking behind her to see if Rosie was catching up with her, inadvertently bumped into the teacher’s legs. She was laughing as she said “Sorry -” without looking up and intending to run on.

Crook’s hand gripped her around the arm, and stopped her from running on further, and she, realising it was Crook into whom she had collided stared up at him with round eyes and open mouth.

His grip on her arm tightened so much that it hurt, her face contorted and she gave a cry, attempted to wriggle out of his grasp, and just as it looked as though she were about to burst into tears he released her and pushed her away from him.

“Watch where you’re going, Sofia Cartwright.” he hissed and to make her feel really terrified he leaned down so that his face was inches from her own “don’t think I have forgotten about you, I haven’t., I have my eyes on you – see if I don’t.”

He left her then and walked on with his hands behind his back and his eyes moving from one child to the other, one group to another. Sofia was blinking back tears, rubbing her arm, and staring at him as though she couldn’t believe what had just happened. Rosie was standing beside her, a hand on her arm, whispering encouragement, kind words, that fell by the wayside because Crook’s word had blighted her day just as effectively as a drought could cause a rose to wilt.

Reuben was by her side now, as were Jimmy and Davy, each one asking was she alright, what did Crook say, what did he do. But she said nothing, just rubbed her arm and felt sick.
…………..

The three horsemen dismounted at the site of the burned out cabin. Somehow its presence brought a chill to their innermost being, as it was so obvious that what Blakeley had said was all too true.

Hoss shook his head and rubbed across his mouth before he reached for his canteen of water and after unscrewing it, took a gulp. “Looks pretty final, don’t it?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Joe snapped, still hopeful that Hoss would produce some miracle that would prove conclusively that he had not been near the cabin,

“Jest that there’s been a whole mess of folk and their horses and wagons here since the fire. Finding your tracks – if there are any – would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Fact is, that would probably be easier.”

Adam dismounted and flung the horses reins over the limb of a shrub before walking a little way towards the cabin, then he paused and looked around him, at the surroundings, at the ground, even up at the sky before he turned to Joe.

“Do you remember it as it was when the Blairs were living here?”

Joe nodded “Yeah, sort of. Was some time since I came here last.”

Adam nodded, “I never really knew them very well, only came -” he paused and frowned “one time when I was on leave, I think I was with Pa. Nice couple.”

“They were,” Joe said and Hoss nodded agreement.

“But you never met the Tombs at all? Neither of you?”

“Never had no mind to come this way for some while,” Hoss muttered as he stepped closer to the cabin.

“No, same here, fact is as I’ve said before, I had not even been to Boulder’s Creek for some time.”

“Well, best see what we can find out here while we’re about it, one never knows…” Hoss muttered and began to cast around for any significant clues while his brothers watched for a while from a safe distance.

“That sure must have been some fire.” Joe said quietly.

“You can’t remember it at all?” Adam asked and watched his brother shake his head, and sigh.

“I can’t remember a thing, not being here, not seeing the cabin or the Tombs, not even riding away from here – “ he glanced about him and noticed the track that led away from the cabin.

For a moment he looked at the clearly defined track and then back to the cabin. Adam was looking at the building where the Tombs must have stabled their horse and in which they would have kept some vehicle in order to get out and about on.

“I can’t even remember taking the track into town.” Joe frowned.

“Why should you, you wouldn’t have known where it led, last time you visited the Blairs the town of Blakesville didn’t exist.”

Joe nodded, and glanced at Adam, noticed where he was looking and turned his eyes in that direction “Seems to be pretty sturdy still.”

Adam nodded “Let’s go and have a look see.”

Hoss was still prowling around the vicinity of the cabin, patient as always, and careful. He Didn’t even notice his brothers walking to the other building. It was only when a bullet winged past his ear and took his hat off with it that he stopped, raised his head and decided he had better run for some cover.

Adam and Joe were doing exactly the same, but heading in the direction of the barn.

Note:In many ways their methods were the forerunner of criminal databases today.*begins the practice of clipping and filing newspaper stories for reference in investigations. Pinkerton’s collection of mug shots and methodology develops the first criminal database

Chapter 37

Reuben grabbed at his sisters hand and looked intently into her face “Are you crying, Sofia? Don’t cry. Please don’t cry.”

“I’m trying …not to…” the little girl whimpered and pulled her hand free in order to rub her arm, “He grabbed me too tight.”

Davy leaned forward “What did he say to you, Sofia? Did he tell you that you were his best pupil still.”

“Shut up, Davy” Jimmy muttered and gave David Riley a shove in the back, “Sofia, you are alright, aren’t you?”

Sofia nodded, blinked hard and was about to speak when the bell tolled. Recess was over and they could now return to the classroom and Mr Evans. Reuben stayed close to her and held her hand, keeping a wary look out for Crook as he did so,

“Sofia, we have to tell Ma,” he whispered.

“No, Reuben, no.” she shook her head and her braids bounced over her shoulders, behind her Rosie was almost treading on her heels.

“But we must. Crook can’t get away with hurting you like that…”

“No, Reuben.” she stopped at the turning in the stairs where they would separate to go to their own class rooms, “No, Reuben, don’t tell mommy.”

Her brother merely scowled at her, and was about to speak when David Riley grabbed him and pushed him along with a whispered “We’ll be late…”

Rosie looked at Sofia and shook her head “You have to tell your Ma. I’d tell mine.”

“But my Daddy isn’t home. What if I tell Mommy and – what if Mr Crook hurts her?”

Rosie frowned and thought about that for a few paces before she stopped “Then tell your Grandpa.”

Sofia thought about that and nodded. That was it, she would tell Grandpa and he would know exactly what to do.
……….

Ben mounted his horse and turned her head towards where Roy was waiting for him outside Ridley’s Livery. He was quite satisfied that he had done everything necessary to cover his trip with Roy. Cables were going to be re-directed to Boulder Creek, Eddy having explained that the cables Sheriff Blakeley had received had come from that town and not Blakesville. Obviously they were still waiting for the telegraph poles and connections to be brought about there. It would mean a delay and frustrating though that was it couldn’t be helped.

He had also found one of his hands in town and given him a letter to deliver to Hester. That would please her, knowing that he and Roy were on their way to join her husband and assist him in the ongoing enquiries. She could then relay the message to the other ‘girls’.

Roy nodded over to him and mounted his horse, then together they walked them down the main street, and once out of town put them into a comfortable lope. From his office window Nate Carney had seen them leaving and muttered under his breath something about Don Quixote and Sancho. Clem was the only one within hearing range and wasn’t quite sure what he heard so ignored it.
…………

Adam and Joe ducked behind some bales of hay and withdrew their own guns. Without a word they took off the safety catches and as soon as Hoss had reached safety close by them, aimed and fired several shots in the direction of the shooter. Several bullets spat back as a result.

“How many out there do you think?” Joe muttered as he scanned the area for a sight of their ambusher.

“Only the one.” Adam said quietly.

“You sure?”

“Seems to be.” Adam shrugged, “You and Hoss stay here and I’ll go round the back way, see if I can find him.”

Some more bullets peppered the area where they were and Joe nodded “I reckon you’re right, just the one shooter.”

Adam nodded, slapped Joe on the back with the admonition to keep ‘him’ busy and then began to make his way out of the barn through the other doorway. Hoss had joined Joe by now and was shooting in the direction of the on coming bullets.

“He’s using his rifle now…” he muttered to Joe, “Must’ve used all the bullets in his revolver.”

Just then a bullet winged its way through the sleeve of his jacket, going in and coming out without actually touching him, he gulped and flexed his shoulders “Dang, if he’s just taking pot shots that one was pretty close.”

Adam made his way through what had once been a garden of sorts, and then came upon more boulder strewn land. He could see the shooters location by the puffs of smoke from the gun, and carefully inched his way along and up the boulders that clustered closer to the area where the cabin had been built.

There was a lull in the shooting, and Adam wondered if the other party had realised he was out numbered or had run out of ammunition. He was closing in on him now and could see the colour of the jacket the man was wearing. Then as Adam drew closer the other man raised his gun arm, aimed and fired into the barn. As he ducked down to avoid the responding fire the barrel of Adam’s gun jabbed hard into his ribs…

“Put your gun down – carefully – on that rock where I can see it. Raise your hands above your head and away from your body.”

The ambusher did as he was advised although he had hesitated at first. But he saw sense, and as soon as he had put the gun down Adam retrieved it and struck it through his belt, then nodded to indicate that they take a walk, down to the barn.

Hoss and Joe were leaving, cautious at first, and then more confidently as they saw Adam with the other man walking ahead of him with his hands raised.

“Was he the only one?” Joe asked as he slid his gun back into it’s holster.

Adam nodded and pushed the younger man forwards, then when they were just feet away from Joe and Hoss he stopped, put a hand on the man’s shoulder and forced him to turn around.

The man standing before him was young, Adam reckoned on him being in his mid-20’s. He had sandy hair that flopped over his brow, washed out blue eyes behind spectacles, and was shorter than Joe. The three Cartwrights observed him thoughtfully, both Adam and Hoss thought he was no threat so returned their own guns to their holsters.

“Who are you, boy?” Hoss asked in a gentle tone of voice, “What you doing out here?”

“Why shouldn’t I be here, it’s my place isn’t it?” he pushed aside his hair with a nervous twitch of one hand, licked his lips and then pushed his spectacles further up the bridge of his nose. It was noticeable that his hand trembled slightly as he did so.

“How do you make that out?” Joe snapped, “Who are you?”

“Grant Tombs. And I got more right to be here than you, so you tell me what you’re doing here and why?” another nervous gesture to click away the tormenting hair.

“Grant Tombs?” Joe frowned, “It was your folk were killed here?”

Grant nodded, and narrowed his eyes as he stared from to the other of them. Hoss tugged at his ear lobe, and Joe rubbed the back of his neck, all three men felt awkward and it was Adam who murmured that he was sorry for the boy’s loss.

“Being sorry don’t bring them back, does it?” Grant snapped, “Anyhow, who are you? What are you doing here?”

Adam glanced at his brothers and then nodded, “I’m Adam Cartwright, my brother’s, Hoss and Joe.”

“The Ponderosa Cartwrights?” Grant said sharply and then he turned to Joe “You’re Joe Cartwright?”

“That’s right, I am…” Joe nodded and just as he did so Grant lunged forward and threw himself at Joe with such force that both men went down hard onto the ground.

Joe kept his hands wide from his body and took several punches from the younger man before Hoss was able to pull Grant away, giving him a shake as he did so and then throwing him aside as though he were a bag of rubbish. Joe clambered to his feet and brushed dust from his clothes and wiped blood from a cut on his lip.

“What was that for?” he said looking at Grant with puzzled hazel eyes and then stooping to reach for his hat.

“You killed my folks. it’s all round town that Joseph Cartwright killed my folks and now you’re here. Why’d you come back? To gloat? Or to get something you may have left behind?”

“Such as what? Seems to me there’s not much left in there for anyone to find if they were looking.” Joe snapped, “And who says I killed your folk? I never did, I wasn’t here when they were killed.”

“Then why are folk so sure that you were?” Grant replied and clenched his fists as though ready to punch any one of them if he had to, “Just tell me … tell me why you did it?”

“I didn’t harm your parents, Grant. I wasn’t here.” Joe cried and spun round to walk away, his shoulders hunched, shaking his head as he walked towards the cabin…

Such stark remains. He looked at it, at the shattered remnants, the collapsed joists and beams, the sad mess that it was now. He remembered it when he last saw it, with the Blairs at the doorway, their smiles of welcome, the plants at the windows. He shook his head and turned to Grant,“What are you doing here anyway, Grant?”

“Don’t you call me Grant, you ain’t got no right to call me by my name.”

Hoss stepped forwards and put a gentle hand on the mans’ shoulder, “Look, Mister, we sympathise for your loss, but we ain’t here to cause you trouble. My brothers and me, we just want to see for ourselves what’s going on here, because, you see, my brother can’t recall anything that happened that night. Now, you jest calm down a mite and …”

Grant stepped back and roughly brushed Hoss’ hand from his shoulder, in a higher pitched voice he cried “Just tell me what you’re doing here?”

“Reckon I jest tried to tell ya, we’re here to see what proof there is that my little brother here, killed your folks.”

Grant Tombs frowned and looked at the three men as though uncertain as to what to believe, he shook his head “You claiming you can’t remember being here before?”

“Not in a few years.” Joe replied quietly.

“But how come you were on the track leading to town? That’s where Jericho found where you had been laying, ain’t it? Over there up on the track that away?” he pointed away from the cabin, up the track.

Hoss and Adam looked at Joe, and Joe shook his head “I can’t remember.”

“You came into town, they say you was covered in blood…” Grant’s voice was beginning to sound like a whine, but still Joe was staring at the track. “Why were you covered in blood, Cartwright? Why were you hereabouts then, and – and why did you come back?”

“Because I didn’t kill anyone,” Joe almost shouted and put his hand to his head, he closed his eyes tight and clenched his teeth as pain shot through his skull and formed a tight band around his eyes. “I can’t remember …don’t you understand, I don’t remember.”
……………..

Hoss located the area where Joe had lain in the grass and bled copiously into the ground. For sure it had been trodden over and messed up since that time, but being the careful tracker he was, it hadn’t been so hard to find.

He stepped back to join the other three men and nodded “Seems to me you were just riding along here when you came off the horse, Joe.”

“You missed the track to town.” Adam murmured, “Probably because you didn‘t realise there was a track to any town since it never existed when you came last.”

“Well,” Grant Tombs snapped “It isn’t difficult to see, is it? it’s as wide as it’s long…” he glared at Joe and his lip curled in contempt “My folks been using it since they moved here.”

“The Blairs would not have though, they rode to Boulders Creek, that was the town they – and we – were accustomed to riding onto when we were hereabouts.” Hoss replied in the voice he used for gentling wild horses and, as often the case, wild humans.

Grant shrugged “I didn’t know the Blairs,” he grumbled, and turned away from the area where they were standing.

After looking thoughtfully at Grant for a second or two, Adam now looked at Joe,
“What made you come along this way, Joe?”

Joe’s eyes widened and he shook his head “You’re asking me? How do I know?”

“Because you were here, that’s why!” Hoss said with a shrug of his broad shoulders and he glanced at Adam who, he thought, may well be asking the same thing.

Joe shook his head, the pain was there, niggling away behind his eyes but the flashes of light had faded. He swallowed and looked around him, frowned and then looked at Grant,

“Sheriff Blakeley tells us you were here the night – it happened – but you didn’t see me here, did you?”

“No.” Grant pointed upwards “Those trees obscured the cabin, I didn’t see the fire at first, smelled it, guess I rode down fast and anyway, I never looked except to see the fire and then head back into town.”

“You didn’t go to help your folks?” Hoss said thoughtfully, his brow creased as though he found it puzzling.

Grant rubbed his left temple, narrowed his eyes “Like I said to the sheriff, the cabin was well ablaze, I couldn’t get near it….I guess in a way I was so scared I did the only thing I could think of and that was to get help. I know – Sheriff Blakeley and others have said it too – but it’s a long trip to town, and any help would have come too late anyway. But – perhaps it was help for me rather for them…”

“You saw the fire and then just turned back to town?” Joe asked.

Grant stared at Joe as though he loathed the man, but then his shoulders sagged and he removed his spectacles to wipe his eyes before replacing them again. He blinked,
and glanced at the burned remains before saying “No, I saw the fire and came down – screamed for them to come out – for a few minutes I kind of ran back and forth pulling my hair out and – and -” he stopped, gulped hard, “Then I left and ..” he gulped again,, “I knew I couldn’t do anything for them. I mean – it was impossible to stop the fire even if the whole town were here right there and then. I thought – hoped – that they might not be there but – well – you know?” he glanced at each one of them as though hoping they wouldn’t expect him to put it into to words.

No one spoke. They had all three experienced the smell of burning wagons, cabins, houses…and human flesh. , Hoss put a hand on Grant’s shoulder and nodded, as though he understood. Joe stared down at the ground where he had lain that fateful night and then turned round to face the area behind him.

Although the cabin was some distance away there was a reasonably clear view compared to the one Grant would have had for there were no trees obstructing it. He frowned and nodded “I would have come along this way from when I use to visit the Blairs,” he said quietly, “I must have just been taking the route I was used to.”

Hoss frowned and looked at Adam who had dipped his head as though to observe the ground rather than look at them, Grant was oblivious, lost in his own world of memories and grief.

With a jerk of his head Adam indicated to Hoss that he take Grant away from there, while he spoke to Joe. Once Hoss had complied, gently leading the younger man away to where the horses were hitched, Adam approached his brother and after surveying him thoughtfully touched his arm,

“Joe, just a thought…”

“Yeah, what?”

“If you were taking this route because you were familiar with it..”

“Sure, when I came this way I would call on the Blairs and then come along here to pick up the trail home.”

“But you don’t always come this way, do you? I – er – I never used to when I went to Boulders Creek, except that one time…” he paused, pursed his lips while his eyes stayed on Joe’s face, “I mean, could you have called on the cabin, thinking the Blairs were still there and then followed your usual route … “ he paused, his eyes flicked from his brother’s face to the cabin and then back again “because you have to wonder why it was you were here.”

He let his voice drift off as he saw comprehension drift over his brother’s face, then Joe closed his eyes, squeezed them tightly shut before opening them again.

“I don’t know, Adam. I could have done… but I ..I just can’t remember.”

Chapter 38

It took them two hours to reach the area where Grant Tombs said Jericho Silverman had been murdered. It was a quite desolate area, although shrubs and some wind blasted trees clung together for survival here and there. The four horsemen stayed mounted for a while as they looked around the terrain, and then slowly dismounted. Grant Tombs had seemed loathe to return to town having concluded that he would learn more if he stuck with them. His curiosity was also tempered with doubt with regards to Joe Cartwright being the killer of his parents.

In some ways the trip from town had provided him with quite an adventure. All his life he had been closeted away from what he felt was ‘real life’, and the horror of his parents deaths had created an intense desire to move out of the cocoon of his past and embrace the future with more fervour. He had asked if he could ‘show them the way’ to the murder site, and it had been Adam Cartwright who had nodded in agreement.

En route Joe had asked Adam why he had agreed for Grant to come along and his brother had admitted that he didn’t like the idea of the younger man riding back to town alone, bumping into Blakeley and telling him where they had intended to go next.

“Do you think Blakeley will know we’re here?” Joe had then asked naively and Adam had nodded,

“No doubt left as soon as he knew we were headed for Blakesville.”

Now they grouped together and looked around them so long that Grant became fidgety.

“Remind me again why we are here?” Grant Tombs asked and as Hoss was standing beside him he was the one who answered,

“Because this is another murder rap that your sheriff is trying to pin on my brother. We reckon we can get enough evidence here to prove him wrong.”

Adam nodded “Apart from the fact that Joe was back home on the Ponderosa at the time. But, we have a feeling that your Sheriff Blakeley will want more proof than that…”

“He isn’t my Sheriff Blakeley.” Tombs muttered and scowled, but followed them to where Hoss led them .

They dismounted and led the horses to where they would be concealed within the trees. This gave them a clear view of the area they wanted to look over.

The ground had been disturbed at the time of the murder and afterwards, but Hoss could see clearer prints than had been evident at the cabin. There had not been the crowd gathered in a mad attempt to put out a fire that was beyond any human control as at the previous site.. Grant stood looking like a log adrift in the ocean as the other three men scouted around, for although Hoss was renowned for his prowess as a tracker, his brothers were keen sighted and pretty proficient in the art as well.

It took Grant twenty minutes to become bored enough to slink off to a rock and sit there drinking water from his canteen while he watched them casting around for clues. Every so often he would say “Found anything yet?”

As the three brothers found him an irksome nuisance they didn’t bother to reply but continued with their task. It was Hoss who yelled “Here. Found something.”

The hoof prints were clear, despite the natural erosion of time and bugs having crawled across them. He looked at his brothers and nodded “Recognise them?”

His voice held a note of triumph and he grinned, removed his hat and wiped a sheen of sweat from his brow. Joe frowned and shook his head while Adam looked at them intently and then looked at Hoss,

“They look familiar, but -” he frowned and rubbed the back of his neck.

“Yeah, but how come they’re here, huh?” Hoss grinned again and his blue eyes twinkled at Joe “They belong to a black Morgan…the one your friend Jerry Cambor owns.”

Joe’s lips tightened and his shoulders tensed, he looked from one brother to the other, “Are you sure?”

“I’m sure.” Hoss said, and nodded in confirmation and then looked over at Adam who also nodded.

“Yep, they’re Cambor’s horse prints right enough” he squatted down and traced around one of them, “See here, the right back shoe, it has a slight crack in it. I recall seeing it that time I saw him in the saloon, thought then I should mention it to him.” Adam rubbed his chin with his fingers, “Jerry Cambor was here ..”

“Yep, and he walked over to this spot here…there was a struggle, seems like he must have crept up on Jericho and killed him.”

Adam and Joe both nodded, the marks of a scuffle were not as clear that they really told the story as some would perhaps have liked, after all other prints had walked over them and scuffed them. But for those who knew what they were looking for it said enough.

Adam back tracked to where Jericho must have first appeared on the scene, and paused a moment, looking behind him, and then back at what he could see. He sighed, “Well, seems to me that Jericho hid here for a while ..” he indicated an indentation where a man’s knee may have rested and then a hand print in the dry ground near the rocks “Must have thought he was well hidden.”

Joe walked around the perimeter of their search area, his eyes scanning the ground for more visible clues. He turned to Hoss when his brother appeared at his side “So, you reckon Jerry killed the deputy?”

“Looks like it, Joe.” Hoss nodded.

“But why would he do that?” the youngest Cartwright shook his head, and removed his hat to scratch through his hair where he had an itch. He looked at Hoss, “How come your head ain’t itching?”

“It is.” Hoss replied and frowned, he looked over to Adam and was about to call over to him when the sound of horses were heard.

“Best take cover,” he grabbed Joe’s arm and together they sprinted towards the trees where the horses had been taken. Once concealed they pulled the horses further into the shelter and, they hoped, out of view.

Grant Tombs remained where he was, wondering what to do and feeling trapped. Panic rose like bile in his throat and he dithered, standing up and then wondering what to do next.

Adam had disappeared altogether.

Hal Matheson and two other men came into view through a dense clump of trees and shrubs. Grant didn’t know whether or not he was relieved or peeved to see them, but as they saw him he had no other choice than to approach them. Hal dismounted,

“What are you doing here, boy?” the deputy asked, the reins of his horse between his fingers.

“I came to see where Jericho Silverman was killed.” Grant replied truthfully.

Hal nodded and glanced around him, “Yeah, this is it alright. His body was found not far from where you’re standing.”

“Do you – do you have any idea who did it?” Grant asked quietly, his eyes fixed upon the deputy who shrugged and shook his head,

“No, not really. I guess the sheriff would want some clear evidence to go by. But there was no shooting involved. Whoever did it killed him quick, a twist of the neck and …” he shrugged again, “It’s odd though…”

“What is?”

“We found the prints of three horses. Discounting the prospector’s old mule, of course. That means that there were two men here, plus Silverman.” Hal frowned and shook his head, “I can’t figure it, he was one of the best scouts I ever knew, he wouldn’t ride into n ambush.”

“Could it have been an ambush?” Grant asked innocently.

“That’s what I’m trying to figure.” Hal muttered and glanced around him uneasily, “You got company, Grant?”

Grant fidgeted, his eyes twitched nervously and Hal nodded and went for his gun, although Grant put his hand out to stop him and said “No, there’s no need for that…”

It was Adam who stepped forward from his hiding place, he walked towards the deputy and nodded, then extended his hand “Deputy. I’m Adam Cartwright, from the Ponderosa. I just rode out with Grant to see if there was anything here that would help the sheriff with his enquiries.”

“You’re a long way from home, Mr Cartwright.” Hal scowled and his eyes went cold as he looked at the other man from head to foot, “Why exactly are you here? Did you arrange to meet Grant here?”

“No, we met earlier at the cabin.” Adam replied truthfully.

“At the – “ Hal’s eyebrows rose, “Oh, of course, you’re Joe Cartwrights brother, huh?”

“I am.”

Hal nodded and glanced over at the other two men who were leaning forwards as though interested in hearing all they could of the conversation. “Why are you here, Mr Cartwright? Sheriff Blakeley’s in Virginia City checking your brother out, he won’t be too happy knowing you’re here prying in his business.”

“I’ve seen Sheriff Blakeley. I told him I would be coming here.” Adam said quietly.

Hal nodded and looked confused, again he looked at the two other men, before looking back at Adam “Did you find anything worth mentioning at the cabin…or here?”

Adam just nodded “Some.”

“Care to share?”

“Nope.” he paused “Not yet anyhow. I want to know more first.”

Hal scratched his jaw through stubble and then looked at Grant, “Were you at the cabin as well?”

“Yes, I met him there.”

Hal nodded and frowned, “Well, I don’t know what’s going on here, but I guess if you square it with the sheriff when he gets back it should be alright…anyhow if it ain’t, he’ll soon tell you.”

He returned to his horse and remounted “I have to get to Boulder Creek, see if there’s any cables there …darn nuisance having to ride out there like this..wastes time.” he looked down at Adam, “Guess I’ll see you around, Mr Cartwright.”

“I reckon so.” Adam replied and nodded, even smiled briefly.

They stood together in silence watching the three horsemen disappear on the track to Boulders Creek. Grant sighed and shrugged “Should I have mentioned your brothers, Mr Cartwright?”

“Maybe, but you didn’t.” Adam replied watching the dust cloud as it settled down back onto the road. He turned then and glanced over his shoulder “The trees hide the track here.”

“Yes, I guess so…”

“It’s the only way to Blakesville?”

“Yes, it sweeps past the trees and then a straight road right on to the track that leads to the cabin, but the cabin’s set off from the main road to Blakesville as you know, because your brother didn’t realise it was there, he was still using the track he knew from before the town was built.”

“So Jericho could have been following someone…hidden in the trees…no, he didn’t hide in the trees, because he was among the boulders…overlooking the person he followed. Then someone came along…Jerry Cambor perhaps?”

Hoss and Joe approached them now, their horses on leading reins, both of them looked in the direction that Hal had taken, “How far is it to Boulder’s Creek from here, Grant?” Joe asked,

“Only 6 miles.” came the reply.

Hoss looked at Adam, “Whoever Jericho Silverman was following, Adam…it wasn’t Jerry Cambor. The man who was here was meeting with someone else, we found prints over there…”

He jerked his head in the direction of the shrubs and together the four of them walked over to where Hoss lifted aside some low branches and revealed some shoe prints.

Adam whistled softly and shook his head “A woman?”

“Yeah,” Joe said quietly, “A woman.”

Adam squatted down to look at the clear foot print of a small foot that had belonged to a woman who had been standing there some time. The imprint was deep, and as she wasn’t a one legged female it wasn’t long before another footstep was located.

“Let’s follow along..” Joe said and was about to move on when Hoss stopped him, then looked at Adam.

“I reckon she was waiting for the guy the deputy was following …in which case he would have joined up with her and they would have hightailed it out of here together.” Hoss said and nodded towards the trees before looking at Grant “What’s ahead?”

“Well, it just takes you onto the main track to Boulder’s Creek.”

“No place else?” Hoss asked quite aware that Joe was getting impatient behind him.

“Guess not.” Grant shrugged.

“Let’s go see where the prints lead to then…” Joe suggested and turned to lead the way.

It wasn’t a very thick copse of trees, and every so often they were rewarded with the sight of a footprint or two…once a man’s footprint which they recognised as having seen around where Silverman was killed. The sunlight was sparse but it dappled the way for them and they stepped out onto the main road at the point Hoss assumed the couple would have emerged previously.

“Any ideas?” Adam asked after they had stood there for a while staring down at the ground around their feet.

“She had a rig here.” Hoss said, “There’s been a lot of traffic coming along this road, but there’s a partial footprint here …”

“Hers again…yeah, it does look like she stepped into a rig here. Along with the man.” Adam nodded agreement and frowned as he looked at his brothers and then turned to Grant who was crowding in closer to get a better view. “Move back, you’re blocking the view.”

They walked up and down for a while before Hoss shook his head “Nothing more, they got into the rig and headed for Boulder’s Creek.”

“She returned to Boulder’s Creek,” Adam said, “I reckon she came here for him, he wasn’t here, so she went through the trees to meet him…then together they went back to town.”

“So what do we do now?” Grant asked, more or less taking the words out of Joe’s mouth.

Hoss looked at Adam who shrugged, then he looked at Joe who shook his head. Grant sighed, “Well, I’m hungry, I’m all for heading back to Blakesville for something to eat. You can join me if you want.”

Hoss grinned “Now, that’s what I call a very sensible idea. Whereabouts do you live, boy?”

“In the hotel.”

“Be a bit like riding into the lions’ den.” Joe muttered and shrugged.

“Well, let’s return to the barn and discuss this first.” Adam suggested and then looked at Grant, “I want to learn a bit more about your parents, because it seems to me that these murders are connected to them in more ways than one.”

Grant nodded, his head buzzed, facts and non-facts whirled about and all the way back to the cabin he puzzled over just what Adam Cartwright was thinking. Hoss, of course, was not too happy at the idea of being deprived of something to eat but Joe reminded him there was still food in his saddlebags that would suffice. But that thought didn’t exactly appeal to the big man either.

Chapter 39

A light rain was falling by the time the four men reached the ruins of the Tombs’ home. They dismounted and led the horses into the barn and pulled the doors shut behind them. It took little time for their eyes to get accustomed to the gloom and they all took care not to stand or sit near where the fire had actually affected part of the roof. Rain drizzled through the gaps in the shingles, slapping down upon the straw littered floor .

There was still enough room to lead the horses into stalls and then remove the saddle bags, and water canteens. Dry food and water would have to suffice and it took little time to pull out various items upon which to sit. Joe perched himself on the top rung of one of the stalls and balanced there comfortably enough, while Grant found an old stool. Adam and Hoss pulled up buckets and lowered themselves gingerly upon the upturned implements.

Food was carefully divided between them and Hoss apologised to Grant for it being ‘not to his usual standard’. Grant shrugged, it hardly mattered to him. For the first time in years he felt as though he was part of something, not just a bit player, not just floating through life at his father’s whim, without close friends. He was a piece of flotsam on the stream of life, but just for a little while, he could imagine himself having snagged onto something that would help him in the times ahead.

“Did you live here – with your folks?” Joe asked as he leaned forward to take hold of the canteen Adam held up to him.

“No. Well, I did for a while, a few weeks, but preferred to stay in town. The hotel is alright, I was just biding my time to move on really.” he bit off some bread and cheese and began to chew. No one spoke so he presumed they were waiting for him to continue.” My father was arranging for me to go into some business. He had contacts all over, it was just a case of waiting to see whereabouts I would be most useful.”

“How old are you, Grant?” Hoss now asked before glugging down water to soften the dry food.

“I’m 21.” Grant replied, “I guess that’s pretty old, I mean, I guess I should be settled down and established by now.” he shrugged, and chewed some more on the bread, and swallowed.

“How come you didn’t live here with your folks?” Joe now asked and watched as the boys’ face darkened, and the blue eyes lowered.

Grant removed his spectacles and frowned, “Well, as I said, I did at first. But living here, it was too isolated. Not only that my parents…well, they were like strangers to me really.”

“How do you mean?” Hoss muttered, “They were your folks, weren’t they?”

Adam leaned forward now and tapped Grant on the knee, he smiled and nodded “Just tell us about yourself, Grant. Let’s see how it all comes together…”

“There isn’t much to tell.” Grant replied and stood up, rubbed his backside as though it ached and then walked to the door which he opened just a little in order to peek out and stare at the blackened shell of the cabin. “I guess by some standards I’ve been pretty pampered all my life. Perhaps because of what happened when I was a kid…”

He walked back to join them and replaced his spectacles “My father was a lawyer in Atlanta. We were a wealthy family and I can remember we were a happy family too. Then the war came, and the siege of Atlanta, the Battle of Jonesborough* … I won’t bore you with the details, gentlemen, except to say that for a 7 year old kid it was a nightmare. I remember being frightened all the time, and my mother was – well – as you would expect I guess. Father fought at the Battle of Jonesborough and came home …different.”

The three Cartwrights nodded in understanding and stopped their eating as they imagined the little family, caught up with so many in that horrifying situation when Sherman and Grant were about to destroy Atlanta. Grant sighed and stood up again, “Well, the orders came to evacuate ..it was September.* Father had to register for a ticket on the train, and we made it out of there in a more civilised manner than those trapped inside. We went to Boston where my mother’s sister lived. It didn’t take long to get settled there, Father set up business and we had our own place and I was sent to school. Then one day he said they were leaving Boston, he had a new position and had to get there quick but I was to stay in Boston, have my education.”

“So – didn’t you see much of them after that?” Joe prompted as Grant seemed to have stalled in his narration.

“No, I hardly saw them at all. They were all over the country..Chicago, Pennsylvania , Albany – oh, just about everywhere I guess. But they were wealthy, my Father paid the school fee’s and the college fee’s thereafter…and when I finished my education he suggested that I had a year out to explore the world and he paid for all that too. Money seemed no object.”

“Whereabouts did you go? On your year out?” Joe asked with a kindly smile of interest.

“Oh the usual places. France, England, Italy..you know. . The kind of places rich kids with parents who prefer you out of sight go to when they don’t have any reason to be anywhere else. I finally wrote and asked them if I could ‘come home’ … and they said to come here, so I did.”

“A bit different from what you’d expect, huh?” Hoss muttered and got up to walk about as the edge of the bucket was eating into his rear.

“More than a bit. It’s all right I guess, if you liked this kind of thing, but it wasn’t what I had expected. My father and I talked a lot, he explained how he had been busy, he wasn’t a lawyer anymore, he was into business, Stocks and Shares, and import and export. I said it seemed odd then, him being here and not in the big city, but he just said it was temporary, he was ’resting’.”

“Resting? From what?” Adam frowned, and looked at the younger man intently, his eyes narrowed.

“Oh, from working so hard I guess. He said mother was unwell, city life had taken it’s toll on her and she deserved to have time to recuperate. The doctors suggested a quiet life and – I guess it didn’t come quieter than this.”

“You got on well with them though, didn’t you?” Hoss asked in his kindly manner, and he looked at the youth and felt sympathy for him for he never had known time without having his Pa or brothers close at hand to support and encourage him.

“As well as anyone could who hadn’t seen ’em for years. As a kid – well – you know how it is – you carry a picture of your folks in your mind and then suddenly – when adult – you get to see them again. They’re different. They were uncomfortable with me being about as well, guess they just weren’t used to having another adult around the place. It got a bit awkward, Father had strong views on things, although, oddly enough, he was never wrong in what he said or suggested. I was grateful to him for his help too. Just that I couldn’t live here with them and I think that when I said I would move to town they were both rather relieved.”

They didn’t speak for a while but listened to the rain plopping through the gaps in the roof, and ate more of the food which they washed down with water from their canteens.

“Grant, can you think of anyone who would have a grudge against your folk? Bad enough to want to have them killed as they were?” Adam now asked, he frowned again, lines creasing the smooth texture of his brow, “They moved around a lot, he had been a lawyer, then into business …”

“I’m sorry, most of their lives went on without me being involved in it. We talked about my future prospects of course and Father said he had a lot of contacts, all over the world he said. I think that was true because I saw some letters that were post marked from abroad.”

“Any visitors?”

“Not while I was here, and I don’t recall anyone making enquiries about them. I’m sorry I can’t help much.” he turned to Joe who had just got down from his perch on the rail, “The sheriff and deputy talk as though you would know more about them than me, more about how they died…”

“I don’t, Grant. Believe me, if I could remember, if I had seen anything, I would have told them.”

“I know, I believe you.” and Grant put out his hand which Joe shook warmly.

Hoss sighed and rubbed the back of his neck “Any idea as to what we do now?”

Adam pursed his lips and glanced at his brothers and then at Grant, “Well, I think I’ll go into town with Grant. The deputy has seen me now, knows I’m around and making enquiries. But it might be a good idea if you two go to Genoa, see if you can find the Blairs.”

“The Blairs? But they left here ages back?” Joe declared and looked at Hoss as though he thought Adam had lost his senses.

“I know that, Joe, but I was thinking that they may know something about the Tombs moving here, something that we would never find out …but which could be quite important.”

Hoss was about to protest after all it was some distance to travel, but he caught the look in Adam’s eye and understood what his brother was intending..the message was clear enough, to get Joe away from the place as quickly as he could.
………….

Olivia saw the bruise on Sofia’s arm as soon as she undressed the girl for her bed that night. She pulled Sofia closer in order to inspect the bruise more closely and then asked where she had got it, what had happened?

Sofia had rehearsed what she was going to say should Olivia notice the bruise, but even so it would mean telling a lie which, despite her precociousness, was not something she made a habit of doing. She looked surprised “Oh, I didn’t notice…”

“You must have done. That would have hurt at the time, Sofia. Has someone hurt you?”

“No, mommy.”

“Any of the children?”

“No, mommy.”

Olivia looked at her daughter sternly and then turned her around in order to button up her nightie. “That’s a bad bruise, Sofia, are you sure you can’t remember when you got it?” she picked up a hair brush and began to do the girls silky blonde hair, even smooth strokes, “Did you fall? Bump into something?”

“No. I don’t remember.” Sofia said quietly and then smiled when Olivia finished brushing her hair and turned her towards her. She wrapped her arms around Olivia’s neck “I love you, mommy.”

“I love you too, but Sofia..” Olivia sighed and her face softened as she gazed into the girl’s pretty face “Promise me, if anyone hurts you…anyone at all…you must tell me, do you understand?”

Clear blue eyes looked innocently up at her and Sofia smiled and nodded, “Yes, mommy.”

Reuben was reading the book Adam had bought him about the cllipper ships. He looked up as though dragged from the sea himself, lost in the dreamlike world that clever writers can create with the words they use, he smiled “Can I have some more time to finish this chapter, Ma?”

“Only that chapter, son.”

“Thanks, Ma.”

Olviia smiled and began to prepare his bed, check his night light and then made sure the drapes were drawn across the window. She looked over at him and realised her little boy was growing up now, and she went and sat down beside him,

“Good book, is it?”

“It sure is, Ma.” he didn’t really want to talk, he wanted to get back on board ship and fight the storms.

“Reuben, do you know how Sofia got the bruise she has on her arm?”

“Bruise?” Reuben looked vague and then shook his head “No, Ma.”

“Are you sure?”

He nodded, not wanting to commit himself further and hoped she would not ask any more questions. Thankfully for him she didn’t but after kissing him gently and getting up from the bed she paused a moment by the door,

“Reuben, look after your sister, won’t you?”

Reuben nodded, the memory of his father asking him the same thing trickled through his mind, he nodded again “I promise, Ma.”

Content with that Olivia smiled, and then left him, closing the door behind her.

Chapter 40

Adam checked into The Stewart Hotel, the only hotel in Blakesville at that present time. Grant shook his hand in the foyer and made his way to his own room, taking the stairs to the floor above without looking back. Whatever he had going on in his mind he wasn’t about to reveal them to anyone, preferring some privacy in order to make some sense of what had happened during the past few hours. In wasn’t just the making of some sense to them, but trying to understand his own feelings in connection with them. Both mentally and emotionally he felt as though he were spinning like a top.

Adam approached the counter and requested a single room, and while he waited for Cavello to provide him with a key he picked up the pen to sign the register. As he did so, he ran his eye down the list of names until he came upon the name of Joseph Cartwright, written in rather a wavering hand.

Mr Cavello, who had not yet seen the name of Adam Cartwright on his register and had not been given the name of the man who had accompanied Grant Tombs into the hotel moments earlier, approached him with a smile and nod of the head.

“I hope-a you find the room good, Mr -”

“I’m sure I will. Mr Tombs speaks very highly of your accommodation and cuisine.” Adam replied his finger still pointing at the name of his brother, “Do you remember him?”

Cavello frowned and then peered down at the register, nodded and sighed, “Ah, madre mia, what a time that-a was…if I had known…”

“Known what?”

“That this man – this Joseph Cartwright – was a murderer. He kill two people. Maybe even three.” he gave a typical Castillian shrug, “He was not good.”

“What wasn’t good about him?”

“Blood on his clothes. He was very sick, very sick. Fever. In his room for two day and never leave it. My wife she take up the food for him but most of time he is unconscious.”

“Did you get the doctor to see to him?”

“Doctor very busy, already seen him, before we find out -”

“Find out what?”

Cavello blinked dark eyes and looked up into Adam’s face, “Why you ask questions? Are you lawman?”

“No, I’m this man’s brother.” Adam retorted, jabbing his finger onto the register, and then leaning in closer to the hotel manager “And my brother is no murderer.”

“But they say -”

“You shouldn’t believe everything you hear, Mr Cavello.” Adam replied crisply and picked up his saddle bags which he slung over his shoulder “My keys please.”

Cavello passed them over to his new customer so fast he nearly dropped them.

Once in his room Adam removed his hat, coat and gun belt, the latter he kept close at hand so it would be within easy reach should he need it. He then sat at a desk positioned beneath the hotel window, and after looking thoughtfully at the letter headed paper which had been provided for the guests’ convenience at the hotel’s expense, he picked up the pen and began to write…

“Who was the woman?

What connection did Cambor have with the Tombs?

Or

What connection did Cambor have with the Tombs killer?

Who exactly were the Tombs?

Why is everyone so sure Joe killed them?

What if – this is a long shot – the Tombs aren’t dead?”

He looked at what he had written and shook his head. No, the whole idea was preposterous. Of course they were dead because if they were alive they would have contacted their son.

Wouldn’t they?

They’d lived with out having their son in their lives for so long, did they really need him to know if they were alive?

He pushed himself away from the desk and flung down the pen. Night was drawing in and he moved to the window to peer out onto the new town. He had seen so many like this, quickly built, and as quickly abandoned when the hopes of the populace were not fulfilled. He wondered what hopes these particular townsfolk harboured for their future prosperity.

He saw the deputy, Hal Matheson, dismount outside the Sheriff’s office and followed by the other two men, stride into the building. He wasn’t surprised to see Mr Cavello hurrying across the main street and push open the door to the Sheriff’s . He nodded as though confirming to himself that the Hotel Manager had done just as he had expected, scurried over to inform the law that Joe Cartwright’s brother was in town.

He sighed and shook his head before walking over to the bed and dropping upon it, stretching out his long legs and folding his arms behind his head. He wondered how long it would take the deputy to reach the hotel.

He tried to imagine, as he had done for weeks now, what it was like to have amnesia. To have a black hole in one’s memory which could be filled in by anyone were Joe to let them. If he were told he had killed the Tombs often enough, would he begin to believe it? Would he start building up a story to support that and thereby end up getting himself hanged?

What does a man do in a situation like that?

The knock on the door came just when he had almost forgotten about his expected visitor. He called out “Come in, Mr Matheson, it isn’t locked.”

The deputy and one other man stepped into the room, looked around them as though expecting a whole gang of gunmen to be lurking in the corners and then glared at Adam. “Where’s your brother?”

“Which one? I have two…” Adam replied and slowly unwound himself, sat up and stood up, squared his shoulders and looked taller than ever.

“Don’t be clever, Mr Cartwright. You know the one I mean…Joseph Cartwright.”

Adam nodded, “I don’t know.”

He looked directly into the Deputy Sheriff’s face. Unblinking. Resolute. Hal Matheson frowned, and shook his head,

“Sorry, Cartwright, that won’t do. We know you were with your brothers earlier, so you must know where they are now.”

“How do you know I was with my brothers earlier, Deputy? When I saw you last I was with Mr Tombs. Or had you forgotten?”

Matheson frowned, then turned to the other man and told him to get back to the office. Once the door was closed he looked around the room again and seeing a chair he pulled it out to sit on it, facing Adam as he did so. Adam sat down on the edge of the bed and observed the Deputy thoughtfully.

“I got a cable from the Sheriff.”

Adam nodded “Yeah, well, that was what you were expecting, wasn’t it?”

Hal nodded and licked his lips, his face registered confusion and irritation in equal measure. He removed his hat and wiped a sheen of sweat from his brow, while Adam observed him carefully,

“Best say what’s on your mind, Deputy. I’m not clairvoyent.”

Matheson nodded “Your brother was in the Tombs cabin the night they were killed. There was a witness who has testified to seeing him there.”

Adam frowned and shook his head, then released a sigh “Not possible.”

“Look, the witness testified with his dying breath that your brother was there, with him, the night the Tombs were killed.”

Adam’s frown deepened and the dark eyes went black, he stared at Hal and shook his head, “Who was this witness?”

Hal swallowed a gulp, “Jerry Cambor.”

“Cambor?” Adam couldn’t restrain the jolt that went through his body, he stared again at Matheson “But – Cambor?”

“He was shot by Sheriff’s Blakeley and Carney. He confessed to the fact that your brother was in the cabin with him.”

Adam stared harder at the Deputy as though he hadn’t heard what he had said, and what he had heard he hadn’t understood. He blinked to break the spell, and shook his head, once again he said “Not possible.”

“The man was dying, Mr Cartwright. Why would he lie on his death bed?”

Adam thought about Jerry Cambor and scowled, he stood up and walked over to the window and stared out into the night. Stars were shining, and the moon had replaced the sun, shadows lengthened, everything was the same as always but yet things had changed, and he thought again about Jerry and shook his head,

“Jerry would lie, it was his nature, he was a twisted human being who delighted in hurting those he envied or hated. He had always hated Joe even though my brother never had the sense to realise it.”

“Why would he hate your brother so much?”

“Because Joe was everything that Jerry was not, and Joe had everything that Jerry wanted but didn’t have.”

Hal nodded and sighed as he rose to his feet “Guess you’re right there, Mr Cartwright. Cambor was shot while he was attempting to rape Joe Cartwright’s wife.”

The shock of that statement rocked Adam on his heels. Had he been shot by a bullet he could not have felt any weaker. He sunk back down onto the bed and buried his face in his hands. He could only think ‘Mary-Ann, Mary-Ann‘, see her pretty face ……

And Joe didn’t know, thank goodness, Joe was still unaware of anything … he looked up at Hal Matheson

“That’s the truth?”

“It is, sir, I’m sorry …”
…………………

Sheriff Thomas Blakeley led his weary mount into the livery stable and nodded over to the old man as he handed over the reins.

“Give him some oats, Hugh. He deserves it, I’ve ridden him pretty hard.”

Hugh Morgan nodded and led the animal into an empty stall. As Blakeley passed the animals that were stabled there he paused at one, and frowned,

“Stranger in town?” he ran a hand over the coat of the animal, a splendid looking beast, one of the handsomest he had seen in a long time, if ever.

“Yep, rode in earlier with Grant Tombs.” Morgan said, and nodded in the direction of the hotel, “Booked himself into the hotel.”

“Get his name?”

Morgan nodded, and pointed to his register. He always liked to keep a check on his customers in case they ran out on him and left him a big bill, especially if the beast turned out to be a hay burner, like the one this stranger had left.

“Adam Cartwright, Ponderosa.” he looked at the Sheriff, “Ain’t that where you jest bin?”

“Just one Cartwright?” Blakeley asked.

“Yeah,well, just the one horse, ain’t there?”

Blakeley wiped his face on the sleeve of his jacket. He wasn’t sure what to do first. He was bone weary having left Virginia City only hours after finding out the Cartwrights were en route to Blakesville. They had a good lead on him though and he had expected to find all three in town. He looked again at Morgan,

“With Grant, did you say?”

Morgan nodded, shrugged and returned to tend to the horse. He preferred the four legged animals to those with only two.

Blakeley listened to his stomach rumble. He hadn’t eaten a decent meal in days and was more than a little hungry. He rubbed his jaw and across his mouth which was very dry. Having reached a decision he made his way to his office where he found Hal and another deputy drinking coffee.

The warmth in the room hit him like a blanket, and he felt as though he would have preferred all the doors and windows open to let in the colder air. He had ridden through rain and wind to get here and now…

“Coffee, Sheriff?” the Deputy asked, walking over to the stove and Hal Matheson stood up from the desk,

“Adam Cartwright’s in town, Sheriff. He’s alone.”

“Where are the other two?” Blakeley wanted to know as he took the coffee from the other lawman, “The three of them left town together.”

“I don’t know, Sheriff. He rode in with Grant Tombs. He -” Hal paused, and frowned, licked his lips nervously and gulped, “Well, I met up with them at the place Jericho was killed. Seems Cartwright had checked out the cabin and then gone on to where – where Jericho was murdered and – well – now he’s in town.”

“At the hotel.” the other deputy said, and nodded his head as though in affirmation.

“Have you seen him? Have you spoken to him?”

“Sure I did. I wanted to know what he was doing here and where his brothers’ were. I thought that was what you would want me to do, Sheriff.”

Thomas Blakeley pulled out a chair and sat down, he cradled his mug of coffee against his chest and exhaled a long breath. “Did you speak to him?” he repeated.

“Yes, sir.” Hal Matheson replied and could almost see the big black hole opening up in front of him as Blakeley looked at him with cold eyes,

“Did you tell him about Cambor?”

“I – yes – I did. He didn’t believe me. He thought Cambor was lying.”
………….

Some distance from the burned out cabin, Joe and Hoss set up camp and ate well on jack rabbit stew. Hoss had eaten most of it, but then as he had caught the jack rabbit that only seemed fair. They had chatted together, shared memories of other times around the camp fires of the past, and discussed the murders.

“Hey, Hoss,” Joe chomped on his food and smacked his lips, there may have been a lot lacking in the stew after all rabbit and water and a few wild herbs didn’t create much in the way of fine dining, “Why do you think Adam wants us to look up the Blairs?”

Hoss frowned and shrugged, he didn’t like to admit he thought it was so that Joe would be out of the way of the law in Blakesville, anonymous and safe. He licked his fingers and tossed a rabbit bone to one side,

“Well, I got the impression that he thinks they could tell us a bit more about the Tombs.”

“What are they going to know that could help me?”

What indeed? Hoss thought about it, and shook his head, “Well, jest maybe they could give us a reason as to why they sold up.” He liked that idea, he thought about it a bit more and leaned towards his brother, “They never wanted to leave that place, it was kind of like a forever home, huh?”

“A forever home? You been reading some of Hester’s novels again, brother?” Joe grinned, and picked up his mug of coffee, “But come to think of it, I recall Mrs Blair saying how much she liked it there. There was quite a view from their place, wasn’t there?”

“Still is. I noticed it when we were standing by that burned out ruin…still worth spending hours looking at if one had the time. Mr Blair liked it too, said he never could imagine finding anywhere closer to paradise.”

“Yeah, I recall him saying that to me one time.” Joe frowned, “wonder what happened to change their minds.”

“Well, didn’t someone say it was because of the new town being built. They probably got the idea that in time the two towns would meet in the middle so to speak, and they would end up squeezed out.”

“And their view ruined.” Joe grinned and tossed the dregs of his coffee into the flames.

“I’m turning in, there’s a way to go yet before we get to Genoa.” Hoss stood up, stretched, reached for the sky and yawned …loudly…before scratching his chest and grunting with satisfaction.

Joe watched his brother roll himself into his blanket and then stared into the flames for a while. He thought of Mary Ann, wondered what they were doing right there and then. He knew she would be missing him just as much as he missed her.

The flames dipped and he tossed another log onto the fire and waited for it to catch and burn. All the while he tried to think of what had happened that day, and like Adam in the hotel room, he asked himself questions that needed answers…the woman, why were the Tombs murdered, who was Jerry meeting that day when Jericho Silverman was murdered.

With those thoughts in his mind he prepared his bedroll for the night, and promptly fell asleep.
………….

Roy Coffee hugged his mug closer to his chest and coughed. He had added a nip of something extra to their coffee, because the night was colder than he liked and both he and Ben were getting on in years. He ran his tongue around his teeth in silent contemplation before he leaned towards his companion,

“You know, Ben, this is a very strange affair. What was Jerry Cambor doing in Virginia City in the first place?”

“Guess we’ll never know, Roy” Ben sighed and stared into the flames of the fire with the same expression on his face that his youngest son was wearing all those miles away.

“Doesn’t make sense, does it?” Roy emptied his mug and then set it down on the hot stones, he wiped his moustache on the back of his hand and frowned, “He told Joe he hadn’t been in Blakesville, and then we find out that he must have been because he was in that cabin…”

“If he is to be believed.” Ben replied rather tartly after all, if Jerry had been right, then Joe was implicated in being there too.

“The best liars always have a grain of truth in the lie, it’s what makes what they say believable.” Roy replied and rubbed his chin, “I ain’t saying I believe that Joe was in the cabin, at the same time he could have been…”

“Are you saying,,,” Ben snapped back, almost about to spring to his feet if he could have done, he was past the age when it was so easy to do ..

“No, I ain’t saying I believe he was there, but he must have been close by, seen something, because he was hurt, and left for dead on that track if I recall his story right…”

Ben nodded, he could see what Roy was meaning now, and gave it some consideration. After a moment or two he turned to his friend and said quietly,

“Whoever killed the couple, and I think it was Cambor, he knew Joe had seen him. He came to Virginia City to kill my son.”

Roy nodded, “That was the way I was thinking too….”

“But why the pretence…acting as though they were the best of friends…”

“He had to know if Joe could remember anything about that night, about what he had seen. He had to know …who else Joe would have told.”

Ben nodded and looked at Roy thoughtfully, “I don’t understand why Joe was in that area unless he went to visit the Blairs. There’s two routes we use when going to Boulder’s Creek, one takes us pass several homesteaders places, the Blairs having been one of them. The other route is more direct onto our land, but it’s harder going, and hardly any chance of meeting anyone along the way. If you run out of water you could be in a sorry state by the time you reach home”

Roy nodded, “So I reckon your boy decided to visit the Blairs, hadn’t been there for some while, decided to catch up on their news and perhaps get a meal in the bargain..”

“They were always hospitable folk.” Ben nodded, imagining it as he hoped it had been….

“I reckon that’s what happened, Ben. We’ll find out more when we get to the place.”

Ben said nothing, he recognised that was Roy’s cue for turning in, and glad of it. He was tired, and he needed to think..although, he admitted to himself, his brain hadn’t switched off from thinking about it since Joe had come home with that blank in his memory.

Chapter 41

Adam didn’t wait for Blakeley to come to him, instead he went over to the Sheriff’s office as soon as he could first thing that morning. Hal Matheson was there, talking in quiet tones to the Sheriff and when Adam walked – no, strode in – and closed the door both men were caught completely by surprise

“What’s this about my sister in law and Jerry Cambor?”

Blakeley blinked and leaned back. He would have preferred to have taken the battle to the enemy so to speak, rather than have the enemy confront him like this, but he nodded and gestured to a chair by the desk.

“Coffee?”

“Just an answer to my question!” Adam snapped and scowled at the deputy who had scuttled over to pour out coffee into the cups lined up by the stove.

“Sheriff Carney and I shot Jerry Cambor while he was forcing his attentions upon Mrs Cartwright. She was unharmed, a little shocked and bruised as you would expect. But she is safe, I assure you.”

“How come you were at my brother’s anyway?”

Blakeley rolled his eyes “Just be grateful that we were there, Mr Cartwright, otherwise it may have been a different story altogether.”

Adam merely raised his eyebrows and Blakeley nodded “We saw the black Morgan heading out to town, and as we had business with your brother…”

“Still trying to pin those murders onto him?” Adam interrupted with his nostrils pinched white with frustration and anger.

“I don’t have to pin the murders onto him, as you put it, Mr Cartwright. Before he died Jerry Cambor admitted that Joe was in the cabin the night the Tombs were killed.”

“He said that, did he?” Adam narrowed his eyes.

“He did.”

“Those exact words?”

“He said he saw Joe in the cabin, his exact words.”

“Could have been any night…” Adam frowned and glanced over at Hal who was hovering with mugs in his hand.

“No, Cartwright, you and me, we both know what night he meant.” he took one of the mugs and set it down at the desk by his elbow, “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve had a long ride and I need to write my report. If you have anything further to say, then see me later on.”

Adam took a hurried look over at the clock, saw how early in the day it was, and didn’t need being told how long the journey was as he had undergone the same. He nodded, turned on his heel, and left the building. He slammed the door shut behind him.

He returned to his hotel room, flopped onto the bed and folded his arms behind his head with the intention of proving the sheriff wrong..somehow!
……………..

The sound of a cockeral crowing and the glow of the slow dawn of morning woke the young woman from her sleep. She stretched without opening her eyes and reached out to the pillow upon which her husband’s head would usually recline. It’s emptiness reminded her that she was not sharing her bed with him, but the little body that was clinging tightly to her also reminded her that she was not alone.

Daniel was still sleeping with his thumb in his mouth and his long lashes shadowing his cheeks. For a long moment Mary Ann looked down at him and thought of the horror he had gone through, and once again for perhaps the 100th time she wondered how he had felt at the sounds he had heard from the other room. She was just grateful that Constance had slept through it all.

As she moved away, creating a vacuum of air between their bodies, Daniel stirred, opened his eyes and looked at her, “Mommy” and the shrillness of his voice indicated the fear he was still experiencing, still feeling.

“It’s alright, darling, I’m here.” and she leaned down to stroke back his curls and kiss his cheeks.

He gave a half smile and then closed his eyes again so that he could drift back to comfortable and safe sleep. She waited a moment to see if he would wake up again but little snores indicated that he would not.

Smells of cooking now drifted to her nostrils and she smiled as she pulled on her robe. What a surprise they had had the evening of the attack on her when Bridie had arrived at the Ponderosa, carpet bag packed, and looking like she would stand no nonsense from anyone.

After a cup of coffee and a brief chat with all there, she told them that she had come to stay with Mary Ann. For how long? For as long as it took of course. She explained with her big beaming smile and twinkling mischievous eyes that Paul had made some changes to the surgery rota. Jimmy and John would take on more evening shifts and work alternate weekends so that he, Paul, could take the time off to visit his wife while she was staying at the Ponderosa.

“It’s all arranged now, you can’t turn me away.” she laughed watching their incredulous faces, “This is the first time I have had a chance to get that man to lessen his work load, and I don’t intend to let it pass me by just because you won’t let me stay here with Mary Ann.”

Now Mary Ann stretched and with a smile made her way to where Constance lay playing with some rag toy. Such a sweet natured contented little child, for which Mary Ann was truly grateful. She lifted Constance up into her arms, and carried her downstairs.

Bridie looked over at them as they came into the kitchen “Isn’t the little man awake yet?”

“Half and half, he’ll be down as soon as he realises food is cooking.” Mary Ann replied and put the infant into her chair before joining Bridie with the food preparation.

“No, no, off you go, sit down and pour out some coffee. Relax. You don’t know how much I am enjoying having a kitchen to work in again. Since Mrs Teveleyn became housekeeper I’ve not made myself a single cup of tea or coffee.” she smiled and cracked some eggs into a skillet, “Still, at least I know Paul won’t go hungry while I am away. She’ll take good care of him. Hopefully not too good care of him otherwise he won’t be wanting me to go back.”

They laughed together at that but Mary Ann did as she was told and made her way to the table. She poured out coffee and played with Constance’s toes to make the little girl wriggle in her chair and gurgle with laughter. Then Daniel trailed into the kitchen, blinking like a little owl. He yawned and then saw Bridie,

“Bridie…you are here?” he exclaimed and ran to her and hugged her. Since tasting Bridie’s chocolate cake she had become his favourite of all persons.

“Now then, my boy, up at the table and pay attention to your meal. I want it all eaten up.” Bridie admonished as she ladled out creamy porridge.

“Ooh, thank you, Bridie “ Daniel picked up his spoon and looked at his mother, gave her a beautiful smile and began to eat.

Mary Ann watched her little boy for a moment and then began to think about Joe, wondering where he was, what he was doing. She sighed several times and when Bridie placed a care worn hand upon her shoulder she looked up and smiled at her “I was wondering how Joe was…if he was safe.”

“Safer than he would have been if Jerry Cambor were still alive.” Bridie replied and patted her on the back very gently, “That young man – wouldn’t be surprised if he was the one who shot Joe in the first place.”

“I wonder what did happen at that cabin, Bridie.” Mary Ann sighed and cradled her hands around the cup, she looked at Constance as the infant chewed her food, drooled and dropped her spoon. Mary Ann picked it up and began to feed her carefully.

“When Joe remembers, he’ll let us know.” Bridie replied and returned to her cooking.
……………

Reuben kept very close to Sofia as they went up the stairs into the school. It seemed as though the whole ’Gang’ had been of the same thought because she was duly escorted by the little band of boys all the way to her classroom.

“Don’t forget to wait for us before going to recess.” Reuben said quietly so that Mr Evans would not hear.

“You won’t be late, will you?” Sofia whispered and at her brother’s assurance that he would be ’dead on time’ she smiled and nodded, then entered the room. The other children came and took their seats, sat at their desks, smiled greetings at one another. It was all very reassuring, and very safe.

Mr Evans came in and gave them his bright Good Morning smile. Everyone chorused a good morning back and stood up out of respect as they had been taught. It was no hardship to extend such courtesy to Mr Evans, if he had requested to walk on their hands to the platform they would all have willingly formed a line to provide his request.

It was a full class room. In Miss Hayward’s class it was the same, the children respected her and some of the little boys were already ’in love’ with her.

Crook had arrived slightly later than usual, and as he mounted the stairs he met the Head Master of the school coming down. They met on the half landing.

“Late, Mr Crook?”

“My apologies,” Crook growled but as pleasantly as he could when having to say something that went against the grain.

The Head Master leaned forward, eyes narrowed and nose twitching “Is that alcohol I can smell on your breath, Mr Crook?”

“Possibly. I had to take some for medicinal purposes. A very sore throat.” Crook cleared his throat and coughed to emphasise the point, “I’m afraid coughing kept me awake most of the night – now – if you’ll excuse me, sir, I really need to get to my class.”

A suspicious hard glare was the only thing he received in response from the Head Teacher who continued on down the stairs with a ferocious scowl on his face. Crook made his way to his class with an equally ferocious scowl on his face so that the two men could have passed for twins if it had not been for Crook being so short and stocky and the Head Master being so tall and lean.
…………….

Dr Finlayson slid the hip flask into the drawer of his desk as the door to his surgery opened and a tall stranger clad in black stepped inside. He nodded and smiled, “What can I do for you, you sick or something?”

In Adam’s non-medical opinion the doctor looked sick, with his drooping eyelids and blood shot eyes, sagging skin and weak mouth. He shook his head and found a chair which he pulled towards the desk and sat down,

“I want some information. About a young man you treated for a head injury the night the Tombs’ were killed.”

Finlayson narrowed his eyes and looked thoughtfully at the stranger. He sat down and leaned back into his chair “Oh yeah, I remember him. Blakeley was forever asking me questions about him…who are you, another Sheriff? Deputy?”

“No, I’m his brother.”

“Huh, well, I guess that figgers.” Finlayson looked longingly at the drawer where the hip flask nestled, then looked again at the other man. “What do you want to know?”

“There was blood on his clothes? On his jacket?”

“Sure there was…to be expected, an injury to the skull always bleeds copiously. Nothing to protect it you see, no fat to absorb any injury so it bleeds out…”

“What about the blood all over his jacket? I was told he had a lot of blood there, enough for Blakeley to believe it wasn’t his own blood but the Tombs.”

“Pah, what does he know? Look, when anyone gets wounded any place, what do they do? Instinctively they put their hands to the wounds. Upon discovering that they’re not dead they then wipe their hands – most times – on their clothing. I presumed that this young man, your brother did you say? – did just that.”

Adam nodded thoughtfully, and looked at the doctor who was nervously tapping his fingers on the desk, “In your opinion then, Joe couldn’t have killed that couple.”

“Very unlikely.”

Finlayson stretched out his legs and cleared his throat, “Is that all?” he asked hopefully.

“How did they die – the Tombs? Did you examine the bodies?”

“I did. Not that there was much left of them. The bones were broken where the bodies had been shot, and both of them had been shot between the eyes just to make sure they were actually dead, I suppose…the fire was just an unnecessary mark of disrespect but I guess it may have served a purpose in delaying the discovery of the bodies.”

“The fire wasn’t the cause of death?”

“As I said, quite unnecessary. There would have been a lot of blood ..but …” he paused, and then shrugged “They were an unusual couple.”

“So I’m getting to realise.” Adam replied and wondered if there were any other questions he should ask while at the same time wondering if the man could be termed a reliable witness.

He was about to speak when the door burst open and Blakeley stood within its frame, he scowled at both men, before asking Finlayson what it was they had been discussing.

“If it’s about the Tombs then you’re to stop right now. This man does not represent the law, and has no right to be asking you or anyone else any questions, do you understand?”

“Sheriff, the man is -” Finlayson paused as his eyes moved from one man’s face to the other, he swallowed hard, and shrugged “Whatever you say.”

“And you, you stop asking questions around here. I’m the law and I’m the one asks questions not you… just remember this, Cartwright, your brother killed two people here in this territory. And once I arrest him I’ll see him brought to justice
and tried for those murders.”

“On the word of a man like Jerry Cambor?” Adam retorted sharply and with one quick movement he reached for his hat and got to his feet, he looked at the doctor and nodded “Thank you for your time.”

The door snapped shut, leaving the Sheriff and the Doctor staring at one another, the silence between them hanging like naphta.

Chapter 42

The town reminded Adam of the one he and Joe had located on their recent cattle drive, and where Nate Carney had been the lawman, even if just for a short while. It had the essential buildings in what was the main street. There was the Mercantile, and the saloons, numbering two. One hotel and a small restaurant tucked neatly between some buildings of which the Undertakers was one. Houses stood behind prim picket fences, their paintwork glistening bright in the morning sun.

It was no longer the searing heat of summer time, and for that Adam was glad for the cool breeze helped dampen down his anger and frustration. Blakeley…what was wrong with the man? What sense was there in grabbing at the first suspect who came along and not letting go. If Finlayson had told the sheriff the same thing as he had been told, then why was he so insistent on Joe being the killer.

Adam watched as children began the trek to school. It brought a smile to his face to watch them trailing up to the building that would be their seat of learning. So much like the one his children had been attending until recently and he sighed at the thought of them now. The school bell was tolling, and a neat little woman was smiling as her pupils made their way up the steps and into the one class school room. Such a small town, he counted only 16 children entering the building before the door closed behind them.

Well, out of small acorns grow mighty trees of oak, he mused. He strolled slowly to the restaurant from where the smell of coffee and flapjacks eddied.

The plump lady at the counter smiled over at him as he removed his hat and smiled back. There were no other customers. He chose a table by the window and glanced out to see Blakeley entering his office. He set his hat down on the chair next to him and when the woman came to take his order requested strong coffee, no milk, sugar. Did he want anything else? He nodded, and ordered ham and eggs.

“Did you know Mr and Mrs Tombs?” he asked almost casually as she turned to get about cooking his meal.

“Oh yes, not very well, no one knew them very well.” she smiled and shrugged, just a slight movement of her plump shoulders. “They kept themselves very much to themselves. Not like the Blairs…”

“Oh you knew them as well?” he smiled and nodded as though to invite more information. Some people just couldn’t help themselves, they talked as naturally as breathing air.

“Oh I did, yes. Very pleasant. Not that they came here, they had moved away before this place had more than three buildings to it. I knew them in Boulder’s Creek. I had a restaurant there too. My daughter and son in law run that now.” she paused and frowned “They liked the privacy too, but not as much as Mr and Mrs Tombs. I mean … I didn’t really think the Blairs would be wanting to leave their lovely place just because this town was being built. Still, it takes all sorts, doesn’t it?”

“You were surprised they moved away then?” he flipped out his serviette to make the conversation more casual and relaxed.

“Oh yes. Knew nothing about it until one day in came Mr and Mrs Tombs. Of course I didn’t know them from – well – the man in the moon but when they told me they had bought the Blairs’ place I was amazed.”

“They were regular customers then?”

“When they did come here but I think they went to Boulder’s Creek mostly, after all, there is still a lot more there than there is here.” she frowned and Adam wondered if she were regretting her move “It’s always a gamble moving around from town to town, like being here instead of Boulder’s Creek, if you know what I mean.”

Adam nodded and agreed. He looked out of the window again and watched as Matheson stepped out to stand upon the sidewalk, before he took a seat by the door. He obviously preferred watching people than being in the office with the Sheriff. Of course, he could have been given orders to keep a look out for Adam Cartwright, not that it would be difficult to get lost in this place.

The coffee arrived and was placed by his elbow, the cup and saucer in front of him. He poured it out and watched the steam rise,then thought about the Blairs and Tombs. He was still deep in thought when the woman, who told him that she was called Marietta Holmes, arrived with his plate of food.

“Of course, you know, the Tombs – they were murdered not so long ago.” she said casually, hoping for some shocked reaction.

“Really? I did hear they had died suddenly. They were killed in a fire, weren’t they?”

“No, who told you that rubbish? There was a fire but they weren’t killed in it. They was shot.”

“Shot?”

“Shot and then burned up. Of course, they were very very wealthy, she was always flashing her jewellery around when she came to town. I – I didn’t quite understand all that business myself….” she looked doubtful, her face crumpled much as Adam imagined one of herr cakes could well have done on a bad day.

“What didn’t you understand?”

“Why bother to wear all that jewellery here? We are such a small place, it wasn’t as if anyone would notice or care…” she paused “Perhaps someone didthough, notice, I mean… perhaps that’s why they were killed, for the jewellery.”

Adam sighed and looked at his eggs slowly congealing on the plate.“They were from the east, weren’t they?”

“From what young Grant says, they were from all over the place. Never seemed to settle anywhere too long. That’s another puzzle isn’t it?”

“Why?”

“Well, why flit from one place to another like that? What did they have to hide?”

Adam looked at her thoughtfully and nodded, “What indeed?”

“They didn’t even really like it here, that was obvious. He was nice, a gentleman if you know what I mean, but not her.”

“So you didn’t like them very much?”

She sighed and shrugged “I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, but when you think about it, I didn’t like her very much. Hoity toity that’s what she was, with all her jewels and nose in the air. But, as I say, he was a gent.”

Perhaps she would have said more but the bell tinkled and summoned her to her duties to her customers. Adam turned his attention to the meal and wished he had an appetite for it.
…………..

Sofia enjoyed her lesson that morning. Mr Evans had the ability to make every child there feel as though they had accomplished all that he required from them. He would smile and commend, and his scoldings were such that they encouraged them to stretch themselves just that bit more over the errors they had made.

She knew in the afternoon lessons that Miss Hayward would teach them and Mr Evans would be responsible for Reuben’s class. It was turn about and very satisfactory. She never gave Mr Crook another thought – until recess came.

Davy Riley and Reuben were close in conference. They had a plan they were concocting between them which meant they were cloistered together and had their heads close as they whispered and chattered between them. Jimmy came running up to Sofia and stood there, smiling. Sofia frowned, “Where’s Reuben?”

“Oh he’s just over there, Sofia. He told me to come and keep guard.”

“Keep guard?” she looked at him and tossed her head, her braids jiggled on her shoulders and one ribbon promptly plopped onto the ground.

“You’re to be kept safe – from Crook.” the little boy replied, and smiled again.

“Huh, that’s stupid. Mr Crook doesn’t frighten me. He’s -” she paused and glanced over her shoulder. “Where’s Rose?”

“She’s just over there.” he nodded his head in the direction where Rose was chatting and playing with some other children, much to Sofia’s chagrin. She tossed her head again and without looking at Jimmy strode away to join the girls. Jimmy watched her go, sighed a little and then picked up the ribbon, and slipped it into his pocket. He was still in love …poor boy.

Crook didn’t have ‘playground duties’ every day. This particular day he had another appointment and after grabbing his hat made his way out of the school to where he had arranged to meet Sam Brockett.

The Treasurer of the Town Council was in his office and when Crook sidled, as much as a man his bulk could sidle, into the room Brockett merely indicated a chair. After dragging it over to the desk Crook sat down.

“I want to know what’s going on, Brockett. Monks came the other evening and started sounding off, giving hints here and there without saying much, so I want to know.”

Brockett put down his pen and looked at Crook thoughtfully. After a moment he nodded, and folded his hands under his chin, his elbows on the table so that it looked as though he were keeping his head on his shoulders by their support.

“Crook, I asked you here to take up the position as the school teacher, isn’t that right?”

“So? I’m here. Canaday’s here. You never told me about him being here.”

“He was the law at the time, I didn’t want to draw attention to myself by getting involved in any problems with him. He didn’t connect me with – my son.”

“Your son!” Crook sneered and lounged back in his chair, “When did you ever pay any attention to your son. You left me to look after the boy, while you cleared off. Never gave a thought to the boy, did you?”

“I left him in good hands.” Brockett said with a hardening in his voice that Crook noticed, which made the other man smile a little for it meant he was getting under the man’s skin.

“The boy was raised by the military mostly, little input from me. Made him a little bit wild, but he was a good rookie. Anyway, that’s not what I came to talk about, what I want to know is why you’re here, why am I here? What exactly is going on?”

Brockett licked his lips and glanced around him, he stood up and walked over to the window of his office and stared out into the street, “Pete, I’ve made a good life for myself here. I’ve a good standing in the community, and I’ve managed to salt enough money away to have a comfortable life when I – er – retire.”

“Yeah, I can see that ..most of the town can see that.”

“Well, it isn’t always enough, is it? A comfortable job, good pay… “ he turned to look at the other man again and narrowed his eyes, “You won’t be a school teacher forever, Pete. What will it bring you?”

“What do you mean?”

“I know you’ll get a pension, it’ll be very small though, won’t it?”

They stared into one another’s eyes, Crook shook his head

“What exactly does that mean?”

“What I said, you’ll only get a small pension – that’s if you keep the job long enough.”

“And what is that supposed to mean?” Crook snarled, his eyes went redder and he leaned in towards the man “Spit it out, what does that mean?”

“It means that there’s talk in town that the Head Master finds your conduct questionable. Be careful, Pete.”

Crook shook his head, confused, baffled. He scowled “Is this what this meeting is all about? Just to warn me to be a good boy before I get into trouble?”

“No, it isn’t just about that, but I don’t have much time just now to say more than that …and this isn’t the right time or place either.”

Crook rose to his feet and picked up his hat, he shook his head, “You know, Sam, you always did talk in riddles. I just wish you would talk straight for once in a while.”

Brockett nodded almost in sympathy with the other man, he stood up and walked to Crooks side, and walked with him to the door “I can’t talk now, Pete. Look, I’ll come over to your place one evening…” he paused “at the end of the week. How would that suit you? We can have a good talk over a few glasses, huh?”

He grinned and Crook felt a trickle of unease down his spine, but he nodded and agreed, after all, Brockett wasn’t stupid. It would be good to be in on one of his schemes for once instead of being left out in the cold as usual.

Recess was almost over when he returned to the school and the children were filing into class. He watched them, numerous heads bobbing up and down, excited chatter and laughter. He sighed, and shook his head…if one could turn the clock back, how he wished he could be a boy again.
………….

“How much further do you think it is, Hoss?”

Joe sipped hot coffee from the tin mug and stared out to the far off horizon. There didn’t seem to be any sign of a town, just boulders and rocks and wilderness.

“Tomorrow morning I reckon.” Hoss replied, “I never went to Genoa from this direction before, Joe. But I think we’re making good time.”

“I hope you’re right. I’m almost tempted to ride back to Blakesville and find out what’s going on there.” Joe chewed on his bottom lip for a moment and scowled, while Hoss just kept his head down and poured more coffee into his mug.

“Y’know, Joe, you shouldn’t be so impatient. There’s a reason why Adam sent us to Genoa. I think we may well find out a lot more about the Tombs when we see Mr and Mrs Blair.”

Joe nodded, but his eyes were blank as he continued to stare out, then he looked up at the sky, “I hope Mary Ann is alright. I feel kind of bad leaving her behind.”

Hoss chortled at that, “Joe, you kidding me? This is hardly the kind of jaunt to bring a lady.”

“I know,” Joe shrugged and looked back at Hoss, “She didn’t like Jerry Cambor, you know. She didn’t trust him.”

“Mary Ann was right, you see, Joe, you forget she was a school teacher once.”

Now it was time for Joe to laugh, he laughed and shook his head at his brother, “What does that have to do with Jerry Cambor?”

“Wal, the way I have it figured, is this – your wife being like she had been a school ma’am, not that that was her fault, but there you are, but a school teacher has all these kids in their sights, and over the years she gets to know every wrinkle there is in ‘em, and then she gets so she understands folks…maybe more than most folks realise.”

He stopped, amazed at his own comments, he smiled and looked at his brother who was surveying him with wide eyes and an air of incredulity on his face.

“Yeah, so, see what I mean?” Hoss concluded with a sweeping gesture of his hands.

“You know, Hoss, there are times when you sure do amaze me. You figuring that out all by yourself too.”

“Yeah, I know. I amaze myself sometimes too.” Hoss grinned and slapped his hand upon his brother’s back, “Best get moving. Maybe we’ll see Genoa before the day is over.”

“Let’s hope so.” his younger brother muttered and still grinning he leaned down to pick up his hat which he slipped casually over his head.
………….

Ben Cartwright eased his back and stretched, he rubbed his lumber region and stretched again “Roy, we must be getting old. I feel like I’ve been riding for days instead of a mere few hours.”

“Speak for yourself,” the ex-sheriff replied and poured out coffee into two tin cups. “Could be we’ll meet your boys on the way there. Could be they’ll have found the answers to the questions we need.”

“Roy, I don’t even know what questions to be asking now, there’s so much to think about… “ he paused and after thanking Roy for the coffee he stared down into his depths for a moment “Roy, if we hadn’t arrived in time, I dread to think what Cambor would have done … I don’t even know now if I was right in leaving Mary Ann right now.”

“How long before we get to Blakesville?”

“Not so long. I think I’ll go on to Boulder’s Creek first and check to see if there are any cables for me there.”

“Hoping that Pinkerton will turn up something?”

“Hoping is the right word.” Ben sighed, “But I think most of the answers will come once Joe gets his memory back.”

Roy nodded, “Some answers, Ben, some.”

Chapter 43

Mr Cavello glanced up and looked surprised at the sight of Adam with his saddle bags slung over his shoulder and a look on his face that looked a cross between resignation and concern as he approached the counter. Cavello’s eyes glanced from Adam’s face, to the saddle bags and back to the face with the sombre brown eyes,

“You are not staying longer?” his voice sounded disappointed, as though he couldn’t understand anyone wanting to leave so soon.

“No, Mr Cavello, although I may come back later…” Adam frowned and pulled out his wallet, “You Don’t happen to know if anyone visited my brother while he was here, do you?”

“No, why would someone come to see him? He was unconscious all the time, and a stranger in town …” Cavello replied rather warily, his watery brown eyes glanced around the foyer as though expecting legions of customers to form a queue and demand attention.

“Si,” came a voice behind him and Mrs Cavello appeared, she nodded at Adam, glared at her husband and then looked again at Adam, “Si, there was a man come to see him. It was the morning and this man come and ask if his friend was here. I ask what friend and he say “Joseph Cartwright.” then he point to the name in the register…yes he say, that is my friend. ‘We were supposed to meet here in town’.”

“Did he see Joe?” Adam asked, his wallet in his hand and fingers suspended over the dollar notes that Mr Cavello was eyeing greedily.

“Si, he go upstairs. Then he come down and say he cannot get his friend to answer. I take the master key and go up, he follow so close behind me that when I stop at the door he bump into me. He rush into room, shake the other man and say to him to wake up, but no answer. I tell him, he has been hurt, doctor treat him, but he is not well.”

“And he left?”

“He leave, and I not see him again. I see horse though, a fine horse, black and handsome. But he, no.”

“What did he look like?” Adam slowly began to peel off the dollar notes aware that Cavello was watching as each dollar left the wallet.

“Tall, handsome, slim…he walk like he own everybody. You know the kinda man I mean?” she looked at him and slightly narrowed her eyes, and Adam nodded and wondered how she would describe him should she ever have to do so.

He handed Cavello the money, accepted the receipt and was about to walk away when he paused to look directly at the Hotel owner “You never saw this man? “

Cavello shook his head “No, and first time she say about it..I never see him.”
…………

Out on the street again and Adam glanced up and down and noticed the way the town had woken up, people busy walking, talking, shopping and generally going about their usual business. He wondered just how much of an impression on their lives the murder of two people had actually had and was walking to get his horse from the livery when he noticed the empty house.

It just seemed strange to him that in a town that was erecting buildings in order to keep up with demand there should be an empty house. It already had an air of abandonment about it, although it was an impressively built property.

He shook his head and told himself to stop wool gathering when he almost literally bumped into the restaurant owner who gave him the benefit of a big smile.

“I don’t know if that place is for sale, that is, if you’re interested in buying it.” her eyes twinkled and her voice contained a chuckle.

“No, I was just wondering why it was empty…it looks as though it has been empty for a while.”

“Oh it has been. I don’t know who owns it though. It -” she rolled her eyes dramatically and lowered her voice “it was a den of iniquity. The ladies in town got it closed down. You know what I mean?” she winked and then looked over at the house again “Pretty young ladies they were, said they were renting the house for educational purposes.”

Adam said nothing although he couldn’t help but grin, and she wandered off with a smirk on her own face. Adam shrugged, it was none of his business, he had come to prove Joe innocent of murder, and so far, had proven nothing.

He thought of Jerry’s visit to Joe in the hotel room. Would it serve any good purpose to tell the sheriff? He didn’t think so, in fact Adam was sure that Blakeley would take it as further proof that Joe and Jerry were partners in crime.

Feeling rather disconsolate Adam walked to the livery to collect his horse. Perhaps, he thought, Boulder’s Creek would turn up more secrets than this town had, and with that thought in mind he forced himself to think more positively.
……….

The township of Genoa originated in 1851* as a Mormon settlement but most Mormons left when the Utah War took place and Brigham Young recalled them all to Salt Lake City. It was also,for a short while, the capital of the newly formed territory of Nevada until Carson City was awarded that prize.

The Territorial Enterprise began publishing there in 1859 but moved over to Virginia City when it was realised that town would provide far more newsworthy content than Genoa by the sheer number of its population. William Jernegan* and Alfred James* both came to the conclusion that Genoa would never amount to more than a small township whereas Virginia City would blossom and bear much fruit as a result of the gold and silver found in the Washoe.

Both Cartwright brothers felt confident that they would find Mr and Mrs Blair quite easily. As they made their way down the main street, one quite familiar to them, they both felt stiff and where they didn’t feel stiff, they felt numb. They dismounted and stopped for a while in order for their legs to adjust to terra firma.

Neither of them could explain to the other why they had felt it so important to get here as fast as they could, but they were both grateful to have arrived at last.

“Do you reckon we should go visit Miss Rachel while we’re here, Joe?” Hoss asked as he glanced up and down the street while in the process of tying the reins of his horse to the hitching post.

“Are you kidding? Adam said to find Mr and Mrs Blair, he didn’t say nothing about visiting Rachel – and don’t forget she’s a married woman now.”

“Huh? What’s that got to do with anything?”

Joe said nothing but cast his brother an exasperated glare before stepping up onto the board walk leading to the sheriff’s office. He pushed the door open and looked around the dusty interior where a weary looking deputy paused in mid-stride to stare at him.

“Anything we can do for you gents?” he drawled and gave them both a friendly smile and nod of the head.

“We’re looking for some friends of ours.” Joe said quickly, removing his hat as he spoke and trying to look friendly and less ‘edgey’

“Oh, good. Friends are good…yeah…so, what are your friends called? Maybe I might just know them.” he smiled wider, looking at Hoss rather warily and Joe with more caution.

“Mr and Mrs Blair.” Hoss and Joe chorused together, then Joe added “They moved here a while back, from Boulder’s Creek way.”

“Boulder’s Creek way, did you say?” the deputy frowned and shrugged, “Well, there are two couples by that name living here in Genoa. Don’t think they come from thereabouts though. One couple been here since 1856 and the other couple..well, I don’t know, ain’t so sure about them…tell you what, I’ll give you their address and you can find out for yourself. But – I ain’t too sure that they would be from Boulder’s Creek…still, I might jest be wrong.”

Joe and Hoss glanced at one another and sighed, but the deputy wrote out a name and address and handed it over. “I put the address of the other couple down for you, but don’t think Boulder’s Creek even existed when they moved here.”

“Thanks, Deputy.” Hoss nodded and smiled, then turned with Joe to leave the building.

Once on the street Hoss glanced up and down, then gave his brother a nudge, “I sure feel hungry, Joe. How about some food before we do anything else?”

Joe was about to protest when he recognised a familiar figure walking down the opposite side of the road, he grabbed Hoss by the elbow, and said in a quiet voice “Don’t look now, but Rachel Darrow is across the road. Keep walking… Look right ahead…into that restaurant, quick, now…”

Hoss didn’t need Joe’s slight push in the back to get him into the restaurant, he was hungry and the smells from the building were more than adequate to lure him into its interior.

“Well, what do we do now…” Hoss asked once a plate full of steak and creamed potatoes and thick onion gravy was put in front of him, “Apart from eat this of course…”

“We go and see Mr and Mrs Blair…then we’ll ask them why they left their place and why they sold out to Mr and Mrs Tombs. For some reason Adam thought it was important so I guess we’ll go along with it, even if it is just to humour him.”

“Oh ..” Hoss nodded, “Well, first off, I‘m having this here and then afterwards I’m having some apple pie and cream.”

Joe nodded, he still wasn’t sure why it was so important to find the Blairs, but had enough confidence in Adam’s ideas as to continue along with it. Hoss, on the other hand, wasn’t really sure of anything except that Adam had wanted Joe out of Blakeley’s way. He glanced over at his youngest brother and leaned forward,

“Joe?”

“What?”

“You remembered anything else since we been here?”

Joe looked blank for a moment and frowned, “No, why should I. I know for a fact I didn’t visit Genoa back then.”

Hoss sat back, slightly deflated. He nodded though and turned his attentions to the food. For a while there was nothing else to say.
……

Mrs Blair smiled politely at the two strangers on her doorstep. She looked from one to the other of them and listened to their rather embarrassed introductions. As soon as she had opened the door both Cartwrights knew this was not the Mrs Blair from the cabin they had known previously.

For one thing she was young and pretty. For another thing she was very obviously pregnant, and as she stood there with her hands protectively cradling her ‘bump’ both Hoss and Joe stumbled over their words until eventually she laughed

“You two look and sound as though you’ve swallowed more than you oughta…perhaps you should come on in and tell me what this is all about. My husband will be home shortly from work so may be could help you even more.”

“It’s alright, ma’am,” Hoss said rather gallantly as he held his hat against his chest, “We was just looking for old friends of ours …”

“They were called Blair and we were told they moved here about a year, perhaps eighteen months ago…but … but you’re obviously not them…her…Mrs Blair I mean…”

“Well, we moved here a year ago that’s true, but we came from Laurenceton.” she frowned, “Were your friends from Laurenceton?”

“No, ma’am, they were from near Boulder’s Creek.” Hoss smiled and nodded and began to back away towards the gate.

“Oh, I don’t even know where that is…” she frowned, her pretty face creased in concentration, then she smiled again “I bet my husband will know where it is though..are you sure you don’t want to come on in?”

“No, that’s alright, ma’am, thank you anyhow..” Joe nodded, smiled just like his brother and began backing away and with relief, as he closed the gate behind him, she shut the door.

“Nice lady.” Hoss observed as they hurriedly walked away.

“Yeah, very hospitable.” Joe sighed and then stopped in thought, “Best go and check the other Mr and Mrs Blair.”

“Yeah, but they’ve been here since forever..” Hoss groaned.

“Come on, stop moaning…at least then we can tell Adam we saw all the Blairs that were here.”

The house they next went to was less well kept than the previous property. It was evidence of a couple who could no longer able to maintain it to the manner in which they had been accustomed. Hoss knocked with some trepidation, removed his hat and stepped back for the door to open. It squeaked as it did so and a little old man poked his head out much like a tortoise would peek out from its shell.

“What do ya want?” he snapped, narrow eyes peered into their faces and the dewdrop at the end of his nose shone in the sunlight.

Joe was almost immediately hypnotised into looking at the drop, waiting for it to fall…while he listened to Hoss excusing himself and saying it was a mistake.

“A mistake? A mistake? Disturbing folks like this…I’ve got my gun right here, young man, and don’t think I won’t use it..” the dewdrop wobbled and Joe blinked and waited…” so you had best be out of this here garden faster than you came into it…and I mean …now…else …”

He reached out for what Joe thought was a rifle but it was just to stretch out his arm and run his sleeve under his nose. Joe closed his eyes, shook his head, and then turned and walked quickly away, with Hoss close behind him.

“Shucks, Joe, it weren’t him, was it?”

“Do you think there could be another Mr and Mrs Blair here that the deputy didn’t know about?”

The two brothers looked at one another thoughtfully, Joe scratched his head and Hoss tugged at his ear lobe.

“Hello, you two boys…I thought I saw you before, I told myself, it had to be you, there wasn’t another man I know the size of Hoss “

As Rachel Darrow, nee Coffee, weaved her way towards them and her voice floated above their heads both brothers felt their hearts sink. She smiled at them, her face wreathed in pleasure at seeing them, her eyes bright.

“So, what are you doing here? How’s Roy? How’s your brother and father? “

Joe smiled, nodded and greeted her warmly as the realisation dawned on him that if anyone would know where the Blairs were, it would be Rachel Darrow, nee Coffee.

Sadly, he was wrong. It would seem that there was no Mr and Mrs Blair from the cabin near Boulder’s Creek living in Genoa.

…….

Adam had barely slipped his foot into the stirrup when a shadow blotted out the light from the doorway. He turned fully expecting to see Blakeley or Matheson but instead found Grant Tombs hovering anxiously before stepping towards him,

“You’re leaving Blakesville?” the young man asked, and when Adam nodded he bowed his head and sighed, “Mr Cartwright? “

Adam sighed, he was impatient, eager to get off and frustrated at finding out nothing while he had been here, he nodded “Yes, Grant?”

“May I come with you, sir?”

“I’m not going far, Grant, only to Boulder’s Creek.” he bounced on one foot in order to gain leverage into the saddle, once there he looked down at Grant, “I guess you can come if you wish to, although, haven’t you anything to do hereabouts?”

“Hereabouts?” Grant almost laughed, and shook his head in dismay, “No, Mr Cartwright, I have nothing to do hereabouts. I’ve been kicking my heels for the past few weeks trying to find out about my parents killer, and found nothing, and no one wants to help, except you and your brothers.”

“Well, that’s because one of my brother’s happens to be in the sheriffs’ crosshairs just now, and we want to find out exactly who he should be aiming at.. It does give us a kind of impetus to find out as much as we can and find out the killer.” he sighed and nodded, “Hurry on up.”

“Yes, sir.” Grant dithered, “Should I bring anything?”

“A horse would be a good thing…” Adam replied rather dryly.

Chapter 44

Blakeley was thumbing through Wanted posters in the hope of finding one with Joe Cartwrights face on it when Matheson tapped him on the shoulder, he scowled and seeing the eager expression on his deputy’s face nodded for him to proceed with whatever he wanted to say.

“That Cartwright fella, he’s just ridden out of town with Grant Tombs.”

“Grant Tombs?” Blakeley’s scowl deepened and then slowly, like a man in a dream, he rose from behind the desk “In what direction?”

“Boulder’s Creek.” came the immediate reply, and Matheson stepped back quickly in order not to be pushed off his feet by the abrupt manner in which the Sheriff strode over to where his hat and jacket hung, “Shall I come with you?”

“No, keep an eye on things here.” Blakeley paused “I need to check to see if there’s any cables come through anyway. A nuisance not having a Telegraph depot here …” and mumbling beneath his breath he scuttled out of the building towards the livery.

He was half way there when Cavello came bustling up to him waving a towel to get his attention, “Sheriff, I think there is something I should say to you..about the young man who stayed here the night of the murders.”

Blakeley paused, hesitated, decided that as he knew where Cartwright was headed he could spare the time to listen to the Hotel Manager. After he had finished ‘listening’ he walked to the livery thinking over what had been said, and more than pleased with himself for showing such restraint. He had learned a lot more by stopping to hear the Italian tell him about a visitor that Joe Cartwright had the day after the murders.
………………

Jolyon Pitt was not an ambitious man but he was an efficient one. As he had been injured during his last enquiry, Pinkerton’s did not send him out ‘in the field’ but allowed him to investigate the case of the Tombs murders.

He had diligently combed through all their newspaper cuttings, press releases, records of previous cases in Chicago that may have given a hint of anyone called Tombs. He worked backwards having found out that Grant Tombs went to college in Boston, he decided to track the family back to their roots and as a result had sent an agent to question the tutors at the college, the woman who ran the boarding house where he had stayed, and generally to ‘nosey around’ and see what he could find.

The agent located Mrs Tombs sister, or rather the house where she had lived and the Tombs had boarded during their brief stay. Mrs Tombs sister had sadly passed away some months earlier from a respiratory condition. She had no husband, no family …it seemed the trail had grown cold.

Mrs Tombs sister had been called Abigail Blair.

Pitt now began to research into Mrs Tombs family background, and discovered that the Blair family had moved to Boston while the girls had been young. Abigail had remained in the family home, her brother had married and moved to Atlanta. Her sister Cynthia had married and also moved to Atlanta, her husband was Jethro Tombs.

The search now swung in the direction of Atlanta where it temporarily stalled. Jolyon considered it temporary solely because he had no intention of stopping his investigation. He did, however, send Ben Cartwright a cable which winged it’s way to Virginia City. Eddy, remembering his instructions, promptly sent it to Boulder’s Creek where it waited for collection.
…………….

It took Hoss and Joe an hour to extricate themselves from Rachel, now happily married and appearing slightly less acerbic than when she had lived with Roy. They promised to convey her greetings to her brother as soon as they returned home and also to various others in town. She waved them away in true dramatic style, waving a white handkerchief from the doorway.

“Shucks, Joe, I sure need a drink now…and I’m not talking about coffee.”

“Enough said, brother, let’s head for the saloon.”

The Genoa Bar and Saloon had been built in 1853* and was referred to by old timers as Nevada’s first ’thirst parlour’. When Joe and Hoss approached the bar they could see their reflections in the diamond-dust mirror that had come from Glasglow, Scotland in the 1840s.*

They didn’t spend time admiring themselves however, but ordered their drinks and found a table where they could drink it in relative peace. Joe sat for a while deep in thought, his hands cradling the glass as he stared blankly into space.

“What’s on your mind, Joe?” Hoss asked eventually, after all there was little enjoyment in being with someone who just stared over one’s shoulder all the time.

“I was just wondering why everyone was so sure that the Blairs had left their place and come here. There isn’t another Genoa anywhere , is there?”

Hoss shrugged “Mebbe, but not around hereabouts there isn’t.”

“Do you think they just wanted to – well – disappear?”

“I dunno, Joe, perhaps they did.” Hoss shrugged, he hadn’t given it too much thought, so far as he was concerned the couple had not been in Genoa and therefore, they were somewhere else. Whereabouts that was, didn’t really matter to him so much.

“Don’t you see that it’s kind of important?” Joe leaned forward, his hazel eyes stared into his brothers face, “why say they were here, when they weren’t?”

“Perhaps folk had been told that they would be here. Perhaps they just lied because they wanted to be someplace else.” Hoss shrugged, again.

“What make people want to disappear though, Hoss? Ever thought of that? To give up their home, their pleasant little lives and just go someplace no one knows where?”

Hoss sagged down into his chair and shook his head “Joe, I reckon you’re thinking just a bit too much about this, they just wanted to make a new life for themselves, is all?”

“At their age? They’re about the same age as Pa …” he paused “Did they ever mention having children to you?”

Hoss sighed and shook his head again, “Joe, look, if they had children, perhaps that’s where they’ve moved onto, to be with them. Like Pa would move someplace close by us if we chose to move…I think..” he frowned in order to consider that for a moment, then leaned forward so that their noses were just inches apart “It makes sense, don’t it?”

Joe nodded and then clicked his fingers “That’s it, we’ll just go back to Blakesville and find out. Then we will at least be able to tell Adam we know where they are….”

“Yeah, but they didn’t have nothing to do with Blakesville, did they?” Hoss said and raised his eyebrows “They would have likely gone to Boulder’s Creek.”

Joe pursed his lips, then began to drink his beer, “Right, we’ll head for Boulder’s Creek. We need to meet with Adam there anyway.”

In the far corner of the ‘thirst parlour’ a tall dark visaged man watched the two brothers as they talked and drank at their table. His eyes followed them as they left the building, leaving the doors swinging as they passed through. He finished drinking his glass of wine, and slowly beckoned to two men who had been lounging upon the bar. A whispered conversation took place, some money passed hands and then the two men left the building.

They didn’t hurry to mount their horses, instead they went to the hardware store to stock up on some food, and an ample supply of bullets for their rifles, and revolvers. Then they strolled out, mounted their horses and walked them along the main street until they were out of town.

Joe and Hoss had left a good clear trail, not that it mattered much. The two men knew where they were heading…Boulder’s Creek. It was just under two days ride away.
……………

Ben and Roy dismounted outside the Telegraph Depot in Boulder’s Creek. They were dusty and weary, and Roy was all for suggesting getting a room with a bath as soon as possible followed, hopefully, by a good meal and a decent bed for the night. They both knew the town well enough, and some faces were familiar to them, however, they didn’t linger but pushed the doors open and stepped into the building.

“Yes, sirs? Anything I can do for you?” the clerk smiled and nodded, his face took on the look of recognition Ben was accustomed to, “Mr Cartwright from the Ponderosa, isn‘t it?”

“It is..” Ben smiled and extended his hand, which was warmly shaken, “This is Roy Coffee, ex-sheriff of Virginia City.”

“Sure, I know you, Mr Coffee. You came here some years back to arrest that Ray Connors. Mean cuss he was and no mistake.”

Ben sighed and nodded “Well, er – “ his mind went wandering while he sought for the name, “Chuck? Um …any cables for me? I did ask Eddy to re-direct anything .”

Chuck nodded and scratched behind his ear, he went to the rack of pigeon holes and eventually returned to the counter with several cables in his hand. These he passed over to Ben, apologising to Roy on account of there not being any for him.

Ben paid his dues and then the two men left the building. One cable was from Hester, urging him to be careful and return safely and to tell Hoss the same. Ben smiled at that and slipped it into his pocket.

The next was from Pitts, he read it through several times and then passed it to Roy who sighed and shook his head, “Not very helpful, is it?”

“No…I had hoped for something more definite than that, but, Roy…” he paused as though to consider more carefully what it was he was about to say, “Blair, they were related to the Blairs…I mean…possibly the Blairs who lived in the cabin.”

Roy nodded “That gives things a slightly different angle, don’t it?”

Ben was about to say something more when someone tapped him on the shoulder and turning he came face to face with his eldest son, “Pa, what are you doing here?”

Adam then turned his attention to Roy and frowned, “I suppose you encouraged him to come? Doing some private investigating are you?”

“I – er – no, not exactly, well, er – some..anyhow, what are you doing here?” Roy stammered.

“Making sure no one arrests Joe for a murder he didn’t commit.” Adam replied and then turned to the youth who was now standing beside him “Pa, Roy this is Grant Tombs.”

Hands were shaken, and Roy was the one to say “Grant Tombs…related to the couple who were murdered, huh?”

“Yes, sir.” Grant managed a smile.

“Don’t take any notice of Roy, he was our sheriff for years, its got so that he can’t leave being a lawman alone, can you, Roy>“ Ben smiled at his old friend who chuckled, and nodded

“True enough, but I must say it’s good to see you, young man. Adam? Where are your brothers?” Roy looked over Adam’s shoulder to see if he could locate Joe and Hoss anywhere near by.

“I sent them onto Genoa, that was where we were told the Blairs had moved to after they sold up to the Tombs.” Adam replied, he turned before they could speak and nodded towards the hotel and restaurant “I don’t know about you two, but Grant and I are really dry in the mouth, how about a drink huh?”

Roy and Ben shared a conspiratorial wink, nodded, and made their way to the building behind Adam and Grant. After finding a table tucked away in a private corner, Ben leaned towards his son “So you sent your brothers to find the Blairs? Why?”

“So that they could find out why Mr and Mrs Tombs bought the property from them and why they were so eager to leave the place. After all, Pa, you told me yourself how much the Blairs like it there and ….”

“And you didn’t send them there to get them out of the way of Blakeley?” Roy frowned and looked into the other mans’ face.

“Partly that too.” Adam admitted in a quieter tone of voice.

“Adam, about Jerry Cambor…” Ben began but Adam raised a hand to stop him from speaking and said very quietly that he knew all about Jerry Cambor and didn’t want to hear any more about it. The man was dead, thank goodness for that….

Ben now turned to Grant, realising that Adams reticence to discuss the matter of Jerry could well be because he didn’t want to discuss the attack on Mary Ann with the younger man, he was about to speak when Roy started to tell Adam, and Grant, that they had just received a cable about the Blairs…and then looked significantly at Ben

“You contacted them?” Adam asked, looking surprised.

“No, I had a cable from a friend in Chicago. He sent me this cable…” and Ben passed it over to Adam who read it and then set it down on the table, before turning to Grant.

“Did you know that the Blairs may well have been related to you?” he asked and raised his dark eyebrows in an all too familiar arch, but Grant just sat there, and shook his head, while his face drained of colour.

Grant Tombs stared very intently at the pattern on the table cloth and was spared having to speak by the waitress who asked for ‘Orders, please.”

Once she had gone he did clear his throat and take a deep breath, then after glancing quickly at the three expectant faces began to speak “My Aunt Abigail. She lived in Boston. Her name was Blair.”

Adam nodded and quirked one eyebrow while Roy and Ben looked at one another as though agreeing to wait for what else was to come from the lad. Grant cleared his throat again “She wasn’t very well. I don’t recall much about her until we had to get to Boston after Atlanta burned down. We lived with her for a little while but it didn’t seem a very happy household…I mean, she was nice enough but there seemed to be some kind of friction all the time.”

He licked his lips and looked at them, Roy seemed to particularly worry him, there was something rather piercing about those eyes concealed partly by spectacles that Grant noticed were smeared by finger smudges. Grant cleared his throat in order to continue….

“My parents moved to Chicago and I was left with Aunt Abigail, but then she arranged for me to board at the school. I guess she didn’t want a kid underfoot.” he gave a half hearted shrug of the shoulders.

“Do you think there’s any possibility that Mr and Mrs Blair – the couple who sold their home to your parents, could have been related to you?” Roy said, jutting out his chin as he spoke which made his moustache bristle from under his nose.

“I hadn’t thought so, no one mentioned it.”

Ben nodded and looked sympathetically at the boy, “Did you know you had an uncle who moved to Atlanta with his wife? It may be that they moved the same time as your parents?”

Grant shrugged again “I don’t know, sir. I was born in Atlanta, and I never knew I had any Uncle. No one ever mentioned him to me.”

“So you never met this Mr and Mrs Blair who lived hereabouts?” Roy now asked, looking rather narrow eyed at the young man who squirmed in his seat and felt miserable at the thought that the three men could think he was lying.

“It isn’t an uncommon name,” Adam said mildly, as though trying to defuse the situation, and appreciating Grant’s discomfort, “Could just be a co-incidence.”

“I don’t believe in co-incidences.” Roy muttered dourly.

The waitress came at that point and placed their order upon the table, the coffee looked dark and steaming, and each man there took a cup towards them. Ben looked thoughtful and then shook his head, “Well, I guess we won’t know any more about them until we find them.”

“Hopefully Hoss and Joe will be able to give us some information about them when they meet us here..”

Ben nodded, “Good. This town is just too close to Blakesville for my liking. Sheriff Blakeley seems too eager to have Joe fingered for those murders.” he glanced at Grant, “I’m sorry, lad, if that sounded brutal, they were your folks and you have our sympathies for your loss.”

Grant nodded, he decided not to bother explaining that in a way there was no loss. The loss of his parents happened a very long time ago. He sipped the coffee and said nothing.

Adam cleared his throat “Pa, do you think your contact in Chicago would be able to look up the names of civilians who would have fought at Jonesborough, the battle before Atlanta was seized. I was just wondering if Blair was still in Atlanta at the time, he may have been involved.”

Grant leaned forward, “My father fought in that battle, he came home – and it was a terrible time, and I remember my Ma was frightened, really frightened..”

“Of your father?” Ben said gently.

“No, not of him, but because they had lost that battle and we would have to leave Atlanta. Whenever I think back to my life back then, that’s the memory I have – of people wounded, dying, just rows of people in the road, and the blood and flies and the sounds of men in pain. My father was angry and, I guess, he was frightened too.”

“But you got out safely?” Roy leaned back to survey the youth, and wondered just how much he really knew and was concealing from them

“Yeah, my father was wealthy, he paid for tickets to get us on the train out of there. We never saw Atlanta burning…we never … “ he paused and decided he’d rather drink his coffee than say anymore.

“Well, I guess it would give Pitt something to go on.” Ben said slowly and glanced at Roy who nodded.

“So – Jerry’s dead.” Adam said in an undertone, “And we found enough evidence to prove he killed Blakeley’s deputy. His tracks were all over the area where the killing took place.”

“Was he alone?” Roy asked only for Adam to shake his head,

“No, another man was there, and – we found a woman’s footprint too. She and the other man left the murder site, and boarded a rig. Signs were that they came here”

“She was waiting for one of them? Both of them?” Roy hissed and again Adam shook his head,

“Only the man who was with Jerry. It’s possible they’re still here.”

“So we need to find another couple?” Ben frowned, “Or just a woman?”

Grant listened and watched the three men as they leaned towards each other, heads almost touching. He thought over the night of the fire, the finding of his parents bodies days later. He wished it would all just go away and could be forgotten, shuffled away and never poked and pried into any more.

Roy shifted in his seat, and leaned back “Well, we know Jerry Cambor must have killed the – er – your folks, Grant. He was in the cabin that night.”

“He never admitted to killing them, Roy.” Ben said quietly, feeling rather uncomfortable now in view of what the man had said about Joe, “It could be that he knows who did kill them though. He could even have been the one who set fire to the cabin to conceal the murders. Speculation of course, a Judge could well dismiss it.”

“I doubt if he’d dismiss the accusation Jerry made about Joe, though.” Roy replied tartly, and scowled, “we got to get this matter cleared up before Blakeley finds Joe and arrests him.”

“Well, it’s some distance from Genoa to here,” Ben said, “I reckon we have two days to find this woman and get the truth out of her.”

“Where do we start?” Grant said quietly, “After all, I’d like to find out who really did kill my folks. I don’t believe Joe did them any harm, but I sure want to know who did.”

Chapter 45

“Joe, I reckon we should get off this road and git behind those rocks thar for a spell.”

Joe gave his brother a sharp glare, a scowl and a tight lipped buttoned up mouth indicated his refusal to do any such thing. He nudged Navejo’s flanks with his heel and continued on until Hoss put out a hand to stop him,

“I ain’t kidding, Joe.”

“Your head itching again, Hoss?” there was no humour in the words, he shook his head and looked defiant.

“No matter if it is or it isn’t.” his brother replied matter of factly, “Let’s git behind those rocks and see what happens, huh? “

Shaking his head to indicate that he was not accepting Hoss’ idea of being followed, but that he was ‘giving in’ to the suggestion, Joe turned Navejo from the road to where the rocks closely bordered it.

Once settled behind the biggest boulders Hoss dismounted and pulled out his rifle. Shaking his head Joe did the same, although Hoss’ actions did make him more cautious and reminded him of the many times his big brother’s instincts had saved their lives.

They waited for some time before Joe became fidgety, and nudged Hoss “Can we get going now?”

Hoss raised a hand for silence and nodded towards the road. Within another few moments there was the sound of horses, and then two horsemen appeared loping along in the direction they had been taking. Hoss put a hand on Joe’s arm and indicated silence, as the two men drew abreast of them, and continued onwards.

“Hoss, this is a public roadway, they could be anybody heading for any place out of Genoa on some business of their own. They might -”

“Wal, we’ll soon find out, won’t we?” Hoss whispered, “Once they lose our tracks because they won’t be able to find ‘em, they’ll turn back to see where they lost ‘em, and then we can find out exactly who they are and why they’re out looking for us.”

Joe sighed and leaned back into the rocks. He cradled his rifle over his arm and stared at Hoss’ broad back. He knew Hoss was right, it paid to be cautious, he remembered Adam’s warning, that someone could well know that he had been at the cabin …except of course, he hadn’t …had he?

The silence hung over them long after the dust had settled back into the road. Hoss was about to stand upright, admitting to himself that he had been wrong, when there came the sound of hoof beats yet again. He crouched down, and behind him, Joe did likewise.

The two horsemen were walking their horses, one man was on his feet walking alongside his horse. Their eyes looked carefully here and there, looking for some familiar sign

“You looking for anyone in particular, gents?”

Hoss stood up, rifle levelled towards the two men, and half concealed by the boulder behind which he had been hiding. Behind him, Joe rose to his feet, and slowly walked to join his brother, the rifle pointed in the direction of the two men who stared at them as if they couldn’t believe their eyes.

One man rallied and shrugged “Sure, we were looking for you. Heard you were looking for a couple called Blair?”

“That’s right, we were.” Hoss replied, keeping his voice low and expressionless, “What’s it to do with you?”

The man who had been walking shrugged while the other leaned on the saddle horn towards the Cartwrights and nudged his hat off his brow,

“Wal, we know where they are. We could take you to them.”

Joe shook his head and glanced at the other man who was looking nervous, edging closer to his horse but in a way that he hoped would not be noticeable.

“Why would you want to help us find the Blairs? How did you know we were looking for them anyway?” Joe promptly demanded to know and both men stiffened slightly, the man on the ground inched closer to his horse, to the saddle where his rifle was sheathed.

“We overheard you talking, Mister.” the man on horseback said very quickly, “We – er – thought if you wanted us to take you there, I mean, we need the money and …” his hand moved in a blur and he had his gun in his hand and fired.

The other man didn’t have time to grab his rifle as his horse, skittish from the bark of gunfire, jerked the reins from his hands and bolted, knocking him to the ground. But as he fell he managed to get his gun from its holster and fired off a shot.

Splinters of rock scattered at body height as the bullets hit them, and Hoss gave a curse under his breath as one shard slid through his sleeve, bringing a bloody welt oozing through the rent in his sleeve. Both Cartwrights dived for cover and began to fire back.

For a few moments the sound of gunfire echoed and re-echoed around the boulders until finally there was silence, leaving only the smell of cordite and the drift of gun smoke disappearing into the air.

A bird took flight from the limb of a bedraggled shrub, it cawed as it winged across a blue cloudless sky …

As echoes of the gunfire died away Hoss stepped away from the boulders and down into the road. He turned to look for his brother and expected to find him at his side but Joe wasn’t there and immediately fear trickled through Hoss as he returned to the rocks to find him. Joe was lying unconscious on the ground, and when Hoss touched his body, there was no reaction.

The fact that his brother could be dead made Hoss feel physically sick and also, frightened and alone. No older brother to turn to, no father to hold onto. The bird was trilling from among the shrubbery and close by another bird answered, Hoss could have cheerfully wrung both their necks.

“Joe? Joe, come on…wake up now…ain’t no time for going to sleep, you got things to do. You got to think of Mary Ann and the kids. Come on, Joe …”

He slapped his brother’s face gently, and the eyelids fluttered. That was reassuring, and with a grateful prayer Hoss then proceeded to shake his brother very carefully, before Joe eventually opened his eyes. They seemed to roll about a little exposing the whites before the hazel looked unfocussed at Hoss before rolling up again and closing. Hoss stood back and then with a frown on his amiable face hurried down to where his horse stood patiently waiting.

“ALright there, alright, Chubb…stand steady now.” and Chubb looked at his master as though to say ‘You’re telling me?’ while Hoss quickly retrieved his canteen and hurried back to Joe.

A wet bandana wiped around his face and neck helped bring Joe back to some sense, he opened his eyes and blinked several times before gripping hold of Hoss’ arm,

“You alright, Hoss?”

“I am, It was you that was out cold…you hurting any place?”

Joe struggled into a sitting position and rubbed his head, he buried his face into his hands for a moment and then muttered about having a head ache but felt fine. “I can’t remember much about what happened.” he admitted, “ I slipped on some shale and landed heavily among the rocks. Must have knocked myself out.”

“I reckon so.” Hoss agreed, and then looked over his shoulder down to the road where the two men were sprawled “Guess we had better deal with them.”

The two men were dead, and Hoss regretted that very much because he could not see the sense nor the humanity of getting killed just by riding along the road and asking a few questions. It was always such a final thing, and proved the frailty of human life when such a small thing as a piece of lead could bring life to an end.

He leaned over one man’s body and looked down at him, shook his head and did the same with the other. “Why’d they have to go for their guns fer?”

Joe threw his brother a quizzical glance and shook his head, “Because they would have been paid to make sure we were the ones left here on the road, that’s why.”

“Yeah, I know that, but all the same..” Hoss leaned down to rummage through the man’s pockets, and found a quantity of money, some cards, dice and little else. “Nothing to identify him.”

“Probably one of life’s drifters.” Joe muttered and turned to the other man, the one who had been on horseback.

They found quite a large sum of money in his wallet, plus a letter addressed to a Mr H. Logan. The address was of the hotel in Genoa. The letter within was offering Mr Logan a position in the local store should he wish to have it…Joe took the letter to Hoss,

“Do you think he was a local man?”

“Living in the hotel? I wouldn’t have thought so.” Hoss’ brow crinkled and he rubbed the back of his neck, “What d’you reckon we should do with these two, Joe? I don’t like to leave ‘em here like this.”

“No, I guess not.”

Joe looked around him and shrugged “Guess we should take them back to town. Genoa. It’s nearer than anywhere else. I sure don’t care for riding all the way to Boulder’s Creek with two dead bodies trailing behind me.”

It didn’t take so long to have the two men draped over the saddles of their horses and tied securely so that they wouldn’t slip back into the road along the way to the town. Once that was done the brothers mounted their own horses and taking a horse apiece on a lead rein, walked their animals back along the way they had come.

Chapter 46

The four men back in Boulder’s Creek had decided that the only means of identifying the woman was by checking out who had taken out a rig on the day Jericho had died. Adam confirmed that from what the footprints had indicated she had arrived alone and waited for the man to join her. They had then ridden back to town together.

There were four livery stables that hired out rigs, buggies and wagons. Ben and Roy tried two, while Grant and Adam tried the other two. They met later that day for some lunch at the restaurant where the bored waitress handed them a menu, brought over the coffee and four cups and waited for their orders.

Roy was the one who asked if they had found anything to which Adam and Grant shook their heads. “What about yourselves?” Adam looked at the two older men, “Anything?”

Roy nodded “A woman did hire out a rig that day. A two seater. She called herself Lily Goldbaum.”

“Well, it’s a start.” Adam said, although he looked thoughtful, “She could be anybody.”

“All we need do is ask around town ..” Ben replied and with a smile turned to the waitress just as she put the coffee pot and cups upon the table, “Thank you, Miss -, I wonder if you could assist us. We’re looking for a woman.”

She scowled and was about to say that this was not that kind of establishment when Roy said very quickly “By the name of Lily Goldbaum.”

She looked thoughtful for a moment and shook her head “Never heard of anyone by that name. I’ll ask the boss.” she paused then, remembered what she had come to the table for and asked for their orders.

Grant leaned forward “What if we don’t find her?”

“Well, if she exists and she is in town, then we will find her.” Roy replied and smiled kindly, “If she don’t exist, and by that I mean, if she gave a false name, then she’ll get to hear that we’re looking for her and the gentleman friend will no doubt come looking for us.”

Ben nodded “The livery Manager didn’t give the impression she was a local woman. I was expecting him to say that she and her friend had caught the next stage out of town.”

“That means we’ve lost them.” Grant sighed and leaned back rather crest fallen,

“Not necessarily.” Roy brushed his moustache with the back of his hand and nodded, “All we have to do is then enquire at the stage depot for a couple who looked like the description we were given and then go follow it.”

“But Silverman was killed some weeks back now.” young Tombs reminded them but got a blank look back from the three other men.

“Doesn’t matter how many weeks, son, we just keep on looking.” Roy replied stubbornly.

Plates of food arrived and was put down on the table for them, the waitress told them that ‘her boss’ didn’t know anyone of that name either, and then left them to eat.

“What was the description?” Adam asked as he cut into his meat.

“Wal, he remembered her mostly because he saw her twice over, and talked to her. The man got down from the rig on the far side, and walked away, so he only got his back view, a man who was tall, rounded shoulders and smartly dressed. Gave him the impression of being a Banker or Lawyer.”

“Not much to go on then, with him anyway.” Adam said quietly.

“No, that’s what we thought.” his father said and Ben swallowed some coffee before continuing to speak, “The woman though…the Manager reckoned on her being about average height, say 5’5”, with dark hair. She had brown eyes and wore spectacles. She was not unattractive but not someone you would look at twice. Smartly dressed. Had a green bonnet and matching Spencer jacket.”

“Nothing else?” Adam sounded disappointed, and then gave a slight shrug, “Well, I guess it would make it too easy if she had a scar or wart on her face.”

“Nothing comes easy, son.” Roy muttered as he waded into his creamed potato.

“What do we do now?” Grant asked and again looked from face to face, his own eyes eager to get back on the hunt. For once he felt he was contributing something useful instead of waiting around in Blakesville for the sheriff to find his parents killer.

“Well, first off we try the stage depot. Then the hotels and boarding houses.” Ben smiled over at Grant, “We’ll find them eventually. It may take longer than we anticipated, or it may just drop into our laps…it just means putting our noses to the grindstone, that’s all.”

Grant nodded. He didn’t mind one bit about that, anything was better than doing nothing.
…………

The Sheriff of Genoa looked over at the two men who had stepped into his office. Both removed their hats. And regarded him with a severity that indicated trouble, He sighed, “Can I do anything for you gents?”

One man, tall and big built and with a roughly bound wound around his upper arm, nodded “Sorry to disturb you, sheriff, but we had a problem on our way out of town.”

“If your horse threw a shoe then go see -”

The younger man stepped forward “Two men attacked us, we had to defend ourselves as they wouldn’t be reasoned with and we just brought their bodies in. Thought you might know who they were and maybe give a reason as to why they would want to kill us.”

“Kill you, huh? And just who might you two be that makes you so worth while killing?”

“I’m Hoss Cartwright, my brother, Joe. From the Ponderosa ranch.” Hoss nodded and stepped back as the Sheriff approached them, looked them up and down and then walked to the door and stepped outside.

A small crowd had gathered around the bodies, there was some muttering and murmuring but nothing that indicated any trouble was forthcoming, which, in turn, meant that no one had recognised any relative over whom to grieve or avenge.

“Alright boys, away with you.” the Sheriff admonished and waved his hand at them as though they were a flock of chickens to be sent squawking away.

He looked the bodies over and then nodded, “Yep, this one’s called Logan. He’s a trouble maker, been a problem ever since he hit town two weeks ago. This one…” he paused and grabbed a handful of hair to raise the man’s face, before releasing him, “Looks familiar, probably got him on a wanted poster inside.”

He waved to a man in a black suit who was hovering and told him to take the bodies away then he looked at the two brothers “Best come on inside and give me your statements.” he paused and nodded “I’m Sheriff Grimes by the way.”

He stuck out his hand which Joe and Hoss shook before they followed him into the building..

The man seated at the table eating his lunch had not taken any notice of the ruckus outside, although the Sheriff’s office was directly opposite to the restaurant in which he was having his mid-day meal.

It wasn’t until the waitress was talking to a rather garrulous woman at the table closest to him that he began to pay heed to what was being said, having picked up the words ‘two men were brought in dead…”

“Dead?” the customer had exclaimed, “Do you mean they were killed, murdered?”

“They were shot, ma’am. The sheriff is dealing with it now, ma’am.”

He leaned back in his chair and dabbed his mouth with a napkin. He had told Logan to hide the bodies not bring them in for the sheriff to deal with once the deed was done. With a feeling of foreboding he finished his meal, wiped his mouth and rose from the table, leaving the money beside his plate.

Standing on the boardwalk he was able to see what was happening in the building opposite. He watched Hoss and Joe Cartwright leave the Sheriff, and walk to their horses where they obviously were debating on what to do next. The door to the Sheriff’s office closed. They were obviously free to go about their business, whatever and wherever that would be.

The man paused to think the matter over for just a moment and then smiled as he stepped into the road. There was more than one way to skin a cat, he mused.

Sheriff Grimes looked up and nodded over to the newcomer “Good day, sir, anything I can do for you?”

“Those two men? I believe they are called Cartwright?”

“Correct. Do you know them?” Grimes asked with a slight smile on his face as he took his seat behind his desk.

“The little one…he’s Joseph Cartwright?”

“He is.”

“You obviously don’t know this, Sheriff, but I have it on good authority that he is wanted for murder in Blakesville. Sheriff Blakeley would be most interested in knowing where they are as he has a warrant out for the arrest of Joseph Cartwright burning a hole in his pocket.”

Grimes looked amazed, and for a moment he dithered. The man was a stranger, so how good was his word? If he followed through on what he said and made a mistake where would it land him? He could lose his job!

“How sure of your facts are you, Mister…didn’t get your name ..?”

“Max Forsyth. Here’s my card” he flipped open his wallet and produced a piece of cardboard which he handed over to Grimes, “You can check me out if you wish with Sheriff Blakeley.”

Grimes looked at the card, looked at Forsyth and frowned, “I know Blakeley… I heard tell about some murders…”

“Not pleasant murders, Sheriff. Blakeley will be grateful to you if you could notify him that these men are here…that is, if you don’t take me on my word about them.”

Grimes looked once again at the card, then at Forsyth.. Finally he nodded as though he had made up his mind, called for his deputy and reached for his gun belt. By the time he was out of the building he had his rifle ready and his gun holstered.

Max Forsyth watched him until he was satisfied that he was going in the right direction and then made his way to the Hotel. He went to the counter and demanded paper and a pen. After writing a short note he handed it to the Clerk “Room 121..”

The Clerk nodded, he was getting used to having notes to deliver to Room 121. He had seen the occupant only once and that was when he had registered, taken his key and taken the room. He hadn’t left it since…

Joe was about to step into the road behind Hoss who had insisted on having something decent to eat before they restarted their journey. He had only gone two paces when he heard a brisk voice call his name, he turned and smiled at the sheriff. But his smile faltered when he saw the look on the man’s face, and the weapons he and his deputy bore,

“Anything wrong, Sheriff?”

“Plenty. you’re under arrest, Joseph Cartwright. Best if you come along quietly…”

“But we already told you, given you our statements. We -”

“Not about them two low-lifes. For the murders of Mr and Mrs Tombs. I believe Sheriff Blakeley in Blakesville would be very pleased to know you are in my cells right now.”

“But -”

Hoss came and stood beside his brother, “Joe didn’t kill nobody, Sheriff. We’re here to try and prove that he didn’t.”

Grimes shook his head, and gestured with the rifle, “Best not make any trouble. Blakeley won’t mind whether I deliver you dead or alive.”

Hoss gripped Joe by the shoulder, probably too hard for Joe winced, “Sheriff, my brother killed no one. He wasn’t even at the cabin where them two were killed. He -”

Joe shook his head.and looked up at his brother with a tight lipped mouth and hard hazel eyes, “Hoss. Don’t argue. Let’s just go in, shall we?”

The man who occupied room 121 watched from the window as the Cartwrights were ushered into the sheriff‘s office.. He then noticed the deputy running to the Telegraph depot. He could almost read the message that was winging its way to Sheriff Blakeley right now.

He almost purred with satisfaction.
………….

Hoss followed his brother back into the sheriff’s office and removed his hat. He looked at his brother who had the look of a beaten man on his face, and then at the sheriff.

“What’s this all about, sheriff?” he asked in as calm a tone of voice as possible, “We told you about -”

Grimes waved a hand to indicate he had heard enough. He turned to Joe, and for a moment his face looked thoughtful, before it resumed a look of determination once again,

“Mr Cartwright, a witness “ he paused, no, that wasn’t right, he sighed “I’ve been informed that you are wanted for questioning by Sheriff Blakeley for the murder of two people, is that right?”

Hoss felt a flutter of panic at the expression on Joe’s face, then looked at Grimes, “Look here, sheriff…”

“Mr Cartwright, I’m not talking to you. I’m asking your brother – now if you would kindly shut up so I can continue with my – er – duties.” he scowled and sat down at his desk in an attempt to signify his authority, “Can I have an answer please?”

“Yes.” Joe shrugged, and hugged his hat against his chest, “Blakeley does want me for questioning. That doesn’t mean I’m under arrest though…”

Grimes nodded, “Point noted.” he frowned and glanced at his empty cells, then at Joe, “I can’t arrest you at this juncture but I have to tell you that a cable has been sent to Sheriff Blakeley. He’ll be here in two days once he gets it.” he looked again from the cells to the two brothers, “Do I have to lock you up to make sure you don’t leave here before Blakeley arrives to question you, Mr Cartwright?”

“You want me to promise not to leave town?” Joe said slowly.

Grimes nodded and fixed him with a steel grey eye, “I’ll have a deputy dogging your every movement, Mr Cartwright. Should you make any attempt to leave then I’ll have to arrest you.”

“You don’t have to arrest me, sheriff. You have my word and that of my brother that we won’t leave town.”

Grimes nodded and observed them both again “Tell me again why you’re here?“

“We’re looking for a couple called Blair, Malachy and Jane Blair. They lived in a small cabin near Boulder’s Creek and we were given to understand that they moved here about 18 months ago. Trouble is, we can’t find them.”

Grimes was silent for a moment as he trawled through his memory for any one he may know as Blair, he shook his head “Only two couples by that name in town.”

Hoss nodded and felt it safe to speak by saying that they had met both and they weren’t the ones they were seeking. Grimes just cast him a brief look before turning again to Joe “What was so important about them?”

Joe sighed and shrugged “Well. We don’t rightly know, we’re just going on a hunch really. They always said they would never move, and then – they do – and the Tombs move in and then the Tombs get killed.”

“You saying the Blairs killed the Tombs?” Grimes frowned and his eyes narrowed as though he was finding this tale equivalent to that of the fisherman who caught the biggest ever whale.

“No, sir, just that there’s a question hangs over it…why did they move to some place where they didn’t actually move to..it – well,, it doesn’t sit neat, does it?” Joe looked anxious, puzzled and Grimes nodded,

“You trying to prove yourself innocent before they find you guilty, is that it?”

“Clutching at straws maybe, but yes, I guess that is it.” Joe nodded, and sighed, “Is there a decent hotel around here, sheriff?”

Grimes looked at his deputy who supplied the name of the best hotel he could think of in town, but as they moved towards the door Grimes said “You’re from Virginia City way, aren’t you? Roy Coffee still sheriff there?”

“No, sir, he retired some while ago.” Hoss replied as he opened the door.

“He’s a good man, good sheriff.” Grimes intoned quietly

“Yes, sir, one of the very best.” Joe nodded in agreement and carefully placed his hat on his head and stepped outside.

For a moment they stood side by side, speechless and slightly confused. It seemed Sheriff Blakeley cast a long shadow.

“Joe, I’m going to cable Pa and let him know what’s going on here. I ain’t havin you rail roaded to jail that easy.”

Joe shook his head and put a hand on his brother’s arm “Pa can’t do anything, Hoss. Best send a cable to Adam as well…at least he‘s not so far away as Pa.”

“Sure, I’ll do that, but when have you ever known Pa not to be able to sort things out? He’ll soon…”

Joe shook his head and removed his hat as though by doing so it would make things sound more significant “Hoss, it won’t matter. I’ve remembered something.”

“You have? What?”

Joe released his breath. “Let’s get to the hotel, I’ll tell you when we get into our room.”

Chapter 47

The two men met the other two men by the livery, all four looked weary, dusty and slightly irritable. Adam gave his father a long thoughtful gaze and then shook his head,

“I never realised how many brown eyed, dark haired medium sized women there were in one place before.”

Ben nodded, removed his hat and pulled out a bandana to wipe around his brow, and then around the hat band before replacing it. “She seems to have disappeared among numerous other anonymous ladies. Roy and I have tried every Boarding House and Hotel this side of town.”

“Yeah, we’ve done the same on the other side…and checked the stage depot.” Adam frowned, “No woman left Boulder’s Creek of that description in a long while. Perhaps we should go back to the livery manager and ask for a more detailed description and try again.”

“May be she didn’t stay over in town. Could be she had an appointment with the man just to pick him up and get him safely to town,” Roy said quietly, he narrowed his eyes and thought about it, “Seems to me he wouldn’t want to be hanging around here so close to Blakesville and the murders.”

Grant looked from one to the other before suggesting that he must have stayed somewhere because Jericho was killed some days after his parents were buried, and it was some days before their bodies had been retrieved from the remains of the fire.

“Seems to me it was a local man then. Someone who would have blended in and not be noticed.” Roy said seeing that the Cartwrights didn’t have much to say to Grant’s comment

“Local to here or Blakesville?” Adam asked thoughtfully.

Roy shrugged “Well, I guess that’s what we have to find out.”

Grant looked once again at the three other men before he nodded “I reckon you’re right, Mr Coffee. Perhaps he stayed at a boarding house or hotel in Blakesville. Only – there’s only one hotel there just now, and that’s the Stewart Hotel.” he paused “That’s where I’ve been staying…”

Ben tapped him on the shoulder in a friendly fatherly manner and nodded in the direction of the coffee house “Let’s go and eat. We need to get ourselves some refreshment and decide what to do next.”

They walked to the restaurant, a different one to the other favoured by them, and Adam paused “If she did return the rig here, where would they have gone?”

“That’s what we’re trying to figure out, isn’t it?” Ben smiled and Roy cleared his throat.

“No, I mean it isn’t that far from the area Silverman was killed. What? About five – six miles? Perhaps they or she would have liked a cup of something once they got to town.”

Ben nodded “Alright, we start asking questions in all the eateries. But it may be a good idea to get rooms for the night as well. Once Joe and Hoss get back from Genoa we may have a clearer idea of what we’re doing!”
……………..

The room in the hotel was comfortable, clean and modestly adorned. Two beds took up most of the space within it, and there was a comfortable arm chair close to the window. Joe walked over to it and sunk down slowly as though he was an old man, then he buried his face in his hands.

“Lordy, Joe, what’s the matter. What’s happened?”

The concern in Hoss’ voice jarred on Joe’s nerves but he shook his head and then raised his face to look into Hoss’ anxious eyes, “Hoss, I remembered…I remembered, I can recall it as clear as anything.”

“Recall what? Come on, Joe, best spit it out before I get to have some kind of nervous breakdown.”

Joe gave a rather weak laugh at that, as though he found that amusing, after all, if anyone was going to have a nervous breakdown it would be him.

“Remember when I had that dream..nightmare …the other night and it was about Crook and being at school?”

“You saying Crook was at the cabin?” Hoss looked wary, as though Joe was about to spring some joke on him.

“No, not Crook.” Joe’s shoulders sagged and he glanced out of the window and down into the street where pedestrians walked and cowboys rode by and everything was normal. “I kept thinking why did I dream about Crook, but it wasn’t him, see? It was Jerry…it was Jerry the dream was really about, and how he would get us into trouble, just like you and Adam kept telling me.”

“Go on, Joe. Say it how it is?” Hoss said quietly and perched himself on the nearest bed so he could be within reach of his little brother.

Joe tapped his mouth with his forefinger for a moment and then nodded, “Well, I was thinking about what you were saying and about the dream and I realised you were both right. Jerry was a bad one, Mary Ann realised that as soon as she saw him, she didn’t like nor trust him.”

He paused and looked bleakly at Hoss, and then looked away, back out of the window as though watching people would make it easier to speak and to say things he would rather not say.

“Well, I started remembering things, little things at first..like how I was riding along from Boulder’s Creek and thinking that perhaps I had been a bit rash in deciding to come straight home. I got to the fork in the road, I could go left and break the journey along the way until I got home, or I could take the right fork and take the track to the Blairs place.”

“You remember that? Real clear?” Hoss leaned forward, unsure whether to be relieved or miserable about the revelations, his hands drooped between his knees “What else did ya remember?”

“It was late evening, still light and the Blair’s house was just ahead. I dismounted and took Navejo to the water trough. Filled my canteen while I looked around.”
He frowned and a look of concentration passed over his face, “I thought how lovely the setting was, for the cabin I mean. I was thinking of going to knock on the door when it opened and – and Jerry was standing there, a rifle in his hands.”

“Jerry? At the cabin?” Hoss dared hardly breathe, he did release his breath though, and shook his head “Are you sure?”

“As sure as can be…”

“Did he say anything?”

“I couldn’t remember at first what happened after that…my memory kind of stopped there until we got to the place where Jericho Silverman was killed and you saw Jerry’s foot prints and horse…and I thought ‘Of course, that’s it, they were in it together.’”

“Who were?”

“Jerry and the other man. I worried about what had taken place at the cabin all the time we were there at that spot and then – then I remembered, when we were having that shoot out with those two men.”

He bowed his head again and buried his face in his hands, “Get me some water, Hoss, please. I feel real sick.”

Hoss got the water and once Joe had drank it he waved his brother away, and insisted that he got some sleep. “I feel tired, Hoss, let me sleep some…perhaps I will be able to remember more clearly if I can get a good sleep.”

He sighed, settled his head upon the cushion of the arm chair, and closed his eyes. “Real tired, Hoss.”

“Do you want me to get a doctor, Joe?”

“No, just some sleep.”

Hoss nodded, took the empty glass and watched as his brother drifted into sleep. He then left the room and hurried down to the telegraph depot where he sent a cable winging it’s way to Virginia City. Then he sent one to Adam at Boulder’s Creek, hoping against hope that his brother would make sense of what was going on in Joe’s head.

At Boulder’s Creek Sheriff Blakeley stopped to check his cables and was handed one that brought a flush of delight colouring his features. He nodded and sent a return cable to Sheriff Grimes to confirm he was on his way.

Chapter 48

Reuben Phillips Cartwright sat on one of the swings in the school yard and listened to what David Riley and Tommy Conway were discussing. It sounded daring and exciting and perhaps extremely silly but for a little boy it was an adventure that was really more than just appealing.

“Do you think you could really pull it off?” he asked eventually, his freckled face contorted into a small grimace of concern, “What if he catches you?”

“He won’t be there, will he?” Tommy said loftily, “My pa overheard Mr Brockett arranging for Mr Crook to be at his place, Mr Brockett’s, so he won’t be there. We can easily get in, his windows are about to fall out anyway.

“Yeah, he’s got an awful landlord. He’ll be glad if the window does break, we’ll be doing him a favour.” Davy grinned and then paused a moment when Sofia and Rose approached, he nodded in a friendly manner to them both and just stood there like a store mannequin, hoping they would go away so he could talk some more about the Grand Scheme.

“Where’s Jimmy?” Rose demanded to know, “I haven’t seen him all day.”

“That’s because he was kept home by his Ma, he’s not well. Got spots all over.” Tommy declared with an emphatic nod of the head and turning to Davy to signal to the girls that they were not wanted.

“Got spots?” Sofia declared and frowned, “Why? Where’d he get spots from?”

“Where does anyone get spots.” Davy replied and looked at Reuben hoping that he would get the idea and send his sister away.

“Bet it’s that dog of theirs,” Tommy suddenly declared, “Bet it’s fleas.”

“Do dogs have spots then?” Sofia now asked and looked at her brother rather dubiously, she never knew when the boys were ‘spinning a yarn’ or telling the truth.

“Of course not, but they do have fleas.” Reuben said, and got up from the swing, “Do you want the swing, Sofia? Rose?”

“No, thank you.” Rose said politely and smiled at Reuben in a way that had Davy nudging in him in the ribs.

The girls sauntered off and Davy looked again at Reuben “Best not let them know.”

“I wouldn’t dare say a word … not to anyone.” Reuben answered very honestly.

“Why not stay in town tomorrow night and spend the weekend here?” Davy suggested, “We can have a real good time, and you can join us in – you know what!”

He lowered his voice now as one of the school teachers came into view, and lingered close by to them. “I can’t,” Reuben replied, half wishing it were not true and half glad that it was, “I have to stay home when my Pa is away.”

Tommy nodded seriously and put a friendly hand on Reuben’s arm “Yeah, I heard in town what they were saying, about your Uncle Joe. Sure hope your folk get it all sorted out.”

“Yeah, no one wants a murderer in the family, do they?” Davy said with a smirk on his face.

“My Uncle Joe ain’t no murderer.” Reuben’s fingers curled into fists, “He Didn’t kill no one.”

“He did so, I heard in town he’s killed a lot of folk.. But not murdered them, well, not before this time anyway.” Davy said and walked off with his hands in his pocket and whistling “Buffalo Girls come out tonight” which would have earned him a slap around the head from his mother had she heard him.

Reuben settled back onto the swing and slowly moved it back and forth. He stared down at the ground and wondered what he was going to do about this current situation when he saw a shadow approaching him.

Mr Crook stopped right in front of Reuben, his arms behind his back and his little black eyes like gimlets in the middle of his face. He stared at the boy,

“What were you three conspiring about?”

His voice was low, sibiliant, and for a moment Reuben wondered if the teacher had been near by and had overheard what had been said. He stared at the man and shook his head, “We weren’t conspiring,Mr Crook.”

“Do you know the meaning of that word, boy?”

Reuben shook his head slowly, he had never heard of it before, no one went around saying the word back home, but even so he had a feeling it meant something wrong, something they should not have been doing.

“It means plotting behind someone’s back…is that what you three were doing?”

Reuben shook his head again, unable to speak, he managed to keep his eyes on the teacher’s face however, and Crook raised his eyebrows and was about to say something else when Mr Evans appeared, smiled at them both, and nodded in his usual pleasant manner,

“Everything alright, here?”

Crook went red around the collar, he raised himself on his toes and lowered himself back down as though momentarily at least he was the same height as Evans.

“Should there be anything wrong?” he asked in a cold voice, and after another glare at Reuben he stalked away.

Evans no looked at Reuben and frowned slightly, “Reuben, is everything alright? I know about what happened to Sofia, one of the other children told me. It isn’t right for a teacher, for anyone, to harm a child. You do know that, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir, of course I do.”

“Well, in future, should anything like that happen to you or your sister, you must let me know.” he stepped to one side and paused “With your father away, I feel as though I have a responsibility towards you both, so do take care when around Mr Crook, won’t you?”

Reuben nodded and then, as Evans began to walk away Reuben called “Please, sir,” which caused the teacher to stop and turn, “Yes, Reuben?”

“I – I was going to just ask -” Reuben stuttered, he gulped “No, it’s alright, sir. Sorry, sir.”

“Is anything worrying you, Reuben? Did Mr Crook say anything ?”

“No, sir.”

Evans looked at the boy for a moment longer and then nodded, before he walked away. He had not gone far when Sofia came and took the swing next to her brother, “Reuben, what were you talking about with Davy and Tommy?”

“Nothing. Just about Mr Crook…and how horrible he is.”

Sofia nodded and closed her eyes, she pushed away from the ground and the swing took her up, back and forth. Her skirts fluttered around her knees, and her hair blew in strands across her face. “I think he’s the horriblist man in the world.”

“Most of us think the same.” Reuben muttered and then with a sigh abandoned his swing, “Come on, Sofia, time for lessons.”

He joined Tommy at the steps leading to the building and nudged his arm “Are you sure about what you’re going to do?”

Tommy nodded “Sure, everything’s alright, Davy’s planned it all out.”

Reuben sighed and shook his head, Davy’s plans were not always the best, and they didn’t always ‘work out’. “You do understand why I can’t come, don’t you?”

Tommy shrugged “Davy thinks you’re a scaredy-cat, just making excuses, but I don’t. Anyway, there’ll always be another time.”

“What do you mean? Another time?”

“Yeah, another time to show Crook we don’t want him around. I owe him, don’t forget. He didn’t ever get to whip you, but he did me…I ain’t forgotten what it was like, much he cares…” and with a very audible sniff Tommy marched up the steps and along the corridor to his class room.
………….

Roy Coffee walked over to where Ben, Adam and Grant were standing in a little huddle outside Boulder City’s main hotel and from the look on his face each of the other three anticipated bad news.

“What’s wrong?” Ben demanded, raising his chin slightly as though preparing for some physical blow that needed to be warded off.

“The sheriff here just told me Blakeley was in town.” Roy murmured. He looked at Adam and then Ben, “Seems he’s determined to find Joe.”

“Could be here for some other reason,” Adam replied, stroking his jaw with a forefinger, “Don’t forget they have to come here from Blakesville to collect mail and any cables.”

“He knew we were – or rather – you and your brothers were heading this way, Adam. No, he’s stalking us.” Roy paused “Or rather, Joe.”

“Sure is determined to hang those murders on Joe, isn’t he?” Ben said in a deep voice, one that indicated a simmering anger that was boiling in his gut.

“If he’s still in town perhaps we could have a word with him, tell him some of the things we’ve found out.” Grant suggested.

Roy shook his head “He’s already gone from here, lad. Barely here long enough to have a cup of coffee.”

Ben opened his mouth to speak when a lanky young man approached, obviously the clerk from the telegraph depot from the look of the green peaked visor and over sleeves protectors, he had some cables in his hand and looked from one to the other of them, “Which of you is Adam Cartrwight?”

“I am.” Adam stepped forward and took the cables, passed over some money and then ripped the top one open “It’s from Hoss.”

Ben gave one curt nod of the head “Bad news?”

“The sheriff in Genoa was going to arrest Joe. He‘s cabled Blakeley that Joe‘s in Genoa..”

“No prizes for guessing where Blakeley’s headed then.” Ben said between gritted teeth.

Roy nodded, “Can guarantee it. The sheriff in Genoa is a man called Grimes. He’s one that likes to play by the rules. He’d know Blakeley was looking out for Joe, and…”

“Scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” Ben intoned.

“I’ll get the horses ready, Pa.” Adam said and promptly turned to one side, only to be stopped by Grant,

“Can I come along?”

“I think it best you get back to Blakesville, Grant. This could turn – unpleasant.” Adam said softly.

“Then I should be there with you all. It’s my folks deaths that Joe’s getting the blame for. I should be there…to help him.”

Adam hesitated and looked over at Ben, who nodded “If he wants to come along, he may as well.” Ben said quietly .

…………

Jolyon Pitts was standing by the window of the office with papers in his hand when he became aware of the man approaching him, he nodded and smiled,

“Cruickshank, I was going to see you about..”

“Miss Weiss already told me, Pitt.” Andrew Cruikshank nodded, “That telegram from Virginia City’s newspaper man, deQuille he calls himself, about a couple called Tombs.”

“That’s right. Have you heard any more from him.”

“No, nothing. I didn’t actually find out much about Tombs, but Miss Weiss thinks you have more on them…?”

“Not much, but enough to make me curious.” Pitt strolled back to his desk and sat down, it was easier on his leg to rest when he could, and he eased it out carefully. “The Tombs were in Atlanta when it was the victim of Sherman’s scorched earth policy.”

“Yes, I saw that…”

“Mr Tombs fought at Jonesborough. Apparently he was a lawyer, quite a wealthy one too. He worked alongside his brother in law, Malachy Blair.”

“I didn’t come across any files for anyone by that name…although if I recall rightly wasn’t Mrs Tombs maiden name Blair?”

Cruikshank arranged himself in another chair, he was long limbed and always looked clumsy, as though his elbows and knees were fighting the rest of his body for superior positions. He pulled a cheroot from his pocket, struck a match and watched the flame for a while…he didn’t offer Pitt one as he knew the man never smoked.

“You wouldn’t have found any file on Blair, it was – removed – some while ago.” Pitt said quietly,

“Really?” Cruikshank raised his eyebrows in surprise and blew out the match, he inhaled on the cheroot and blew out a thin stream of smoke, “Well, I didn’t realise. But you found it?”

“Had to dig around. You know what it’s like with classified stuff.” Pitt pulled a folder from the drawer of his desk and laid it upon the blotter. It was thick, a little dusty, with the red classified stamp across the front.

“Do you know what the story is then, Pitt? About Tombs and Blair?”

“Not enough to tell anyone just yet awhile.” Pitt replied quietly and flicked open the file, “Malachy Blair had two sisters. He left Boston when he married.. His eldest sister, Cynthia. married but the youngest remained single and stayed in Boston. When they went to Atlanta Malachy Blair and his wife were already living there. As he was also a lawyer, they went into partnership together. They did very well, after all, Atlanta was a thriving city in the south at the time.”

“I presume they parted company ..or was Blair killed in action?” Cruikshank frowned, and shook his head “Stupid question, from the size of that file I would say he led a very active life after Atlanta.”

“Oh yes, he did. You’re right though, they did part company after Jonesborough. So far as we know they didn’t meet again until quite recently, at a place called Boulder’s Creek.”

“A family reunion?”

“I don’t know. That’s what I have to find out…and another thing, every so often in the files I come across the name Alex Dunlop. Have you heard about him?”

Cruikshank nodded with a slight smile on his lips, obvious to Pitt despite the heavy moustache Cruikshank favoured wearing. “I’ve come across him occasionally. He crops up like some kind of shadow behind the scenes of some of the best organised crimes ever committed. Sometimes we catch the criminals involved and Dunlop’s name somehow emerges. But he always slips away…”

Pitt nodded and tapped the file, “Malachy Blair and his wife were the best agents we ever had in the field. They worked together as man and wife on several occasions, and were very effective. Every so often they refer to Alex Dunlop. He’d cross their paths at some time or another.”

“Yes?”

“Read through the file, would you? Then we can have a chat about it. I want to make sure I haven’t missed anything.”

Cruikshank nodded and stood up, “This does have something to do with that enquiry I had from deQuille, doesn’t it?”

Pitt nodded, “Definitely. I’ll eat my hat if it hasn’t.”

Chapter 49

It was Roy’s suggestion that he and Grant remained in Boulder’s Creek while Adam and Ben made their way to Genoa to help Joe in whatever way they could. It would take them two days, and it was even possible that they would meet up with Blakeley and talk some sense into him.

“Fact is,” Roy said as he had removed his spectacles and polished them before he had replaced them “I don’t think we should give up on this female. We need to find her and see what she has to say.”

“Well, we’ve done all we could to find her already, Mr Coffee.” Grant had replied as politely as he could, “Don’t see no point in going over it all again.”

“A good lawman has to be prepared to go over things again ..and again if necessary and even a third time. Bear in mind, lad, hotels and restaurants – they get folks working in different shifts. Those we met today didn’t see this woman, but could be someone we meet this evening, may have done.”

Adam had given a vague smile and dipped his head to observe his feet while Ben had nodded as though giving weight to Roy’s comment. It was logical. Even Grant saw that, but he had wanted to ride along with Adam and Ben whom he had felt would have had a more interesting time ahead.

“Roy’s right, you know?” Adam had said softly, and he put a hand on Grants’ arm just as he would have done had he been Joe, “You may find out far more than we do.”

Ben had nodded “In fact, what you find out here could be invaluable.”

A flash of triumph had flickered across Roy’s face and Grant had succumbed to the logic of it all and stepped back from the Cartwrights in full retreat as one could say. They had then watched as father and son had ridden their horses from town, inching their way around vehicles and other horsemen until they were out of sight.

“What do we do now?” he had asked the old lawman and Roy had nodded and placed his work worn hand on Grant’s shoulder and grinned,

“We go and eat.”
………………..

Reuben was so quiet when he returned home from school that Olivia thought he was going down with a fever. She checked his temperature and then checked Sofia’s, just to make sure. Nathaniel came and stood beside his sister and stuck out his tongue so she could have a look at it as she had done to Sofia, and had then scooted off happily to find his red wagon (still missing a wheel).

Reuben was mixed up. Not confused, just mixed up as to what to do the following evening. It would be a great adventure, and some fun too. It would be a blow against Crook and his being so cruel and hurting Sofia. But at the same time it was `wrong’, it was something that his parents would not want him to do.

But he wanted to go, he really did. The fact that Tommy was eager to be involved showed how much gumption the boy had now, a worthy member of The Gang ever since he had taken that beating …but what about himself? Sitting at home comfortably enjoying a pleasant evening with his family!

He wished Pa was home. He realised that if Adam had been home he would not have spoken to him about it, that would have been snitching, telling tales on the gang. Anyway, his head drooped at the thought, but anyway, Pa would have told him what Reuben already knew..it was not right!

Through the evening meal he thought of his Uncles…would Uncle Hoss do such a naughty thing ..Reuben very much doubted it! Would Uncle Joe? A glimmer of relief…of course Uncle Joe would have done it, he probably did too, he likely did it to Miss Abigail Jones. Well, there then, that settled it, he would go and uphold the Cartwright honour.

“Ma?”

Olivia sighed, the boy was speaking at last! She looked at him and smiled encouragingly, “Yes, son?”

“Would it be alright if I stayed over at David’s house tomorrow night?” he looked at her as innocently as possible. Beside him Sofia gave a slight gasp, and her eyes went round. That was enough for Olivia to look at him thoughtfully and ask why?

Reuben forced himself not to kick Sofia’s feet under the table but to stay as ‘good’ and ‘saintly’ as he could, he even managed to give his mother a smile.

“Well, David and Tommy had a good idea for what the Gang could do about a school project. We’ve been working on it together this week, and if I don’t go, well, I guess if I don’t go they would just go ahead and do it anyway, but that would mean I would miss out, don’t you see?”

He hoped he had sounded wheedling enough, plaintive would have been the word had he known to use it. Olivia frowned, “What school project?” she looked at Sofia “Do you know anything about this?”

Sofia opened her mouth and frowned, she had to admit she didn’t, and so she shook her head. When the words school project passed through Sofia’s mind she thought of home work, spelling or maths. The words she had overheard at recess during the week didn’t seem to fit somehow. But the honest answer to Ma’s question was no, so she shook her head.

Reuben was quick to supply a reason “Sofia doesn’t have the same classes as me, Ma.”

Olivia wasn’t sure. She passed Nathaniel some more sliced apple and then looked at Reuben, “I’ll let you know in the morning. I have to think about it.”

Reuben sighed, not exactly the answer he wanted, but one he would have to patiently accept.
…………………

Grant Tombs found himself liking Roy more and more during the course of their time together. The manner in which the old man spoke to people was different to Blakeley or Matheson, he was considerate and communicative. It was obvious he liked people for he paid attention to what they said.

He told Grant afterwards that to be a good sheriff one had to listen to everything because quite often it was what people did not say that was as important as the things they said.

“You get an ear for it,” Roy told Grant as they pushed the door open to yet another restaurant, “the way people pause, the way they look. You’ve got a good head on your shoulders, Grant, I’m sure you’d make a very good lawman.”

Grant smiled “I don’t know if my father would approve of that, he paid for me to have a good education and go into business. Probably I’d have gone back to Chicago, or Boston. He Didn’t think that out here would be suitable for me. He wanted me to ‘remove myself’ from the wilderness and go back to civilisation”

They made their way to the table in a far off corner and waited for the waitress to come. A pretty girl, young and smiling. She gave Grant an especially generous smile before looking at Roy and asking for his order.

Roy and Grant were full of food by now, and their stomachs were fair to bursting with coffee. Roy leaned forward “Actually my friend and I didn’t come in for coffee or anything, we came for some help.”

“Oh!” she looked surprised, and then smiled again, her eyes twinkled. “What kind of help?”

“Well, we’re looking for a lady who may have come here and rested a while after being out and about..you know, taking in the views around here?” Roy nodded as though he knew what he was talking about and hoped she did too.

“You mean she may have been a stranger here?” the girl replied and Roy nodded, “How long ago would it have been?” she looked at Grant “We get people passing through to Genoa all the time. Now there’s the new town too, so some travel on there as well.”

“This lady could have gone to either. She didn’t stay in town. It was about four or five weeks ago.” Roy stroked his moustache and glanced over the girls shoulder to make sure no one was listening in on the conversation.

“Was she alone?” the girl asked.

“She may have had a man with her?” Roy answered immediately. He followed this up by describing the woman, mentioning particularly the green Spencer jacket. “Probably had a hat to match.” he added.

The girl nodded “There was a lady like that, she came in twice that day…once on her own, and she had some tea, with lemon. Complained about there not being cream. I mean..cream with tea, how horrible is that? When she came back there was a man with her, they both looked dusty, as if they had been for quite a long ride.”

Grant was full of admiration “You have a very good memory.” he enthused which made her blush.

“Did they stay in town?” Roy asked “What did the man look like?”

“Tall and thin, he kept his back to me, seemed not to want anyone to see him. He wasn’t very – well – he wasn’t very pleasant. The lady seemed frightened of him.”

Roy and Grant looked at one another, then turned to look at her again. She looked very thoughtful, a little horseshoe pucker between her eyes indicated her concentration.

“He left first and it seemed to me she was crying. She dabbed her eyes and when she got up she dropped her purse. Then she rushed out and I realised she hadn’t noticed her purse on the floor so I picked it up and hurried after her.” she dimpled a smile at Grant, “That’s how I got to remember her so well.”

“Did you see where she went?” Grant asked now, thinking how pretty she was and how he wished he could see her later on.

“The reason I remember them so well was because of the purse I suppose..and because they did stand out as a little different from most of our customers. They were – toffs – if you know what I mean?”

“Well off folk…dressed expensive?” Roy muttered.

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Did you give her the purse?” was the next question Roy asked as she seemed to have gone into a little daydream.

“Yes, I called to her and she looked very angry. She wasn’t young, but she was very pretty…attractive, you know? She took the purse and then hurried across the road and caught the stage. She only just made it in time too.”

“With or without the man?” Roys eyes sparkled behind the glasses, he felt like a miner who had tapped a rich vein.

“He was already in the coach.”

She turned “I have to go, been here too long as it is. Are you sure you don’t want anything ?”

“Lemonade,” Grant said with a rather silly grin on his face.

When she returned with the drink Roy asked her where the coach had been heading, and she shrugged her shoulders and gave them the benefit of another smile “Genoa.”

Grant watched her sashay away, her back view, he decided, was every bit as worth looking at as the front one. He sighed and sipped at the lemonade, while Roy fiddled in his pocket for some money which he put on the table.

It seemed all roads – or clues – led to Genoa. Perhaps they would catch up with Ben and Adam along the way.

……………

A star fell gracefully to earth, trailing behind it a fading blaze of light. In the velvety darkness of night other stars spun, twinkled, shone. Shadows swayed within shadows as the few trees bent to the softening breeze and in the distance a coyote howled his mournful cry to the silver orb that teasingly hid behind clouds and then coyly peeked back out again.

Ben Cartwright glanced over at his eldest son and sighed. Adam sat with such stillness, his face raised to the moon as though, like the coyote, he could have howled a long wail of grief. He stood up and walked to Adam’s side, noticed that there was room to spare on the log upon which his son was seated, so carefully lowered himself down.

“It’s been a while since we shared time together like this, son.” Ben said quietly, as though speaking too loudly would break the mood of the moment.

Adam said nothing for a while. It seemed as though he were going to ignore his father’s question, then he sighed and gave a half smile,

“A lot’s happened since we did, Pa.”

He looked down at his feet and then over at the fire, the flames of which were dwindling. It was not a cold night, just one of those times when a fire is cheering even though not essential.

Ben nodded “Yes, you’re right there, Adam. Goodness, I can recall the times when I wondered if I would ever had grandchildren, and now ..” his generous mouth broadened into a wide smile, “guess I can die happy in that respect anyway.”

Adam shot his father a sharp look and shook his head “Don’t talk about dying, Pa. This isn’t the time or place for that…”

“True enough.” Ben picked up a twig and poked it into the fire’s embers “Miss the sea, Adam?”

“Sometimes. But not as much as I thought I would. Those last assignments after I married Olivia, were down right miserable.” he grinned and gave a rather shy twitch to the shoulders, “But I do miss some things…” he paused and looked at his father with a smile, “I guess you, of all people, would understand that.”

“I do. Even now I can wake out of a dream where I‘ve been pacing the deck on board ship.” he shrugged slightly and sighed “But I never went on the assignments you had to endure, son. Abel’s ship was a commercial enterprise, not a naval one.”

Adam nodded and stretched his shoulders “I’m worried about Joe.”

Ben nodded “So are we all, Adam. I’m not sure why Blakeley is so determined to pin this murder on him. It’s as if he doesn’t even want to look for an alternative solution. You would think a good lawman would do that at the very least. I mean, look at the things we have found out already? He should have found out about that woman by now, got facts instead of chasing moonshine as he is.”

“I’m more convinced than ever that whoever the murderer is and whatever motives there were for the killings, goes back a long long way into the past. Blakeley should realise that by now, surely?”

Ben nodded in agreement, “You know, it’s a worrying thought but I do wonder just how many innocent people have been hanged for murders they never committed.”

“That’s a rather sombre thought, Pa.” Adam muttered and shivered despite himself, but the fear he had for Joe, went deep.

Ben said nothing. They sat together, shoulder to shoulder. Their broad backs, the tilt of their heads, that in the shadows were so alike that a stranger would not have known which was the father, which the son, as they sat and listened to the animals of the wood singing their midnight serenade.
………………

Hoss Cartwright was beside himself with worry. Joe’s revelations about being at the cabin had thrown him into a momentary mental haze. It didn’t help that Joe made his brother promise to say nothing to anyone until he, Joe, could remember more than he already did.

“You need a lawyer.” Hoss had said eventually, “A good one. I think I’ll wire Hiram Woods and ask him to come, make sure you’re alright.”

“No, don’t do that, Hoss.” Joe had pleaded, “Just wait until Pa gets here. I need to talk to him about what’s going on.”
……………

The man who had booked himself into the suite of rooms above that of the brothers was feeling rather pleased with himself. Things were going well and he knew, if all went as well as they had done until now, that it would not be long before Joe Cartwright would be hanging from a gibbet.

The thing was to stay calm and not make any rash moves. When he had received the note from Forsyth he had considered it foolish sending those two men after the Cartwrights. In his opinion it could have created more questions than answers, but even that had swung into his favour. Forsyth had dropped the right word at the right time into the right ears and there was every possibility of Joe Cartwright being in jail as soon as Blakeley came and gave the word. Grimes was easy to manipulate, he’d fall in line with Blakeley quicker than it takes to blink an eye.

Alex Dunlop, as he currently called himself, smiled in self satisfaction.

Chapter 50

The morning dawned with a bright sunlight cutting through the haze of mist which slowly drifted away to crest the top of the pines on the Ponderosa hills.

Sofia had complained of pains in the stomach and Olivia decided that she could stay home from school as the child had a slight fever. She told Reuben over breakfast that he could stay overnight at David’s, that he was to behave himself and be ready for Cheng Ho Lee to collect him the next afternoon.

That would be Saturday. Reuben accepted happily enough and looked much brighter throughout breakfast time. He did push it a little when asking if he could stay until Sunday, but Olivia said no, because Saturday evening they were spending at Mary Ann’s with Hester and the children, and of course, Bridie and Paul.

He peeked around the door at his sister who was propped up on pillows in her bed. She did look unwell, and he sympathised but was glad too, he didn’t want her around when things happened. She looked at him anxiously,

“Reuben, did you tell mommy?”

“Tell her what, Sofee.”

“About Mr Crook?”

“No, I didn’t mention a word, you made me promise, remember?”

She nodded, her hair drifted over the pillows. Even though she was his sister, Reuben had to admit she was pretty. He wondered what she would look like when she was grown up. She reached out a hot little hand and placed it upon his knee,

“You won’t get into any trouble, will you?”

“Trouble? Me? Why would I get into trouble?”

“They’re saying at school that you and the others are going to get your own back on Mr Crook. That’s why you wanted to sleep over at Davy’s isn’t it?”

“Don’t be silly. You shouldn’t listen to silly talk like that, Sofia. What on earth can we do against Crook?”

She closed weary eyes, her head ached and the lights in the room made her eyes hurt. She just wanted to sleep.

Olivia came in just then and told Reuben that Hank was waiting for him, to hurry up or they would be late. She then went to the bedside to look down at her little girl, touched her brow and kissed her.

She pulled across the drapes plunging the room into a duskiness that was both soothing and comforting. She turned and smiled at her son “Off you go now, and behave yourself. Have a fun time with Davy.”

He smiled and nodded, then ran over to her and hugged her which brought a flush of pleasure to her cheeks for she leaned down and kissed his cheek.
………….

David Riley was more than pleased to know he had his chief ally coming to stay after all. Tommy Conway shook Reuben’s hand as though both boys were about to achieve some momentous deed and were well aware of the dangers involved. Jimmy Carstairs, now recovered from the mysterious spots, commented that he wished he could be in on it, but was told that it didn’t really concern him anyway so it was best he kept his mouth shut.

“Everybody in school knows that you have something going on …with Crook.” Tommy said in his self defence.

“Then everybody at school best keep their mouths shut too.” David replied scornfully

“You’ll end up in big trouble.” Jimmy said with a shake of the head and walked away, looking disconsolate.

Reuben ran to catch up with him and nudged him with him with his elbow,

“It isn’t anything serious, Jimmy. And it isn’t as though – well – it isn’t as though we don’t want you around, or part of the gang still..it’s just that only so many people can do it, and if there are too many then it would be more difficult.”

Jimmy sighed, and turned to face Reuben “I am still in the gang then?”

“Yeah, of course you are.”

“That’s all right then.” and he stuffed his hands in his pockets and walked away, kicking at a pebble here and there as he made his way to the school steps.
………….

Adam stood up from where he had been squatting on his haunches to check on the heat of what had been a small camp fire. He looked around him and then nodded before he walked to his horse “I reckon he must have ridden his horse pretty hard. That camp fire’s nearly cold. He’s got a good amount of time under his belt. I’d say he’ll reach Genoa by noon.”

“He is in a hurry to get a noose around our boys’ neck, isn’t he?” Ben scowled and waited for Adam to mount Kami. “Best get there as soon as possible. Let’s hope we can stop Blakeley before he goes too far.”
……………

Roy felt that there was little point in staying in Boulder’s Creek when they had found out what they had set out to achieve. They didn’t know the identity of the woman, the livery manager had been unable to remember anything more about her than what he had already told them. .

So having come to some agreement with Grant, they decided to mount up and join Ben and Adam as soon as they could, realising that they were quite some hours behind them but anticipating meeting up with them some time during the early morning of the next day.

Grant was not so positive seeing that Roy was elderly and would need to rest, perhaps for longer than a younger man, but he kept quiet and respectfully mounted his horse. It occurred to him that although it still remained important to him that his parents murderers were found, their actual deaths no longer contained that sting that carried with it misery and pain. He didn’t think or dwell upon it, to him it didn’t really seem so very important as the hunt for the murderers.
……………..

Blakeley was bone weary when he arrived in Genoa. He ached in every bone, and was tempted to book into a hotel, have a bath and leave seeing Grimes until later. He glanced up at the sky and nodded to himself, he had made good time, thanks to a good horse. He didn’t stop to consider the fact that the good horse was practically on its knees and lathered with sweating foam.

Grimes was surprised to see the other sheriff and remarked that he must have ridden hard to reach Genoa so soon. Blakeley brushed the comment aside, and pulled out a chair upon which he sat down, “Where’s Cartwright?”

“At the hotel.”

“I thought you had arrested him?”

“No, I had their promise that they would not leave town, so left them on their parole. They’re at the hotel.”

“But he should have been arrested.” Blakeley protested, and pounded the desk with one clenched fist, “If they’ve left town you’ll be responsible, Grimes. There’s murder been committed, two innocent people…and their murderer is enjoying life in a hotel!”

Grimes stood up and nodded towards the door “If you’re that determined to stick a murder charge on Joseph Cartwright, then go ahead. I’ll go with you. But, Blakeley, he told me you had no reason to arrest him, only to ask questions as a witness.”

Blakeley shook his head, tossed that suggestion aside with a sweep of his hand. He looked like thunder as he strode out of the sheriff’s office and followed him to the hotel. It was mid afternoon now, and Ben and Adam were hours away from Genoa. Despite the urgency of the matter they had enough respect for their animals to push them only so far for so long. At that point of time Blakeley had no idea that the two men were anywhere near, and without any thought to them he pushed the hotel doors open and demanded to know the Cartwright’s room number.

The loud rapping on the door alerted both of the Cartwrights and Hoss drew his gun slowly from its holster, but when Blakeley yelled that it was the law he carefully replaced it and looked over at Joe.

The window was open, curtains drifted in the breeze and both men knew it provided a safe way out of the room. Joe could go, Hoss could stay…but they both knew neither would take up that option instead Hoss just walked to the door and pulled it open.

“Thought we’d see you sooner or later, Blakeley.”

“Sheriff Blakeley to you, Mr Cartwright.” the weary lawman glanced around the room and nodded over at Joe, “Joseph Cartwright, you’re under arrest.”

Joe sighed as he got to his feet and observed both sheriffs with some slight contempt in his eyes, he placed his hands on his hips and shook his head as though he was weary of the whole thing

“That was pretty quick, sheriff. What grounds do you have to arrest me?”

He hoped that his voice sounded calm and confident, as though he was sure that nothing had changed since the last time he had seen Blakeley, even though he knew now that things were different. Blakeley wasn’t to know that, was he? He glanced from one man to the other, aware that Hoss was standing right behind him and sensing his brother’s unease.

“I have a witness account that places you at the scene of the murders, Cartwright.” Blakeley replied, and if his eyes did flash with triumph it didn’t go unnoticed by the brothers, both of whom felt their hearts sink.

“A witness?” Joe shook his head “What are you talking about?”

For a moment time seemed to freeze. It gave Joe the chance to think of who the witness could be, to link that with where Blakeley had just come from…and where that witness would also have been, he gulped and steeled himself for what the sheriff was about to say next.

“Yeah, your friend, your old school pal, Jerry Cambor.”

It was odd, Joe thought, yesterday he would have strongly denied that statement, called Jerry a liar, but now, at this moment of time, he could no longer do that…in his mind he saw Jerry standing there, at the doorway of that cabin. He could see himself turning, canteen of water in one hand, surprise on his face, and … he shook his head,

“Cambor? You’ve seen Jerry Cambor?”

“I have. He told me you were at the cabin with him that night the Tombs died.” Blakeley leaned in closer, eyes narrowed “You don’t look surprised.”

“Camber’s a liar.” Joe said with a thickening in his throat, and glanced away from the sheriff who gave a chuckle,

“No, no, he’s no liar. He told me as he died, Cartwright. They were his dying words. And he told the truth, didn’t he?”

Joe felt sick, he said nothing, behind him he could hear Hoss breathing heavily. More than anything he wished that he hadn’t told Hoss anything about his memory coming back, but even more than that he wished he could remember even more about what happened that night.

“I suppose,” Blakeley said quietly, “you’re going to claim that you can’t remember, still lost your memory, huh?”

Joe remained silent. Best to say nothing, anything he said now would condemn him further. He would wait and see what Pa suggested, advised…he bowed his head and stared down at the floor.

“Yep, that Cambor was a bad ‘un alright. Your wife said he was a friend of yours, had him round your place for a meal too, huh? Guess that’s why he went back again, once he knew you were gone…had to see if your wife needed some company.”

“What are you implying by that, sheriff?” Joe’s head reared up, and his eyes gleamed dangerous shots of green, “Say what you mean?”

“I shot Cambor to stop him from raping your wife, that’s what I mean, Mr Cartwright.”

Hoss stood so still it was as though he had been turned to marble with shock. But Joe, the words hit him slow, like nails being hammered into a tree, bang and bang and then he howled, a man in pain could only howl like that and it galvanised Hoss into action, as he stepped forward to grab Joe before he threw himself at the sheriff.

“Hold on, Joe, hold on…”

“Yes, hold on, Mr Cartwright, you owe me a favour big time. I killed Cambor, and saved your wife in the bargain. You should be more grateful.”

Joe sagged in Hoss’ arms, his legs felt weak, his stomach churned over and over, he shook his head as though to deny hearing the words the sheriff had uttered. Then he buried his face in his hands and struggled with himself not to break out into tears. As it was his heart was hammering like a drum beneath his ribs, he felt physically sick. It was Hoss who asked Blakeley if Mary Ann was safe, and unharmed. Blakeley nodded,

“She was a little fighter, he didn’t have it all his own way believe me. As it happened we saw his horse …Carney and I … and your father was close by too. She was alright, so were the children.”

Hoss rubbed his brothers back just as he would have done years back when Joe was troubled, and eventually Joe got control of himself, stared fixedly at the floor to maintain that control and got to his feet,

“You promise me, she is alright? She wasn’t harmed?” his voice was shaking, he could barely get the words through his lips.

“She wasn’t harmed … I promise you, she was safe and well when we left.”

Blakeley looked at the two men and for a moment he felt the utmost sympathy for Joe. He put out a hand to rest it upon Joe’s arm, “I’m sorry, I told it to you blunt, perhaps too blunt, sometimes it’s hard to find other ways to say such a thing.”

Joe nodded, swallowed and realised he felt very sick. His head reeled, he had to close his eyes and after a few seconds had passed he looked at Hoss, “I’m alright, Hoss. Did – did you cable Pa?”

“Yeah, he should be on his way I reckon.” Hoss looked at Blakeley, a frown on his face and his blue eyes washed clear of colour “Tell me, sheriff, how come you are so determined to hang this murder rap on my brother? Ain’t there other possibilities? “

Blakeley shook his head, “Not from my angle there isn’t.” he looked at Joe before turning again to Hoss, “Look, a blood stained man rides into town, coming from the direction of a cabin that has two bodies in it. He claims he can’t recall a thing but another man confirms that he was actually there with him at the time of the murders. What would you do? Pretend and ignore it all just because I happen to think your brother is actually quite a nice guy? I’m a lawman, Mr Cartwright. I go by the facts.”

“But you ain’t, are you?” Hoss cried and took a step forward, “You ain’t checked nothing, you jest keep on hounding Joe as though there ain’t no other reason, no other person involved. Well, let me tell you, Mr Blakeley, we’ve found a few facts that you ain’t seemed to think very important to find out…”

“Hoss…” Joe blurted out his brother’s name, worried in case he was about to say something that Blakeley would remember and file away to produce at a time he considered least favourable for them both.

“Such as…?” Blakeley said coldly and his eyes shifted as though he saw danger, a trap of some kind about to spring his prisoner out of his grip.

“Such as who was the woman who was at the scene when your deputy, Jericho, was murdered. Such as what was Jerry Cambor doing there? Such as who was the man this woman met and took to Boulder’s Creek?”

Blakeley managed not to blink while Hoss shot the questions – which were more like accusations – at him. He shook his head and turned to Grimes “What woman is he talking about?”

“This is your case, Sheriff Blakeley,” Grimes replied hastily, unwilling to be drawn into the matter now, and seeing that the waters of this particular crime were getting rather murkier than first appeared.

Seems to me, Mr Blakeley, you didn’t check out that area too well.” Hoss shrugged “Perhaps Mr Silverman’s death didn’t mean so much to you after all.”

“I don’t know what you’re yammering on about, Jericho was a fine friend, a good man.” Blakeley paused, he shook his head, “I ain’t here to argue about things like this with you. Joe Cartwright, I’m arresting you for the murders of Mr and Mrs Tombs. Don’t try to resist arrest, I wouldn’t like to shoot you like I had to shoot your friend, Mr Cambor.”

Joe nodded, he picked up his hat and listlessly held it between his fingers, then he glanced back at Hoss. “I’ll be alright, Hoss. Just wait for Pa, he won’t be long.”

Blakeley glanced at Hoss, frowned, “I suppose you’re going to tell me that this woman killed Jericho?”

“No, Cambor killed him, the woman was there to meet the man who Cambor was meeting. She was a witness to the whole thing.”

“And she really exists, this woman … ?”

“Yeah, she does. I’ll find her too, as you ain’t likely to bother looking.”

Blakeley said nothing but his lips tightened. He knew Grimes was wondering why they hadn’t found this woman, or any sign of her at least. He also knew that Grimes would want to go looking for her, he was that kind of sheriff, dedicated to his job.

He reached out and took Joe by the arm, jerked his head towards the door and for an insane moment Joe could see a way of escape…he tensed, the grip on his arm from Blakeley tightened, so he relaxed and allowed himself to be led away.

Hoss stepped forward as though to follow, then thought better of it. He wanted to talk to Joe, get some things straight in his own head but he knew well enough that conversation could be overheard and interpretations to them warped by the listener. He watched his brother being led away and when out of sight, he closed the hotel room door.

The gloom of a dull evening gathered around the town of Genoa and in his cell Joe paced the floor. He had said nothing to the sheriff except to confirm his name and address. He felt safer just saying ‘No comment’ to anything he was asked, even if it cast doubt on what would be truthful or not. When he could get a lawyer, then he would speak, if he were allowed to do so.

Sheriff Grimes had shown some kindliness and taken a cable on his behalf to send off to Mary Ann. He didn’t mention that he was under arrest, only that the sheriff had told him about Cambor. To assure her of his love for her and the longing he had to hold her in his arms once more. He promised he would be home soon.

The knock on the door of room 121 was answered by Alex Dunlop who took the slip of paper handed to him. He gave the boy a coin and his thanks and opened the paper once he had privacy to do so.

It was a brief note ‘The Cartwrights know about the woman’

He burned it, as it blackened into ash he stood very still and considered the implications. Just how much did they know? Was it worth worrying about? He paced the floor for a while and then reached for his hat.

He always met her in a secluded area away from any prying eyes or listening ear. The boarding house where she stayed was modest and clean, but people in boarding houses tended to notice the comings and goings of their clientele. If all they could say was that this lady liked to take a walk in the evenings who would care? After all, why shouldn’t she take a walk whenever she chose to do so.

She was seated on the bench under the tree as usual. The smile on her face always brought an answering smile to his own for he loved her dearly. He kissed her cheek, and held her hand and joined her on the bench.

“You look worried, has something happened?” she said quietly, and looked anxiously into his eyes, noticed the frown upon his brow, and sighed “What’s wrong?”

“There’s been a little complication to our plans. Nothing too serious but I don’t want you involved. I want to protect you as much as I can, my dear.”

“Protect me?” she shook her head, “What is there to protect me from?”

“Oh just things that may be unpleasant and that had to do with my past life” he squeezed her fingers within his and smiled at her, “Sometimes the past catches up with me, and I need to sort matters out. I don’t want it to affect you..us ..”

“But I should be here, stay with you surely? Is it so very serious?”

“Not yet. If you stayed here…”

“You want me to go away?”

“I think it would be wise if you were to leave here. There is a stage leaving here for San Francisco tomorrow morning. Be on it. You have my address and know where to go, don’t you?”

“Yes, but without you, how can you expect me to go without you?”

“I expect you to go, my dear. In fact, I order you to go. Do you understand?”

She was silent then. For a moment neither of them spoke until she sighed and nodded, so that he patted her on the hand and smiled “I have the ticket here. Get packed and leave first thing. I shall contact you as soon as I am free of this business.”

“Must I?” she sighed and he looked at her with such a fierce appearance to his face that she just nodded “I shall see you soon though, won’t I?”

He nodded, smiled and helped her to her feet. “You go first, I don’t want anyone seeing us together now.”

She nodded and released his hand “I love you.”

He smiled and let her hand drop from his, then as she walked away he said in barely a whisper “I love you too.”

Chapter 51

“C’mon, give us a leg up!”

The hissed command came from a rather rotund little boy who was hopping about from one foot to another while he waited for David Riley to lean down and hoist him up onto the ledge below the window of Crooks bedroom.

“Shut up, I’ve got to get the window open yet, haven’t I?” David’s voice whispered back

“Hurry up, before someone comes.” Tommy moaned and what he had hidden in his jacket wriggled in protest.

He put a hand to steady it and when David’s fingers hovered into view he grabbed them and with Reuben’s help from below him, he was hoisted up onto the ledge.

Davy was already half way through the window when Tommy reached the ledge, and the whatever he had hidden in his jacket gave a squeak of protest, wriggled and squirmed so that it was able to jump into the room ahead of both boys.

“Drat. Grab it.” Tommy whispered as he more or less tumbled into the room.

“It’s gone under the bed.” David replied as the poor creature streaked between his legs, avoided groping hands and hid in the dark in the first place it had been able to reach away from smelly boys and grasping fingers.

“Leave it there then.” Reuben muttered as he clambered, unaided, through the window and into the bedroom.

The three of them stood there for a moment and blinked at one another. A lamplight flickered, left on by the teacher who had obviously been reading the book that was left opened on the bed.

It was a scrupulously clean room. Hanging from a hook on the door was a military uniform, declaring to all who saw it that the owner had been in the U.S Army and gained the rank of sergeant. It was something that Crook was obviously very proud about and didn’t care if the whole world knew it. In a bin by a chest of drawers were numerous empty bottles of whiskey.

“Have you got it?” Davy demanded of Reuben who nodded and carefully produced from his pocket the fattest frog he had been able to find.

“Where shall we put it?” Reuben asked and Tommy said “In the drawer, then when he opens it the frog will jump out and scare the living daylights out of him…I hope!”

“I hope he won’t kill the frog.” Reuben sighed and placed it very carefully in the top drawer where the clink of bottles indicated Mr Crook had a stash of full ones in a ’safe place.’

“Thought he was a drinker,” Davy said succinctly, “He smelled like he was…”

“Huh, you can say that again.” Tommy muttered and pulled out a string of fire squids, “We can let these off when he comes in.”

“Are you stupid.” Davy sneered “I ain’t hanging around here to let them off, I want to be long gone before he gets back.”

“Oh I thought it would be a good idea, he’d think …”

They froze and listened “I thought you said he was going to be out?” Reuben whispered.

“He was …but I didn’t know for how long.” came the reply.

“Shush.”

The door to the bedroom opened, and Crook peered inside as though some sixth sense told him he had ’visitors’. Each boy there stood as still as statues and as soon as the door closed made for the window, but the sash had slipped down and they knew there would be a degree of noise if they tried to reopen it.

“Scatter..” Reuben whispered.

All three found a place to hide, hopefully, places where the shadows were darker, where a wardrobe could hide a small body. Tommy jiggled with the window but it wouldn’t budge so he slid under the bed and shared the hiding place with the poor animal he had smuggled in under his jacket.

Voices…Crooks could be heard quite clearly and then another voice, all of them recognised Brocketts, although it was not as clear as the teachers.

All three boys tried to maintain as much silence as possible. Their legs were rigid with fear, their hearts beat faster, so fast it made them light headed. Tommy wanted to cry, and had to stifle the feeling so much that Reuben could hear him gulping. Davy had the urge to pee but crossed his legs and jiggled about just a little bit. And all the time the voices in the other room droned on.

There was the sound of a rapping on the outer door which made the boys knees knock and Reuben squeezed his eyes shut as though it would make him invisible if he did so. Another voice from within the other room, the scraping of a chairs legs across the floor.

Davy thought he was going to pass out. Fear was making him not only light headed but preventing him from breathing, he was in danger of hyperventilating. He was nearest to the window and edged towards it, then with as much effort as possible he pushed to get it open again.

It squeaked a little and then rattled, but at least it was opening. Up and further up, until wide enough to create a little breeze, and to allow them to get out. He glanced at the door to the adjoining room, it was still firmly closed and the voices could still be heard clearly.. He leaned down to where he could see Tommy peeking from under the bed and beckoned to him to join him.

A light tap on the wardrobe door to let Reuben know he could step out, freedom was nigh!

Reuben pushed the wardrobe door open very carefully but as he stepped out there came the chink of several whiskey bottles that had been lying on the floor between Crook’s boots. Reuben’s foot had inadvertently caused them to roll together, and although it wasn’t a loud noise it seemed to set things into motion for from the dresser drawer the frog croaked…loudly.

Tommy, in slithering out from under the bed, trod on the cat’s tail. This poor creature felt it had suffered enough and hissed, spat and streaked away before leaping for safety onto Crook’s military uniform hanging from the door. Cat and uniform swayed there for a moment or two much like the pendulum of a clock before landing with a thud, cat and clothing, in a heap on the floor.

Davy was out of the window and on the ledge; Tommy was inching his way through, and Reuben was close on his heels.

In the other room Brockett, nervous and tense, rose from his chair, “What was that noise?”

Monks looked suspiciously at Crook, and put a hand on the butt of his gun, but Crook shook his head and assured them it was nothing. Brockett wasn’t satisfied with that, he was too nervous to take risks and with a jerk of his head told Monks to check it out.

Monks withdrew his gun and stepped towards the bedroom, Crook stood up and followed him. As Monks opened the door, Tommy was stepping onto the ledge and Reuben was about to make his way out of the window.

The frog croaked …Monks swore and pushed the door open. The cat, seeing liberty at large, hissed and spat and scampered into the room, ran around Crook and then headed for the front door where it stopped, sat down and looked around at them as though expecting someone to open the door for it to leave.

“A dad burned cat!” Monks exclaimed and slipped his gun back into its holster.

Crook was puzzled, a cat in his bedroom? He stepped inside, stooped to pick up his uniform that was crumpled upon the floor and turned to hang it up. As he turned he saw a movement, the wardrobe door was swinging open. That was all it was…wasn’t it?

His eyes swept over the room. Reuben was nearly sick with fear, his feet scrabbled to find the ledge, his fingers slipped from the window cill…his heart was beating so fast that it was choking him. He looked up and there was Crook, leaning out of the window …

Surely he saw the boy. As he looked down Reuben was looking up… it was impossible for him not to have noticed the little boy cringing against the wall hoping he was invisible but knowing he was not…

Davy banged something against a garbage can, whether by accident or design even he didn’t know . But it broke the moment, Crook pulled back into the room and closed the window. He looked around the room, he heard the croak of the frog. He saw what he had seen.

He returned to the other room. Monks had already let the cat out and was settling back into his seat, Brockett looked over at Crook “Everything alright?”

Crook nodded, “I forgot to close the window. The neighbours cat got in…seems to make a habit of it.”

“Huh, must like your company.” Brockett sneered and Monks laughed, eased back into his chair and nodded. The implication was clear, not many liked Crooks company, did they?
……………..

The three boys didn’t stop running until they reached Tommy’s house. Then they had to stop, bend over double to get their breath back. Davy said something about not realising that Tommy could run so fast…but Reuben was feeling too sick to speak. Tommy leaned against the picket fence and wiped his brow,

“That was close. Do you think he saw you, Reuben?” he looked at the other boy and the look on his friends face was enough to convince him that so far as that boy was concerned, yes, Crook had seen him. “Jeepers, what do you think he’ll do?”

“Let’s get back home. Establish our alibi.” Davy said and tugged at Reuben’s sleeve.

“Will you be alright, Tom?” Reuben asked and looked at the other lad who nodded,

“Yeah, my folks are used to me getting up late at night and raiding the kitchen. They’ll think that’s what I’m doing. I’ll be okay.”

“Best lay low for now. See you sometime…” Davy muttered and after a quick glance over his shoulder to make sure Crook wasn’t following them, he hurried away towards the undertakers house.

Reuben followed. His mouth was dry and he felt like crying. What would Crook do? What would Pa and Ma think of him? Crook would have every right to tan him, and so would Pa. He hurried behind Davy, slipping in through the workshop, inching past the coffins that stood lined like sentries along the wall, and into the chapel of rest. It had no occupant so the candles were not lit. In the darkness the two boys groped their way to the door, slipped through and up the stairs to the bedroom. They could hear Mr Riley’s snores from the other room, and the sound of springs as he or Mrs Riley moved in the bed.

They both flopped like rag dolls upon their beds. For a full five minutes neither of them had the ability to speak. Then Davy sat up, “Best get to bed then.”

Reuben said nothing but got to his feet and slowly began to undress. His fingers were trembling. Davy didn’t want to speak. He just slipped into bed and pulled the covers over his head. A moment later Reuben did the same.

He lay there in the darkness listening to Davy’s breathing until it gave way to little snorts and snores. He wished he wasn’t here, he wished he had stayed at home, he wished he had never taken part in this stupid trick. He would have laughed at the memory of the poor cat, and giggled over the noise the frog had been making…but it was the fact that Crook’s eyes had fixed upon his for a whole few seconds, long enough …long enough…and then, of course, there was the conversation he had overheard as he had stood in that wardrobe which was against the thin partition wall of the adjoining room.

Brockett had a piercing voice, clear pitched and Crooks was loud anyway. Reuben had heard enough of what had been said in that room to know that he would have to tell someone. That meant he would also have to admit what he had been doing in that room … he shivered, pulled the blankets over his head and longed for sleep.

…………………………

Ben and Adam had decided they would ride onto Genoa regardless of time. They made brief stops along the way to rest their horses and refresh themselves. It meant that by the time they did ride into the town it was past mid-night. The saloons and some gambling joints, the eateries and some brothels were already closing their doors, pushing out their late night customers into the street and locking and barring the doors behind them.

Cowboys and townsmen staggered about the side walks making a lot of noise over nothing, laughing, singing, getting boisterous. Down one alley a fight was taking place, no once cared enough to stop it.

In the hotel room Alex Dunlop sat at a desk and wrote a letter. He stopped every so often to think about what to say next. He also paused to dwell on how he could get Joseph Cartwright hanged for the murders he did not commit. He wasn’t overly concerned, he had played this kind of game several times before and always come out the winner
.
In his hotel room Hoss Cartwright had paced the floor so long that it had made him feel sick. He sunk down on the bed and buried his face in his hands while he tried to think over all that had happened…the things they had discovered and needed to put together in order to make sense of it all. Why did Blakeley seem so concerned about Joe being found guilty of the crimes when there was so much evidence to prove that he was innocent. Why didn’t the fool man just stop for a moment and show some sense?

In his cell Joe Cartwright lay on the truckle bed and stared at the ceiling. He couldn’t understand what was going on. His head ached so much that he had to keep his eyes closed in an effort to stop the pain. But it didn’t , not really. Why couldn’t he remember? Why did his mind have to stop just as it was getting so vitally important for him to know what really happened.

“I know what I saw. Jerry was at the door. He saw me and turned to someone in the house. Who was that? Was it the man he met later, when Jericho was murdered? Were they working together…but why? What had the Blairs ..no, the Tombs…done to them? I’m going crazy trying to work this all out. Why cant I remember?”

He rolled into a sitting position and sat on the edge of the bed, “Mary Ann, oh my heavens, Mary Ann. I should never have come here, I should have realised Jerry had something devious planned…oh Mary Ann…I should have been there. What if he had

He have a groan of misery and buried his face in his hands, and then clasped them together and began to pray. He prayed so hard that he was beginning to babble, his words made no sense. Would God understand what he was saying even if his words were muddled? Would he read the words that were being said in his heart?

Footsteps approaching..he didn’t stop praying, he didn’t look up, the words were just pouring out soundlessly, just a babble of misconstructed sentences that were all a supplication really.

“Son?”

He had never thought that God would have a voice like his fathers. He paused and glanced up..swallowed hard…and rose to his feet, approached the bars and leaned his head against them.

“Pa? You’re here?” his voice broke in a slight sob which he tried to stifle. Bens hand wrapped around his and he looked up, saw his father, and then behind him, was Adam.

Chapter 52

Sheriff Grimes was yawning as he stepped back into his office. From his dishevelled state it was obvious he had been roused from his bed but accepted it as his temperament dictated, with patience and a degree of tolerance.

Sheriff Blakeley however burst into the building in such a fury that the deputy actually cringed back for cover behind Grimes. Blakeley’s temper wasn’t cooled by the sight of two Cartwrights sitting at the desk calmly drinking coffee. He looked at Grimes, as though the man was stupid for allowing them through the door, and then he turned on Ben,

“What are you doing here?” he rasped, “You have no right to be here!”

“I have every right, Sheriff.” Ben replied with a very calm voice which belied his feelings for inwardly he was seething with anger, “I’ve come for my son.”

“Your son is behind bars, sir. He’s under arrest for murder.” Blakeley snarled and looked at Grimes and then the deputy “Didn’t you make that clear to them?”

Grimes ran fingers through his hair in an attempt to tidy it while the Deputy muttered something inaudible. It was Grimes who now spoke up “Blakeley, these gentlemen have ridden a long way to see their son. At least allow them the courtesy to hear them out.”

It was a polite and subtle reminder that here, in Genoa, Grimes was the law officer in situ. Blakeley was ‘passing through’.

Ben nodded and rose to his feet “Sheriff Blakeley, I don’t know what it is you are trying to do, but I would like to have it put on record that your handling of this situation has lacked a proper and thorough investigation. My son is not guilty of the murders you accuse him of, and you have no evidence…”

“I have a witnesses dying statement, sir…”

“… you have no evidence to convict him.”

“That’s for a jury to decide.”

Ben’s face began to redden, and his eyes bulged, the sure signs of a Cartwright explosion in the making. Adam decided it was time to step in and as calmly as possible put their case forward.

“Sheriff Blakeley, I’d like to ask you if you have made any headway in finding the woman who was a witness to the murder of your friend, Jericho Silverman. You really should be looking for her, Sheriff, as she is a credible witness and may have been present at the deaths of Mr and Mrs Tombs.”

“This is ridiculous.” Blakeley replied, “I never even knew about a woman until – until earlier this evening. In fact, I would say it’s a fabrication made up by you and your brothers to prevent this case coming to trial.”

Adam gave a slight roll of his shoulders and lowered his eyes to stare at Blakeley’s feet,then he glanced back up and turned dark eyes shot with amber at the lawman “You never even looked, did you? We know you didn’t because there were no fresh prints anywhere near where she was standing, waiting for Cambor’s accomplice, watching him murder your friend.”

Blakeley leaned forward, his face so close that when he spoke spittle sprayed wide, he could barely contain his fury at being accused of negligence “When we checked that site, we checked it thoroughly. We know -” he hesitated and stepped back “You’re wasting time, Cartwright. I could have you arrested.”

“I don’t think so, Sheriff Blakeley,” Adam replied and looked at Grimes who nodded and picked up his cue,

“I think these gentlemen have a valid point, Blakeley. It may be wiser to have the location checked out to verify their statements. It could go hard with you if you make a wrongful arrest, and an innocent man gets hanged as a result…just for lack of checking this out.”

Ben threw Grimes a glance of gratitude, a lawman with a conscience, made in Roy Coffee’s mould. He released his breath, “You’ll need an independent witness, Sheriff. I’ll be prepared to ride out with Sheriff Grimes and check it out.”

Blakeley shook his head “It’s too far. I’ll get my deputy to go and..”

“..and Roy Coffee, who was sheriff of Virginia City for many years, will be in Boulder’s Creek, he can accompany Deputy Matheson. That will be your independent witness, Sheriff Blakeley.” Ben said quietly.

“I’ll cable Matheson right away, if you will contact your man.” Blakeley sighed, and rolled his eyes to heaven. Things weren’t going so well, he felt sick with anger at being thwarted but he could see from the look on Grimes face that there was nothing more he could have done.

Ben had no idea that Roy was not in Boulder’s Creek, he could only pray that the matter would be resolved in a positive outcome for all. He picked up his hat from the desk and turned to Grimes

“Can my son be released?”

It was a simple enough request, Grimes dithered, although this was ‘his patch’ it was Blakeley’s case, and his arrest. “At present , Mr Cartwright, it may be best if he remained here.”

Adam turned away, sickened by the look of satisfaction on Blakeley’s face, but Ben pressed on “Can you fix bail? He won’t leave town until this matter is settled.”

“He stays in the cell.” Blakeley snapped and glared at Grimes who sighed and shook his head,

“Joseph Cartwright had the chance to leave town earlier, Sheriff Blakeley. I held him to his promise to stay here in town, I doubt if he’ll renege on his promise now.” he looked at Ben “I will have to ask bail for him, Mr Cartwright, that’s only right and proper procedure.”

Ben nodded, almost sagged with relief as Grimes went to the desk and pulled out the relevant papers. Blakeley stood as though turned to marble, he was so furious that he couldn’t speak.

“I’ll get a cable off to Roy as soon as possible, Pa. Reckon we could all do with some sleep.” Adam said quietly and placed a reassuring hand upon his father’s shoulder.

Ben nodded, that touch from his eldest son may have been brief, but every time the action had taken place, it had made Ben’s heart beat faster. He nodded again and turned to the desk.

Adam now turned to Blakely “And if I were you, Sheriff Blakeley, you should be paying more attention to finding out exactly who this other man is, and where he and that woman are right now. They saw Jerry Cambor kill your friend…doesn’t that mean anything to you or do you value your friends so cheaply that you just don’t care?”

“You, Mister, had better watch your mouth.” Blakeley hissed through clenched teeth while his fingers curled into fists that he would willingly have seen smashed across Adams’ face. “Whatever Cambor was, he saw your brother at the cabin and another thing -” he drew in his breath and stared Adam in the eye “why would Cambor have gone to see your brother in the hotel the morning after the murders? Have you a good explanation for that? Or don’t you like the idea that a good friend was checking on the well being of his friend? Or perhaps checking up on some facts, eh?”

Adam couldn’t reply to those questions. His heart beat a little faster, he looked over at his father and with a slight shake of the head left the room.
……………………..

In the hotel room the four Cartwrights held a council of war, the situation was certainly severe enough for any discussion between them to be referred to as such a thing. Blakeley was a stubborn enemy and Hoss was convinced that he would not go sending a cable or if he did, he would mislead the deputy.

“Roy will make sure he won’t.” Ben assured them, “Grant’s with him, and will make sure that he and the Deputy go to the right place.” he frowned and settled himself into a chair, before giving his youngest son a very solemn thoughtful look, the anxiety on his face only too obvious “Very well, having settled that matter, Joseph, perhaps you had better tell us what’s been going on?”

Joe slumped forward, his back arched like a bow and his hands drooping between his knees, “I – I remembered something.”

Adam and Hoss exchanged a look, and from the expression on Hoss’ face it was obvious that bad news was about to wing it’s way forward.

“Best say it as it is, son.” Ben said gently and placed a kindly hand upon Joe’s head which he caressed as gently as a mother would her infants.

“I was at the cabin.” Joe looked up, his eyes settled on Ben’s face, and saw the anxiety settle more deeply within the lines of his face, then he looked at Adam “I – I mean, you were right, Adam, when you said that I was on the track from Blairs place because it was familiar to me. But the thing is …to have been on the track meant I had to be at the cabin, didn’t it? It doesn’t lead any place else but there .”

“I did wonder…” Adam said very quietly, “But it was really for you to remember of your own accord, not because someone was putting ideas into your head.”

Joe nodded, “I saw Jerry Cambor at the cabin…” and very briefly he explained all that he could remember. He looked at them each in turn, “I don’t know what happened next. I know there was someone in the cabin with him..”

“Could have been the Tombs, Joe.” Ben said quietly.

“Yeah, I guess so.” Joe frowned, “I hadn’t thought of that…he could have been alone with them I guess…but I don’t know, I saw him there, with the rifle ..my next memory is coming to my senses after falling off my horse.”

“Well, it’s a good sign that you can remember that much, at least.” Ben said as he rose to his feet, “it means you could remember everything in time. But for now, I think we all need some sleep. I’m exhausted …”

None of his sons argued with that, so far as they were concerned it was a miracle the man was still able to stand without falling over.
………………..

Grant was proven right in one regard, they didn’t meet up with the Cartwrights as Roy had assumed. They had camped overnight and resumed their journey later than Grant had wanted but he was a patient kindly lad, and agreed with Roy that patience was a virtue, even though inwardly he was longing to get to Genoa and meet up with the Cartwrights.
……………

Adam was waiting outside the Telegraph Depot in Genoa before the office even opened. He had only been there a few moments when Blakeley appeared, gave him a curt nod of the head and turned his back on him.

As soon as the door opened both men stepped forward at the same time, got wedged between the framework and it was Adam who stepped back. It provided him with an advantage however for he knew morse code every bit as well as Joseph ever did, and as the keys tapped out the message he knew exactly what was being sent to Hal Matheson.

He stood staring at various posters on the wall, listening to the tap tap of the keys and grateful for the opportunity to have heard Blakeley’s directions to Hal. He then stepped back for the sheriff to pass him and slam the door shut before stepping up to the counter to give his own messages. Unaware that Roy had left Boulder’s Creek, Adam wrote out the message for him and passed it over to the clerk.

The clerk didn’t blink once as he tapped out a similar message to a Roy Coffee requesting him to join with Deputy Hal Matheson and Grant Tombs to check out the area where Silverman had been killed. He then tapped out a message to a Mrs Olivia Cartwright in Virginia City asking her to confirm that all was well, that Mary Ann was safe and unharmed, and to assure her that they would be back as soon as possible. The next cable went to a Mr Hiram Woods, Lawyer, Virginia City. It simply stated that he was needed in Genoa as soon as possible.

Having listened to the messages being sent, and having paid his money Adam stepped out of the office and glanced up and down the Main Street. The coach was standing at the Depot with a cluster of passengers, and the porter was arranging luggage ready for departure. He watched without any real interest as the small group of people separated, some to enter the coach and others to stand on the side walk and wave them off.

The clerk who had sent off the cables came and stood beside him and nodded over at the coach “San Francisco.”

“Hmmmn. Quite a trip.”

“Be better when the railroad gets organised. Be quicker, and cheaper…and a darn sight more comfortable.” he stretched, and looked up at the sky,”Getting colder.”

Adam nodded, watching with interest as the passengers leaned out to wave their relatives or friends farewell. He thought it a little sad that the woman had no one to see her off, but then, perhaps she was just passing through.

Without any further thought to the matter he turned around and made his way back to the hotel.

Chapter 53

Reuben had fallen asleep, somehow or other, in the early or later hours of the night considering how late it had been for him to get to his bed. Davy was awake and looking worried when Reuben opened his eyes

“Do you reckon Crook saw you?”

Reuben groaned, he hadn’t wanted to hear that asked of him as soon as he woke up. He wanted to think for a few moments that he had been caught up in a bad dream. He sat up and rubbed his head, rubbed his eyes and then looked at Davy. “Of course he saw me. He stared right at me.”

“He might have been drunk. He might have thought you were some sort of halludination.”

Reuben shook his head, he was quite sure that it was no hallucination. He stood up and shrugged, “I’d better go and see the sheriff.”

“You gonna tell tales, Reuben, you gonna drop me and Tommy in trouble?”

Reuben shook his head, “No, but I got to tell the sheriff what I overheard.”

“Why? It can’t be that important…” Davy looked angry, his face mottled pink and white, the freckles over his nose seemed to disappear, “If you go telling him anything hes going to ask you how you know and you’ll have to tell him.”

“I’ll tell him I was there, but I won’t say who with…I won’t tell on you and Tommy. We made a promise, remember?”

At that moment Mrs Riley’s voice was heard calling to them to come down to eat. Davy threw a bold glare at Reuben “You tell on us and you’re out of the gang.”

Reuben sighed, as if that was all he had to worry about! He shook his head and resignedly followed Davy down stairs where Mrs Riley gave them a warm welcome to the day smile and hustled them to their seats. Neither boy wanted to eat anything.

………….

Reuben had to face the walk to the sheriff’s office alone and constantly glancing around just in case Crook appeared. His heart quavered as he stood at the door of the sheriff’s office and once again he looked around him in the hope of someone appearing who could extricate him from the mess he was in.

But Pa had always said that the real heroes were those who despite being afraid faced the enemy, and sometimes the worst enemy to face was one’s own fear.

He stepped into the office and was confronted by two pairs of eyes…those of Nate Carney’s and Clem Fosters. For a moment his heart quailed, after all he was only a little boy and Nate, all of 6’7” looked so far up and so – well – so stern.

“Reuben?” the sheriff’s voice was deep and gentle, and a smile came to his face and his eyes twinkled “This is a pleasant surprise. Are you alone?”

Reuben nodded, he wasn’t sure if he had a voice but his tongue certainly seemed twice as large as normal. He looked at Clem who winked and nodded over at him. Clem was an old family friend, Reuben was glad he was there and not one of the other deputies.

“Is this – er – an official visit?” Nate asked and gestured to a chair in front of the desk “If it is, you had better take a seat.”

He was still looking cheerful and glad to see him, Reuben wondered what he would think of him in a few moments time, then decided not to think about that because it made him feel nervous again.

Nate sat down opposite him and nodded “Well now, you’re looking very serious so early in the morning, young man. What’s on your mind?”

Reuben cleared his throat, twice and when he felt he was fairly well lubricated he began by apologising for taking up their time.

“I – you see – I did something wrong and I have to ‘fess up.” he looked into Nate’s eyes and blinked, then he looked down at the desk, “Well, you see, I broke into Mr Crook’s house.”

There was silence, both men regarded him seriously as their smiles slipped from their faces. Clem drew closer to the desk so as not to miss anything of what was going to be said and Nate pulled papers from a drawer and picked up his pen

“Why did you do that, Reuben?” Nate wrote down the date and the name of the boy seated opposite him, he looked up and raised his eyebrows “Any particular reason?”

“He hurt my sister. He’s unkind. I wanted to pay him back.” Reuben hung his head, shame smote his conscience. “I didn’t steal anything .” he mumbled.

“Well, I’m glad to hear that.” Nate replied and wrote down something on the paper, then looked at the boy “what did you do?”

“I -” Reuben swallowed a gulp, “I put a frog in a drawer and the cat under the bed.” he frowned “The cat went under the bed by itself…it was scared.”

Clem turned away and stared at the ceiling to prevent himself from laughing and Nate heaved in a big breath and concentrated on the paper in front of him.

“Anything else?”

“I thought Mr Crook was away and the house would be empty, but he came back with Mr Brockett.”

“Sam Brockett?” Clem asked and frowned, “You sure?”

“Yes, sir. And the window had closed so when I heard Mr Crook open the door where I was I hid in the wardrobe.” Reuben licked his lips and tugged at his earlobe.

Nate nodded, “So he didn’t see you there?”

“No, sir. But -” he fidgeted uneasily on the chair and he felt as though a million butterflies were fighting to get out of his stomach. “I heard them talking. Then another man came into the room and it was a man called Monks. That’s what they called him. Monks.”

Nate leaned back in his chair and put the pen down, he could sense that the boy was anxious and he felt that the real importance of this visit was about to come, he nodded encouragement and Reuben took another deep breath before speaking again.

“The wall’s pretty thin and they spoke loud. I could hear them pretty clear. Mr Brockett was telling Mr Crook he would retire rich. He would be made of money and they laughed. Monks said that would depend on Crook doing his bit…”

“His bit?” Clem urged and narrowed his eyes, “What does that mean?”

Nate raised a hand to silence the deputy, he seemed to realise that Reuben wanted to tell what he had heard as correctly as possible, the concentration on the child’s face indicated that much. He nodded and smiled, “Go on, son.”

“Well, Mr Crook didn’t seem too happy about what he had to do, and that Mr Monks got angry and said if he didn’t do it then people in town would get to hear a lot more about some of the things Sargeant Crook had done in the past. He said that people wouldn’t like to know about what Crook had done to some women and children.”

He paused and thought about what came next, he had tried hard to remember ever since he had woken up, he looked at Nate “Mr Crook said they had all been in on it. Mr Brockett told them to be quiet and that Mr Crook didn’t have to worry too much about it really as he knew the man from the Government. That’s why they needed him to do his bit..and that was to go and talk to this man and invite him into the saloon for a drink.”

They were quiet for a moment or two, the clock ticked over loudly and steam from the coffeepot clouded the air. Clem moved it away from the hot plate and thought about making some coffee but then decided not to seeing how Reuben was too young for the brew.

“Anyway,” Reuben re-started, his brow creased in earnest now as he concentrated on what he was to say next “Mr Crook wanted to know who the Government man was and Mr Brockett said it was Fergus O’Neal. He had been in the army with Mr Crook. They had been drinking pals so Mr Brockett said and Mr Monks had laughed, and Mr Crook said that was alright then, O’Neal had been a good man. Brockett said that he was, and he was -” he paused and thought for a moment “I don’t know what he said then, but like he was saying Mr O’Neal was decent not like them and they all laughed. Then Mr Monks said…that’s when we make the switch.”

“He said what, Reuben?” Nate asked and leaned forward in a way that indicated how important those words had been.

“He said that was when they would make the switch. Mr Monks said he had the plates ready to hand over, Mr O’Neal wouldn’t even know the difference. Mr Brockett said that was good, no one would be the wiser, and Mr Crook laughed and said “Is that all I have to do?” and Mr Brockett said that he could walk Mr O’Neal to the bank if he wanted to.”

Nate nodded and rubbed his jaw before asking Reuben if he knew what the plates were that Mr Brockett was talking about, and the boy nodded

“Yes, sir, that’s why I knew I had to come and tell you what I heard. My Grandpa told me about Cousin Will having some plates hidden in his boots when they first met him. I was only a kid then and didn’t understand what he meant I thought he was talking about plates like we have to eat from on the table…but he explained that they were for printing out money.”

Nate and Clem exchanged a serious look and Reuben felt the butterflies flutter away inside him and pushed his back further into the thin slats of the chair behind him. Nate looked at him “You’re not making any of this up, are you, Reuben?”

“No, sir, that’s all that I heard, I promise.”

“What happened then?” Nate asked kindly and smiled in order to put the boy at his ease.

“I thought I had better get out, but when I tried to leave the wardrobe I knocked some bottles over, they clunked a bit and then the frog croaked real loud and the cat …well …it ran all over the place and made such a noise that Mr Crook and the other man came in to see what was happening. I had the window open and was standing on the ledge …”

“Did Mr Crook see you?”

Reuben nodded “I think he did, sir.”

Clem frowned, he thought of Mr Crook and it seemed to him that the man he knew would have reached out, grabbed hold and dragged that boy into the room and shaken him until he had found out whether or not the boy had heard anything. Reuben looked untouched and unshaken, in that sense of the word anyway. Nate nodded, “What did he do then?”

“He closed the window. I got down off the ledge and ran ..”

Nate nodded and then stood up, he looked at Clem and asked him to go and find Mr Evans and bring him to the office. When the deputy had gone Nate looked at Reuben and smiled, “Reuben, this next part is important too. I want you to write down everything you have just told me. In your own words and as neat as you can, understand?”

Reuben nodded, it made him anxious the thought of it but he didn’t say so. Nate pulled out more paper and pens and put them in front of the boy, “When Mr Evans gets here he’ll sit with you and help you with any hard words. Now, I want you to stay in here until I get back, do you understand?”

Reuben nodded, and because Nate looked at the clock he also turned to check the time. It was nearly ten o’clock. Nate was pulling down a rifle when Clem and Mr Evans came into the building. The sheriff had a quick conversation with the teacher and as he left them Reuben heard him giving instructions to Clem to get the other deputies right away.

He looked at Mr Evans who removed his hat and smiled encouragingly at him, “Just think of this as your class room, Reuben.”

Reuben nodded. Once Mr Evans was seated beside him he picked up the pen and began to write, as neatly as possible as requested.
……………….

Crook stood before the tall cheval mirror in his room and regarded himself seriously from every angle. He knew that he was not a handsome man, but there had been a time when he had cut a good enough figure when in uniform. He had pride in himself that had helped him rise up the ranks. Now that pride was gone, nothing but a life time of regrets and self loathing.

He had released the frog as soon as he had found it, and had then sunk upon the bed and drank a full bottle of whiskey. When he had returned to the land of the living he had been unable to get to his feet, his head spun and his stomach rebelled. He regarded the empty bottle with loathing and tossed it aside.

He stared at the reflection in the mirror and saw a man who no longer retained any dignity. A man who hid behind a bullying swagger that gained him enemies, not friends.

He had shaved carefully and cleaned himself up, and looked as smart as he could in his school teacher’s suit. His shoes shone, his hair was slicked back. He wondered if O’Neal would remember him now after all these years.

His mind trickled back to the previous evening. He saw yet again the boy hanging from the ledge and sighed, it was too bad that it had to be Reuben Cartwright, and no doubt some friends with him too. He had located the string of fire crackers that had been left behind in the boys’ flight. They would get their comeuppance come tomorrow, Crook narrowed his eyes and thought over his plans for the next day and he imagined the look of shock and horror on the face of Mrs Olivia Cartwright when he confronted her with what her son had done.

That would teach them.

The clock ticked away relentlessly and he noticed that it was now ten o’clock. If things went according to plan he would be chatting to O’Neal like an old friend over a counter in the saloon within the next quarter of an hour.
…………

C Street was always busy on a Saturday morning. Children as well as adults intermingled on the sidewalks. Stores and banks and saloons were open for business. Nate Carney had his deputies placed strategically here and there, close by Crook’s premises and the First National Bank where Mr Weems waited for a special courier to deliver some plates to him personally. These plates would be kept in the safe until Head Office requested them.

Sam Brockett strolled from one store to another, appearing affable to some with whom he would spend time to chat, but ignoring others with an abruptness that was more than rude. He had checked that Monks was in position and that Alvarez, Fitzroy Smith and Deacon were in theirs, close to where several horses had been made ready when the switch had been made.

Candy had been walking along with his family when Nate had stopped him, murmured something in his ear which had caused him to make his excuses to his wife. Ann had watched him stroll away, as if nothing had happened but anticipating that something soon would, he appeared to be chatting to Clem. Ann knew different, there was something wrong this pleasant Saturday morning.

She had Samuel in his stroller and David by her side, Rose had gone to a friends house, and Ann could just see her now as she skipped along the other side of the road. She hurried on and then had to stop when she realised someone was blocking her path, upon looking up she recognised Peter Crook.

Crook was the first to recover from his discomfort at bumping into her…of all people. He removed his hat and nodded,

“Good morning, Ann.”

Ann nodded, a nerve fluttered at her throat at the realisation that he had called her by her given name. They had not spoken for years, not since that long time ago when her marriage had been annulled by her father and Crook had come crawling around to show an interest in her. “Excuse me, Mr Crook, I have to get on.”

He just stood there, staring at her and then seeing the determination in her face he stepped back, looked at the baby and then back at her “What’s his name?”

She gripped the handle of the stroller and pushed, then checked herself, she was being unfair, there was nothing threatening about the man, not now. She looked at him “His name is Samuel. My other son, here, is David.”

Samuel. Crook sighed and nodded, bade her goodbye and walked on. Why had they called the child Samuel? It tugged at his nerves, that Candy had called his son Samuel when Sybil’s son of that name had died because of him? He walked along in a miasma of pain and memories, he crossed the road and stopped when a horseman rode by, paused and called his name

“Sergeant Crook?”

O’Neal was an open faced honest looking man with a broad smile on his face that seemed to reach from ear to ear.When he dismounted and approached Crook to shake his hand, Brockett, watching from his location opposite the saloon, couldn’t believe how well things were going. This was better than even he had anticipated.

The two men shook hands, Crook slapped O’Neal on the back and it was clear he had invited the man in for a drink. O’Neal demurred, he looked over at the bank, he had some business to attend to first.

“That’s a shame, I have to go out of town in less than half an hour, so won’t be able to catch up with you.” Crook looked regretful, O’Neal looked doubtful. Then he shrugged and nodded,

“Business can wait for a quick one…” he laughed and ushered in by Crook stepped into the Bucket of Blood.

It was not so very busy at that time of the day, and Crook placed an order and led O’Neal to the table, keeping up a line of chat to keep the man from deciding he should get away and do what he had to do. He was a diligent man and had carried over his shoulder his saddle bags wherein lay the important plates.
wrapped in a cloth.

Monks came along and joined them, shook hands with O’Neal, considered the possibility of their having served in the army together and then left. As he walked away he placed saddle bags on the floor by O’Neals chair, picking up the saddle bags the courier had put down previously. These Monks carried out with him.

The switch had been made. It had been as easy as Brockett had said it would be, and Crook leaned back in his chair, loosened his necktie and poured out yet another whiskey. It was always better drinking with an old friend.

Chapter 54

O’Neal was a friendly honest man. Even when in the army he had kept his good standards, staying well away from Crook and his associates. Crook remembered him as being a good soldier, and a man who couldn’t be bribed or co-erced into riding along with them on their wild forays.

It seemed almost sinful to have him set up for this kind of fall, Crook mused as he poured another glass of whiskey into the glasses .He listened to the man talking about his life, his family and the responsibilities of his job in the Government as a courier. As the man talked Crook thought of Ann Canaday, of the baby they had called Samuel. It had reminded him of his young nephew, and it had also made him consider the kind of man he had himself turned out to be.

Would Sam be proud of him now? Would he look up at him and be proud to call him Uncle? Crook rather doubted it. As he raised the glass to his mouth he could see Sybil’s pretty face, the doting look on it as she had gazed upon her son. Crook realised that all the women and children he had raised a hand against hadn’t wiped out the misery of that day he had found her dead. He had thought that it would somehow, that each shocking cruel deed he performed would equal and erase that memory.

O’Neal was getting up, time to move on. Crook rose to his feet and lumbered out beside him, out of the saloon and with a bluff smile offered to walk him to the bank.

“Right friendly of you, Mr Crook.” O’Neal had said with his big hearty grin “You just lead the way.”

Sam Brockett watched with a complacent smile on his face; he saw Monks with the saddlebags and nodded, receiving a nod back in return. Then he turned to go back to his house content with the thought that Weems would have no idea of what had happened. Even if he looked to check that the plates were there he would never notice the difference. It took a trained eye for that, and Brockett knew by now that Weems was too lazy and too complacent in his job to have any inclination to do so, he would simply sign the papers, take the plates and place them safely away.

Then Monks would bring the Governments plates to Brockett where he would take them down to his ’secure room’ . The other men, with the horses, would not be required after all.

He put his hand on the gate of his property and paused as Nate Carney and Mark Watts walked towards him. He drew in a deep breath, just a co-incidence he told himself and pushed the gate open, and then realised that the two lawmen were heading towards him.

He raised his head and stared Nate in the eyes, he was a short man so got a crick in his neck doing so, but he wasn’t going to get flustered, too much hung in the balance right now. He could see Monks hesitate and stop, waiting to see what was going to happen.

“Mr Brockett?”

“Mr Carney?” Brockett cleared his throat, “Sheriff, I mean. what can I do for you?”

“If you could come along with us, Mr Brockett. There’s a matter we would like to discuss with you.”

“About what? Sheriff, I’m a busy man…I have things to do..”

“I’m also a busy man, Mr Brockett. I also have things to do, but if it makes life easier for you, perhaps we could come inside and have our chat with you in your home?”

Brockett dithered. He saw Monks turn and walk away, and relaxed a little. He smiled, and pushed open the gate in order to lead the lawmen into his home.

Monks hurried on. O’Neal had entered the bank now and Crook was standing on the side walk just watching the comings and goings of the people. Ann Canaday was entering Ridleys Emporium with the baby and David, he watched her and then glanced down the street and saw Deputy Foster and Candy turn around and start walking slowly along towards where Deacon and Fitzroy Smith were standing by the horses.

Brockett still had his hand on the gate, and looked quickly over at Monks, he noticed Monks walking towards the other two men, quickening his pace as he did so and O’Neal’s saddle bags still over his shoulder. There was something wrong. He could see from Monks face that he was wanting out of there, because Monks face was always too expressive and gave too much away even back in the past.

From where he stood watching, Crook noticed Monks change of direction and froze, he watched as Deacon began to untether the horses.

Vinnie Tyler and another Deputy was ordering them to stay where they were, to move away from the horses. Like the fools they were both men went for their guns and shot wildly, in the hope that it would deter the lawmen from getting closer, they were fighting the horses who wanted to get free of the noise and the gunfire.

Vinnie and the other lawman returned fire, women screamed and everyone on the side walks vanished through the open doors of the saloons or stores which were immediately closed behind them. Anxious faces peered through the glass windows …and Crook realised he was still just standing there and watching and wondering why Clem and Candy hadn’t made their move.

Then he saw why….Monks had grabbed at the first chance he had to get free. Even as Deacon fell to the ground and Fitzroy Smith toppled against the horse that would have been his saving, Monks had stretched out a long arm and wrapped it around young Rose Canaday as she had skipped her way across the road to join her mother.

His gun was inches from her head. “Don’t none of you move. You let me get a horse and ride out of here and you can have her..safe. Try and stop me and she gets it.”

Crook saw Candy’s face. The agony on it. The misery. The teacher turned to look at Monks, he saw the child’s face, the horror and fear…she couldn’t even scream for her life as she seemed suspended there with Monks arm around her chest and the gun inches from her head.

“Move away. Move away or she’s dead.”

Crook looked around him, people’s faces were pressed against the glass windows and the glass panels in the doors. No one moved to help. No one dared move. A child’s life hung in the balance and her father stood as though turned to stone.

Crook bowed his head and sighed within himself. No father should have to face this situation he told himself, no man should have to be forced to make this kind of decision.

He placed a hand inside his jacket and pulled out his derringer. No one was looking at him, their eyes were all on Monks and the child. As Crook walked towards his associate he caught a glimpse of Ann Canaday struggling in the arms of another woman in an attempt to get out and run to her daughter.

Perhaps Sybil had done the same all those years ago when the Souix had attacked them and she had sought to protect her son, Sam. Perhaps had he, Crook, been there, she would have been safe. Perhaps…he shook his head..that was then, this was now.

“Monks?”

He didn’t raise his voice, his derringer was concealed within his hand and sleeve of his jacket. Monks glanced at him “Get a horse, Crook. We can still get away. They won’t move while I have the girl.”

“Let her go, Monks.”

Monks looked at him, his eyes widened with amazement and then crinkled with laughter “You gone soft? I told Brockett you had gone soft, I told him…”

“Just let her go.”

“Or what? What can you do?”

The sneer on his face faded when he saw the derringer pointed at him. A small weapon, small bullets but aimed close enough they wouldn’t miss their target. He shook his head “You are a fool, Crook.”

He swung his gun with one hand and fired. With the other hand he cast the girl to one side so that Rosie fell upon the hard packed road. Crook didn’t move. He just looked into Monks eyes and sighed, a long drawn out sign.

His finger pressed the trigger and the derringer spat its lethal charges. Then Crook toppled like an old worn out tree into the road. Monks staggered a few paces backwards, turned, then fell face down across Deacon’s body.

Just a moment of silence and inactivity broken by a hubbub of noise..Rose began to scream, and Candy ran to gather her up into his arms and carry her over to her mother. People streamed out of the stores and saloons…then paused to stare down at the bodies.

Deacon was alive, wounded and dazed, and now anxious to wriggle free from Monks body sprawled across him. Fitzroy Smith was being hauled to his feet by Clem Foster. Both men were then dragged along to the sheriff’s office where Reuben was still laboriously copying out his statement.

While Rose sobbed in her mother’s arms Candy walked over to where Crook lay and knelt down beside him. Dr Colby was there and looked at him with a slight shake of the head, if the man wasn’t already dead he soon would be…and as Candy looked down at the school teacher, Crook raised a hand and opened his eyes

“Sorry.”

It was a croak of a voice but the word came out clear. Candy nodded and took hold of the hand within his own,

“It’s a good name…Samuel…” Crook murmured, and smiled slowly, “He’s a good boy is Sam…”

“Yes, he was a good friend”

“He was …”

And that was all he said. Nothing more. Candy released Crooks hand and let it drop across his chest, looked at Colby and then got to his feet. Behind him Peter Riley stepped forward to remind Colby where the undertaker ..the best in town..could be located.

Ann stood with her children gathered around her, Rose silent with tears running down her face. Then Candy stepped into the store to gather his daughter to him, and hold her close.

Chapter 55

When the door was pushed open both Reuben and Edward Evans looked up in some surprise. They had heard the gun shots, but obedient to Nate’s warning had remained seated, and then the deputies had stepped inside with two other men who looked dusty, battered and bruised so when Brockett was pushed into the office with Nate behind him, they both stood up unsure as to what to do next.

Brockett gave them a cursory glance as he made his way to the cells now followed by Clem. Nate stopped and watched them go before turning to Reuben and Evans, he smiled then, his quirky shy grin and approached the desk where they were standing

“Finished your statement, Reuben?”

“Yes, sir..only just though.” the boy replied wishing he could be a grown up and ask all the questions that he would love the answers to now..like…why is Mr Brockett in jail, where’s Mr Crook, what was all the shooting about, was anyone killed?

“Well done, it’s going to be a very important piece of evidence, you do realise that, don’t you?”

Nate had succeeded in concertinaing his knees so he could be at Reuben’s eye level, and looked at him earnestly, so much so that Reuben felt his heart flutter at the fact and he glanced up at Evans as though for reassurance.

“Will I be in any trouble…you know? For what I did…?”

“No, no, you won’t be in any trouble although I would advise you against doing anything like that again.” Nate smiled and stood up, then looked at Edward, and indicated with a shift of the eyes that he would like to speak to him privately

Reuben sat back down at the desk well aware of adult’s methods of silent communication when they don’t want little ears to listen to what is being said. Edward and Nate wandered off to the other side of the office,

“Can you make sense as to why Crook never dealt with the boy?” Nate asked the other teacher now, “I would have thought it more in line with Crook’s personality
To have dragged the boy into the room and thrashed him.”

“I was thinking the same as I was going through Reuben’s statement with him. It isn’t like Crook to let anything like that go without notice. I can’t for the life of me imagine what he was thinking to let him get away with that..guess we’ll have to ask him when you bring him in.”

Nate shook his head “Not possible I’m afraid. The man’s dead…”

Edward said nothing but looked at Nate very seriously and then nodded, he turned to Reuben, “Well, Reuben, have you signed your statement now?”

Reuben nodded, he had taken his time in doing so, knowing the two men wouldn’t want to be hurried. He looked at Nate again and apologised for being ‘bad’ so Nate nodded and warned him once more not to do it again, otherwise he might find himself in a cell.

As they stepped out onto the sidewalk Mr Rileys’ assistants were scattering sand over the blood splashes on the road, and apart from some still curious bystanders life had resumed some normalcy. Evans put his hand on Reubens’ shoulder and led him away to where he could talk to the boy in private but before he could say a word Jimmy Carstairs came running up to them, his eyes almost spinning with the excitement of the news

“Dud you know, sir, did you hear what’s happened? Reuben, Mr Crook’s dead..did you know? That blood over there …” he pointed excitedly to where it was being well covered “that’s his, Mr Crooks’, isn’t it, sir?” he stared up at Evans who nodded and sighed,

“I’m afraid so” Evans replied and was about to lead Reuben away when Jimmy was joined by two other boys, Davy and Tommy.

“Mr Crook shot the man who grabbed Rosie Canaday….” Davy gasped, “You should have seen it, Reuben.”

“You missed it all, you did.” Tommy pushed Davy aside in order to get closer to Reuben and Mr Evans. “This man grabbed Rose and was going to shoot her and then Mr Crook shot him…there was blood everywhere,…wasn’t there, Davy?”

“My dad’s dealing with the bodies.” Davy said with a degree of self importance, “fancy that, Mr Crook in one of our coffins.”

Reuben looked up at Mr Evans and felt tears prick his eyelashes, he really just wanted to get home, to see his Ma and forget all about Mr Crook. Edward Nodded, and gave the boy’s shoulder a little squeeze,

“I’ll take you home, Reuben.” he said very gently and led the way to Mrs Hawkins with his hand remaining on Reuben’s shoulder and the other boys standing there watching, wondering why Reuben Cartwright wasn’t feeling as excited by it as they were, but then, as Davy sagely pointed out, Reuben hadn’t been there, he hadn’t seen it for himself.
……………..

Paul Martin had quite enjoyed his time spent with his wife at Mary Ann’s home. He had relaxed enough not to feel guilty about absconding from work, and being fussed over by Bridie. He had played with Daniel and rocked Constance to sleep. So when Hank came knocking on the door and requesting the doctors help he didn’t know whether to be irritated or relieved.

He actually felt neither upon finding that his patient was Sofia Cartwright. Bridie had decided to accompany him just in order to give Olivia some moral support.

Sofia sat up in bed looking very sorry for herself, and her breathing was erratic and her face was pale while her cheeks were rosy red. Paul felt her pulse, and then around her neck. He told her to open her mouth, stick out her tongue and then he poked and peered a bit and finally told her to close her mouth and relax.

He asked her about school and if she were enjoying being at the grand school in C street now. She chattered to him a little about the building, the big stair case which sometimes she dreamed about and pretended she was a princess in a long sweeping gown coming down to meet whoever was waiting at the bottom …she always woke up so never did know who it was.

Paul nodded and smiled his grandfatherly smile and then patted her on the head,
“Very good, Sofia, very good.”

She was more than pleased to know that, even though she wasn’t sure why, so when he left the room she cuddled Clarabelle and settled back into the pillows to sleep.

Olivia and Bridie were in conversation when Paul reappeared and when Olivia stood up looking anxiously at the doctor he smiled and nodded, “Nothing to be worried about, my dear. Sofia has a slight fever, she’ll recover very quickly with rest and some of this medicine.”

He scribbled something on a piece of prescription paper and said he would give it to Hank to take into town when he went in to collect Reuben. “It will soothe her throat and ease the temperature. She really just needs sleep. She Isn’t worried about anything, is she?”

“Not that I know of…perhaps about school, Mr Crook has been a problem. He seems to single her out a lot, during recess. The other day she came home with a bad bruise on her arm where he had held her so tightly .”

“She told you that?”

“No, but she talks in her sleep and it wasn’t hard to put two and two together. The advantage of being a mother…” she smiled rather wanly

Paul nodded, “Crook’s a strange man, one does wonder what makes someone turn out like he has, but it makes life hard for the children when they have a teacher who displays such cruelty. However, ours is not to reason why…”

Bridie gave her husband one of those ‘looks’ often accorded husbands by wives who didn’t understand exactly what their dearly beloved were actually meaning and with reassurances that they would see one another later, if Sofia was well enough, the couple departed.

Olivia returned to her daughter’s room and sat down by the bed, soothed back the golden blonde curls and held her hot little hand in her own, Sofia smiled wearily and with a sigh drifted into sleep.

The breeze outside carried with it the promise of rain. It was autumn and the sun no longer shone so brightly, nor so warmly.

She walked to the window and drew shut the drapes. Leaving her daughter to sleep she went downstairs to talk to Cheng Ho Lee about the food she had intended to take with her to Mary Ann’s. She had just passed the door to the porch when she heard the sound of buggy wheels and thinking that Paul had forgotten something she hurried to open the door before the banging would awaken Sofia.

Mr Evans stood there with Reuben who was looking rather wary as she put out a hand to him, “Is something wrong? I was going to send Hank or Cheng Ho Lee in to get you later.”

Mr Evans removed his hat “May I have a word with you, Mrs Cartwright, in private?”

Olivia’s heart sunk. What had the boy done! She glanced at Reuben in the hope that somehow he would be able to transmit some hidden message to her but he had gone into the kitchen to get some water and talk to Cheng.

“What’s happened? Is Reuben in trouble, has he done anything wrong?”

She gestured towards a chair and then sat opposite him. In the kitchen Cheng prepared some coffee knowing that anyone travelling this far from town would need something to cut the dust. Outside the clouds were gathering, Mr Evans would not have such a pleasant drive home…

In a few words Edward explained all that had happened so far as he knew from the statement that Reuben had written out for the sheriff. Olivia listened with her eyes never leaving his face, and her hands in her lap, fingers intertwining and twisting constantly. She didn’t interrupt, which Edward found reassuring and a relief, so he was able to give her all the information and when he finished there was Cheng Ho Lee with coffee on the table beside his elbow. Reuben was beside him with a plate containing cookies.

“Ma, are you angry with me?” was the first thing the boy said and Olivia drew in her breath and swallowed the lump in her throat,

“I might be when I get round to thinking about it.” she said sternly. She frowned, not for a moment did she think hr boy had been alone in all this, and she shook her head and frowned “For the moment you had best go to your room while I talk a little more with Mr Evans about the matter.”

Reuben toiled his way to his room and carefully closed the door. He threw himself upon the bed and closed his eyes. He was suddenly feeling tired, really tired. The thought crossed his mind that Mr Crook was actually dead, he was gone, he would never hurt any of them again.

For some reason that didn’t make him feel the least bit happy.
…………..

Nathaniel ran into his Aunt Mary Ann’s home with a big smile, he was always glad to have the chance to play with his cousins. He loved Hope most of all, but Daniel was fun and Nathaniel was now of an age when he could enjoy the other boys association.

Cheng Ho Lee had offered to stay with Missy Sofia and so Olivia and Reuben with Nathaniel arrived a little later than intended but with a basket of food that she and Cheng had prepared.

It was strange to be assembled together without Ben and their husbands.
Paul was proud to be the only male member of the group and helped to keep their spirits buoyed up. There was a lull in the good humour however when Olivia told them that the school teacher had been killed and Hester got into a panic thinking about her cousin Ann and what she had suffered and how she would have been feeling when Rose had been snatched up by the man Crook had killed.

It took them a while to return to their previous pleasant mood and Paul had a struggle to keep them from returning to the subject. Reuben just kept very quiet and wished that he could have developed the measles, chickenpox even small pox and stayed home with his sister.

Now the subject turned to their husbands…worries about where they were, and why had they not returned sooner. Why was it taking so long?

“Have you heard from them at all?” Hester wanted to know, and looked from one to the other of her sisters in law. “I had a cable from Hoss, he said they were in Genoa looking for the Blairs and hoped to be home soon.”

“Joe’s cable said much the same thing, although I would have thought he would have contacted me again by now.” she looked at Paul “Do you think his memory would come back, Paul? Or will he always have this space in his mind?”

Paul thought for a moment before answering “Every case is different, my dear. Thankfully Joe has only lost the memory relating to a single event in his life. It may or may not return to him, time alone can tell.” and in typical doctor fashion he related some cases where the unfortunate victim of amnesia lost everything and never remembered what they had lost.

“Did you hear from Adam at all, Livvy?” Mary Ann asked now, “Did he mention Joe at all?”

“Adam cabled, but said they were searching for answers…it seems that every time they think they have a solution, more questions arise. My main concern is that sheriff – Blakely – “ she frowned, “the more I hear about him the more uncomfortable he makes me feel about the situation.”

Mary Ann went pale, she remembered the scene with Nate and Blakeley, how they had rescued her from Cambor. She had to drink some water as she remembered the way Cambor had looked at Blakeley the surprise on his face, and the way he said “You shot me in the back.”

Perhaps she should mention it to …she glanced around her, and then wondered who actually she could mention it to with all her men folk absent from home. For a moment she considered the matter and then realised there was only one person she could speak to about it, and had just resolved to ride into town the next day when there was a clash of thunder, lightning streaked the sky and rain fell with a clatter upon the glass panes of the windows.

Chapter 56

Pearly the Prospector looked up from his camp fire and watched as the horsemen stopped and dismounted. He recognised the deputy called Matheson, and nodded, and having done so then continued with his cooking. Bacon sizzled in a pan and the coffee pot was set to boil.

“What you back here fer? Worried that the ghost of Jericho will come haunting ye, is that it?”

Hal frowned, and shook his head, “No, Pearly, we just came to check over some prints that were left here. What are you doing here anyway?”

“I allust camp here when there’s rain due. Then I can git among the trees for shelter. What prints you talkin’ about anyhow?”

Hal scratched his head and shrugged “Sheriff Blakeley wanted us to take a closer look for the prints around here for when Jericho was killed.”

Old Pearly gave a cackle of a laugh and shook his head, “You must be joking me. Any prints from back then are long gone. We’ve had some rain since then if you hadn’t a noticed. And beside, others have been here and left prints that overlap any of the others. You ain;t gonna find anything now.”

The other deputy came and joined them, the bacon was frying nicely, getting crisp. The smells were good too…”Did you notice anything in particular about them prints, when you found Jericho that day?”

“Such as like what?”

“Well, like how many horses there were, how many people…were there any women here…” Matheson replied, taking his cue from the other man.

“Wimmin? What wimmimn? Aint no sign of no females around hereabouts.” Pearly scowled and flipped over the bacon with a practised hand “As for the other, I‘d have said there were enough prints here to indicate at least two maybe even three horses….which means three men …”

“You sure?” Matheson said, “And no women?”

“Shucks, what would any wimmin want to be in a place like this fer?” Pearly muttered and shook his head at them as he turned back to forage in his bags for some eating utensils.

Hal turned and then, mindful of the instructions regarding Roy Coffee paused, “Seen anyone else along here since we came by earlier?”

“No. And I didn’t see anyone else before I made camp either..”

Hal nodded and satisfied that he had followed Blakeleys cabled request adequately well, he remounted his horse and with the other deputy alongside him, made his way to Blakesville.
………………….

When morning had dawned that day Grant Tombs realised that he had been quite unfair to Roy. He himself had struggled to get to sleep because of the aches and pains he was suffering from having been in the saddle for so long. It was he who when he did get to sleep, despite the rumbling snores of the other man, had then found it hard to wake up.

He felt ashamed to find breakfast cooked and coffee made when he finally rolled out of ‘bed’, he groaned and rubbed his head, his back and blinked like an owl over at Roy who was ladling food onto a plate which he carried over to him.

“Thought you was dead.” Roy said with a smile, “Glad you ain’t.”

Grant mumbled a thank you for the food and yawned, he watched as Roy fussed around the camp, preparing to clear up and ride on out as soon as he could. He turned to Grant and smiled “Normally I would have left a good hour or so ago, but I noticed you struggled to get to sleep. You ain’t used to this kind of life, are ya?”

“No, sir.” Grant muttered and tried to shake off the head ache, the back ache, and concentrate on the food on the plate. He groped for his spectacles and pushed them onto his nose, with a clearer view of what was on the plate he began to eat.

So much for thinking the old man was past it, he mused. Then sighed, he had a lot to learn.
…………….

In his apartment in a Chicago main centre tenement, Jolyon Pitt removed his spectacles, rubbed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. It had been a long day and the evening was still longer. He had read through most of the files on the Blairs, plus several other files that had references to them that he had brought home to study through. He had made copious notes from them and now picked these up and carried them into another room where coffee was brewing and food he had prepared hours earlier still waited to be eaten

A sharp rap on the door disturbed his attentions from the coffee pot and he walked across the room with it in his hand. Cruickshank grinned at him and nodded as he entered into the room,

“Looks like I came in time.”

“Good to see you too, Cruickshank.” Jolyon replied as he closed the door behind the other man and yawned.

Cruickshank settled down into a chair having discarded his hat and coat which he left draped over a hall stand. He produced a sheaf of papers from his briefcase and while Pitt poured coffee, which he brought over to the table, he sifted through them page by page.

“Been doing homework too, Cruickshank?” Pitt smiled and sat down, cradling the mug of coffee between his fingers.

“Yep, I went to the local library and did a whole heap of research on this here Alex Dunlop.”

“And found?”

“Some interesting facts, not many, but those I did find were..interesting.” he sipped the coffee, “You need to get a wife. This coffee tastes awful.”

“I’ll make some fresh later, I made this hours ago…” Pitt grinned and leaned back. He had always been a solitary man, but was finding this interchange with Cruickshank quite ennervating.

“Alex Dunlop was one of the most cruel men alive, he was a scavenger, picked on the bones of society, killed off those society didn’t want…he demanded money with menaces from those who wanted him to do little jobs for them and then wouldn’t pay up. He deserved to hang.”

Pitt nodded, “From the references I have of him he was involved in several notorious ‘gangs’ in New York, as well as here in Chicago.”

“He was, but he liked doing his own work too….until he came up against Malachy Blair.”

“Go on.”

“On the little I have about him it seems Malachy was already working for the Pinkertons. He knew Our Boss personally and had got ‘signed up’ quite early on. Somehow he got his wife, Jane, involved…”

“From what I’ve read Jane Blair wouldn’t have been sidelined .. She wasn’t a milk and water kind of lady…”

“No, she was made of tough stuff alright.” Cruickshank sipped more coffee, grimaced and continued on “Blair was in partnership with his brother in law, Tombs. It was through Blair that Dunlop was caught, arrested and brought to trial. Tombs was Dunlops defence lawyer.”

“Oh, that wouldn’t sit well with Blair surely?” Pitts replied and gave a slight smile, having delved through the Blairs files he knew very well it hadn’t sat well on the other lawyer cum Pinks agent.

“It was the parting of the ways for them, unless you know differently, there was no further contact between them. However, I digress….Tombs defended Dunlop at his trial, got very involved with him too.”

“And did Dunlop hang?”

“Yes. He hanged, despite what the news tabloids at the time said was a resoundingly brilliant defence from Mr Tombs.” Cruickshank put down his cup, and leaned back in his chair “Yet -”

“Yet?”

“Years later we still hear about Alex Dunlop … and still carrying on his nasty little trade in evil.”

Pitt nodded “In the import and export business I believe?”

“Huh, importing and exporting young women as slaves to the Orient, never to be seen again, unless they happen to be one of the unfortunates who attempted to get away and ended up dead in some river or other.”

Pitt stood up “I’ll make fresh coffee. Have you eaten?”

“Do you make better bacon and eggs than you make coffee?”

“My coffee is good, when it’s fresh.” Jolyon replied and limped to the other room where he began to prepare the impromptu meal,

He had a lot to think about as he considered his own research alongside the facts Cruickshank had provided. There had been no mention of the reason why Blair and Tombs partnership had split up all those years back. He had assumed it was because Tombs had returned to Atlanta with his young wife and son, only to leave rather quickly when it was razed to the ground. Reference by Blair in any correspondence regarding Alex Dunlop was scarce, brief references only, comments about how the man was like a shadow, leaving his men to be picked up and abandoned like so much flotsam and jetsam.

Pitt began to wonder if there was a less tenuous link between the three men..Dunlop. Tombs and Blair.

He took the food to the table and found Cruickshank looking through the papers he had himself left there. The other man looked up and thanked Pitt, put the papers down and began to eat. “How come Blair got involved with The Boss so early on?”

Pitt swallowed some food, cleared his throat “Jane Blair was Scottish. She came over on the same boat as Mr Pinkerton. They became close friends and she introduced Blair to Allan, so when Blair fell out with Tombs and Mr Pinkerton had decided to leave the Police, they got together again. Malachy Blair was one of the founder members really, could have gone into partnership, but he kept working as a lawyer as an effective cover.”

Cruickshank nodded and turned over more pages. “He was a brilliant agent. Wish he were still working for us now.”

“He had to retired through ill health. Found a place as far away and as isolated as possible out west. When I was out there some years back I did get the chance to meet them…Id been injured and the Cartwrights patched me together again, then sent me to the Blairs to recuperate.”

“Did he ever meet up with Tombs at all?”

“Several times their paths crossed. Always when the Blairs were using their cover .. A lawyer and his wife, decent social standing etc etc.” Pitt sipped coffee and swallowed “He also refers to Alex Dunlop occasionally.”

“So a man who hanged, was alive and well at the time …when?” Cruichshank raised his eyebrows.

“I think he is still functioning…the name anyway.” Pitt frowned, “As I said earlier, he’s always been in the background, smoke drifting away so to speak. His men are loyal to him though.”

“Why? He sounds like the worse kind of scum!”

“He is. He gets their loyalty out of fear.”

They were silent a while longer, eating and drinking in comradely calm and peace. Finally empty plates were loaded up and carried away, and more coffee arrived to refill their cups. Cruickshank smiled “I take that back about you getting a wife… you’re a good cook and the coffee’s excellent.”

“All part of the service.” Pitt replied with a sigh as he settled back into his chair.

“Did you know that Alex Dunlop swore to get revenge on Blair?”

Pitt nodded “It’s in the transcipt. I read it. He made a vow as they dragged him to his execution. Tombs, as his defence lawyer, was there and sent Blair a letter informing him of the fact.”

They looked at one another. “What are you going to tell Mr Cartwright? He must be worried sick about his son. If Alex Dunlop is involved the young man doesn’t stand much of a chance.”

“No, that’s what I’m afraid of, he doesn’t…and if his family get too close, then they don’t either.”

“They need to be warned.”

Pitt nodded, and put his hand on the stack of paperwork, “I tried to contact the Blairs at several locations but heard nothing. I was surprised that they left that home, they felt secure there, safe….”

“The implication being that they no longer felt safe and moved on? Left the property to Tombs and his wife, after all, they were related, it would hardly be unlikely.”

Pitt nodded, “It’s customary for an agent, even once he’s left the organisation, to leave a contact address. The Blair’s did not. I think there was a more sinister reason for their leaving and the Tombs moving there….”

Cruickshank leaned forward with narrowed eyes “What if they didn’t ..move out that is?”

Pitt nodded, “That’s what I was worried about ..” and he sighed and shook his head, “More coffee?”

Chapter 57

Ben stood on the side walk and read the cable that he held in his hands.  It was from Pitt in Chicago and simply asked one question “Did you find the Blairs…Malachy and Jane. Reply required immediately.”

He glanced at Joe and Hoss, shook his head and then rubbed the back of his neck,  “Well, fact is, you never found them, did you?”

When both his sons shook their heads Ben did an about turn and re.entered the building. His reply was brief “Informed Blairs had moved to Genoa.  No sign, Unknown here.”

He scowled as he passed over some coins and once again asked if there were any other cable for him, particularly from Roy Coffee.  Once again the clerk assured him that no cable had arrived from Mr Coffee.

His scowl deepened as he stepped back outside.  Joe and Hoss looked at one another in mutual sympathy, knowing that the anger from Ben’s temper was bound to fall heavily upon them.

Ben opened his mouth but before he could say a word Adam’s voice floated towards them ‘Hey, Pa, look at who I just bumped into…”

Roy and Grant grinned as though in anticipation of a warm welcome from the three Cartwrights now crowding the street outside the Telegraph Depot and Ben’s scowls were quickly transformed to smiles of delight as he shook their hands and slapped their backs.  But it was Joe who immediately brought the greetings to an end by asking if they had found the woman.

Roy grinned and his eyes twinkled; it crossed Hoss’ mind at that moment that Roy and Grant could have been father and son, or at the very least, uncle and nephew as they stood there grinning, spectacles gleaming in the dull sunlight.  He nudged Joe and nodded over to Roy and Grant and raised his eyebrows but Joe was in no mood for games, he wanted answers.

“Sure, we found out about that woman.  She ain’t in Boulders Creek no more.  She’s here …and not alone,”

“She came by stage with the man she met and brought to Boulder’s Creek.  They came here together.” Grant nodded emphatically to give weight to his words.

“We have an eye witness who saw them .” Roy looked at them then frowned “Anything wrong”

“You must have been on the way here when I sent the cable about the footprint.” Ben said quietly “That means Blakeley could claim we’ve made the whole thing up. He could say the couple we claim were at the murder scene never existed.”

“There were the footprints on the road to Boulder’s Creek though, Pa.” Joe said quickly.

“Half a smudged footprint to be exact,” Hoss sighed and shook his head in disappointment
.
“Huh, that could have been anybody passing along to board the stage to Genoa.” Ben muttered and hunched his shoulders as he scowled once again at his sons.

Joe felt the familiar sinking feeling in his stomach and bowed his head, but he soon raised it again when Grant said “Don’t forget, Mr Cartwright, I saw the footprints too, and there were more than the one..  I know what I saw and I’ll swear to it too.”

“Now all we need is the name of the passengers … ” Ben looked hopefully at Roy and Grant again as they both nodded in agreement; to Joe’s consternation Hoss nudged him again!

“They bought the tickets in the name of Mr and Mrs Wilbourne.” Grant announced and smiled broadly, he felt as though he had cracked his first case wide open.

“Are you sure?” Joe asked, his voice cracking as he spoke, a sure indication of the emotional stress he was undergoing, and the pressure he felt, so much so that Ben put a hand on his shoulder as though to remind him that he was not alone.

“I think we should discuss this further in the privacy of our room.” Ben said and with everyone in agreement they moved from creating a huddle in the middle of the street to take their way to the hotel.  Roy kept his hat lowered and walked as close to Ben as possible while being shielded by Hoss on the other side and Adam bringing up the rear.   He made them all laugh when he reminded them this was his sisters territory and he had no intention of being seen and accosted by her!
……………….
.
Nate Carney was discussing with Mr Weems the discovery of the machinery found in Mr Brocketts cellar when Mary Ann Cartwright stepped into the office. They had concluded that good old Sam had been counterfeiting money to a very high standard for some time.  No doubt the worthy Town Treasurer had been paying himself a good bonus whenever he felt the need to do so.  Mr Weems was duly amazed, horrified and impressed by the enormity of the crimes, especially taking into consideration the fact that Brockett had planned the theft of the Governments own plates to print ‘real’ money.

The quality of the paper required and the necessary inks had further impressed Weems. He did admit that anyone trained to spot counterfeit money would have picked up on the fact that paper and inks were not exact, but it was the best reason he could give for failing to notice it himself during all the time Brockett had been engaged in inflating his bank account.

Mary Ann hesitated at the door but was encouraged to step inside and take a seat by Nate’s generous smile and sweeping gesture of his hand.  Rather than have any further conversation overheard, Weems quelled his enthusiasm to continue further discussion about the counterfeit money and bade the sheriff goodbye.  He politely nodded over to the very pretty woman who was now seated and awaiting Nate’s attention.

Now that she actually did have the sheriff’s attention Mary Ann felt decidedly uncomfortable. What she had to discuss with him touched on the incident with Cambor and just the thought of it made her want to vomit.  She clutched her purse more tightly against her chest while Nate poured out coffee for them both and as he set one down for her he smiled “How is Reuben?”

“He was very quiet last evening when I saw him” she replied, grateful for not demanding a reason for the visit straight away, and therefore providing her with a little time to settle her nerves and get her words in order. ” He looked quite anxious when the subject of Mr Crook was raised.  He didn’t even want to tell us what happened.”

“Well, he didn’t really see what happened.” Nate smiled “but if it wasn’t for Reuben then there could have been some very serious crime going on right under our noses,” he winked “Although, in fact, there has been for some while.”

She nodded, none the wiser about what he was intimating. She finally set down the empty cup and after taking a deep breath, plunged into her the reason for her visit “I wanted to mention something…about what happened when …that man attacked me.”

Nate’s face immediately assumed a more sympathetic look, his eyes softened and he leaned forwards to her as though conveying his understanding that the following conversation was going to be difficult for her. He nodded, “What can I do to help, Mrs Cartwright.”

So she put it to him how she felt it very odd that Sheriff Blakeley had actually killed Cambor. “You see, he could have just wounded him, couldn’t he? Although even that wasn’t really necessary, was it?”

Nate looked slightly confused and for a while said nothing before venturing to say that Blakeley wanted to protect her, it was a situation that required prompt and immediate action. Mary nodded as though in agreement and clutched her bag closer to her body,

“But didn’t you think it strange how Cambor reacted afterwards? I know I may sound as though – well – it was the comment he made.” she looked at Nate and frowned, sighed, “I mean, rather the way he had said it, as though he was surprised about Blakeley shooting him, in the back.”

Nate frowned ” I guess it would be a surprise to anyone who realises they are about to die. Random statements can be made at a time of shock…Are you saying Blakeley was wrong to take the action he did, after all, he saved your life..”

“So did you.  You shot Cambor first, which was enough to get him away from me. By the time Sheriff Blakeley came there was no real need for him to shoot Cambor at all, was there? No, it wasn’t just that he shot the man in the back .. I mean, what I mean is …” She paused and frowned as she tried to find the right words ” Cambor was surprised that it was Blakeley who shot him.  It was as though of all people he never expected Blakeley to be the one who would shoot him like that…”

Her voice trailed away, and for a while they sat there facing each other in silence, she cleared her throat “Do you see what I mean.?”

Nate looked at her intently for a moment, long enough for Mary Ann to feel that she was being irrational, a nuisance. But she kept control of her fears and stared back to meet his eyes, until he reminded her that she was in a state of shock herself, and if he remembered correctly she was more concerned about getting to her children than listening to what Cambor would be saying.

Mary Ann nodded and agreed “I understand what you are saying, and yes, I remember falling into Ben’s arms and just wanting to be with the children. But fear, or shock, are emotions that create physical feelings too, isn’t that right? I felt as though I were fading in and out of the room, sounds were one time so loud, and another time so muted…and it was when everything was booming and voices seemed so loud that I heard Cambor say “Youshot me in the back.””

Nate thought about it and sipped his coffee “It would mean they would have known each other, before, in Blakesville or Boulders Creek.  but Blakeley said he had never seen Cambor before except on Wanted posters.”

Mary Ann sighed and clutched her hands together then raised her eyes to face him “But he said he recognised the horse.  He said he saw the Morgan… So if he knew that horse and knew it belonged to Cambor, then …” She bowed her head and was silent for a moment, “I suppose I am clutching at straws, aren’t I? You must think I’m a desperate woman to come spouting on about this when I’m probably wrong..oh, but I don’t think I am, really I don.t.”

Nate nodded, rubbed his jaw and frowned “It doesn’t prove anything, Mrs Cartwright.  It’s purely speculation but ..”  He stared at the far wall “I’ll think about it.”

“You won’t forget, will you.” She rose from her seat, anxious now that she had spoken up, afraid he would think her a silly empty headed woman seeing shadows when there were none. He got up from his chair and escorted her to the door assuring her that she had given him something for serious consideration.

Once outside and standing in the main street Mary Ann gazed around her and wondered if he would consider it, and all the possible implications involved around it. She shivered and not just because of the chill and damp in the air, but because the man she loved was in great danger, and she felt incapable of helping him.
……………

Joseph Cartwright listened to the talk going on around him. Adam was quiet, leaning against the window cill with his arms folded and feet crossed at the ankles, a familiar stance for his elder brother when he was in deep thought. Hoss was seated on a chair, leaning forwards with his face screwed up in concentration, and his blue eyes half closed. Joe wondered what either of them were thinking.

He wondered if they ever stopped to think of what it was like to have this void in one’s mind. This empty space waiting to be filled and yet afraid to accept what he was being told that could or would or should fill the slot. What if he accepted something one of them said and acted on that assumption and it was the wrong one? Sometimes just thinking about it gave him such a headache that he wished his skull would just open up and release the pain, like the earth did at times when there was an earthquake.

As Roy expounded on their trip in Boulder’s Creek and Ben mentioned about the Blairs being some place but not in Genoa, Joe felt as though he was ready to erupt. He closed his eyes and buried his face in his hands as he thought again about that fateful trip. How he wished that he had stayed at the Rawdons’ after all. But how was he to know the consequences of his decision to turn off the track leading directly onto Ponderosa territory and taking the left fork to the Blairs!

He remembered how hungry he had felt, his stomach rumbled just thinking about it now. The standing, filling his canteen, the door opening… he hadn’t recognised Jerry at first, he recalled hesitating, still expecting Malachy Blair to step forward to see who the visitor was and he could see the moment Jerry had recognised him. Then – nothing!

“Joe? You alright, son?” Ben was patting him on the back, and Joe shrugged him off and stood up.

“I need to get some air,” he said, “I can’t think in here.”

He reached for his hat, wanting to run and Hoss got to his feet and at a nod from their father followed the younger man from the room. Halfway down the stairs Joe glanced over at his brother, and then slowed his pace, “Sorry, Hoss, my head aches so much and all that talk wasn’t making things any easier.”

“Sure, I understand.” the big man replied and nodded as he placed his hat on his head.

But, Joe thought, you don’t understand. None of you do. None of you realise it is like walking a tightrope and if you make one false move then … who’ll be there to catch you?
……………..

Allan Pinkerton looked at the cable and frowned, then leaned against the back of his big leather chair and pointed to the chairs on the other side of his desk. Cruickshank and Pitt sat down and waited for The Boss to speak.

Pinkerton had been born in The Gorbals, the roughest and hardest place in Glasgow, Scotland. His face was craggy as the highland mountains of his home country, and despite the beard he wore nothing could disguise the steel in his eyes, nor the firmness of his mouth. His father had been in the Police back in Scotland and been killed during the Chartist revolt* there, so Pinkerton had been raised in great poverty by his mother.

Now he re-read the cable and looked at the two agents, “So, this man Ben Cartwright wanted you to investigate the background of a couple called Jethro and Cynthia Tombs.”

Pitt nodded “The couple were murdered some weeks ago. Ben Cartwright’s son may be lined up to take the rap”

“And you owe Ben Cartwright a favour?” Pinkerton tossed the cable onto the desk, “And in doing this favour you turn up facts about Malachy and Jane Blair?”

“We did, sir.” Cruickshank answered and leaned forward “I was involved because I had been sent an enquiry into the Tombs background by another source…a journalist called Daniel deQuille….”

“William Wright*…Daniel deQuille is his nom-de-plume” Pinkerton muttered as though the fact was really not worth mentioning. He tapped the files that Pitt had put down on the desk upon entering the office and then looked up to face them both again “You’ve gone through these files, I presume, with a fine tooth comb?”

“Yes, sir.” they both nodded, Pinkerton began to suspect them to be marionettes moving on the same strings…

“Then you know that Malachy and Jane Blair are old friends of mine? Jane’s father was in the same Police force as mine…that’s how I got to know them so well, you see.” he stopped talking a moment and studied their faces carefully before saying ” And so they’ve disappeared, do ye say?”

They nodded, and again he looked down at the cable Ben had sent earlier…he narrowed his eyes “Did ye happen to notice anything particular about the Blairs ..any references to persons of interest?”

“A man called Alex Dunlop is mentioned during certain cases, although we couldn’t understand how as the man was hanged for murder in ’63.” Pitt replied, and he leaned forward “Also the Tombs are related by marriage to Malacy Blair, and connected by a Partnership with Jethro. But they seem to have severed that connection when Dunlop was hanged.”

Cruickshank nodded and stretched out his legs “There seems to be no further contact between them, although Blair refers to them at times. Just fleeting references.”

Pitt eased his injured leg into a more comfortable position, “Was Blair working for this Agency at the time he was partnering Tombs as a lawyer? Would Tombs have been aware of that if he had been?”

Pinkerton nodded “Malachy worked along with us from ’61, but kept it quiet using his cover as a lawyer. He worked with two other agents to bring Dunlop to the gallows. It was all very hush-hush, but Dunlop – “ Pinkerton shook his head now and looked like a man in disbelief “He was like a spider, with the biggest web imaginable. If he were alive today you can guarantee that he would be involved in practically every case we touch..certainly in the Molly Maguire business* he would have thrived on that…the bigger the web, the fatter the flies are that get caught in it.”

“Malachy was one of them?” Pitt prompted.

For a moment it seemed his comment had fallen on stony ground, but then Allan sighed deeply and continued to speak in his rich Glaswegian accent that seemed like a foreign language to those who met him at first.

“Dunlop had men working for him in every sphere of society…and one of them, may be more, found out about Blair. We had to move him elsewhere for his own safety. He and Jane were very vulnerable, but even as he went to the gallows Dunlop swore to get his revenge.”

“Is it possible that he didn’t hang?” Cruickshank asked, “After all, Blair refers to him at times throughout some of his cases…like a shadow in the background he calls him.”

Pinkerton nodded “Yes, that was how Dunlop worked, although he didn’t mind dirtying his hand if the job was worth doing, he believed that if you wanted a job done right then you do it yourself. But he did hang. There was no doubt about that … none at all.”

“Then .. “ Cruickshank paused and shrugged “Do you think he passed the baton onto someone else?”

“That was Blairs thinking too.” Pinkerton admitted. “He did think at one time that his brother in law, Tombs, may have been involved. The two of them, Malachy and Jane, worked together on quite a few cases, most of them came to a successful conclusion. Some involved men who had worked for Dunlop. It emerged that the man was quite a charismatic figure. He didn’t ’rule’ by fear alone, but by big rewards for loyalty and achievement. His men were loyal to him because they really did like him, and as a result, they committed terrible crimes, sometimes just because he wanted them to create mischief. He was an extremely wealthy man.”

“Someone would have had to have inheried his wealth and all the details of his organisation.” Pitt replied slowly.

“Someone did, we just don’t know who that someone is as yet.” Pinkerton replied dryly, then he looked again at the cable “I found that place of refuge for the Blairs, wanted to keep them safe. Jane was ill, and Malachy was getting old, past his best. He – they – were vulnerable. As you know I like to know where my field agents are, even the retired ones…” he tapped his fingers on the folder and frowned, “I owe it to them…they wouldn’t have disappeared without letting me know somehow …” his voice trailed away, he looked at them with keener interest if that were at all possible, “And you’re sure it was their cabin in which the Tombs bodies were found?”

“Yes, sir.” Pitt nodded again, and waited for the silence following his statement to end.

“Send an agent, the nearest one to Genoa, send him to contact Ben Cartwright..” he paused and hesitated “Ben Cartwright…father of Adam Cartwright, ex.naval Officer, am I right?”

“Yes, sir.” Cruickshank this time, and already getting to his feet.

“He’ll be working along with his father then. Very good. Send an agent, and make sure he keeps a low profile. This case has a rather foul, but familiar, stench about it.”
……………..

In his hotel room the man known as Alex Dunlop, which was not his real name, leaned closer to the mirror to check his appearance. He then compared it with a picture of a man that stood beside it.

He combed through the luxuriant moustache and mutton chop whiskers that he had been cultivating for some weeks, and then he placed the toupee very carefully upon his head. Again he glanced at the picture and tweaked it carefully to match the hairstyle of the man he was going to imitate.

Throughout his life of crime he had imitated numerous people, some of his own imagination, and some who were ‘real’ people. Some ’real people’ were still trying to clear their names and reputations from the mess he had created when he had stolen their lives. Some ’real people’ had disappeared from the face of the earth and never seen again.

This latest victim had been a Judge in Sacramento, a sound honest man with a sound honest reputation. That could well be about to be blown apart, not that he would know anything about it, as he had disappeared one evening after telling his family he was going to have to deal with a difficult case ’out west’. A cable from Hiram Woods had arrived for him from Virginia City and he had set off that same day.

Alex Dunlop applied a touch of make up around his face to make him appear more haggard. He had met the Judge some time back when he had been a lawyer, and he knew how to position his body and how to walk just like the man. He had studied him carefully as he did all his subjects …and he was now confident that if anyone here in Genoa had ever met the original, they would not be able to tell the difference between that and the fake.

Chapter 58

The clerk in the Genoa Telegraph and Mail Depot had never been so busy with cables coming and going with a consistency that was to be seen to be believed. He always handed the cables to the Sheriff from Blakesville with a scowl, but the ones from the Cartwrights and to them were handed over with a smile or a look of conciliation should the information be in any ways negative. He liked the customers to be a little aware of what to expect when they opened the cable and read its contents.

Blakeley was smirking like the cat that had the cream when he read through Mathesons report. After tucking it into his pocket he strode along to Grimes Office and entered with an arrogance that gave the other lawman a sinking feeling to the pit of his stomach.

“I’ve got the information I want, Grimes. Those Cartrights were lying when they said there had been a woman at the murder site, and -” he leaned forward so that his face was inches from Grimes “if they lied about that, what else are they lying about, huh?”

Grimes stood up away from his desk and rubbed the lumber region of his back. Perhaps he was getting too old for this, he thought, perhaps it was time to retire, like Roy Coffee.

“Look, Blakeley, I’ve known the Cartwrights for some years now. I can’t accept what you’re saying.” he knew it sounded a lame reason, there seemed to be no weight behind the words but they were said, and meant, sincerely.

“You don’t have to, Grimes. This is my case and Joe Cartwright is my suspect. You can keep your character references for another time, but for now, I have all I need to make an arrest.” he gave a snort of derisive laughter “And don’t worry, I’ll be riding right out of here back to Boulder’s Creek.”

Grimes said nothing to that, but whereas he would have shaken the hand of a fellow lawman this time he just turned aside and indicated the door. Blakeley shrugged it off and as he closed the door behind him gave another shout of laughter.
……………

The three brothers were in the hotel room when Ben entered with cables in his hand and frown on his face. He handed one cable to each one of them, for Hester, Olivia and Mary Ann wanted their men to know they were loved, missed and needed. It didn’t help; each man felt their hearts sink at knowing their wives were so far away. Whether two or twelve miles made no difference, they had been absent long enough to miss them terribly.

“Any news, Pa?” Joe looked from his cable to Ben who scratched his head and sighed,

“Well, Agent Pitt informs me that there will be an Agent contacting us when we return to Boulder’s Creek. This matter of Tombs and Blairs…”

“Blairs?” Joe and Hoss looked at one another “So they are tangled up in this mess like Adam thought?”

Adam shook his head “To be honest, Hoss, it was just a glancing thought to send you here looking for them. Although when you didn’t find them I did wonder if they were involved with the Tombs deaths more than I had realised.” he looked at Ben with a puzzled expression on his face “Do they give you any idea of the connection…I mean..I know Mrs Tombs and Mr Blair were related, but anything other than that?”

“Only that the Agent we meet later will explain things in more detail. There is a warning mention about a man called Alex Dunlop. Any of you heard of him?”

All three shook their heads and Joe asked if there was a reason given as to why Dunlop was referred to, after all, it brought yet another person into the equation didn’t it?

“No idea, Joe. We just have to go on trust, that’s all.” Ben sighed and tucked the cable into a pocket.

“Yeah, seems to me that we might be getting ourselves in to something deeper than we realised.” Hoss muttered “How much can we trust those Pinkertons anyway? They can be just as ruthless as the folk they’re supposed to be out catching.”

Joe nodded “Some things you read about their tactics makes me a bit wary of getting too involved with them, Pa.”

“Well, I trust Pitt.” Ben replied, “And you don’t have to believe everything you read, sometimes you have to be ruthless if the people you’re after are out to overturn the Government or murder your President and ..”

“All right, Pa, calm down.” Joe laughed, although there was no mirth in his voice, he hadn’t really laughed for what seemed months. “Anyway, we’re up to our necks in this business as it is.”

Ben nodded and then turned to Adam “You’re very quiet, son, anything you want to share with us?”

Adam just shrugged and looked worried. Joe and Hoss exchanged a look, and then relapsed into silence themselves until Hoss asked Adam just how important was it to find this woman anyway, seeing how she didn’t seem to exist in Genoa any more than she had elsewhere. Just a few footprints was all the evidence they had that she existed anyway. Ben immediately reminded them that Roy and Grant could provide a witness, and the woman had taken the stage with a man to Genoa, which indicated that she had to be here – somewhere.

Adam tugged at his ear lobe and then rose to his feet “I don’t think she’s here now. I think she was on the stage to San Francisco.”

“What makes you think that?” Ben asked immediately as his son leaned over to pick up his hat, an indication that he was about to leave the room.

“Because I saw a woman getting on the stage yesterday. She looked – sad – and she was alone.”

“Yeah, but the woman we’re looking for had a man with her.” Joe said quietly, “Although I suppose they could have split up. Perhaps that’s why she was looking sad…having to part with him.”

“Maybe,” Adam replied, “He wasn’t there to wave her off that’s for sure.” he headed for the door “I’ll check with the depot manager and see what he can tell me.”
…………..

Roy Coffee and Grant Tombs were glad to sit down in the small restaurant and ease their legs. Grant was tired of this detective work, it seemed all he and Roy had done was go from hotel, boarding house, coffee shop, saloon and public building in very town they had been in asking about a woman who may or may not have ever been there anyway. He was even doubting the words of the young waitress in Boulder’s Creek now.

Roy was tapping his spectacles on the table as though by doing so it would clear his mind of distractions, but the constant tapping was irritating Grant so much that he was about to get to his feet and leave the building when a young woman approached them.

She was a very pretty young woman, big eyes that looked moist with tears, and a perfect bow shaped mouth that was trembling sweetly. When she spoke his name her voice was so soft and gentle that Grant blushed. Both men rose to their feet,

“Yes, Ma’am, Miss…I’m Grant Tombs this is Roy Coffee.” he didn’t even look in Roy’s direction when he made the introduction and it was obvious that she didn’t care about the older man either. “Is there anything I – we – can do for you?”

She pulled out a lace trimmed handkerchief and dabbed her eyes “I – I recognised you from when I saw you in Blakesville with your – your parents one time.”

“You lived in Blakesville?”

“Only passing through, well, I stayed about a week…but I got to know your – your mother…” tears sprung to her eyes again “I was so sorry to hear about their deaths. Oh she was so kind to me, Mr Tombs..”

“Huh, call me Grant.” the youngster said quickly and wondered if he should offer her his handkerchief, “You knew my folks?”

“Only very briefly, during the time I was there ..oh Grant, I am – what can I say – I know how much she loved you and was concerned for you,” she placed a hand on his arm, “I wish – “ she sobbed a little then and dabbed her eyes again.

Roy got to his feet, he felt too old to be playing gooseberry and if this fool boy was going to fall for this weeping malarky then more fool him. He picked up his hat, “I’ll go see how Ben is getting on. I’ll see you later, Grant.” he nodded at the girl and went on his way. He did overhear her mention her name to Grant, Myra Williams.

When he peered in at the window as he passed he could see Grant’s hand covering Myra’s which still rested upon his arm. It seemed to Roy that the boy was hooked, lined up and about to be ‘sinkered’.

Myra Williams listened attentively to Grant, blinking back the tears and nodding. The waitress brought them coffee which became cold as they talked together. Grant thought the girl was like an angel and could have kicked himself for not having seen her before when they were in Blakesville. Myra Williams, however,was just thinking of the note she had received earlier, telling her to make sure Grant Tombs never left town for at least a month…oh, and she was considering how she was going to spend $500 that would be going into her pocket later that day. Mr Dunlop was always so generous.

And she hadn’t lied about seeing Grant in Blakesville. She had been one of the ‘girls’ who had lived in the ‘den of iniquity’ for a brief while, one of Dunlop’s enterprises. He always kept a special eye on the girls that he could use for ‘another job, another time’ and he always paid well.
……………..

The Stage Depot Manager listened to what Adam had to say and considered it long enough for Adam to have to reach for his wallet and pull out some notes…as he counted out the dollars the man nodded, and then remembered that a man had booked a ticket for ‘a female friend’ to go to San Francisco. He didn’t leave a name but had overheard him mention a word, something like grace, he thought the man was bestowing a blessing upon him or something similar as he had the look of a cleric about him.

Upon the production of another dollar or two he remembered that the woman had arrived on time for the stage. He winked “Probably one of those little affairs..you know?” which rather revealed his respect for ‘the cloth’, and made Adam wonder if the man really realised what he had said.

Adam didn’t answer to that, he put the money down on the counter and walked outside for some fresh air. As he stood there he wondered just how the woman did fit into the picture, because he was more sure than ever that she played some part in this little mystery.

He noticed Grant Tombs leaving the restaurant, arm in arm with a very pretty young woman. She was dressed modestly, looked what one could term as a ‘nice girl’. He sighed and shook his head, and wondered if Grant would be returning to Boulder’s Creek with them later on. Somehow he doubted it.

He had noticed on the Bulletin Board in the office that the stage to San Francisco ran on a weekly basis. The one to Boulder’s Creek was twice weekly, the last one having left early that morning.

As he passed the Telegraph and Mail Depot the clerk ran out, “Glad to have caught you, Mr Cartwright. Could you give this to your father for me?”

Out of the corner of his eye Adam saw Blakeley pushing his way through the doors. From his body language it was obvious he was happy about something and it was hard to stand there speculating on what was going on. He wished wholeheartedly that his brother had stayed at the Rawlins…he saw Roy Coffee and raised a hand to indicate his whereabouts…then hastily made his departure.

Ben opened the door to the abrupt knocking and stepped back as Blakeley entered the room. So far as the sheriff was concerned no one else existed except Joe who had risen to his feet upon the man’s entry. In the silence that had immediately followed Blakeley announced that Joe Cartwright was under arrest and to get his things together as they were going for a long ride…to Boulder’s Creek, where he would be put on trial for the murder of Jethro and Cynthia Tombs.

Hoss put his hand on Joe’s arm as though to prevent him moving towards the sheriff, but Joe pushed him away. “It’s alright, Hoss. Perhaps it’s best this way, at least it will be over and done with…”

“Yeah, but he ain’t got any proof…” Hoss declared only to be interrupted by Blakeley who said he had ample evidence and that if they weren’t careful they would all be arrested for trying to pervert the course of justice by lying.

“About what?” Ben demanded to know, thrusting out his jaw as he always did when it called for defensive action, physical or verbal.

“About that woman’s footprint for a start…there weren’t none. And I got an independent witness as well as my deputy to prove that…”

Blakeley turned as he sensed Adam standing behind him “And as for you, I could have you arrested for with holding information and preventing me from making an arrest much sooner.”

Ben glanced over at Adam who looked puzzled “How do you mean,” Adam asked, “what evidence?”

“The fact that Jerry Cambor visited Joe Cartwright in the hotel, the morning after the murders.”

“But I never knew about that…” Joe cried in protest.

“Can’t remember huh? Your memory, or lack of it, arn’t going to get you out of this, Cartwright.”

Ben nodded over to Joe, and then picked up his hat “We’ll join you, sheriff, on this ride to Boulder’s Creek.”

“Why? So you can help him escape and evade justice? I don’t think so, gentlemen.”

With a struggle Ben was able to contain his anger although his voice was taut as he replied “Not at all, we just want to make sure he arrives at Boulder’s Creek safely and that nothing happens to prevent him getting there…alive.”.

Chapter 59

Sheriff Grimes followed Blakeley and his prisoner from his jailhouse and watched as they mounted their horses. The Cartwrights were already mounted and waiting for Joe to get into the saddle. Blakeley turned to Grimes and gave the other lawman a satisfied smirk and salute before turning his horse in the direction out of town. The four Cartwrights followed.

As he turned Grimes almost bumped into Roy Coffee who had approached minutes earlier to see his friends leave. They looked at one another,

“I have a bad feeling about this,” Grimes muttered.

“You aren’t the only one.” Roy said and shook his head “I don’t understand any lawman who twists evidence to suit their own ends. I’ve known a few and recognise the smell.”

“Blakeley?” Grimes raised an eyebrow and when Roy nodded, Grimes could only nod his head in agreement.

He was about to speak when footsteps thudded along the sidewalk and both men turned to see Grant Tombs running towards them.

“Sheriff? Mr Coffee?”

Roy put up a hand to halt the young man “Hold on there, son, catch your breath before you say a word.”

Grant puffed a while longer before removing his spectacles. Grimes couldn’t help but see the same that Hoss had observed a while earlier, that Roy and Grant could have been related the likeness was so complete. He jerked his head towards his office,

“Let’s go inside and talk.”

Roy and Grant followed, but before he had had time to remove his hat Grant was telling them about what had happened to him, “I wanted to go with the Cartwrights, didn’t realise they would be leaving so soon.”

“We thought you would be – er – busy elsewhere for a while,” Roy said, and pursed his lips so that his moustache bristled like the spines of a porcupine.

“So did I..then I got to thinking I should be with the Cartwrights, and you, after all this involves my family, doesn’t it? How could I be so selfish as to indulge myself with Myra.”

“Myra Williams?” Grimes said with a rather anxious note in his voice, he sat down and regarded Grant solemnly “She’s what we call a good time girl. I’m surprised she let you out of her clutches so quickly.”

Grant blushed “Well, she didn’t want me to go..Wept at first, and then when that made me more determined to leave she lost her temper and cussed worse than any man I’ve ever heard. She was throwing things at the door when I left…”

“Was she indeed?” Roy muttered and looked over at Grimes, “Seems someone wanted you here alright, not necessarily Myra Williams.”

Grimes nodded at the implication “I’ll send my deputy over to see Miss Williams, ask her a few questions that may give us a lead. As for Blakeley, I think I’ll make a few enquiries about him and see what I can turn up. Will you hang around town while I do that, Sheriff?”

“Retired.” Roy sighed and the two of them shared a grin, “No, I have things to do. I‘ve reason to believe the woman we‘re looking for is on the way to San Francisco. I want to find her as soon as possible.”

“So there really is a woman ..” Grimes frowned again, “Why would Blakeley deny she existed?”

“Because it suited him. He wants that trial in a hurry, and he‘s dismissing anything that may delay it.”

Grant cleared his throat “Mr Coffee, can I come with you, please?”

“To San Francisco? Well, it‘s quite a ride out there, and it‘s a big place. Could be take a while to track her down.”

“In which case two are better than one, isn‘t it?”

Roy smiled, nodded and picked up his hat, “Alright, son, let‘s go.” he turned and shook Grimes by the hand, promising to be in touch.

As they stepped out onto the sidewalk Grant faced Roy and put a hand on his arm “Mr Coffee, I’m sorry for letting you all down like I did.”

“You wouldn’t be the first to be turned around by a pretty face, Grant. No need to apologise.” Roy slipped his hat onto his bald head, “As it is, you may have given Grimes his first real suspect for questioning.”

“Yeah, as soon as she started whining about wanting me to stay I thought of what Shakespeare said “The lady doth protest too much.” so I decided best to leave.”

“Good. You were right,” Roy said and thought it was no wonder Grant and Adam Cartwright got on so well if they both spouted Shakespeare all the time.
……….

Judge Donald McCluskey, or rather the man who had stolen the Judges’ identity, sat in the stage heading for Boulder’s Creek. He leaned against the leather upholstery and closed his eyes as he thought of all that was involved in the days ahead. He was totally satisfied that he had covered every angle possible. He was confident that by the end of the week Joseph Cartwright would hang.

He had done his research thoroughly as he always did when participating in such assignments. He knew enough about McCluskey to be able to impersonate his voice, drop a few anecdotes about his past, his hobbies, his family. He knew all about Hiram Woods and his association with McCluskey. He felt sure enough of his knowledge to refer to several incidents that the two men had been involved in. He frowned at the thought of Hiram and rubbed his chin through his neatly trimmed beard. A good thing, he thought to himself, that they had not met for fifteen years. People do change in that amount of time, and they do forget certain things. If he trotted out various matters like a parrot then Hiram would certainly suspect or wonder what was wrong with his friend.

He rubbed his hands together and then paused to look down at them. He had attractive hands, but the signet ring could be a giveaway, he had been in Boulder’s Creek at times, and it was possible that townsfolk from Blakesville would be there. They may not recognise him, but it was likely they would recognise the ring for it was a curio, a relic of past times way back in history. People could remember seeing it before, perhaps recall him telling them there wasn’t another like it …slowly he removed it from his finger and slipped it into his pocket.

Max Forsyth sat beside him, his arms folded across his chest and his hat slipped over his face. He wasn’t sleeping, but ever watchful and listening to the conversation between the two cowboys with whom they were sharing the stage .

He had worked along with Jerry Cambor for some years, and that included work for the man who called himself Alex Dunlop now to be referred to as Judge McCluskey. He was a man who knew most of what went on in the other man’s brain, and could act on his own initiative, although he did now regret sending those two men after the Cartwrights. Upon reflection he realised that it would raise more questions as to who would want the two Cartwrights dead? And why? He was grateful that the Judge had not referred to it, and he was equally glad that Grimes had not stopped to dwell upon it.

……………..

Rosie Canaday couldn’t face school. She was still in shock over what had happened to her and her nightmares were vivid and terrible. She was quiet and withdrawn, not wanting to leave her mother, nor have Ann out of her sight. She clung to both parents as though afraid to let go of them.

Dr Colby assured Ann and Candy that Rose would return to her usual self in time, but they would have to let the shock she had suffered take its course. He left a mild sedative to be taken before bed each night.

As Sofia was still unwell, suffering from a slight fever which caused her to be listless and lethargic, Ann wondered if the two girls would be good company for each other. So she bundled her children into a buggy and headed for Olivia’s home.

She had only been there ten minutes when there was a knock on the door. Cheng ho Lee opened it and was confronted with Gabe from the Telegraph Dept. Gabe was a gangly youth who ran errands for Eddy, and although the Ponderosa was a long trip from town Gabe never worried about it because he knew the Cartwrights would always give him some money, more than was necessary or sufficient.

He held out the cable with a smile. Cheng Ho Lee took it and handed it to Olivia who promptly found her purse and hurried to the door to give Gabe a few coins.

“You’ve come a long way for one cable, Gabe.” she smiled at him and the youth grinned back as he slipped the coins into his pocket,

“I got a cable for each one of you ladies.” he said, “And I got to tell you that Sheriff Carney had left town and he’s put Clem Foster back in charge while he’s gone.”

“Where’s he gone, Gabe?” Olivia asked with a sinking feeling in her stomach “Will he be coming back?”

“Yes,m. He’s gone to Boulder’s Creek same as Mr Woods.”

“Hiram Woods?”

“Yes’m.”

He tipped his hat to her and returned to his old horse, whistling jauntily and unaware of the misery he had just created in three households. He was only happy that he had money in his pocket along with some of Hop Sings honey cakes and had fulfilled his task satisfactory.

Ann was holding Samuel and trying to get him to sleep for he was distracted by Nathaniel who kept bringing toys to him to play with. “Is anything wrong, Olivia?”

Olivia nodded, “I think so..” and ripped open the envelope.

Adam’s cable was brief and to the point. Joe had been arrested. They were all going to Boulder’s Creek. There was nothing else, no endearments as usual, just the bald facts.

In her home Mary Ann stared at the cable in her hands and read her husbands words…reassuring words to her, that she was not to worry, he was innocent and would be proven so at his trial.

Bridie came and sat beside her, “He sounds quite positive.”

“Because he doesn’t want me to worry.” Mary Ann whispered and bowed her head into her hands, “Oh Bridie, what shall I do?”

For once Bridie was speechless. She held the younger woman’s hand within her own and stroked it gently. Constance began to cry, and for a while both women ignored her so steeped in anxiety and fears for Joe’s safety.

“I have to go to him…I have to be there for him.”

Bridie nodded and continued to stroke her hand. “Sheriff Carney has gone,” Bridie reminded her, “And Hiram too…they’re good men, they’ll help all they can..”

“I’m his wife … I should be there.” Mary Ann whispered and got to her feet to attend to the infant who was now red faced with tears streaking her cheeks.

“Mary Ann, there’s no stage to Boulder’s Creek for another 48 hours. It’s a two day journey.”

Mary Ann stared out of the window, her baby in her arms …she counted how long it would take her to reach her husband and realised, with cold facts thus presented to her, that Joe could very well have been tried and found guilty by the time she reached Boulder’s Creek.

The door opened and Hester, pale faced and wide eyed, stepped inside. “I’ve had a cable from Ben and one from Hoss….”

She looked from one woman to the other and slumped down upon a chair, “What can we do?”

No one could speak, no one knew what to say.

Olivia arrived less than ten minutes later. Ann had kindly promised to care for the children while she went to see her sister in law. One look at Mary Ann’s white face with the tears slipping down her cheeks, made Olivia feel helpless. She looked at Hester who seemed to be lost in thought and whose face was almost as white as Mary Ann’s.

Bridie sighed, stood up and declared she would make something to drink. Then they could all sit around the table and have a Council of War…or whatever name they preferred to call it.
……..

Myra Williams recognised the Deputy striding across the street towards the Boarding House in which she rented a room. She had no doubts in her mind at all that he was on his way to locate her and ask her about Grant Tombs. Had she been an innocent she would have not given the man’s appearance another thought, but she was far from that and knew that were she to be apprehended she could be the proverbial weak line in Alex Dunlop’s chain of command.

Looking around her swiftly she ensured that everything was in order, that no papers were left lying around that would incriminate her and that no one could accuse her of anything except a pleasant hour or so with an attractive young man. Even so she wasn’t sure enough of herself to handle being taken to the sheriff and very quickly slipped away from the room, locked the door and hurried across the landing to where her friend Melissa had a room. The keys of the rooms were all identical and so she was able to enter the other room and very quietly close and lock the door.

The Deputy knocked politely upon Myra’s door. In Melissa’s room the young woman kept her ear close to the door in order to hear what would happen next…and she wasn’t surprised when the knocking became a hard rapping and then a thudding.

“Miss Williams? Are you in there? Please open the door…”

Myra’s breathing was so heavy that she was sure the Deputy could hear it rattling against her ribs. She dared not move in case he could pick up the slightest sound of her being in Melissa’s room. She heard footsteps, and then a voice demanding an explanation from the Deputy as to why he was making such a racket.

The woman who ran the Boarding House was a thin individual with mousy hair pulled severely away from her face so that her eyes seemed to pop out of her head. The deputy very quietly explained the reason for his being there and asked, politely enough, if the woman knew where Myra would be only to be told that she, the landlady, was not her tenants keeper.

Myra stayed where she was for a while, pressed up against the door and hoping that Melissa would not return and make a fuss about her using the room. When the footsteps of both the landlady and the deputy had faded and she had heard the sound of the front door closing, did she dare to sneak out of one room and back into the other.

She sat down on the edge of the bed and tried to think straight. Why would the sheriff want to speak to her? What was so important about Grant Tombs anyway? Of course, she remembered, his parents were murdered, but even so that didn’t mean she was involved in that, they couldn’t even think of accusing her of having anything to do with a murder, surely?

But Genoa was a small town. She was well known in the community and dodging the sheriff and the deputy was going to be very difficult. She would need help but from whom? She had never met this man ’Alex Dunlop’ but had been introduced to his ’assistants’ by the Madam who had ran the brothel in Blakesville. Not that that had lasted long..but it had been long enough for her to become part of the Dunlop web. A very pretty part as well as very useful and very lucrative.

After some while had passed she left the house and quickly made her way to where she knew Max Forsyth had boarded. She rapped on the door long enough to bring bruises to her knuckles. In despair she turned away and went to another Boarding House where she knew another contact had taken rooms. This time the door opened quietly and she slid into the room hoping that she did so, unseen by other peoples eyes.

The man facing her was unshaven and bleary eyed. It was clear he enjoyed a drink or two and more. Blood shot eyes and a loose mouth in a thin face which reminded her of a rat, and inwardly she wished that she didn’t have to be there. He had been present several times when Forsyth had contacted her, and each time he had made her flesh crawl.

“What’s the matter? You ain’t supposed to come here.” he peered through the glass in the window and then turned to her, “Why’d you come?”

“Forsyth isn’t in town?”

“No. He’s gone. Business to attend to; why’d you want to speak to him for?”

“The sheriff sent his deputy round to my place .. I think they want to arrest me.”

He laughed and shook his head “Arrest you? Why? What stupid thing have you done?”

“I didn’t do anything stupid. I was doing a job that Forsyth gave me, but it didn’t work out.” she looked around the room, and then out of the window. “I need to get out of town.”

“Well, Forsyth won’t be in Boulder’s Creek for a while yet. I don’t have any orders about how to deal with little girls who mess up on a job.”

He walked back to the window, all the time rubbing his chin and passing his fingers over his mouth, with his eyes darting back and forth from her to the window.

“Did anyone see you come here?”

“No. I made sure no one saw me.”

She turned away then, and stared at a picture on the wall. She knew that no matter how careful she had been in a very small town, people somehow seemed to see everything and she wondered just how safe she was now.

“You’ll have to stay here. Have you any money on you?”

“Yes.”

“No papers that will incriminate you at all? Not on you or in your room?”

“I made sure of that…what do you take me for? Some stupid green girl?”

“Just making sure. Forsyth doesn’t like untidy loose ends.”

She didn’t ask him what he meant by that – perhaps she should have done.

Chapter 60

Hiram Woods sat at a desk surrounded by papers and files. His pen seemed to skip across the pages he was writing on as he wrote every word in haste. Time was slipping away from them, and he was suffering a variety of emotions as a result. This was leading to dyspepsia so every now and again he had to stop writing and get to his feet to walk around the room. He usually did so with a file in his hands which he read through, underlining here and there at appropriate places.

Had he not been a personal friend of the Judge he would have ignored the long wire that had accompanied one that had been sent by Ben Cartwright. The fact that the Judge was en route to preside over a trial that had been arranged so swiftly had compelled Hiram to put all speed to the journey to Boulder’s Creek in order to defend Joseph Cartwright. Ben’s plea had added weight to the whole situation and Hiram, having faced a similar situation years ago when a younger Joe Cartwright had stood accused of murder, knew he had to do all he could for him now.

It was not unusual for trials to be held even on the day of a crime being committed, Hiram had defended more than one man with less than 24 hours notice. Times were changing, soon it would no longer happen, but … it seemed that those times were not yet arrived at Boulder’s Creek.

The knock on the door forced him to stop and get out of his chair to welcome whoever was about to enter. When Ben Cartwright stepped forward, both men smiled, extended their hands and met in the middle of the room where hands were shaken with a warmth tempered by anxious concern.

“We got here just an hour ago,” Ben said quietly.

“Where’s Joe?”

“Blakeley took him to the jail. He’s in the cells there.”

Hiram nodded and tugged at his beard for a second, then placed a reassuring hand on Ben’s arm “I’ll get over there right away, check through the facts for his defence. Don’t worry, Ben, Sheriff Wylie’s a good man, he’s been here for as long as Roy was sheriff in Virginia City. He‘ll take good care of Joe.”

“Yes, I know Wylie well, he’s always been very helpful whenever we have been here.” Ben muttered vaguely, he removed his hat and found a chair to sit down upon, “But I don’t understand what’s going on here! We only just arrived and find that a trial has been arranged already for tomorrow morning?”

He looked almost helpless. Events had overtaken them during the ride from Genoa, and to arrive in Boulder’s Creek to be told that everything was in place for Joe’s trial had caught them all unawares. Even Blakeley had looked surprised and had led Joe into the jail house without his usual smug grin.

“Jury’s been selected, court room prepared. I arrived yesterday and was given notes, statements etc in order to prepare my defence.”

“Joe’s innocent, Hiram.” Ben’s near black eyes looked up to the lawyer who was standing now by the window.

“If I thought he was guilty, Ben, I would not be defending him. You know my ethos, if I know a man is guilty …”

Ben raised a hand in acknowledgement of Hiram’s standards of ethics. He shook his head, and looked puzzled “Things haven’t seemed right about this case from the time Joe returned home from here. I wish to goodness I had sent Adam or Hoss on the errand now, but the harms been done and we have to do what we can now.” he bit down on his bottom lip and stared at the rug, before looking up at the Lawyer, “Do you think Joe has any chance of getting out of this?”

Hiram sighed, pulled at his beard again and sat down at the chair by the desk, “Ben, I can.t lie to you about this…but I can’t guarantee it. I shall do everything I possibly can, as you know, but when things are being concealed, or ignored by the law …” he paused “Something isn’t right about this whole situation but due process of law has to be carried through. I assure you that I shall do everything in my power to make sure Joe comes through this safely.”

“We’ve just spent two days travelling here from Genoa. In all that time Blakeley hardly uttered a word. He watched us carefully but considering that there were three of us riding along with his prisoner, he showed amazing trust in our word not to help Joe escape.” he paused and again bit down on his lip, “I tried to get him to open up, asked him to explain why he was so intent on forcing a guilty verdict on Joe. But he never said a word except to tell me that he was acting in the interests of the law.”

Hiram nodded “Sometimes the best of lawmen can be blind to the facts if it messes with their determination to get a suspect convicted. It happens but doesn’t make my job any easier.”

“Would you class Blakeley as one of the best lawmen you’ve ever known?”

“You know I can’t answer that question, Ben.” Hiram replied slowly. He walked over to the desk and picked up some papers “I’ve got statements here from various so called witnesses.” he half turned to look at Ben over his shoulder “Sheriff Carney arrived here shortly before you came, he brought me some interesting information, as well as Doctor Colby’s statement about Joe’s condition after he had returned from this trip of his. It’s a pity he couldn’t come in person as I would have preferred him to speak on behalf of Joe. I’m not a medical man so have to accept what’s written here, but then,” he gave a small grin “neither is the lawyer for the prosecution.”

“Do you know him?”

“I’ve met him upon occasion. He’s thorough, efficient. He’ll do his utmost to win the case.”

Ben’s confidence took a dip, but he knew Hiram well enough to know the man would come through for them as best he could. He nodded and stood up “It’s good to know Carney is here … although I don’t know what he can bring to the case.”

“Well, we’ll see, won’t we?” Hiram walked with Ben to the door and pulled it open, “One thing to our advantage. I know the Judge. He’s a good man, a fair Judge. He’ll make sure that the trial runs according to the strictest dictates of the law. We have no concerns on that score.”

“Thanks Hiram. I’d best go and check on what Adam and Hoss are doing…”

“I’ll see you in court, Ben. Right now, I‘ll go over some facts with Joe..”

Again they shook hands before parting. Ben heard the door close behind him as he walked across the landing and to the stairs. In the foyer of the hotel Adam and Hoss were anxiously waiting for his arrival.

“I’ve rooms booked, Pa. Do you want to go and freshen up?” Adam asked, turning his hat round and round in his hands as he spoke.

Ben looked at them both. The strain of the past weeks showed clearly in their faces Plus they were weary from the journey from Genoa. He nodded and walked slowly back up the stairs to the landing where the rooms were located..

Nate Carney was about to leave his room when he saw the Cartwrights. He drew in a deep breath and waited for them to draw abreast of him, then silently shook each one of them by hand.

“How’s Joe?”

Ben answered and his sons looked at one another and then at Nate, it was Adam who asked the sheriff why he was in Boulder’s Creek. Nate ran his fingers through his hair and looked anxious “You know this is a criminal case…?”

The three of them nodded and looked at one another, it was Hoss who asked if Nate was going to be called to give testimony to which the sheriff nodded. “Well, in that case, we’d best leave you alone.” Hoss said quietly and stepped back for Nate to pass.

For a second it looked as though Nate was going to say something but then stopped himself. Although the trial had not yet formally began, a Jury had been selected, it would start the next day, they were already bound by the law. In Criminal Cases witnesses were not permitted to discuss the case between themselves. Were they to do so their evidence would be considered contaminated, and irrelevant. Were the trial already under way it could even result in the trial being dismissed and reconvened later with a new Jury..

“I wonder who’s on the Jury.” Hoss muttered.

“Won’t be anyone we know.” Adam sighed and pushed open the door to their room.

“We know some in town.” Ben said quietly as he shut the door “It may be that someone we know will be on the Jury.”

A slight straw to clutch at, they all knew that and Adam gave a slight shrug as ge walked over to the window. He twitched aside a curtain and looked down at the main street. He nodded to himself and watched a man with a beard stride into the restaurant “I think the Judge has arrived anyway.”

“Couldn’t have a trial without a Judge.” Hoss said gloomily as he sunk down into one of the leather chairs in the room.

“Hiram knows him. He says he’s a good man, a fair man.” Ben removed his gun belt and placed it upon the bureau, “Dr Colby’s sent in a statement about Joe’s health at the time we first noticed there was something wrong.”

His sons nodded but without enthusiasm. They were each one weary to the bones. The thought of the day ahead filled them with misery and worry. Adam began to pace the room, Hoss complained that his doing that gave him the heebie-jeebies, Ben fell upon one of the beds in the room and stared up at the ceiling.

How many times had they faced situations like this? He could remember at least two occasions when he had felt the noose around his neck, maybe even three and four. Something always happened at the last moment, otherwise they wouldn’t all be here now, would they?

He closed his eyes and prayed to the only one who could help them now for his faith and confidence in Hiram’s abilities were wavering. “Right will prevail.” he muttered to himself, but the words lacked the power of conviction, even from him.
……………..

The Judge ordered his meal and drank some burgundy wine while he waited for it to arrive at the table. He didn’t mind dining along, in fact, he preferred it. He looked around the clientele and wondered how many of them would be seated in the Court house next day.

He heard a cough from behind and recognised it as coming from Forsyth who now stepped up to the table and whispered “Myra Williams.”

“What about her?”

“Grimes was going to haul her in for questioning.”

“About what?”

Forsyth shrugged, he straightened his shoulders and stood away from the Judge, who still held his glass of wine in one hand “Well?”

“She let Grant Tombs go. Seems Grimes got suspicious. Perhaps something Grant said…” he shrugged again, but his voice was so low that only the Judge heard him.

“Grant Tombs isn’t in Genoa?” a frown furrowed the Judge’s brow, he set the glass of wine down and thought about that for a moment, “Do you know where he is now?”

“He went off with Roy Coffee. Heading back to Virginia City.”

‘McCluskey’ nodded, and gave a slight smile, an old man and a boy, what harm could they possibly do. He picked up his glass and drank a little more wine,

“Myra?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Deal with her.”

Forsyth nodded, smiled and walked away. He didn’t bother to mention that she had already been dealt with, an accident in the bath . Sad really, she was such a lovely young girl.

The Maitre d’ hovered as the Head Waiter brought in the meal, set it down upon the table for the Judge.

“I hope everything is to your satisfaction, Judge.” the Maitre d’ simpered.

McCluskey / Dunlop nodded and smiled. Everything was going very well, according to plan, there were no weak links.
…………..

Grant Tombs rolled himself into his blanket as close to the fire as he could get for the evenings out in the open were cold. He thought of all that had happened since the killing of his parents, of his association with the Cartwrights, and his confidence in Joe’s innocence.

“Mr Coffee?”

Roy looked over at the boy. He was seated on a log cradling a last cup of coffee before bedding down. “What can I do for you, son?”

“I was wondering…do you think I should have gone on to Boulder’s Creek? You know, show my support for Joe.”

Roy frowned, “I can’t tell you, Grant. That was a decision you should have thought about earlier. Do you think you would be of any help if the matter was to come to court?”

“Do you think it will?”

Roy thought about that for a moment. Miles away from any of the townships involved with no means of knowing what was gong on in Boulder’s Creek, both of them could only conjecture and speculate. He tossed the dregs of his coffee into the flames, which spluttered and danced momentarily.

“I believe Hiram Woods is heading to the town just in case there is a Trial. Knowing Blakeley I can’t see how they can avoid having one, he was that determined to bring Joe to justice.”

“Blind justice.” Grant muttered.

“Maybe, but we aint’ got no way of knowing about it. Best we just get on and try and find this woman.”

“And when we do?”

“We’ll cable Ben and let him know right away. I’ve friends in San Francisco who can help us in our search.”

“We can stay at my parent’s place…” Grant yawned, “I remember being there once, and my father said he liked it because it reminded him of our home in Atlanta. He said he would keep it on, and when I saw him last and asked him about it, he gave me the key.” He smiled slowly, “He said it would make a good base for a single man in business there.”

Roy nodded, well, it would save time looking for a half decent hotel. He checked on the fire and lay down, pulling the blanket over him.

“Mr Coffee?”

Roy sighed, now what? “Yes, Grant?”

“Good night, thanks for everything.”

The old sheriff smiled and removed his spectacles, “Goodnight, son”

Chapter 61

Rain was weeping from the sky as people made their way to the Boulder’s Creek Court Room. Men dipped their heads to avoid the heavy drops clashing into their faces and women hid behind umbrella’s that snagged on other ladies bonnets or shawls. In the end the mass of townspeople were inside and the doors closed.

The noise of voices and footsteps rose to a crescendo and then faded as one and all entered the court room and made their way to the seats available. Hiram Woods and the other lawyer were in the private room where the Judge would conduct interviews with them throughout the trial. This preliminary meeting was for each man to make themselves known to the others and to lay out their ground work for the Judges approval.

The clock ticked away minutes and Joe was brought in from the back entrance with his wrists handcuffed. Sheriff Wylie flanked him and upon catching Ben’s eye gave a brief nod as though reassuring him that the younger man was ‘alright’. But Ben watched his son walk to the box where the accused was to sit and felt his heart tightening within his chest. Joe looked handsome in a pale haggard way, he was clean shaved and his hair looked reasonably tamed. He glanced over at his father and brothers and gave a brief smile, a pretence at saying ‘I’m fine, don’t worry.”

Hoss looked worried and distressed, he blinked his blue eyes often but he managed to give a nod of the head at Joe. Adam looked stern, poker faced as the expression goes, his dark eyes lingered upon Joe and that was enough for him, he turned his attention to something, or someone else.

Blakeley came and took a seat along side another man, tall and thin, whom Adam had not seen before. The two knew each other as their heads dipped together and a murmured conversation took place before the door leading from the courtroom opened and the lawyers stepped inside.

They took their seat, Hiram beside Ben and Blakeley sitting with Solomon Meyers and the thin dark featured man. Adam and Hoss sat at the end of the row by their father.

Joe watched all the faces assembled there, strangers mostly, some vaguely familiar from frequent visits to the town over the years. Most of them turned away as soon as he looked at them just in case their eyes met, which would be embarrassing. No one liked to face a young man who may be hanging from a rope within the next 24 hours. It would make them feel guilty by association so it was better to turn away and pretend the worst won’t happen.

The Judge came in and took his seat. People stood up in respect of his office and when he sat down they did as well. The noise of rustling skirts, booted scuffling feet and collective sighs eddied around the room before silence fell again.

The Jury entered and took their seats, facing the accused. The Judge asked them if they were fully aware of their responsibilities as Jurymen and explained various details to them. Then he asked who was the Foreman, upon which a swarthy balding man with a normally jovial appearance stood up and looked uncomfortable because right there and then there was no point in looking jovial.

“I am, your Honour. Paul Bardister.”

The Judge nodded, regarded him solemnly and mentioned the seriousness of his duties. The Judge then turned to the people assembled there and went into a short resume of what the case was all about…to prove Joseph Cartwright of the Ponderosa, guilty or not of the murder of Jethro and Cynthia Tombs.

Joe sighed and fidgeted, and glanced around the room. He looked again at his father and met Ben’s eyes for Ben was looking at his son constantly, as though afraid to let him out of his sight. The hazel green eyes looked into the dark ones and held for a moment until Joe broke away to look elsewhere. Sometimes Joe wished his father’s love for him, for his brothers, was not so obvious, not so transparent. It made him feel ashamed of letting him down, disappointing him even when he hadn’t…not that he could recall anyway.

Solomon Meyers was addressing the court, a handsome man in his forties, and with a pleasant manner of speaking. His movements were sparse but caught ones attention. Had he been an actor on a stage he would have had the lead role for the way he took such control of his role.

“We are led to believe that this young man suffered amnesia, a loss of memory, of the very events that could prove him guilty or innocent of the murders of those innocent people. You may well have to act as his memory, even as his conscience, so that the murderer of that couple can have the full recompense of the law meted out to him.”

Everyone looked at Joe, Ben sighed, Adam stretched out his legs and scowled, Hoss blew his nose. Joe tried to take an interest in what was being said so that he could pretend it wasn’t him about whom they were talking.

Meyers expounded on for a while, reminding the Jury and assembled people how the Tombs had been killed, the fire, the days that passed before the couple’s son could be told for sure they were dead. When he finally sat down, mopping his brow, 9 out of the 12 looked at Joe and could already see him hanging from the gibbet.

Hiram Woods rose to his feet. He was a much older man, heavily built, and his movements were more ponderous that the other mans. Even so when he began to speak his voice was energetic, firm, and carried everyone away on his words …”Yes, this young man has suffered amnesia, and yes, it is at that moment in time when he most needs to remember every detail of what occurred on that fateful night. But suffer along with him for a moment, try and imagine if you will, exactly what that means…for him…and being seated there, listening to what will unfold, without the benefit of knowing if some parts are right, truthful, or conjecture.”

The Jurors felt caught now, as most do, when faced with a logical argument that calls for an emotive view of a situation. Now only 7 of the 12 still thought Joe was guilty without knowing any details at all, thankfully others were more open minded.

Judge Mcluskey looked briefly at the man seated beside Blakeley, their eyes met, enough of a sign passed between them for McCluskey to know that at least two of the Jurors had been paid a significant sum to make sure all 12 members of the Jury would agree on the verdict. It didn’t indicate a happy outcome for the Accused.

Joe was summoned to stand and to confirm his name, his address, and whether or not he was guilty of the charges made against him. In a clear voice Joe gave the information and declared himself Innocent of all the charges.

The first witness was called forward and sworn in…Mr Rawlins from the National Bank, under cross examination confirmed that on a particular day Joseph Cartwright paid in a
large sum of of money, amounting to $1500.

“Can you recall what kind of mood Mr Cartwright was in when you saw him?” Meyers asked with a smile.

“As usual, pleasant, happy. We shared a joke about high interest rates on loans and how pleased his Pa would be that this debt was finally paid up.”

“He didn’t appear nervous in anyway…”

“Objection.” Hiram bounded up “Mr Rawlins has already stated what kind of mood Mr Cartwright was in, nothing is gained by leading the witness to express an opinion that is purely speculative.”

McCluskey sighed, he remembered reading that Hiram was a stickler for the Court procedure, he nodded “Objection sustained…”

Meyers grinned, this was early hours yet, he turned to Mr Rawlins “I believe you invited Mr Cartwright to stay for a meal and a good nights sleep before he went on his way home.”

“I did. But he said that he had eaten a good meal already and wanted to get home. He wanted to get back to his pretty wife and children, said he had not long got back from being some months away from them so wanted to make up for lost time.”

“Did you see Mr Cartwright after that payment was made to your bank?”

“No, not until he was back in town this week with his Pa and brothers.”

“No further questions, your Honour.”

Hiram said he had nothing to ask the man but reminded Rawlins he was under oath, he could be called back, and he was not to discuss the case with any of the other witnesses.

Hiram glanced over to Joe who lowered his eyes, a sign that he was agreeable to that decision.

The Livery Manager was called up next. Hugh Morgan had obviously made a good attempt to make himself look dapper and smart for the occasion, but those people who were from Blakesville weren’t used to seeing him so slicked up and there were some smiles and sniggers as he took the stand.

After being sworn in Mr Meyers asked him to tell them what had happened that night of the Tombs murder. Hugh cleared his throat and told them how a blood stained young man had stumbled into the livery asking if he could look after his horse and tell him where there was a doctor.

“You say he was bloodstained…could you see clearly enough to know how badly blood stained?”

“It was dark. Shadows can make things look darker and worser’n than they are…but he was in a sorry state. Soon as I got the horse in its stall I saw him leaning over the railing and I said “You need help.” and he said “I surely do.””

“Is that young man in this court room today?”

Hugh nodded and when asked to point him out, he turned and looked at Joe. Their eyes met, and Hugh sighed and shook his head, then looked at Meyers “Yes, sir, that’s him thar.”

“Did you take him to the Doctors?”

“I did. His legs could barely carry him, he’d have fallen down ifn’ I hadn’t.” Hugh frowned, “He was worried about his horse, kept saying it was a good horse but not as good as Cochise, said he missed Cooch something awful.”

Meyers looked baffled for a moment, then rallied. “Mr Morgan, when you got to the doctors were there lights in the house?”

“No, it was dark.”

“Dr Finlayson brought a lamp to the door to see who was there I presume?”

“Sure, he had to…otherwise he wouldn’t have seen us, would he?”

A little nervous ripple of laughter echoed that comment, Meyers smiled, as though he liked dry humour too. “What happened next, in your own words.”

“I had to help him into the doctors surgery and then we both got him up onto the bed so that the Dr could check him over.”

“Was he very blood stained?”

“Yep, blood all over his face, in his hair…he looked a mess.” he sighed, no one doubted that he was mentally saying “poor kid” to himself.

“And on his clothing? Did you see much blood on his clothing?”

Hugh Morgan had obviously given the matter much thought since that evening, he looked at Meyers and then at Joe, then at the Jury “No, only what you’d expect from a man who had lain in his own blood for who knows how long.”

“So it was where…down his front? His back?”

“Wal now, you wouldn’t realise it but it wouldn’t have been all over his front if he had fallen on his front, would it?”

“Mr Morgan, just answer the question …”

Hugh frowned, “It was on his sleeve, as though he had rested his head on his arm, some on the front and most on the back.”

Meyers nodded and sighed as though dissatisfied with the answer “What happened after that?”

“After I left him I went back to the livery and then had to go with the posse and the sheriff to help at the Tombs place. It was on fire like you ain’t never seen before…well…may be some have…but it was sure some fire, we couldn’t get near it not really. It had got too fierce ahold by the time we got there, takes two hours at a good trot you know…”

Meyers nodded, thanked him and turned to Hiram “Your witness, Mr Woods.”

“Mr Morgan,” Hiram approached the other man and didn’t smile, just looked him in the eyes, he knew an honest man when he saw one “Your description of the accused was very good.”

“It was how I remembered it.” Morgan said gruffly.

“Can you remember smelling smoke on the clothing of the young man? After all, he was close to the vicinity of the fire and .”

“Objection. Mr Woods is leading the witness to a conclusion…”

“Objection sustained. Mr Woods – keep to the facts.” McCluskey intoned.

“My apologies, I thought I was … Mr Morgan, did you smell smoke on the man’s clothing?”

“No. Blood and sweat was all…” Morgan frowned, “Horse sweat too…”

“Thank you, Mr Morgan. No further questions.”

Joe rolled his shoulders and cricked his neck, he was getting stiff, and he felt that the people there were bored already. If they got bored enough they could want the matter hurried up … he swallowed and glanced over at Ben who was talking in low tones to Hiram. Adam and Hoss were talking together, before they looked up, saw him and smiled as encouragingly as possible.

Dr Finlayson came and took his seat. His long fingers tapped upon his knee, as though he was impatient for the proceedings to come to an end. He looked at Meyers, who now stood beside him,

“You tended to the young man Mr Morgan had brought in. Could you describe his injuries?”

“Weak from loss of blood to start with, could barely stand up. Delirious – kept talking about a horse called Cooch and a woman called Mary Ann, whom I got to understand was his wife. Got so he was babbling so much I didn’t know which of the two he loved the most.”

No one laughed. Finlayson wasn’t a man one laughed with even when he was trying to be funny. Meyers nodded “And what was causing this delirium?”

“Fever of course, high temperature. He had been shot…”

“Shot? Are you sure his injuries didn’t come from a fall from his horse?”

“My good man, there is a difference…and yes, there was an injury to his skull from a fall from a horse, he obviously hit his head on a rock. But the reason he fell from the horse in the first place was because a bullet had created a crease in his skull which was the cause of the extensive bleeding he had sustained.”

Meyers frowned, and glanced over at his desk where his notes were, then he looked back at the doctor. “So he was heavily blood stained?”

“Yes, but much as one would expect from his injuries and lying there unattended to for a while.”

“And what treatment did you give him?”

“Sutured his obvious wounds of course…gave him a sedative, and left him until I could observe him further later on, but then Sheriff Blakeley came charging in and demanding help with a fire at Tombs’ Place. Dr Abbotts was the only other doctor available but he was busy delivering a baby so it fell to me to attend to everything.”

“A busy night then.”

“It was.”

Finlayson couldn’t be bothered to go into detail about the blisters and burns, the stupid injuries caused to people because of their own stupidity in getting in each others way in dealing with a fire that was totally out of control anyway.

“What happened to Mr Cartwright”

“When he realised the place was getting rather overcrowded he took himself off to the hotel. I didn’t see him again.” he smiled slowly “He actually left me some money .. Payment for the treatment …he could’ve just not bothered, some don’t..”

Meyers paused and glanced at Hiram and then continued on “Would the injuries he sustained cause loss of memory?”

“Oh yes, of course.”

“Could you qualify that statement?”

Finlayson fidgeted in his chair, he relaxed now that he was on familiar territory “Well, the brain is a very sensitive organ, that’s why it is encased within the skull. Any thing that could cause damage to it could cause loss of memory. Sometime it can be permanent, sometimes if can create a 24 hours span of memory…imagine, waking up each day and not remembering what all those days before that morning had been like, and knowing that you only had 24 hours before that was all blanked out as well.”

There was silence, no one really wanted to dwell on such a matter as severe as that but out of respect no one spoke…Meyers cleared his throat and broke the spell.

“So the fact that Mr Cartwright claims ..”

“Objection, your honour…” Hiram bounced out of his chair “Stating that my client claims to have loss of memory indicates my learned friend is implying he is lying.”

“Objection – “ McCluskey frowned,paused, “over ruled. Mr Woods, until we can say with confidence that your client has amnesia, we can only claim that he has..”

“Excuse me, your honour, my learned friend did not say ‘we can only claim that he has’ but that my client claims that he has…”

“Continue Mr Meyers, and phrase your words more carefully please.”

Meyers nodded, smiled at Woods and turned to Finlayson, but before he could say a word the Doctor spoke “We all suffer temporary loss of memory during our life time. How many here hasn’t put down some article of clothing, or keys, or whatever and momentarily wondered where they are when it came to finding them again, or gone in one room and forgotten what it was we went in there for…you see, sometimes the brain plays tricks on us, like that..but it shows how fragile it is. Mr Cartwright sustained injuries that could certainly create loss of memory.”

Meyers nodded and sighed,and reluctantly handed the witness to Hiram who then stood up with papers in his hand.

“Excuse me, Dr Finlayson, if I may just read this Deposition from Dr Colby in Virginia City. With your permission, your honour?”

McCluskey sighed, nodded and leaned back in his chair. He glanced at the clock and realised the hands were not moving as fast as he would have liked. He waited for Hiram to approach where Dr Finlayson was seated.

“Dr Colby states that he was requested to attend to Joseph Cartwright at the Ponderosa on the 8th of the month. His deposition states “Mr Cartwright’s brother, Adam, told me that Joseph had passed out, his eyes had rolled and he had become clammy to the touch. He also told me that his brother had been suffering nightmares ever since returning from a trip to Boulder’s Creek. They had all thought if was because he had fallen off his horse, as that was the last memory his brother had…”

He cleared his throat and darted a look over at Joe, then at Ben, before he restarted his reading “ I examined Joseph Cartwright and found his temperature was high, his pulse rapid and his heart beat irregular. He was under a lot of stress and I had to give him a sedative to calm him. The fact that he could not remember what had happened to him for a period of several days was creating a secondary problem to his physical detriment.

“I examined his skull, evidence of a crease made by a bullet at some time, and at the base where it was particularly tender to the touch, was a contusion that could well have indicated a fracture which in turn could have led to bleeding into the brain.

“I instructed him to go home, plenty of bed rest, medication to calm him…good food to build him up. He should never have been allowed to leave Blakesville until he was well enough to have done so.”

There was silence. Finlayson nodded as though in agreement. Hiram turned to the Judge and then to the Jury “There is no doubt in the minds of two doctors that my client is suffering from amnesia.”

Ben sighed and leaned back as though he had reached base camp during the trek up a high mountain but knowing that there were several areas still to climb. Joe wished he could have had a glass of something to drink.

Dr Finlayson rose to his feet but Hiram raised a hand to prevent him from leaving, upon which the doctor resumed his seat.

Chapter 62

There were collective sighs, the rustling of clothing, feet shuffling on the floor boards. Coughs were stifled, and some muttering and murmuring whispered through like a soft breeze until coming to an end.

Joe looked at Hiram and then at Dr Finlayson whom he really only vaguely remembered.
McCluskey looked over at the Jury and wondered which of them were the two whom he hoped would severely rock the boat when it came to rendering a verdict.

Finlayson sat still and waited for Hiram to address him again.

“It took some time for the fire at the Tombs property to die out and the bodies to be discovered, didn’t it?”

“Yes.” Finlayson nodded and stroked his chin through his beard, “We hoped that there would be no bodies, of course, but one can’t disguise the smell of burning flesh. It was a shame…for young Grant especially.”

Woods nodded sympathetically, “So you had to wait some days before the bodies were brought out?”

Finlayson nodded again, and pursed his lips “Wasn’t much to recover really…all soft tissue had burned away of course. Smaller bones were gone too..”

A murmur trickled through the room, Finlayson decided it was better to pass over the details and looked at Woods as he continued “Dr Abbots helped me set out the remains that we had, so that they could be given a decent burial. Of course it meant separating the male bones from the female, the differences are very distinct and it wasn’t difficult. The fingers of the womans left hand were undamaged..I mean..the bones of course…her wedding ring was still on her finger, well, you know what I mean…” he paused concentrating as though seeing the bones laid out now right before his eyes.

“It was obvious that they had been murdered. They had sustained gunshot wounds to the larger limbs, the bones were broken, splintered where the bullets had struck them. Then, the coup de grace, a bullet between the eyes.”

“You are sure they were bullet holes?” Hiram asked anxiously, his eyes fixed upon the doctor at this point.

“At first I thought the heat of the fire had caused the skulls to shatter but no, they were bullet holes.”

“And you have no doubt at all that they were the remains of a man and a woman?”

“Oh no doubt at all. To a medical man it is obvious.”

Woods paused then, hooked a thumb in his vest pocket and looked thoughtful, “So then, just how certain can you be that they were Mr And Mrs Tombs?”

The silence that followed that question was profound. It had been suggested to Hiram by Adam, who had long ago pondered the same thing. Now Hiram had tossed the matter into the court room and it seemed that everyone just froze for a moment, before an excited jabbering could be heard. Meyers stood up, twisting a pen between his fingers, “I object to this line of questioning, your Honour. What does Mr Woods feel this is going to accomplish? Dr Finlayson has already told us that the bodies were that of Mr and Mrs Tombs…”

Finlayson rallied, and stared at Meyers “Bones only, sir, not bodies.”

McCluskey thumped the gavel upon the desk and shouted for order until it was finally restored. He looked at Hiram

“Do you have any specific reason to ask that question, Mr Woods? If you do not I shall instruct the Jury to ignore it all together and to treat it with the contempt it deserves.”

“I was just conjecturing, Your Honour, after all, if the bodies were that badly burned, as to be unrecognisable, then who is to say who they actually were?”

Finlayson opened his mouth to speak but the Judge declared that the bodies had been confirmed as being that of Mr and Mrs Tombs and any further conjecture on his, Hirams’ part would see him fined for contempt of court.

Finlayson cleared his throat and Hiram turned to face him, the man obviously wanted to say something so Hiram nodded “You were about to add, Dr Finlayson?”

“Just that Mr Tombs was tall and slim, the bones of the male were those of a tall man, it was easy to see from the length of the tibia and fibula…what we call the shin bone and the second largest bone in the body, the fibula is the calf bone, which runs parallel to the shinbone. They had the density and length of a tall man. That of the woman indicated she would have been about …” he paused, mentally seeing the picture in his mind “five feet 3- 5 inches. That was the approximate height of Mrs Tombs. When I signed their death certificates I had no doubt in my mind as to who they were.”

McCluskey looked at Hiram, a flash of what seemed like triumph passed over his eyes, but Hiram tried to convince himself he had imagined it. He just turned to the Doctor and thanked him for his help. As the doctor returned to his seat, McCluskey released a sigh, he had felt a sudden tightening of the chest when Woods had spoken up and Finlayson seemed to have decided to become a hostile witness. For the first time he had doubts about whether or not he had done the right thing in convening this trial. Perhaps Forsyths idea of getting two men to kill Joe had been the best after all..he sighed again, and remembered that even that had failed.

Adam sunk back in his chair and rubbed his jaw, he tried to catch Ben’s attention but his father was in conversation with Hiram. He looked over to Joe and winked, but Joe just nodded and gave a rather watery smile. Hoss was biting his nails and trying to think of how he was going to get Joe out of this mess he was in…single handed if he had to do so.

Mr Cavello and Mrs Cavello were interviewed separately, gave their evidence with great enthusiasm. Meyers asked Mrs Cavello if Joseph Cartwright had been really unconscious through the two days he was there, and she had emphatically nodded

“Si, all the time..sleeping, tossing and turning. Poor young man. He didn’t eat any of the food I take up to him, just leave on the tray.”

“And did the Doctor come to see him?”

“No, no, too much busy, too much going on.”

“Did Mr Cartwright have any visitors?” Meyers asked with a look of such innocence on his face that no one would have guessed he knew what the answer would have to be.

“Si, a man. A young man like himself, but he go into the room with me, see him on the bed and then leave.”

With a flourish Meyers produced a Wanted poster and placed it on the Mrs Cavello’s lap “Do you recognise this person?”

She nodded, the feather in her bonnet jiggled, “Si, he is the man who come see Mr Cartwright. But only the one time…then he go.”

Meyers nodded and thanked her, then held the Wanted poster up for all to see “Please let the court know this is a picture of a man Mr Jerry Cambor..wanted for murder, rape and other crimes in several states. This is the man who went up to see his friend the morning after the murder of the Tombs.”

Hiram frowned and then stood up “Mrs Cavello didn’t identify the man as a friend of my clients.”

Meyers threw his arms wide “Why else would he have gone to visit Joseph Cartwright that morning?”

Hiram frowned harder than ever then shrugged “May be to kill him?”

The Judge’s gavel rapped so loudly yet still it took a while to be heard over the noise from the people gathered there. Once silence had fallen he beckoned Hiram over and looked down at him from his seat on the platform “Mr Woods, if I have to warn you not to conjecture again, I shall have you thrown out of court.”

Hiram inclined his head in apology, but he knew that no matter what was said there would be some who would remember…and perhaps later it would all come together and make sense.

Meyers returned to Mrs Cavello who was looking doubtful and wondering if her testimony had been correct after all, and if it wasn’t, would she be fined for contempt of court. “Madam, did Mr Cambor ask for Mr Cartwright by name?”

She nodded “Si, he ask about his friend…” she paused and frowned, then nodded again, “He say was his friend Joe Cartwright here, I remember because…”

“Thank you, Mrs Cavello.” Meyers threw a look over at Hiram who just shook his head, there was little point in going over the same ground with the little Italian woman. She left the stand looking more than a little relieved.

Judge McCluskey rose to is feet “Before the next witness is called, we shall have a recess for half an hour.”

There was a collective that rippled through the room. Everyone felt there was tension in the air, and a lot of it coming from the clash between the Judge and Hiram Woods.

Sheriff Wylie took Joe to the back room where both men had something hot to drink, and a chance to calm down .Joe had nothing to say but was grateful for the man’s consideration in providing him with the drink. Wylie simply paced the room from the window back to the door that led to the court room.

McCluskey disappeared into his inner sanctum leaving Hiram and Meyers to browse through the notes concerning the upcoming witnesses. Ben approached his lawyer “Is everything going alright? The Judge doesn’t seem overly sympathetic.”

“No, he doesn’t.” Hiram replied with a slight shade of anxiety passing over his face. “He seems more nervous than I remember him being..” he sighed “Well, we haven’t met for some years, we all change over time.”

Adam stood up to stretch his legs, and cast a curious look over to Blakeley and the other man whom he overheard someone address as Forsyth. He tried to fit the man into the picture of the recent events and what part he played in it when the man himself glanced in his direction. Their eyes locked, held for a moment before Forsyth looked away.

It left Adam with a distinct feeling that he had to be careful, the eyes he had looked at reminded him of a shark he had seen at close quarters at one time. Sometimes when he thought about it the memory still made him feel cold all over for the eyes of a shark are dead, unfeeling and remorseless. He looked over at Forsyth again and wondered what the connection was that he had with Sheriff Blakeley.

Joe returned to the stand allocated for the accused, and took his seat with Wylie standing beside it. He smiled vaguely over at his father and brothers before settling himself down to pay attention to what was being said.

McCluskey returned and resumed his seat and the Bailiff called the next witness, Deputy Hal Matheson.

In a monotone voice the deputy answered the questions he was asked by Meyers. He had little to say about Joes initial visit to Blakesville. He was an honest man with a good lawman’s instincts and he felt that whatever was wrong with the case would have to be revealed sooner than later. He had decided to be very careful with his answers.

“It is known that Mrs Tombs wore a lot of jewellery yet the body the Dr examined wore only one plain wedding ring. Do you think, in your opinion as a lawman, that the murders could have been the result of a burglary that went wrong?

Matherson frowned, his brow rippled into corrugations, “I did wonder that myself and went to the ruins to check it out, found young Grant there doing the same…we found where the jewellery had been locked away safely along with bonds and money. It wasn’t because of a robbery.”

“What would you say was ..”

“Objection, “ Hiram cried “the Deputy’s opinion carries no weight in deciding the innocence or guilt of this young man.”

“Objection sustained. Be careful, Mr Meyers…”

Matheson waited and fidgeted, he was well aware of Blakeley’s eyes fixed on him. He was uneasy about the whole thing.

“Did you meet up with Joseph Cartwright again?”

“No.”

“Not at all?” Meyers looked disappointed and Matheson shook his head, “Did you meet up with his brothers at all?”

“His brother, Adam. He was with Grant Tombs at the site where Jericho Silverman was found some time after the Tombs murders.”

“Please elaborate..explain…just who this Jericho Silverman ..just for the record.” Meyers asked, although there was some hesitancy as he spoke.

So Matheson explained and confirmed the manner of the man’s death. Meyers nodded and asked if finding Adam and Grant there so much later was significant.

“I didn’t think so at first, but then later I had a cable from Sheriff Blakeley telling me to go to the site and check to see if there were any signs of a woman having been there. There wasn’t, but -”

He licked his lips and frowned, then looked at Blakeley before looking at Meyers, “I wasn’t sure why he asked me about that, and so when I saw Pearly there I asked him if he had seen any sign of a woman in the area. He had been prospecting around there for years, knew it like the back of his hand. In fact, he was the one found Jericho’s body.”

“And did he say that he had seen signs of any woman?”

“He hadn’t.” Matheson frowned “It makes you think though, doesn’t it?”

McCluskey leaned down from his raised position “Mr Matheson, you are not here to pass opinions on what you think, just answer the questions you are asked.”

Matheson nodded and raised his eyebrows. “When you found Adam Cartwright and Grant Tombs at the murder site of Mr Silverman, did they explain why they were there?”

“They were looking around for clues as to who would have killed Jericho. Grant asked me if the sheriff had a lead on the killer yet. But that was all the conversation there was between us.”

“Why were you there, Deputy?”

“I had to pass it to get to Boulder’s Creek. There’s only a six mile difference between the two towns but at the time we didn’t have a Telegraph and Mail Depot so we had a daily trek there to collect it.”

Meyers nodded, he wasn’t interested in mail drops, he left Matheson to Hiram who walked up with a sheet of paper in his hand which he was reading as he reached the witness’ seat. Then he stopped and looked at the Deputy thoughtfully,

“How long have you been a Deputy?”

“About four years…just the year in Blakesville and the other three in Carson City.”

“You enjoy the job, do you?”

“Most of the time, every job has its ups and downs.” Matheson leaned forward, hands clasped at the waist to stop his fingers from showing his nerves.

“You went to check the cabin about the jewellery of your own accord?”

Matheson paused to let the question permeate and make sense, he nodded “It Didn’t make sense to me,…a fire ..yes, that can and has happened but the victims being shot beforehand..no, there had to be some other motive so I just thought it must have been a robbery. Mrs Tombs had a lot of jewellery yet her remains showed only the wedding band. Yes, I thought it made some sense to suspect a robbery, and as the Sheriff was in Virginia City I thought I would check it out, just to make sure for my own peace of mind.”

“What was it like in the house by then?”

“Full of ash and debris, couldn’t touch some of the walls they were still warm from the heat of the flames, even all those days after.”

“Grant Tombs was there already?”

“Yes, but he was glad of my company. We looked around and found the safety box. It contained jewellery and some papers. So I guess left the reason for the murders open…”

Hiram nodded and pursed his lips, “What did you make of the Silverman murder?”

Meyers immediately waved a hand in the air and shouted “Objection…the Silverman murder has nothing to do with this case.”

“Your honour, I beg to differ. I think the murders are closely connected as we shall discover if you allow me to continue questioning the Deputy?” he turned slightly to acknowledge Meyers, “And if I may remind my learned friend, he did bring up the matter of Mr Silverman’s death himself during cross examination of this witness.”

McCluskey nodded “Take care with asking your questions, Mr Woods.”

“Deputy Matheson, when you went to the murder scene of Mr Silverman, could you tell us what you found there?”

Matheson considered the question and caught the narrowing of Blakeley’s eyes as he stared at him, he looked at the Cartwrights and then returned to look at Hiram,

“Seemed like there had been three men there…three horses…I can’t read sign as well as some, but Silverman was one of the best and he wouldn’t have ridden into an ambush. He’d’ve known exactly where he was going and why.”

“Can you tell the court what you believed that to be?”

“Well, from what the sign said two men were talking, one man was Silverman, and he was talking to the other man. Then this other man appeared…a slight scuffle … he paused, “Mind you, a lot of the prints were messed up by Pearlie when he found the body.”

“You found the prints of no other person…male or female in the area? Did you recognise any of the prints at all? Were they familiar to you?”

“I knew Silverman’s prints…that was all. The area is bordered by quite a dense copse of trees, I didn’t go in there, it was some way from where the body was found.”

“Was that the area Sheriff Blakeley asked you to check out for a woman’s foot print?”

“He didn’t specify any direct area, and Pearlie was camped under the trees…I asked him if he had seen a woman’s foot print anywhere but he hadn’t. It was raining heavily then too, so I figured that if there had been any it would have been washed away by the time we got there.”

Hiram looked at him thoughtfully for a moment as though he was considering asking him another question but instead he nodded and thanked the man. The eyes of the court room followed Matheson as he left his seat.

A feeling of restlessness settled over everyone now.. Adam felt frustrated at the slow process of the law, the answers weren’t coming out right or so it seemed to him. He wanted Hiram to bring out about Jerry Cambor, the woman, anything to get some solid facts that would prove his brother innocent. Ben fixed his eyes on the Judge and wondered what the man would be thinking as he sat there waiting for the next witness to take his seat.

The next witness was Sheriff Thomas Blakeley.

Chapter 63

Blakeley took his seat and faced the numerous people surrounding him all of whom bore various degrees of anticipation on their faces. Most there sensed that the trial was about to take a more interesting turn now and that at last the more interesting facts were about to be revealed. The men on the Jury had even moved closer to the edge of their seats.

The Sheriff looked over at Joe and felt some satisfaction at knowing he had finally nailed the murderer of the couple in the cabin. When his eyes swept over the three other Cartwrights he only felt resentment at the fact that they had tried so hard to thwart justice.

Meyers asked the preliminary questions about his length of service as a lawman, where had he served previously and he answered calmly, noticing how by doing so his heart beat was slowing to a steadier pace. So, he thought, that was why such irrelevant questions were asked, just so as to calm people’s nerves. He sighed and leaned forward to pay attention.

He answered honestly about the night of the fire, what took place at the cabin. How later on various people in town told him of the man who had staggered into town covered in blood.

“But,” Meyers said in his politely calm manner “At the time, while he was in town, why didn’t you arrest him then.”

Blakeley frowned and gave a slight shrug “We hadn’t found the bodies. It could have been a simple house fire with two victims accounted for, but it was only when we saw the wounds on the bodies that it was realised that they had been murdered. Joseph Cartwright had returned to Virginia City by then”

“Was it your intention to arrest him then.”

“No. There was insufficient proof. I wanted questions answered though. My deputy had found where he had fallen, on the old track leading away from the cabin. There was a lot of blood …” he paused and licked dry lips, he passed nervous fingers over them, “It was after the bodies had been located and confirmed as murder victims that statements started coming in about him.”

“So until then he was just a man whom you hoped would help you find the murderer.”

“Yes.”

“When did your opinion change regarding him?”

“I suppose it was when I realised the connection between him and Cambor.”

“Jerry Cambor who we just identified as the friend who visited the hotel….”

Hiram rolled his eyes, and gave a slight shake of the head at that statement but somehow he didn’t feel he would have the backing of the Judge if he were to voice an objection. He allowed it to slip pass. Blakeley nodded,

“That’s right.” he glanced slyly over at Joe and his eyes slid over the three Cartwrights as they sat, almost immobile in their seats

“When you did see Mr Cartwright was he helpful in answering your enquiries.”

“No, he was aggressive. Then he came out with the excuse of having lost his memory..”

Meyers paused as he saw Hiram flinch, but before the other lawyer could say a word he very smoothly reminded Blakeley that two doctors had confirmed the fact that Joe did indeed suffer from amnesia. Blakeley sullenly nodded and interlaced his fingers together to prevent them curling into fists.

“So, on the basis of the friendship Mr Cartwright had with Cambor you proceeded to question him … despite his previous denial of knowing anything about the murders.”

” A good lawman develops an instinct, and I worked on that basis despite the attempts by Virginia City’s Sheriff to prevent me from doing so.” The resentment he felt about that almost dripped from his words and Meyers raised a hand as though cautioning his witness to be more careful.

“Could you tell the court what happened when you last saw Mr Cambor?”

“What do you mean?” Blakeley asked now, his mind switching to what he knew and to what the lawyer expected from him. He then cleared his throat and leaned forward as though he wanted to encompass everyone there into a circle in order to hear the story … he explained about seeing Cambor’s horse heading out of town towards the Ponderosa. He and Sheriff Carney followed. Cambor was attempting an assault upon Mrs Cartwright and as a result he was shot, by both Carney and himself.

“Sheriff Blakeley, did Cambor manage to speak before he died.”

“Yes, sir, he confirmed that Joe Cartwright had been at the cabin the night of the murders.”

There was a collective hum and sigh as the people heard Blakeley state that fact. Meyers stepped back with a slight grin, Blakeley glanced over at Ben and felt a niggle of unease. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Most of the jury were now quite sure that Joseph Cartwright was guilty, but less sure as to what exactly Jerry Cambor had to do with it all.

‘And there were witnesses to that statement.” Meyers was asking, the pen between his fingers twirled as he spoke and he darted a quick look over at the Jury members before looking back to Blakeley

Blakeley released his breath “Yes, there were three witnesses..Sheriff Carney, Mrs Cartwright, and Ben Cartwright.”

“You must have felt your seeking out Mr Cartwright to have been totally vindicated!”

“I did.” Blakeley almost shouted the words and glared in Joe’s direction.”Totally vindicated. It all made sense with Cambor confirming that he had been there…and then Cambor visiting him at the hotel the day after the fire..travelling to Virginia City… they were old school friends, and were still friends.”

“Thank you, Sheriff. I may want to ask you further questions …please don’t leave the court room.”

Meyers looked at Hiram, nodded and returned to his seat. He sat down feeling totally composed and satisfied with the way things had gone. Hiram approached Blakeley and looked at the man before looking at some notes he held in his hand.

“Sheriff, why did your friend Jericho Silverman go to the Fork Road.”

“What?” Blakeley looked confused and glanced at Meyers. This was not on the script.

Meyers stood up “Judge, the situation with Silverman has nothing to do with the murders of Mr and Mrs Tombs ..”

McCluskey nodded and glared down at Hiram “Mr Woods, unless you can prove that these facts are pertinent to the case on trial..”

“It is pertinent, your honour, and I would ask you to be patient for a little longer while I continue in my cross examination.”

McCluskey nodded assent, and leaned back into his chair as though to distance himself from what was about to take place.

Blakeley composed his face into a mask of concentration while Hiram made a pretext of checking his notes, “Sheriff, could you answer the question…why did Jericho Silverman go onto the Fork Road the day he died.”

Blakeley glanced at Forsyth, then at Hiram before he nodded and said calmly “He came to me and said he was going to follow someone he had seen in town that night. He had a feeling it was important.”

“Did he explain why.”

“Silverman said he had seen a man, a stranger to town, observing an empty house for sometime before he went inside. Jericho didn’t elaborate, he just said he felt there was something strange about it.” Blakeley frowned, and for the first time realised he had allowed a valuable clue to slip through his fingers. He shook his head vaguely as though to cast off that feeling.

“But you didn’t?” Hiram waited, and was about to repeat the question when Blakeley answered,

“I had worries enough to consider without worrying about some man checking out an empty house.”

“Anything particular about the building.”

Meyers jumped up “Your Honour, I protest… We’re looking into the murders of two people here…”

“Three people, Your Honour” Hiram murmured quietly “You see, these murders are connected because the same men who killed Jericho Silverman also killed the occupants of that cabin.”

“Mr Woods, I’m giving you a lot of lee-way here, ” McCluskey muttered with a lift of his brow.

“Thank you, sir.” Hiram turned back to Blakeley. “Anything particularly strange or odd about the house, or it’s occupants.”

Blakeley rubbed his jaw and looked uncomfortable “It was rented out to some ladies.” he cleared his through “I had to close them down after a month … Blakesville’s a new town, we want decent people moving in, not – ladies of ill repute.”

Hiram nodded and ignored the tittering that rippled through the audience. One person however found the reference to the empty house of particular interest. He didn’t laugh, or grin, but leaned forward to catch every word that was going to be mentioned about it.

“After Jericho died, you examined the area thoroughly.”

“Of course. The site had been disturbed by an old prospector who had found the body. We found the prints of some men,some horses…”

“Did you think to check those prints with any found at the site where the Tombs are alleged to have been murdered?”

Blakeley paused and nervously glanced over to where the Cartwrights were seated, he had a vague notion that he could guess where this was heading. He rubbed his brow, hadn’t Silverman mentioned that the horse belonging to the man at the empty house had been at the cabin? He sweated a little more and tried to dismiss that thought, Hiram repeated the question.

“Yes, Matheson and I checked but it was impossible to get any clear indication …”

“Did you notice at the site of Jericho Silvermans murder the imprint of a woman’s foot….”

“No, because there was no woman there.” Blakeley hissed and glared at Adam, his face mottling with red blotches and his eyes bulging.

Meyers stood up “This is ridiculous. You Honour, I object to this whole string of questions. It’s totally irrelevant,”

“Objection sustained. The Jury will forget all references made to the Silverman murder.”

Hiram turned to face McCluskey, his jaw thrust out like a bulldogs,

” Your Honour, I ..”

“Mr Woods, please be careful that you don’t try my patience too far, sir, or I shall order a retrial.”

Hiram stepped back involuntarily and looked astounded while McCluskey banged the gavel for silence. “Do you have any further questions for the sheriff.”

Hiram nodded, then turned to Blakeley again.

“Did you know Jerry Cambor before you saw him in Virginia city.”

“I didn’t know him…no.” Blakeley muttered, struggling now to collect his wits and not too sure what would be the right answer to the question.

“You had no trouble recognising him in Virginia City though.”

“I recognised him from Wanted posters, I guess.”

Hiram paused and then nodded before he continued ” You and Sheriff Carney very commendably saved the life of Mrs Cartwright, the wife of the accused.”

Blakeley nodded and squared his shoulders, “Yes, we did. We were just in time ..”

“So … let us get this picture right in our minds…” he raised his finger and looked directly at Blakeley and then turned to the Jury “A friend makes sure that his friend is absent from his home and then rides out to his friends home in order to take advantage of his friends wife. That is what you are saying here, isn’t it, Sheriff Blakeley?”

Blakeley said nothing, Hiram leaned in closer “Do you really think they were such good friends?”

Blakeley still said nothing and McCluskey did not urge him to do so, nor did Meyers. Hiram waited a moment then spoke again “you shot Cambor in the back..isn’t that right.?”

“I had no choice, if I had waited and fired later I could have killed the woman.’

“But hadn’t Sheriff Carney also shot the man?” he frowned and again raised his chin as though prepared for some objection to come from Meyers direction, when none came he looked squarely at Blakeley who gave a slight roll of his shoulders

“I came from a different direction, I didnt see Carney shoot Cambor…I fired purely to protect the woman.”

Hiram nodded “You’ve already mentioned about something Cambor said to you…did he say anything else, while he was dying.”

Blakeley blinked nervously, then shook his head “I don’t recall him saying anything.”

“You are quite sure of that….?”

McCluskey leaned down “Mr Woods, if I have to mention one more time..”

Hiram raised his hands in acquiescence “No more questions, Your Honour..for now..I may like to call the Sheriff back later.”

McCluskey scowled darkly and glanced at the clock. “I think this will be a good time for a recess. We’ll reconvene in an hour.” he stood up and paused “Mr Woods, Mr Meyers, if you would join with me?”

The clutter and mutter of people on the moved now eddied around the room, the Jury was led from the room as was Joe. Ben stood up and turned to face his sons but only Hoss confronted him “where’s Adam?”

Hoss shook his head and shrugged ” I don’t know, Pa. He just said he’d be back as soon as possible. He wanted to check on something.” He frowned “He got the fidgets as soon as Blakeley mentioned about that empty house, then said he had to go check out some facts.”

Ben’s eyes bulged slightly as he forced himself to suppress his feelings “He should be here, with us, with his brother….” a wave of the hand, a growl of exasperation and he turned around in order to get to the room where Joe had been taken. A deputy stepped forward “I’m sorry, Mr Cartwright. The Judge gave strict orders no one to go through this door!”

The rain had stopped sometime during the morning, puddles gleamed slate grey under a dull grey sky. Adam threaded his horse through the people until he was out of the towns environs when he gave it full rein. Blakesville was a mere six miles away, he hoped to get there, see what and whom he needed to see, and return before the afternoon session was near closure. The idea was nebulous, he could only pray for it to become more tangible as time went by.
………………

Marshall Duggan had received a visit from someone claiming to be a Pinkerton Agent from Chicago which had prompted him to leave his office at the Harbour Station at Pacific and Davis, San Francisco. He set out early in order to meet Roy and Grant Tombs at the station in San Francisco.

He had met Roy Coffee upon occasiond when the old sheriff had had reason to request assistance from the San Francisco branch of police to which Duggan was assigned. It took little time for him to identify the two men as they stepped onto the platform and hurried to meet them.

The two lawmen shook hands, and Grant was introduced after which Duggan fell in step with them “This is a strange case, Roy; I got a whisper that it has to do with Alex Dunlop.”

“Ah, heard of him, have you?” Roy nodded and frowned, he removed his spectacles.

Grant Tombs nodded and looked at Duggan, who surveyed him thoughtfully “I believe you are the son of the couple who were – er – killed near Blakesville?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I am sorry … always tragic to lose one’s parents, even more so in such circumstances as those your folk died in.”

“Yes,“ Grant cleared his throat, “Thank you.”

Duggan frowned and nodded, then looked at Roy “Whereabouts are you staying?”

“Oh, young Grant has the key to his parents home here in San Francisco. We’ll be staying there.”

Duggan sighed and nodded “Well, if you don’t mind, I’d rather you came to my office before doing so. There’s a gentleman there who wants to discuss some matters – of importance and relevance to this case.”

He glanced at them both, Roy nodded, for some reason Grant hesitated enough for the Marshall to raise his eyebrows “Believe me, it is important, and I wouldn’t stress this so much if the gentleman hadn’t already made me privy to some of the facts.“

Grant looked at Roy for assurance, and when Roy thrust out his chin and nodded he accepted that as the old man’s approval of what they had to do. He replaced his hat and stepped in line with the two men, placing himself confidently in their hands. Life had already turned in so many different revolutions over the past few weeks that he felt nothing could now surprise him. He was soon to discover that there was still a lot that would….

Chapter 64

By riding Kami at a steady lope for some distance and reducing her to a walk every so often Adam was able to reach Blakesville in reasonable time. His first stop was at the restaurant where Marietta greeted him with a shout of delight “Well, hello, Handsome. I didn’t expect to see you again so soon. Did you notice? We have our own Telegraph Offices here now? We can…” She stopped and her smile faded “Something wrong?”

Adam nodded and glanced across to the empty house on the opposite side of the road
“Who owns the house?”

“That house? I don’t know. The Bank Manager can tell you…” she smiled and put a plump hand on her ample hip “A good thing he is here, having some of my husband’s best steak dinner. You can ask him yourself. Can I get you some coffee?”

Adam rather absent mindedly nodded as he made his way to the table where Mr Merkle was enjoying his food with an enthusiasm that was evidenced by his girth and ruddy face. Removing his hat and then clearing his throat, audibly, Adam finally got the Bank Managers attention from his food, for he looked up, saw Adam, and frowned,

“Business doesn’t start again for another half hour, Mr …”

“Cartwright. Adam Cartwright.”

“Mr Cartwright. Now, if you don’t mind I would like to continue my meal without disturbance.”

Adam nodded in understanding but to Merkle’s dismay pulled out a chair and sat down, his action was further compounded by the arrival of a cup of coffee placed within hands reach. Adam looked the Bank Manager in the eyes

“I don’t have time to waste but I need some information from you…” he raised his hand for silence when he saw Merkle open his mouth in protest “that house over there, who owns it?”

“Are you interested in buying it.” Merkle asked, his interest piqued “or renting.”

“Just answer the question.”

Merkle shrugged and was about to object when he noticed the six shooter rather obviously displayed as Adam turned his body slightly to the side. He accepted the fact that the man opposite to him would have no hesitation in using it should he be forced to do so, he nodded “Well, the man who owned it was called Dunlop, Alex Dunlop.” he paused “I only saw him once, he came to sign some documents … he was a friend of the Tombs as a matter of fact. They had been in business together in Chicago.”

Adam nodded slowly, then glanced again at the house “Has it been empty for long.”

“Well, some months now, although..”

“Although?” Adam prompted.

“There has been someone there recently. I don’t know who, just assumed Mr Dunlop had returned, but if he had he stills owes on the mortgage. I would have expected him to have come by to pay his dues if he had been in town.”

Mariette came to refill the cups, and having overheard the comment from Merkle nodded knowingly, “It was a woman, I saw her one time. She stepped back from the window pretty sharp when she thought she had been seen so I pretended that I hadn’t seen her. It was just the one time though, and as there was no sign of activity there…you know, no smoke from a fire, or light from a lamp, I thought perhaps she had up and gone!”

Adam looked from one to the other, Merkle looked at his meal and sighed, it didn’t look so appetising now.

“I need to see inside.” Adam said quietly “Do you have a key?”

“No, and if I did I couldn’t let you in, my client gave strict orders..”

“Your client owes on his mortgage.” Adam reminded the man as he himself rose to his feet,”If you don’t let me in then I’l break open the door!”

He reached out and picked up his hat, then turned to go. Merkle merely shrugged and rose to his feet, “Very well then…”

He produced the key as he crossed the road, hurrying in an effort to keep up with Adam’s long legged stride, “Here you are. I don’t know what you expect to find in there, but you’ve quite ruined my meal”

Adam wasn’t sure what he would find. He had worried over details in his head all the way from Boulders Creek, things that seemed relevant and things that seemed to fit but then didn’t, or if they did raised only more questions. As he pushed the door open, however, closely followed by Merkle, there was only a vaguely familiar smell. It indicated that something could be in the house that would certainly stop the Bank Manager from returning to finish his meal!

The downstairs rooms were neat and tidy but a carpet bag beside a chair indicated that someone had been there, that, and the smell. Adam mounted the stairs cautiously and opened the door to the bedroom, then stepped rather abruptly back which almost sent Merkle falling down the stairs.

“What’s that smell….?” Merkle protested as he regained his position on the landing, and pulled out a handkerchief to cover his nose.

Adam stepped further into the room and pulled out his sheath knife. He glanced over his shoulder at the other man “Get the Doctor and a Deputy here …”

“Why?” Merkle protested, then raised his eyes to see for himself why “Oh my good heavens” he exclaimed and stumbled from the room.

Adam could hear him retching as he stumbled down the stairs. For a moment he paused to look at the woman and with great pity in his heart for her, he stood and waited for someone to come before he cut the rope from which she was suspended.

She had probably once been an attractive woman, her brown hair was unkempt now, long and curling over her shoulder. Her green jacket was soiled, her spectacles hung over her face at an angle, dislodged from one ear by the rope.. Her green bonnet was on the bed along with her gloves.

Dr Abbott came into the room followed by a skinny man wearing a Deputy’s badge, and obviously unused to scenes that now presented itself to him. He left rather quickly leaving Adam and the Doctor to deal with the woman. Gently they cut the rope and let her down before lowering her onto the bed.

Adam looked around the room then at the Doctor “Will you confirm in your report that this was murder?”

Abbott nodded “No doubt about it.”

The Deputy entered the room and stood silently beside Adam his hat in his hands
“Why murder. It could have been suicide?”

“No, it was murder,” Abbott said, “She was dead before she was suspended from the rope.”

“And the chair she would have needed is over there…” Adam nodded towards the chair in the corner. “Doctor, do you recognise her.”

Abbots straightened up, he nodded “Yes. Her name is Lily Goldbaum. She was the …the woman who ran the brothel here. I can’t understand why or how she got here, doesn’t make sense.”

Adam nodded, it didn’t make sense to him either, because if this was the woman they had been looking for, and it was fairly obvious that it was, then who was the woman he had seen heading for San Francisco? He wondered if he had made a colossal mistake and sent Roy on a fools errand.

“Sheriff Blakeley will have to be told …” The Deputy muttered “I’m only standing in for Mr Matheson because he’s ..”

“I know where they are, ” Adam said brusquely “Ill tell them. Dr Abbott, how long has she been dead?”

“At least three days.”

Adam nodded. Without a word he left the room. Mariette was standing by the restaurant door wringing her hands in her apron “Mr Merkle’s so upset…sick he was all over the floor..nearly passed out…”

He left her standing there, still wringing her hands, lamenting the events that had befallen the poor woman in that lonely empty house. Adam turned Kami in the direction of Boulder’s Creek. Nothing made sense and yet, somehow, he had expected that house to contain a secret of some kind.  He just hadn’t expected it to have been Lily Goldbaum.
……..

Nate Carney took his seat in the court room and was sworn in, answered the preliminary questions and glanced over at Blakeley then at Forsyth. Meyers didn’t cross examine him, his appearance as a witness had been at Hiram’s behest, so he was appearing as a witness for the defence.

In his calm deep voice Nathaniel Carney explained his concerns over Sheriff Blakeley’s determination to have Joseph Cartwright arrested for the murders at the cabin. Despite his own appeals for the man to be rational about what evidence he felt he had, nothing seemed to deter Blakeley from his objective.

“Did you get the impression that Sheriff Blakeley knew Jerry Cambor.” Hiram asked only to be shouted down by Meyers who accused him of leading the witness to a conclusion. McCluskey accepted the objection so Hiram had to rephrase the question.

“Not at first. I would not have said so. Only later when we followed Cambor to Joseph Cartwright’s house.”

“Could you explain that for the Jury?”

“When we got to the house we both entered through the front porch, the door of which was open. We heard the sound of a struggle, a woman’s voice screaming.” He paused to glance over at Joe, wishing he could spare the younger man from what he had to say, “I thought he was behind me when I went in. I saw Cambor and yelled at him to stop, or I would fire…Which I did, wounding him enough for him to release Mrs Cartwright.”

“And where was Sheriff Blakeley?”

“Not where I had expected. He had left and gone to the back of the house. His shot was fired with my own…but he shot Cambor in the back.”

“Was that unavoidable?”

“At first I thought so, it was the way Cambor had moved, perhaps twisted his body so that it got him in the back but ..no, he was shot deliberately in the back. We warned him, he knew we were there, his movement was due to my gunshot wounding him, there was no need for Blakeley to shoot at all, although..”

“Objection“ Myers jumped up, “That statement is detrimental to my witness‘s reputation. Sheriff Carney more or less accused Sheriff Blakeley of deliberate murder.”

McCluskey sighed and scowled, he nodded “Could you clarify that statement, Sheriff Carney and be careful how you phrase it.”

“Cambor was dying, the first words he said was ‘You shot me.’ It was a question …but why ask it.? And he sounded surprised…”

Blakeley rose to his feet “of course he was surprised, he didn’t expect to be shot for what he was doing..did he?”

McCluskey banged the gavel and ordered Blakeley to sit down and restrain himself. Then he turned to Nate “I have to admit I’m puzzled as to why this seems so important, Sheriff Carney. Unfortunate though it was that the man was shot in such a manner, it does seem a quite legitimate comment for a dying man to make.?”

“I’m sorry if I can’t convey what I mean as clearly as I would wish, your honour. It’s just that he didn’t sound as though he meant it in that way, it was more as though he hadn’t expected Blakeley to be the shooter.”

McCluskey shook his head and looked over to the Jury ” I would advise the Jury to ignore what has been said, obviously one cannot take a dying man’s words and twist them to suit oneself …”

“In that case, Your Honour,” Nate said immediately “we can cast doubt on the rest of what Cambor said to Sheriff Blakeley.”

McCluskey raised his eyebrows and looked at Hiram, who immediately asked Nate to explain, McCluskey leaned back, a posture he seemed to adapt when he seemed to want to distance himself from the evidence being given

“Blakeley asked Cambor about his friendship with the accused, which Cambor confirmed as having been from childhood…he, Blakeley, then said to Cambor that he had been in Blakesville some weeks back..which Cambor confirmed. Cambor then said how he saw Joe at the cabin. They were his last words “I saw Joe at the cabin”. But he didn’t say when he had seen him, nor that Joe was in the cabin…” he paused then shrugged “But if we can ignore the first words a dying man makes, why take any notice of the last ones he utters, which are equally as vague as the first?”

McCluskey involuntarily clenched his fists, anger flashed over his countenance and for an instant he couldn’t speak. Then he banged the gavel to stop the rumble of words that were coming from the audience, leaned forward and said “Strike those words from the record. Sheriff Carney you can step down..”

Chapter 65

Nate glanced over at Hiram and crooked an eyebrow. He was satisfied with what he had done however and strolled past the audience with a slight smile on his face. Hiram, however, observed the Judge with a look on his face that McCluskey had the wit to realise could be his undoing. He gathered his thoughts together and nodded over to the lawyer,

“Do you have another witness?” he modulated his voice, once again pleasant and in control.

“Yes, Your Honour. If I may ask Ben Cartwright to the stand.” Hiram replied but he turned away from looking in the Judge’s direction in order not to become too distracted by thoughts that could be injurious to his cross examination.

Ben was surprised to have been summoned but took the oath and answered the questions from Meyers and Hiram with a respectful demeanour. They were few, merely a confirmation of his reasons for having left Virginia City when, as Meyers put it, a fine competent Sheriff was already handling the case.

Ben’s reply was that he wanted to prove his son’s innocence, and he had no confidence in the way Blakeley was handling it.

“This so called woman for whom you have been searching…does she really exist?” Meyers asked politely, almost too much so for Ben felt irritated by the man and it caused him to fidget but when he replied in the affirmative it was with his usual authoritative voice.

“She does.”

“Did you see her footprint that was supposed to have started off this wild goose chase?”

“I did not.”

“Then why spend all this time looking for someone who in all probability does not exist.” and at the conclusion of this comment Meyers rather theatrically raised his arms in the air in a gesture of futility.

“My sons said she did…and true enough, she may have nothing to do with this matter, but until we find her, we won’t know. If she was there …if we can confirm it…then she is a key witness to the murder of Jericho Silverman, and to the identity of the men who carried out the murders in the cabin.”

“If! – If! – Mr Cartwright…” and Meyers returned to his seat, shaking his head. He looked over at the Jury as he passed them and gave a gesture of disdain, but the Jury were too engrossed to take much notice of his dramatics now.

Hiram stood up and from his chair asked Ben if they had actual proof of this womans’ existence. Ben nodded and smiled slightly

“We have a name ..Lily Goldbaum.” he noticed the way Blakeley jerked, almost as though suddenly he had woken up from a deep sleep, “She hired a rig and drove out of this town, returning a while later …with a passenger. A male passenger.”

The hum and buzz in the audience took a while to silence, McCluskey’s gavel finally silenced them. Once there was quiet in the courtroom Hiram continued with the questions although from the corner of his eye he noticed that the Judge was getting restless, tapping his fingers upon the desk top and keeping his head bowed down.

“With regard to Jerry Cambor…you must have known him as a youth?”

“I did.” Ben nodded and sighed, “He and Joe were school friends for a while.”

“A good friend?” Hiram asked now, tapping his chin thoughtfully with his pen.

“Not really. If by that adjective you would mean a loyal steadfast friend..or even a close friend. He was just one pupil at the school whom Joe knew … perhaps acquaintance would have been a fairer description.”

“This attack upon your daughter in law ..you were there?”

“Yes.”

“Who fired the first shot that killed Cambor?”

Ben paused to think, his dark eyes hooded over and he stared at the floor before he raised them to Hiram “Sheriff Carney must have done, he fired and shot the man in the arm, Cambor recoiled, released Mary Ann, then the other shot got him in the back…”

“Not simultaneous then?”

“Not enough…but could have been thought to have been if one hadn’t realised that Mary Ann was already free before Cambor got the shot in the back.”

“Did you hear what he said?”

“I heard him say that he had seen Joe at the cabin, I remember thinking that was just what Blakeley needed to hear, he would use it as proof …” he stopped when McCluskey thumped his gavel down and warned him not to venture into supposition.

But it was enough. Ben stepped down to be replaced by Hoss Cartwright who glared at Meyers before taking his seat..

The matter of the footprint was raised, suddenly the woman had become more interesting than the discussion of the murders, everyone wanted to know more about her and craned their necks to hear the evidence Hoss gave…which he provided in his usual matter of fact manner, explaining how they found the footprint, followed it through the woodland, if one could call it that, to the road where it was seen again. He could confirm seeing it along with his brothers, and Grant Tombs, the son of the murdered couple.

Meyers commented dryly that it seemed very strange that this footprint appeared weeks later, after the murders, and no one had seen it until they had come along…surely it could have belonged to any passing female. Hoss once again fixed the man with an icy stare from his pale blue eyes and observed that he, Meyers, obviously hadn’t spent a life time tracking and understanding prints whereas he had…Meyers then shrugged that off and asked why the Cartwrights had decided to follow up the case so assiduously when the law was doing the best they could to find the murderer.

“Well, sir, seems to me the law seemed to be doing its best to prove my brother was the murderer. We want to prove that he isn’t.”

“Do you have any doubts about that yourself? Is that what you are saying? That you doubt your brothers innocence?”

“Objection,” Hiram cried immediately, but Hoss shook his head before McCluskey could speak,

“I know my brother is innocent but if I have to climb up to the moon to prove it for you and the jury and Sheriff Blakeley, then I will.”

A murmur of approval trickled through the audience and it was at that point that Adam returned and as quietly as he could, resumed his seat. Ben gave him a stern look, then looked again at his son’s mud splattered appearance and from the smell of him, which gave evidence of a hard ride. Adam merely removed his hat, wiped his brow and nodded to his father as though to assure him that all was well.

He had already scribbled a note that he had handed the Bailiff when he had arrived back. He now watched as it was handed over to Hiram who read it and looked startled, then nodded. Meyers had turned to Hiram to turn the witness’ cross examination to him but Hiram shook his head

“I have no further questions for this witness at this time.” he replied but in such a subdued voice that Meyers frowned and looked at him before turning to Hoss and telling him he could step down but to remember he was still under oath.

Meyers now requested that Grant Tombs come forward. The name bounced around the court room until there was silence. McCluskey addressed the audience “Does anyone know where Grant Tombs is?”

“He isn’t here, that’s for sure.” some wit yelled back and there was a chuckle of laughter as a result.

Hiram stood up “I’d like to ask Adam Cartwright to the stand…”

Blakeley was now chewing his nails and Forsyth sat beside him ram rod straight, his eyes fixed to a point above McCluskey’s head. Adam took his seat and was sworn in. Meyers asked the questions he had previously asked Ben and Hoss, which made the audience and the Jury restless and fidgety.

Meyeres sighed and shook his head as though trying to shake off the mutterings from the audience “This woman…do you believe she could really exist and could she really be of assistance to anyone in this case?”

“She did exist.” Adam replied, “We had her name from when she hired out a rig from the livery in this town..her name was Lily Goldbaum.”

“And what possible help could she be in this case?”

“Well, Lily Goldbaum ran a brothel in Blakesville…so Sheriff Blakeley would have known her.” Adam shot a dark look in the direction of the lawman who was scowling from dark brows back at him, “She hired the rig to collect a man and bring him here. We assumed that she then went onto Genoa. But she did not.”

“Oh, she didn’t? So, this mystery woman, disappeared again, did she? Where would she reappear next I wonder!” and Meyers turned to the Jury, eyebrows raised in mock humour.

The men on the jury fidgeted, Adam waited for the man to turn back towards him before saying ..

“I can tell you, Mr Meyers….she only went as far as Blakesville, and that’s where I found her body just a short while ago.”

Meyers stopped in his tracks, his mouth open..Blakeley gave a sound from his throat that made no sense at all, and Forsyth seemed to have frozen in his chair. For a moment there was just a stillness in the court room before Hiram stood up and asked Adam to clarify the statement.

“Lilian Goldbaum was found hanging in a room in the house she had used as a brothel in Blakesville. Dr Abbott confirms that her death was by strangulation, the Deputy was a witness to the body being cut down …”

“Suicide?” Meyers now asked,

“Murder.” Adam replied.

McCluskey banged down the gavel and yelled for order as the noise reached a crescendo. He looked at Forsyth, who stared at a point above the Judge’s head. Blakeley looked stunned, as well he might.

“Are you sure it was murder, Mr Cartwright?” Meyers stammered.

Adam drew in his breath, and nodded “Her legs were tied together, which perhaps she could have done herself, but it would have made kicking a chair away very difficult. Even more so when the chair still standing in the corner of the room and was no where near the body. Dr Abbott concluded that she had been strangled, and then hanged to make it appear like suicide.”

“A rather clumsy attempt if you say the chair was nowhere near the body.” Meyers muttered thoughtfully.

“Or a very arrogant one.” Adam replied quietly.
……………..

The trial was adjourned to the next day when Joseph Cartwright would be cross examined. The townspeople left the court room wondering how a dead woman in Blakesville could have suddenly become more prominent in the proceedings than the actual murder victims, and then reminded themselves that she too, had been a victim herself.

In McCluskeys suite he removed his court clothes and poured himself something to drink, then walked over to the window to stare out over the town. He had to think of gaining some credibility in the charge against Cartwright, Lily’s death had come at the wrong time, and coupled with the disposal of young Myra he felt a slight flutter of dismay at how quickly things could go wrong.

Forsyth slipped into the room like a shadow, and closed the door behind him. He joined McCluskey at the window and then shrugged,

“She was becoming a nuisance.” he said coldly. “Making demands…”

“She gave her name to the livery manager. How could you have let her get away with that?”

“She said it was insurance. Someone would remember eventually if she happened to have an accident…”

“And the suicide? You bungled that…”

Forsyth shrugged “No one who knew Lily would have believed it anyway. I had hoped it would buy us some time.”

“It hasn’t. Cartwright was right. It was arrogant.”

There was silence between them for a while, Forsyth walked to a table and poured himself some whiskey “What do you intend to do? Carry on with this charade to get Cartwright hanged for murder?”

“Yes. His involvement with Cambor was – is – useful. So long as he doesn’t remember anything more than he already has, which isn’t much.”

Forsyth nodded and sipped the whiskey, “And if he does…start remembering I mean?”

“If he does, then you can deal with it..less arrogantly this time.”

Forsyth nodded and was about to turn aside when McCuskey grabbed his arm “I’m not satisfied with you, Forsyth, you’ve made too many mistakes just lately. Be careful you don’t make any more.”

Forsyth’s response to that was merely a very thin smile, his cold shark like eyes didn’t flicker nor show any emotion at all. He drank his whiskey and put the empty glass down by the decanter, then turned and left the room.
……………

The knock on the door came just as Adam was driving Hoss crazy by pacing the floor, and Ben was finally forced to silence because he couldn’t think of anything further to say,

Every explanation Adam had given as to why he had left to go to see an empty house in Blakesville had only given Ben more fuel for the fire…more questions, more allegations and accusations…”Didn’t you realise by now your brother’s life is on the line?” or “What tom fool idea did you have in your head to go riding off like that?” or “That Judge is crazy, he doesn’t seem the fair minded man Hiram told me to expect, he’ll hang your hide out to dry over this stunt of yours.”

Then the knock came and stopped the recriminations as Hoss went to open the door.

A young man stood there, holding his hat against his chest and smiling blandly, he looked at the three of them and nodded,

“I believe you are expecting me? I’m a friend of Jolyon Pitt. Mr Pinkerton contacted me to introduce myself to you.” he extended his hand and shook Hoss’, then stepped into the room and waited for Hoss to close the door “Charles Taverner.”

The three men looked at him as though he had dropped from the sky, then Ben nodded and shook Taverner’s hand “Come in, Mr Taverner. To be honest, I had forgotten all about you.”

Taverner smiled and nodded, he flipped his hat onto the chest of drawers and then shook Adam’s hand “You certainly put the cat among the pigeons, Mr Cartwright. What made you go to Blakesville in the first place?”

“The house…” Adam shrugged, “Just a feeling I had that it was relevant. Now it seems I found the woman we were looking for, but – “ he shook his head and rubbed the nape of his neck “it just seems to have made things more complicated.”

Taverner sat down and crossed one leg over the other, making sure the creases of his pants were not mussed up by his doing so. “That’s because it is a complicated business.”

“You see,” Adam walked back to the window,, stared out into the darkness, and then paced back to a chair in which Hoss was sitting, biting his nails. “I can’t understand how the woman got on the coach to Genoa, but ended up in Blakesville? And – I sent Roy and young Grant off to San Francisco on a wild goose chase looking for a woman who has nothing to do with this whatsoever!”

“Yeah,” Hoss nodded “A bit like that shell game…you know, where you have to find the pea under the shell, only when you think you see it, it ain’t there.”

“That’s because it isn’t.” Taverner smiled and nodded, “Actually that’s a very good summary of what’s happened.”

“It is?” Hoss exclaimed and his blue eyes widened, he looked at Adam and grinned, looked smug then his smile faded as it was exchanged for a puzzled frown, “How come?”

Ben pulled a chair closer to Taverner, and sat down, “Mr Taverner, there seem to be a lot of threads to this matter that we know nothing about, and it seems to be getting more confused as the day goes by. I contacted Pitt because we felt that there had to be some event in Tombs past that would have led to their deaths. For some reason it just wasn’t straightforward enough to be a robbery that had gone wrong. Plus, of course, we wanted to help Joe … “ he rubbed his fingers across his mouth as though to rub out some emotion that had risen to the surface as he thought of his son, “and, there were the Blairs…”

“Ah yes, the Blairs.” Taverner nodded and looked at Adam “You thought there was something more involved in their moving away, didn’t you?”

“Not at first.” Adam replied glumly, he shrugged and turned to stare at the far wall as though it held more answers than he could give the man smiling so confidently at them.

“But you sent your brothers to loo