If Marie Had Lived… (by Krystyna) – Bonanza Brand FanFiction Library (2023)

IF MARIE HAD LIVED… and Ben had died… (May – September 2006)

Rating: T (225,640 words)

If Marie Had Lived

Joseph Cartwright scowled slightly, and then, having turned his back upon the woman seated in the big red leather chair, he surveyed his brothers, “Well? Haven’t either of you anything to say?”

Adam Cartwright sighed and pursed his lips, while his black brows arched over his dark eyes, he turned to his brother, Hoss, who hemmed and hawed a little before standing up, “Thing is, Ma, have you really thought this through? I mean, I know the guy’s good looking an’ all, but, dang it, you’ve only known him a few weeks.”

“I didn’t know your father very long either, Hoss, but I knew I loved him.” Marie Cartwright smiled and reached out an elegant hand towards the glass of wine which stood on the table close to the chair.

“But,” Adam sat down upon the arm of the long settee, and looked at his step-mother thoughtfully, “Pa was rather different from David Carter.”

“True enough.” Marie nodded slowly, and sipped the wine while a furrow creased her brow. She had anticipated some opposition to this news, and had worked out, in her mind, exactly what she was going to say. She had arranged for Hop Sing to cook all of Hoss’ favourite things, had provided the best wine for Adam, and been particularly loving and sweet towards Joe. Now the hard work was beginning, trying to convince these three young men that David Carter was a suitable husband for her.

Of course no one could ever compare with Ben. How could they possibly compare with a man who had everything a woman looked for, hoped for, in a husband? She had been spoilt in her choice of a husband, she knew that, and she also knew that no man could ever be as handsome, nor as charming, nor … well, no man could match Ben.

But she had been a widow now for twelve years and she wanted to be loved again. Not as a mother, not as a respected member of the community, but as a woman. How could she explain that to these three men who had been her lifeline since Ben’s death?

Dearest, sweetest Joe. She had loved and protected him fiercely during his childhood and now he was a man. A handsome man and as charming as his father. Fickle in love too. Oh how the girls loved him. She smiled as she looked at him, and could see his face softening as he caught her glance. Had she been any young woman in town she would have angled to catch him for a husband too.

Adam … well, he had always been stubborn as a mule, and as proud as his father of this Ponderosa of theirs. She knew that without him by her side the whole thing would have collapsed around their ears. There had been years, after Ben had died, when there had been practically open war between the Ponderosa and the cattle barons, the silver mine owners, in town. The Ponderosa had been attacked, men had been ambushed, shot, paid off, the woodland had been set fire to, the cattle stampeded, water holes poisoned…and yet Adam had been the rock that had withstood it all.

Handsome too, with those dark eyes and that black hair. But he was single minded, just like Ben, and to him the Ponderosa and his brothers came first. Now she thought, he would most likely feel she was betraying them all, even Ben, after all this time.

Hoss had been her constant friend and companion, easy to talk to, quick to understand. Surely he would see how much she needed someone again in her life? Hoss, with his big heart, would understand that she needed to be loved again?

“David’s a good man, he’s honest and generous and kind.” she smiled at them all in turn, to give weight to her words.

“He’s a Banker.” Hoss said thoughtfully.

“That’s not his fault, ” Adam said with a smirk, and they laughed, but not with mirth.

“He doesn’t know anything about running a ranch, especially the Ponderosa.” Joe remarked, looking at his mother uneasily, “Ma, are you sure you ain’t just being swept off your feet by this guy?”

“Yeah, he’s a bit of a dude, ain’t he? Could be you ain’t thinkin’ straight ‘cos of his looks.” Hoss muttered.

“Do I look that empty headed?” Marie snapped, “I’m not a silly child looking to some man for vanity’s sake.”

“Then what are you looking for?” Joe asked anxiously.

“I’m -,” Marie paused and then looked away, and stared at the fire. What was she looking for? Love, wasn’t it?

“I know it hasn’t been easy,” Adam said in that drawl of his, one he would use whenever he was trying to placate or reason with her, “and I know it has been twelve years now since Pa was killed in that ambush, but…”

“But?” Marie said acidly.

“Pa gave his life to building up the Ponderosa, to making it what it is today. He fought to provide for us, and we’ve had to fight too. Over the years we’ve lost men, been wounded, been a hairs breadth from losing the Ponderosa, but we’ve managed to win through. Pa’s driving force, his strength, his ambition …call it what you will … has kept us together, united, Cartwrights and the Ponderosa. But, that will all end if you marry David Carter.”

She looked at him closely, her green eyes blazed into his brown ones. He doesn’t understand, she told herself, he doesn’t understand how much I miss Ben, how much I miss a man holding me in his arms and telling me he loves me. Adam can’t see beyond the Ponderosa.

“Ma?” Joe chipped in now, “What do you see in this guy anyway? He’s a banker, and he’s only been in Virginia City for a year. What exactly do you know about him?”

“I know everything I need to, thank you, Joseph.” she snapped, and turned away, it annoyed her more than anything the way Joe could be so obstinate, and why did he always have to put his feet up on the table? “Take your feet off the table, Joseph.”

“Yes, Ma, sorry.”

“Ma, if you feel sure you love him, and he loves you, you’ve got my backing, you know that, don’t’cha?” Hoss smiled at her, his blue eyes softening, “Of course, it won’t be like Pa being here but …” he sighed, and glanced up to the big portrait of Ben that hung above the hearth.

“He won’t have any controlling power over the Ponderosa, you know that, don’t you?” Adam’s voice was sharp, “If he starts trying to interfere …”

“He won’t. I won’t let him.” Marie said quickly.

They were silent then. Each one of them glanced quickly at the face of Ben Cartwright, and remembered the man they loved. Missed him all over again. Wished, oh wished so much, that it had been different … that it had been anyone other than him.

Chapter 2

Marie Cartwright could hear the sounds of ‘the boys’ as they settled down to sleep in their respective rooms. How many years now had she stayed downstairs by the dying fire, with a glass of wine in one hand and a book in the other, and listened to those now so familiar sounds.

Looking up at the portrait of her husband, she recalled the nights after his death. Her loneliness and personal heart ache had been set to one side as she dealt with the problems of her little boy.

Five year old Joseph Francis had been distraught at the loss of his father and night times had been a continuing nightmare for them all. Night terrors befell him, wild tormenting dreams, bed wetting, sleep walking … she recalled it all vividly now and shuddered. Night after night she would sit with him in her arms and rock him back to sleep as he moaned and cried for Ben. By the time his grief had finally worked its way through his system she discovered that all she had been left with was a rock in her chest, a solid rock of sadness, loneliness and misery.

Over the years she watched her little boy mature and grow into a fine man. Rash and hot headed though he was, he was loving and charming, kind and generous. In her eyes he was how she imagined her Ben could well have been when he had been Joe’s age. Now as she listened to the sounds of his footsteps overhead, the sound of the bed creaking, she could smile wistfully, and hope that he would continue to grow into the kind of man that would have made his father’s heart glad.

A door closed with a sharp bang, and firm footsteps came as an echo to Joe’s. She lowered her head with a sigh. Adam.

The evening before Ben had died they had talked about Adam. She had sat beside Ben with her head on his shoulder and his arm around her, and they had made plans for this youth. Intelligent, literate, clear minded, Adam Cartwright was not destined to be just another rancher’s son, he was going to go to college. Oh yes, that had been the plan. They had been as excited as children as they had worked out a scheme to pay for Adam’s education at one of the colleges back East. She could remember the look of pride on her husband’s face as they decided on what college it would be, and at what age Adam could leave home to attend there.

Then, the next day, Adam had ridden into the yard with Buck on a leading rein and his father’s body across the saddle. There had never been time or thought since about a college education. Adam had never mentioned it, had never indicated a desire for it, and she had never bothered to tell him about Ben’s grand plans for his first born son.

She stood up now and reached out a hand to gently touch the outlines of the face in the picture.

“Oh Ben, Ben …” she whispered, “I’ve missed you so much.”

Time rolled by as she looked at the picture…time took her back to that morning. She saw everything so clearly . Hop Sing drawing water from the well. Joseph was chasing a chicken, laughing his high pitched little boy’s gurgle of a laugh, and Hoss had been grooming his horse.

“Pa’s home, “ Hoss had announced as the sound of hoof beats were heard, and they had looked towards where they would come, Ben and Adam.

Her heart had flipped as usual, and she had put down the watering can and turned to run towards him. But when the two horses entered the yard they had stood there as though frozen into ice statues. She could remember her heart freezing over, and no sound, nothing, from anyone, just the hoof beats coming towards them.

Hop Sing had moved first and had caught Joe up in his arms and ran into the house with the child, who, in bewilderment had called out for his Ma. Hoss had stood there, unable to move. She remembered walking to him, no, not walking, staggering, and leaning against him, and feeling his hand groping for hers and holding it tightly. The pain of that clenched hand had kept her from losing her sense and screaming out loud.

Then Adam had almost fallen from the saddle and turned towards them.

Marie shuddered again. She could never, would never, forget the terrible look of anguish, dismay, disbelief, on the young man’s face. Fear as well, she remembered that, in his dark eyes, there had been intense fear. And no one wanted to move. No one wanted to go near Ben and see for themselves what they knew was true.

“What happened?” and still Hoss was squeezing her hand too tightly, “What happened to your father?”

“Ambush. Down by Goose Creek. Some men shot at us, Pa blocked the path so that …” the young man’s face had crumpled, and he had put his hand to his face to smother the sob that had welled up from the pit of his stomach.

Now she turned away from the picture. She poured herself another glass of wine. There was no point in going through it all over again. She knew that beyond that moment, when Adam had crumpled up, everything blurred and she could remember nothing.

She recognised now the sounds of Hoss getting into bed. Very soon she would hear the first snores as the healthy strong young body slipped into sleep. Dear Hoss, gentle Hoss. He had held her hand throughout the funeral, and said nothing. He had sat with her in the evenings, those first lonely evenings, reached out for her hand, and said no word. He had just got on with living. But she had heard him weeping, sometimes in the stable when currying the horses, or in his room, weeping for the father he loved and had lost.

They had all pulled together to help Joe. Loved him, protected him, perhaps pampered him too much. It had done him no harm. He had grown, and so had they, because that was what life was all about. You just have to get on and live it, just differently, that’s all.


“So what do you think about it, Adam?” Hoss said quietly, as they rode together towards town. “Do you think Ma will be okay with this Carter?”

“I don’t see why not.” Adam replied, and knit his brows together, so that they beetled across his brow, a black line of doubt and anxiety, “He’s always appeared to be a pleasant enough man.” He turned to look at Hoss, and smiled, “What do you think about it, Hoss?”

“Kind of uncomfortable. Life will be different,” the younger man replied, “Ma’s always been so strong and responsible, it doesn’t seem right her getting married.”

“Strong and responsible women get married all the time. So do beautiful, rich women.” Adam said softly.

“Yeah, I guess.” Hoss nodded, “Ma is beautiful. She is rich too.”

“Carter won’t know a thing about the Ponderosa. But I daresay it won’t take him long to tell us how to run it.”

“Do you think so?” Hoss frowned, and his mouth tightened slightly.

“It’s impossible for a man to resist the temptation, isn’t it?” Adam shrugged, “He’ll be fine for a while, and then he’ll start making suggestions, and then -.” he paused, and shook his head, “Sorry, Hoss, I shouldn’t say those kind of things, I don’t know the man well enough to be judgemental of him.”

“I can’t figure out why she wants to marry anyhow.” Hoss muttered, “Pa – ,well, Pa was a good husband and I’d have thought she’d never find any man as good as Pa.”

“She won’t. She hasn’t.” Adam sighed again, “But it has been twelve years, Hoss, and she must be wanting a man in her life again. She’s not a young woman anymore and it must feel good to be told that she’d loved.”

“I tell her I love her almost every day,” Hoss said honestly, looking at his brother with his blue eyes implying that that should be quite sufficient for any woman.

“It isn’t the same kind of love though.” Adam said, and pulled his hat lower to shade his eyes, a signal to his brother that he wanted to be alone with his thoughts now.

Adam found it hard to put his thoughts into any coherent order. Sleep had eluded him entirely and now his mind was back to the endless grind of going round and round, from beginning to end, from possibilities to positives to negatives and back again. One moment he was pleased for Marie, if she wanted to find happiness once again and had that opportunity opened to her, then she should grab it with both hands. The next moment he felt as though a yawning abyss was stretched out before them all. They were teetering on the very edge and should Marie marry, then the Ponderosa and the Cartwrights would plunge to the depths and be no more.

He examined himself in order to prove to himself that he was not being judgemental of Marie or David Carter. He wanted to feel sure that there was no personal reason why he should oppose Marie’s marriage. Yet within himself he could hear his own voice screaming at her not to proceed into such a rash and damaging commitment.

They had spent twelve years fighting to survive. Twelve years in making the Ponderosa the biggest outfit in Nevada, and the most prosperous. They had fought all manner of opponents together … weather, natural elements, poverty, crooks, murderers. He could recall times when Marie had stood shoulder to shoulder with them, rifle aimed, to ward off possible threats. Now the worse kind of evil had fallen upon them in the name of love. How could he fight against that, knowing that Marie would be on the opposite side?

“Are you really worried about it?” Hoss asked suddenly, his voice cutting through Adam’s thoughts and making him jump in startled awareness of just how far they had travelled in the time they had ceased speaking.

“Yes, Hoss. To be honest, I am.”

“But you want Marie to be happy, don’t you?”

“Sure, sure I do.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

Adam shook his head. How could he explain to Hoss that the problem was staring them in the face. The Ponderosa could be lost. All that they had fought for, all that Ben had died for, could be lost and all because of a stranger walking into their lives. A stranger taking Ben’s place. A shiver ran down Adam’s back. How could Marie think a stranger could ever replace Ben Cartwright?

They dismounted in town and tied the reins of their horses to the hitching rail outside the Bucket of Blood. For a moment Adam hesitated, and then glanced over to the First National Bank.

“I think we should get to know Mr Carter better, don’t you?” he suggested to his brother.
“Shucks, do you think we should?” Hoss’ brow crinkled in concern. The last thing he wanted was a confrontation with Mr Carter in the bank. It would be far more preferable to meet him over one of Hop Sings meals at the Ponderosa, when everyone would be relaxed.

“I think we should, Hoss.”

Hoss nodded, unable to withstand the intensity of Adams dark gaze and together they crossed the road. Adam pushed open the doors of the Bank and glanced about him. He had only met Carter twice before, but it was not difficult to locate the man seated at a desk at the far corner of the room.

David Carter was tall, and dark. In the moment it took for Adam to survey the man he could see why Marie would be attracted to him. There were similarities of look with Ben. The same broad shoulders, dark skin, dark eyes. His hair was greying, with white at the temples, and in all fairness to him, he looked distinguished and handsome. When he turned, and smiled at them, Adam could see it was a genuinely warm and welcoming smile. When he gestured to them to advance the motion was expansive, and generous.

They pulled out some chairs and sat down, setting their hats upon the desk and crossing their legs, unconsciously shutting themselves off. David Carter surveyed them and smiled. He pushed his chair back and leaned against it, watching them both with a smile on his lips.

“I take it Marie has told you our news?”

His voice was pleasant. Higher pitched than Bens, but then most men’s voices were, Bens magnificent deep brown voice was unique to himself.

“That you intend to marry? Yes, she told us last night.”

“She was rather nervous about it. You’ve all been a close family unit for a long time.”

“Yes, that’s right.” Adam brushed some dust from his pants and sighed, “Very close.”

“And have you come to convey a welcome to the family or to warn me off?” David’s smile was not quite as warm, and his eyes held a glint in them that even Hoss was not particularly comfortable with upon noticing it. He gave his brother a swift look, just to make sure he wasn’t imagining things.

“It came as a surprise. We hadn’t realised you knew each other so well.” Adam replied smoothly, looking David coldly in the eyes.

“We actually go back quite a way. I knew Marie’s first husband in New Orleans and met her on her wedding day. She, of course, being so in love with Jean did not remember me, but I could never forget her. I moved on from there, of course.” he smiled as though apologising for the fact, although it really was irrelevant, “Eventually I came here, and met her when she came to the Bank to make a deposit. I recognised her immediately of course.”

“And, did she recognise you?”

“No, no, of course not, why should she? I met her only once, as I said, on her wedding day.. She was deeply in love with her husband and caught up with the whole event of the day. I was a total stranger to her then, and was so still, when I met her here a few months ago.”

“And you’ve been seeing her ever since?” Hoss asked, wondering in the depth of his mind why Marie had never mentioned it to them before now.

“Oh yes, once I told her who I was, and how I had met her before, and how we had almost been neighbours when she was first married, for I became the Manager of a Bank in Baton Rouge.”

“So you knew a lot about Marie and her marriage to Jean?” Adam said quietly.

“I heard all the local gossip, if that is what you mean, Mr Cartwright.” David’s eyes flicked over to the younger man, “I knew about her son, Clay.”

“Her son?” Adam and Hoss chorused.

“Oh. I’m sorry. Have I committed a faux pas?”

“You said she had a son called Clay. What happened to him?” Adam asked tensely.

David Carter shrugged his shoulders, and shook his head,

“I don’t know. Jean disappeared. The baby vanished. Marie endured a time of …” he paused as though searching for the right word, “well, difficult times, you understand?”

“And then she met our Pa and married him,” Adam said quietly.

“Yes, but I had left Baton Rouge by then. I had married myself, a nice quiet girl. We moved away to Charleston. She died a few years later and I have remained single ever since.”

Neither Cartwright said a word as they sat and absorbed the facts as he told them. Then Adam shook himself out of his reverie and stood up,

“I guess we’ll be seeing quite a bit more of you then, Mr Carter, at the Ponderosa?”

“Yes, I imagine that you will, Mr Cartwright.” he smiled and stood up, a man as tall as Adam and with eyes just as dark. “Believe me, both of you, I’m marrying your step-mother, I’m not trying to take your father’s place.”

Adam arched one dark eyebrow and half turned, paused and looked at the man,

“There wouldn’t be any point in trying, Mr Carter, that’s one place you could never fill.”

The two men walked out of the building without a backward glance, although they could feel his eyes boring into their backs as they walked away. Once outside Hoss released his breath, frowned and looked at Adam with a puzzled expression on his face,

“Hey, d’you know what, Adam, I actually don’t like that guy.”

Chapter 3

Joseph had the fidgets. Like his brother Adam, his mind had been in turmoil since his mother had announced her intention to marry David Carter. He had intended to ride into town and meet the man, tell him face to face to leave his mother alone and keep out of their lives, but he had been delegated chores that kept him to the south of the Ponderosa. Working alone and having no one to talk out his frustrations and anxieties created turmoil within him, so by the time he arrived home at the end of the day, he was far from happy.

Marie was sitting at the desk working on the ledgers when the door slammed shut. She paused in her calculations, and waited to hear the footsteps of the man who had entered. She smiled when she recognised Joe’s feet upon the floorboards and stood up to greet him,

“Hello, darling, have you had a hard day? You look tired?” she reached out a hand towards him, to touch his tanned skin and, as many a mother before her, reassure him of her love by that simple gesture.

“I am tired,” Joe pulled away, rejecting the motion and the feeling behind it, “I couldn’t sleep last night.”

“Was that because of what I had told you, about David and I?”


“Oh, what else would have kept you awake?” Marie replied, and sat down to await the disclosure with as much sangfroid as she could muster.

“What would happen to the Ponderosa?” Joe blurted out.

“How do you mean? Nothing would happen to the Ponderosa. Things would just carry on as usual, of course.” she stared at him wide eyed in surprise.

“No, no they won’t, mother.” Joseph’s eyes flashed, and he shook his head, “It can’t stay the same if you marry.”

Marie sighed and leaned back against the comfortable leather studded chair back, she looked down at the ledgers and shook her head,

“Joseph, I’m marrying a Banker, and he hasn’t the slightest interest in the Ponderosa.”

“Why not?”

“Why not?” she repeated his words as though surprised to hear them, “But – why should he be? He doesn’t know anything about ranching.”

“That hasn’t stopped others wanting to take over the Ponderosa. We’ve fought to keep them off our land, Ma, but I didn’t expect them to come in through the back door.”

“Don’t be insolent, Joseph.” Marie snapped, her own eyes flashing now.

“Well, it’s true, isn’t it? Do you really expect us to believe that a banker, a store keeper, any man, would not want to be more involved in the Ponderosa other than marrying the owner of it, and living on it?”

“I don’t like your tone, young man.” Marie raised her voice sharply, “I don’t like your insinuations.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t realise I was making any insinuations. I thought I was just stating a fact.” Joe snapped back in return.

Marie stopped to take stock of the situation. Her response she could now see had been overly emotional, and defensive. She looked at her son and remembered how young he was still, barely 17 years of age, and his memories of Ben were such that he idolised the man. She sat down slowly, and bowed her head,

“Joe, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have replied like that, it was unkind of me. Tell me why you are so worried and let us see what we can arrange between us to keep everything harmonious and good between us?”

Joe took a deep breath and was about to speak when the sound of hoof beats intruded into the stillness of the room. He raised his eyebrows,

“Sounds like Adam and Hoss have come home. Perhaps we should wait until they get here before we talk any more about this.”

“That’s a good idea. Let’s go and sit where we can be more comfortable, instead of here in the study.”

She walked towards him, slipped her arm through his and together they walked towards the fireplace. Instinctively they both looked up to the picture of Ben, and she felt her son’s body tauten, and then he withdrew his arm.

Chapter 4

Adam and Hoss entered the house and became immediately aware of the atmosphere that existed between Marie and Joe. Rather hesitantly Adam took off his hat and began to untie his gun holster, glancing up and over at his step mother as he did so. Hoss, meanwhile, slapped down his hat and with a deep sigh, walked into the main body of the room,

“Everything alright?” he asked with a lack of tact that made Adam wince.

“No, not really.” Marie said quietly, looking from one to the other of them.

The three men, one of them her own flesh and blood, said nothing. It was as though they preferred her to start the ball rolling and it rankled in her mind that they would do so. She shook her head, as though to cast off the negative feelings she had, but in doing so she caught the glance that Hoss exchanged with Adam,

“Well, you may as well say whatever it is that you want to say,” she said with a note of weariness in her voice, “It’s obviously more important than my feelings.”

“Marie, it’s your feelings that we want to consider first and fore mostly” Adam replied, sitting down in the faded blue chair. He clasped his hands together almost in an attitude of prayer, and looked down at the rug, “We paid a visit to Mr Carter this morning and had a little chat with him about – about you and the Ponderosa.”

Marie fought to stop the blush mantle her cheeks, but her eyes brightened with tears,

“Why did you do that?” she asked quietly, “I was going to invite David here for a meal, so that we could relax together and get to know one another more.”

“It seemed an opportune time,” Adam replied, frowning slightly and feeling rather like a child having been scolded for some misdemenour.

“I thought so too,” Hoss said quickly, “After all, I ain’t never met this David Carter but more than twice before, and now that it seems he could be my step-father I wanted to meet him.”

Marie nodded, and sighed. She wrung her hands together in a gesture of despair, as though well aware that her reaching out for happiness was causing difficulties for them. She looked at Joe, pleading with him with her large eyes wet with tears,

“Ma, I want you to be happy. You know that we all want that more than anything in the world. It’s just that this has come so unexpected.” Joe responded, trying to quell the doubts and fears in his own heart by considering the turmoil in hers. “It’s just that I never thought that you would want to marry anyone else, after Pa.”

“I never thought I would want to either,” Marie said quietly, “I’ve had offers before, but no one has ever touched my heart as David has, and so it was always easy to refuse them.”

“I know that there have been other men in the past who have shown an interest in you, Marie.” Adam smiled slowly, “I’ve seen the way they look at you, with admiration and such, after all, you are still young and very attractive.”

She flashed him a brief smile, wondering if this was his attempt at reconciliation. Hoss sat on the arm of the settee, looking down at the rug, as though he had never noticed before the colours in it.

“That David Carter said he knew you before, in New Orleans.” he said gruffly.

“Yes, that’s right.” Marie agreed, realising that reconciliation or not, the subject was not going to go away that easily.

“He said that …” Hoss paused and looked over at Adam who was staring at the far wall, his lips pursed, as though not wishing to be part of the conversation, “He said that you had a son.”

Marie shot a look over at Joseph who had shot up from his seat, his eyes wide and accusing, his face one moment pale and the next, red.

“A son? You have another child, Ma?”

“I had a son. He died when still only days old. I was very ill, and was unaware that he had died until Jean told me. It was all long ago. There’s nothing secret or mysterious about it. There’s no point in pursuing that subject, Hoss, my little boy died without me really knowing him at all.”

“Did Pa know?” Joe asked, his hazel eyes full of confusion and anxiety.

“Of course he did. I had no secrets from your father.”

“But, you never said.” Joe pouted, much like he would when he had been a little boy, “You never told me about him.”

“There was nothing to tell. I was even too ill to remember him, except in a hazy way. Even that has blurred over the years.”

Joe shook his head, and frowned,

“How come that Mr Carter knew about him?” he asked.

“Because he did,” Marie shrugged slightly, “He was a friend of Jean’s from long ago. He knew about it. When old friends meet up, Joe, it is only natural to talk about the things they know about, things from the past.”

Joe said nothing to that, but scowled slightly, and looked away.

“It may be a good idea for you to invite David to the Ponderosa, Marie.” Adam said and stood up, “We need to get to know him better if your mind is set upon marrying him.”

“Adam, you make it sound like a business venture,” Marie met the dark eyes, and raised her eyebrows, “If I marry him, it’ll be a marriage.”

“Quite. Of course it will be. But for Hoss and I, it will be more than that, after all, he will be your husband, Joe’s step father. He won’t be anything other than your husband to us … and that involves business, because it will involve the Ponderosa.”

Marie stood up, and straightened her shoulders, and tilted her chin challengingly,

“Of course, it always comes down to the Ponderosa, doesn’t it?”

“Yes,” Adam replied looking at her intently, “Yes, for Hoss and I, it does, because that is all we will have left of our Father to hold onto … and Marie, we intend to hold onto it.”

“You make it sound as though marrying David will rob you of your rights. You know that won’t happen.”

“No, Marie, we don’t know. That’s the whole point, the whole problem, we don’t know.”


“Are you alright, Joe?”

Joseph looked over at the open door to his room, and at his eldest brother who stood in the gap, with an oil lamp in his hand casting a golden glow, like a halo, about his head.

“I feel all mixed up, Adam.”

“I guess we all do,” Adam agreed, stepping into the room and setting the oil lamp onto the table next to the bed, “It was rather disturbing news, wasn’t it?”

“I want my Ma to be happy, Adam, sure I do. But why does she have to get married? I thought she was happy with us as we were… we all got along just fine, didn’t we?”

“Yes, sure we did. But, I guess, well, I guess it just wasn’t enough. Time passes and we all get older. Love fades a little, and the grief passes, and leaves an emptiness that needs to be filled. Then someone comes along and fills that need. It’s only natural, Joe. Your Ma is a very lovely lady after all.”

“But I always thought I would look after her. I promised Pa at his funeral that I would always look after Ma.”

Adm nodded, and put a gentle hand on his brother’s arm, he could feel it tremble beneath his touch and sighed,

“One day you’ll marry and have children of your own. You’d expect Marie to accept that, wouldn’t you?”

“Yes, of course. But she would still be here, we would still look after her.”

“Perhaps she doesn’t want to be looked after by us, Joe. May be she wants to be able to love a man, and be part of all that again. We’re not children anymore, Joe, we’re men. Maybe she feels we don’t need her so much now, and that emptiness in her heart yearns for someone else to love now.”

“You’re talking as though you think she should marry. But, I thought, before, that you were against her marrying anyone.” Joe frowned, looking at his brother with a confused, perplexed look on his face.

Adam sighed and stood up, he passed his hand over the back of his head, smoothing the dark curls upon his neck as he did so, a slight frown furrowed his brow,

“I know. Talking to you like this and it all makes sense. I can feel for her, and understand what she needs and wants. Then I start thinking about other things, and that’s when everything gets mixed up. You see, Joe, Pa’s dream was to create the Ponderosa for us all. That dream was fulfilled, but he had to fight to keep it, and he died keeping it.”

“I know. I remember -.” Joe shivered, the memory of that awful day, although blurred, suddenly loomed large in his mind.

“He wanted the Ponderosa to be kept whole. For all of us. We had our share, of course. In his will Pa left us each a section of the Ponderosa for our own use should we marry or just want to branch off on our own. So long as the Ponderosa remained one complete whole unit then everything would keep Pa’s dream alive.”

“Ma’s marriage can’t change that, can it?”

“It could.” Adam said with a sigh, “That’s the problem, Joe, it could.”

They looked at one another for an instant, their eyes locked as they both thought of the man they had loved so much and who had died so brutally. Adam lowered his head,

“Pa didn’t have to die, Joe. If he had got his horse to clear the gully he would have got away. He moved his horse into the path of the bullets. He died to save my life. It was my fault that he died, Joe.”


“You’ve never said anything about this before,” Joe scanned his brother’s face thoughtfully,
“I can’t remember anything being said about it except that you were ambushed.”

“You were so young,” Adam sighed and sat down, and looked at Joe earnestly, “I can’t believe that I was just your age when it happened. It seems so long ago, and yet, just lately, it seems as though it were only yesterday.”

“Is that because of Ma?”

“I guess so,” Adam nodded.

“Does she know what happened ? I mean, when Pa was killed, did you tell Ma?”
“Of course. Roy knew as well. There seemed little point in making more of it than there was, after all, Pa was dead, and nothing seemed as important as that, not really.”

“So what did happen? Can you tell me?”

Adam said nothing for a fraction of a moment as he thought back to the day of Ben’s death. He could already feel the heat of the sun on his back, and the lightness in his heart. Everything seemed so good in the world just then. He was 17 years old, and Ben had told him that the previous evening he and Marie had been discussing whether or not to send Adam to college. They had decided, that if Adam wished to go, they would apply on his behalf right away. He could remember the excitement he had felt at the thought of going to college. He had gabbled his thanks, wanted reassurance that it was really, really, alright by them both, and that they really did not mind him going, no, not in the slightest.

He was whistling a tune when the first bullets were fired, and it was at this point that he began his narrative to Joe,

“I was whistling some tune, feeling happy and relaxed and Pa was riding by my side, smiling. We were heading for home after the branding. Pa had just said that he hoped Hoss hadn’t eaten all the supper as he could eat a horse he was that hungry, and then someone shot from the bushes as we passed them. I was startled not only by the crack of the rifle, but by the fact that they were shooting from behind. They were going to shoot us in the back.

“Pa yelled at me to ride ‘hell for leather’ he said, but I half turned my horse, and drew out my gun and fired into the bushes. There was an immediate response as bullets whistled all around us then, and by my estimate there were at least three men concealed there. Pa and I both fired even as we turned the horses for home and put spurs to their flanks to urge them on. Then there were gunshots from ahead of us, and we realised we were boxed in.

“”Head for the gully” Pa yelled and spun his horse so that he was riding back towards the first gunshooters. I called to him to come, to get out of there, but he rode on, firing into the bushes. I fired at the shooter ahead of us and heard a yell, and for some reason I thought we would be alright. If I could get one of them, then Pa would surely get the others. Pa must have realised that I was a sitting duck for them, and he rode straight between me and them, firing into the bushes all the while.

“I took a bullet in the arm, and must have slumped low in my saddle for I heard Pa yell out my name. But then, suddenly, there was no sound. I turned my horse round and saw Pa slip from the saddle to the ground.”

“And, was that when it happened? Was he dead?” Joe asked hoarsely.

“I didn’t think he was, simply because I couldn’t believe that Pa would ever die. He always seemed invincible to me. I fired again and again into the bushes, until my gun was empty, but there was no answering fire. I heard horses in the distance. I hadn’t realised that they had already gone, I just couldn’t stop banging away at where I thought they would still be hiding. I can remember yelling at them to come out and show themselves for the cowards they were. But, of course, by then it was too late, they were mounted and riding off, and Pa was there… on the ground.

“I went to him and held him close. He just looked at me and smiled, and told me to take care of everyone because …”


“That was it,” Adam shrugged, “Take care of everything, Adam. Take care of your brothers because …”

His voice trailed away and he sighed, and Joe, seated at his side, released his breath too. After a moment’s silence the younger man turned to his brother and shook his head,

“You can’t blame yourself, Adam. It was something that could have happened to any one of us.”

“I know, but it happened to Pa, to me. I should have covered his back.”

“Why are you telling me this now?”

“Because I wanted you to know.” Adam replied and picked up the oil lamp, “In view of whatever happens in the future, I want you to understand why I want to keep the Ponderosa intact, why it’s so important to me.”

“Because of Pa?”

“Yes, because of Pa.”

Chapter 6

David Carter entered the door into the big room with the air of a man who had captured a city. It had been his intention to make his entrance with an air of sincere appreciation for their hospitality, and with enough panache to convery that he didn’t owe them any favours. With a delicate balance of both he had hoped to convey to them that his motives were pure, based solely on love of the beautiful Marie.

And, she was beautiful. Even though past the bloom of youth Marie still retained the essentials for beauty. High cheekbones, wide eyes, full lips. Her crowning glory remained bountiful and rich. Her temperment was still fiery, still passionate, and best of all, she was wealthy and the owner of The Ponderosa.

Of course, there was the small matter of the three Cartwright boys, but David felt he could dismiss them out of the equation. Joe was his mother’s son, the other two…well, perhaps they could stay, on sufferance.

He stood in the centre of the room and looked about him with the air of a conqueror. He had captured Marie’s heart, just as he had expected he would, so it would not be long before everything she owned, would be his. Marie was standing by his side, flushed with pleasure at seeing him there, perhaps a little anxious about how the evening would progress but seeing this as a great leap forward.

The three Cartwright boys stood in a row in front of the hearth, with the framed picture of Ben glowering above their heads. (‘Well, that’ll be the first thing to go, in the fire, if possible’ David told himself). All three were dressed in clean white shirts, with ivory brocade vests, black velvet string ties, and neatly pressed grey trousers. Hop Sing had kept Cousin No 2 in the laundry, busy. They stood politely waiting on their guest to speak. Marie had taught them the etiquette necessary in good New Orleans society, and was pleased to see it now in practice.

Joe had thought it amusing when both Adam and David had gone to assist Marie with her chair. He could barely conceal his laughter as both men gripped the back of the chair and glared mutely at one another. David, very sensibly, gave way, smiling at Marie and giving a good humoured shrug as though he also could see the joke . Adam was not amused.

Hop Sing had, as always on special occasions, excelled. The food was delicious. The conversation was, to say the least, forced. For some time there was an uncomfortable silence broken only by requests for this or that at the table, then David decided to start the ball rolling, so to speak, by asking questions.

“So, Joseph, how old are you now?”

“Seventeen, sir.”

“And, you never thought of going to college?”

“No, sir, there was enough for me to do here.” Joe lowered his head and scowled at the plate of food.

“I see there’s a whole range of books here. So, who’s the scholar?”

“Adam is.” Hoss replied, “Adam could have gone to college. He’s real clever. Adam knows everything there is to know about everything.”

“Praise indeed,” Carter remarked drily. He was silent for a while and ate his food which he told Marie was excellent, “So, where did you get your education, Adam? I was under the impression that you travelled most of your childhood, and there was no school here for some time.”

“My father taught me the elementary things,” Adam intoned, as though the subject was boring and really did not require discussion, “Whenever we stopped at a settlement or township that had a school then I would get some educating there, same as Hoss.”

“It’s a pity you didn’t get to college then. Did the thought never occur to your father how well you could have done there?” David raised his eyebrows as though pleased to find one fault at least with the saintly Ben Cartwright.

“Yes, the thought did occur to my father, thank you.” Adam replied coldly, “But he was killed, and, as Joe said, there were more important things to get on with here.”

“I never knew your father had mentioned college to you, Adam,” Marie said with deep feeling in her voice, “We had only discussed it together the previous evening -.” she paused, looked into his face, and turned away. There was nothing else to be said. She understood all there was needed to know.

“What would you have studied at college then? Had you succeeded in getting there?” David persisted on a route that he seemed difficult to get off.

“Engineering probably.”

“And would you have come back to the Ponderosa or branched out on your own? A career in engineering would suit you well back in Boston. I believe that is where you originate from, isn’t it?”

If there was a slight sneer in David’s voice the Cartwright’s chose to ignore it out of consideration for Marie. After a moment in which he struggled to keep his voice calm, Adam glanced up at their visitor,

“Yes, Boston. I daresay you are right, an engineering career would have suited me very well. However, it didn’t happen, and I preferred to stay here.”

“Did they ever get the men who killed your father?”

Hoss suddenly found something he swallowed had gone the wrong way, and began a bout of violent coughing to remove it. Joe dropped his fork with a clatter on the table so that it then rolled onto the floor. He disappeared for some seconds to retrieve it and managed to look calm again when he reappeared. Adam merely continued to eat, although a slight frown now furrowed his brow,

“I shot one man. He died before reaching town. Another man was found at Placerville
And died of his injuries there. Roy tracked down the other two men and they were duly put on trial and hanged for murder.”

“Rough justice -.” David muttered.

“It was justice. Divine justice. A life for a life, isn’t that what the good book says?” Joe snapped.

“Of course. I didn’t intend to sound derogatory about the sentence in your father’s case. No, not at all.”

“Then what did you intend to sound like, Mr Carter?” Joe snapped, his voice hard and brittle, while his eyes blazed and his nose was pinched in his effort to conceal his temper.

“Just that here, where things are less – refined shall we say? – I wonder about such things . Being a stranger here to the town, to your ways, and customs. It was just that I heard someone say that it was more like a lynch mob than a proper execution.”

“Execution?” Hoss frowned, “How’d you mean? An execution?”

Joe bounced up and flung down his napkin,

“It was a properly carried out hanging, that’s what it was, and that’s what they deserved. The law said they were to be hanged by the neck until dead, and that’s what they got. It was fairer justice than what they gave to my Pa.”

“Joseph -,” Marie’s voice called out to him, but he had gone, rounding the table like a startled calf, and bounding out of the house.

“I’ll go and speak to him,” Adam said quietly, and excused himself politely but in such a cold tone of voice that Marie knew she had lost the first attempt to get David accepted by them.

“I’m sorry, David, Joe can be a bit hot tempered.” she said very softly, while a flush of red blushed at her cheeks.

“I should apologise. I just blundered in and said all the wrong things. I’m sorry, Hoss, I should have been far more tactful.”

Hoss said nothing but gave the man the benefit of a long blue stare to show his disapproval and distaste at the whole thing.
Joe turned as he heard the crunch of footsteps on the gravel . He shrugged when he saw Adam approaching and turned to lean against the corral fence, his arms folded upon the top bar.

“Come to haul me back in?”

“No, not if you don’t want to, the air is a lot fresher here.” Adam smiled thinly.

“What a humbug of a man. I can’t stand him. How can mother possibly be considering him for a husband? She should have married Matt Fraser. He was a decent, honest enough man.”

“Mmmm,” Adam said nothing but promptly dismissed Matt Fraser from his mind. “Joe, I guess it can’t be easy for Carter either. He probably just wants to get a few loose ends tidied up.”

“Huh, loose ends indeed. Talking about Pa like he did. As though – as though those men had every right to be there to shoot at you and Pa? What kind of idiot goes around shooting his mouth off like that?”

Adam shook his head and leaned with his back against the railing. He stared up at the sky, at the stars that beamed down upon them, and he sighed,

“He just got off on the wrong foot, didn’t he?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

They stood in companionable silence for a while, deep in their own personal thoughts. Joe gave a long sigh and looked at his brother,

“Did Pa really think of sending you to college?”

“Yes, apparently so. He and Marie were discussing it the evening before he died, and we had talked it over that morning. To tell you the truth, Joe, I had never felt so excited about anything for a long time. I’d have -” he paused, and then shrugged again, before looping his thumbs loosely over his belt, “It would have been quite an experience, wouldn’t it? Going to college, I mean.”

“You’d have never lived it down,” Joe chuckled, “Adam Cartwright, the college boy.”
“Well, it didn’t happen,” Adam shuffled some dirt about with his foot, creating a little mound and then smoothing it out again.

“It should have done. You’d have done well at college. Not like Hoss or I. Them years at school with Miss Jones were more than enough for me.”

Adam smiled slowly and nodded, “Yes, Joe, I agree.”

“Do you think Ma will marry him? That Carter?”

“You know your mother better than anyone, Joe. What do you think?”

Joe frowned, the tanned smooth brow furrowed into deep grooves as he considered his mother and her ability to do something purely out of the emotion of the moment, he sighed deeply,

“I can’t see what she see’s in him,” he said finally.

“Perhaps it’s what she can’t see in him that has the attraction,” Adam replied in an odd voice, “Are you coming back in?”

Joe said nothing but hung his head down and stuffed his hands in his pockets. Looking like a woe begone school boy he trailed behind his brother and made his way back to the house.

Chapter 7

They knew they were going to get a scolding. Marie’s face had set into the stern lines that normally indicated a telling off. Adam wondered what Ben would have done in the circumstances, had he brought a woman to the Ponderosa as a prospective wife and they had treated her in the cavalier manner they had treated Carter. There was no doubt that when Carter closed the door behind him and made his solitary way home that he would not have know exactly how the Cartwright boys felt about him.

Marie turned to face them and clasped her hands together. Each one of them received the kind of scorching look that they hated, but this evening attempted to meet determinedly in order not to indicate any backing down on their part.

“Well? What have you say for yourselves? I was very, very disappointed in you all this evening. Your attitude was disgraceful and your manners deplorable.”

“I don’t think you can complain about our manners, Mama,” Joe said looking with innocent charm at her, “I thought we were very polite.”

“The less you say, Joseph, the better. I know we can’t turn back the clock, but tomorrow I want you to ride into town and apologise.”

“Which one of us do you want to do that?” Adam asked looking at her rather smugly, “Or doesn’t it matter?”

“The three of you. All of you.” Marie snapped back immediately with her eyes blazing and her cheeks reddening. “David is a kind man and you made him feel unwelcome here at the Ponderosa. What would your father have thought of you all?”

Not one of them flinched. Adam merely thought how much Ben would have disliked Carter. Hoss considered the fact that Ben would probably have distrusted the man, just as he did at that very moment. Joe thought the question irrelevant as with Ben still alive Carter would not be around. They stared back at her and said nothing.

“Can’t you see how he was only trying to take an interest in you all? He wants to get to know you, and – and he wants you to like him. You made him feel unacceptable.” she looked at them one by one, and saw no remorse in their faces at all. “Don’t any of you want to see me happy? Can’t you understand what this means to me?”

Now each one of them reacted by casting their eyes down to the ground, shuffling their feet, and looking uncomfortable. Hoss shrugged,

“What was wrong with Matt Fraser?” he asked.

“Matt Fraser?” Marie frowned, “That was ages ago. Don’t be silly, Hoss, just because a man asked me to the town social several times doesn’t mean he wanted to marry me.”

“I thought he did.” Joe said, frowning. “He asked me how I would feel if he asked you to marry him.”

“Oh? And what did you say?” Marie snapped.

“I said that would be fine. His land added to the Ponderosa would make us the biggest spread in the territory. He thought that was a good idea.”

“So, if David were a rancher and not a banker , you’d accept him?”

“Matt Fraser isn’t just a rancher, he’s a friend and we’ve known him a long time.” Adam replied quietly.

“I’ve known David a long time,”Marie replied, “And I care for him…very much.”

“But, do you love him?” Adam asked, looking at her thoughtfully, “If you intend to marry him, you have to love him.”

Marie said nothing to that, she merely thinned her lips and turned away from them. Each one of them watched her leave the room with mixed feelings stirring in their hearts. Once she had turned into the kitchen area Adam turned to his brothers,

“I’m not going to see Carter. Which one of you wants to go?”

“I’ve too much to do tomorrow.” HOss frowned, “That just leaves you, little brother.”

“Yeah, I know. I had that figgered out already.” Joe scowled.

“It’s probably better if it is you, Joe, after all, you are your mother’s son.” Adam softened the words by smiling.

“I could tell him to leave her, and us, alone.” Joe’s eyes lit up, “He may take it more seriously coming from me.”

“You could try, but somehow, I don’t think it’ll work.” came the not so useful reply.

“Hi, Evie,” Joseph Cartwright tipped his hat and smiled at the young woman who was stepping out of the Bank, “How are you to-day?”

“Fine, just fine.” Evie Templeton replied, puckering her lips into the kind of smile she used whenever she met a handsome young man.

“I must say, Evie, you’re looking well. You must have a new man in your life.”

“What makes you say that?” Evie replied, her cheeks reddening very slightly.

“Oh, that necklace you’re wearing. I’ve not seen it before.”

“Since when would you know the contents of my jewellery box, Little Joe Cartwright?” Evie snapped, and with a toss of her elegantly groomed head she sasheyed away.

Joe smiled a good humoured grin as he watched her retreat from the bank. No doubt about it, Evie Templeton was a great looking girl. Hardly seemed possible he used to carry her books to school for her. She was the first girl he had fallen in love with…and he was all of the age of 8. He had been in seventh heaven because she was so kind of him, but then she was older, aged 10. With a sigh over long forgotten times Joe turned and pushed open the door to the bank.

“’Morning, Tom, is Mr Carter here? I’d like to see him.” Joe smiled and took off his hat as Tom Milnes stood up to greet him.

“You’ve probably be the only person in town who would…like to see him, I mean. He’s been like a bear with sore head this morning.” Tom sighed heavily, “I thought he was visiting the Ponderosa last night?”

“He was, I mean, he did…” Joe frowned, “So? Is he available?”

“Nope, he took a horse and rode on out about an hour ago. Miss Templeton was asking after him as well, and wasn’t too happy to know he’d gone out.”

“Really? What would Evie want with David Carter?”

Tom raised his eyebrows. He may have gone to school with both Joe and Evie but as she was one of the Bank’s customers, he knew that due respect had to be accorded to her. He raised himself tall,

“I wouldn’t know,” he replied. “Do you want me to make an appointment for you, Joe?”

Joe was not a customer of that particular bank so didn’t have the same courtesy applied to him. So far as Tom was concerned, Joe was an old school chum.

Joe shook his head and smiled, slipped his hat back on his head and left the bank. With nothing else left to do but kick his heels in town, he strolled over to the Bucket of Blood and over a glass of cold beer he pondered over the reason Miss Evie Templeton would want to see David Carter so urgently.


Adam Cartwright dismounted and tethered Sport to the hitching rail. With a slight frown furrowing his brow he took off his hat, and brushed dust from his pants as he walked to the house. He wondered what kind of mood his step mother would be in now. Marie had not joined them for breakfast and Hop Sing was tight lipped. That meant that he had had a ‘chat’ with Marie at some time during the previous evening and was viewing matters through her eyes rather than theirs.

He glanced at the other horse nodding over the rail, and wondered who had come visiting. He wondered if it could have been Carter, but dismissed the possibility as Monday was always a busy day at Banks. Frowning slightly he pushed open the door and entered the house.

It was quiet in the big room. He stood there with his hand against the wooden timbers of the door, and listened. He had heard some noise as he had pushed open the door. Something … not quite right. He stayed where he was and waited for the noise to resume. There it was again…the rustling of papers, the hasty opening of drawers.

Walking with long stealthy strides he entered the room and turned into the study area, where Ben had placed his big desk and leather backed ‘Captain’s chair’. Probably, he surmised, Marie was sorting out some paperwork and as she was pretty useless at it, would be glad of his help. He was half smiling in anticipation of his step-mother’s usual wide eyed appeal for assistance when he stopped, mid stride as he saw who was at the desk.

David Carter was also wide eyed when he looked up, and saw, not Marie, but Adam Cartwright looking at him.

“Looking for something?” Adam asked with ice in his voice.

“Marie – she asked me to look for something.” David replied, his voice rather thick in the way voices can at times be when its owner is caught by surprise.

“Something? Such as what?” Adam stepped forward, and casually lifted one paper to another, noticing documents that had been neatly filed away a long time before now muddled and cast about.

“Oh, something she wanted to check over with me. After all,” David’s voice was steady now, he felt himself on surer ground, “I am a banker, and know about things you would not be aware of, Adam. Obviously she would turn to me for advice in that capacity.”

Adam said nothing for a moment, but stared at him coldly. Then he let the papers slip from his fingers back onto the desk.

“If there is anything to discuss about the Ponderosa, you discuss it with me. Now, if you don’t mind, would you kindly vacate my father’s desk.”

David Carter reddened, his eyes widened slightly, then narrowed. Very quickly he moved away from the desk. He picked up his hat, and without a word left the building.

Chapter 8

Marie paused in the middle of the yard, her horse’s reins in her hand. At the sound of her voice David Carter stopped, and turned towards her.

“What’s wrong? Where are you going? I thought we were going for a ride together this afternoon?”

“I’m sorry, of course we are, I had not forgotten it’s just that …” he stopped as though wondering what to say next. He forced a smile, and shrugged, “I’m afraid Adam and I have just had a bit of an altercation.”

“Adam? Why? I thought he was working away today.”

“Well, he came home early, as you can see,” Carter indicated Sport nodding over the hitching rail, “And I offended him, unintentionally I must add in my own defence.” he laughed a little then, as though in an attempt to pass it off as nothing to be unduly concerned about, “He found me sitting at his father’s desk, looking through some old papers. He didn’t like it.”

Marie sighed and glanced over at the house. She could imagine Adam now, glowering furiously as he put papers back in order and wondered at David’s audacity. She stepped forward as though to go to the house, but then stopped herself, and turned towards David and smiled,

“Let’s forget about Adam for a while, shall we? We were going to go for a ride together, to enjoy some time being with each other, remember?”

“I hadn’t forgotten,” David laughed gently, his eyes shone, and he drew her towards him and into his arms.

Marie released a sigh of contentment as she felt herself enveloped in his embrace. She closed her eyes and held him against her, and kissed his lips with a feeling of exultation racing through her veins. She was a passionate woman still, and being loved, was intoxicating. She smiled as she stepped back and looked at him, recognising by his kiss a man of like spirit and feeling.

“Shall we go for that ride now?” she said softly.

From the window of the study Adam watched them ride away. With a feeling of foreboding welling up inside of him, he turned back to the desk and sat down in his father’s chair. A woman who kissed a man like that was going to be hard to convince that she was playing with a fire that could burn her and destroy her family. He once again turned his attention to the papers on the desk, the papers that David Carter had been rifling through, and began to put them in order. Title Deeds to land, proof of ownership of mines, timber; shares in various companies; all the legal documents that proved that the Ponderosa, all one thousand square miles of it, belonged to Ben Cartwright.

He set them out again, now in a neat pile. One by one he looked through the relevant details; one by one each document proved legal ownership, right of ownership, to Ben Cartwright.

When he had finished his perusal he sat very still. Slowly he raised his eyes and looked at the portrait of his father. It was a strange thing the way humans put off doing things, checking over details of matters because of assumptions from things said and promised. He had read those documents before shortly after his father’s death. Then they meant only what they said … everything was legally, neatly, owned by Ben Cartwright. There was no reference to part ownership by Adam, or Hoss, or Joseph Cartwright. Why should there have been, after all, they had been children then, when those deeds and shares and entities had been drawn up.

But now things had changed. Marie was on the verge of remarriage. Her son and step-sons were no longer children. The promise, the hope, the dream of one man to keep the Ponderosa for his sons as a complete enterprise could well be dashed, ruined, if …if Ben had put into writing his verbal promise.

They had talked about it, Marie, Ben, Adam and the boys, as they were then. They had picked the bits of the Ponderosa they personally loved, their favourite sections. Ben would swing Joe up in the air and point to the map where Joe wanted to ride horses all day long, and Hoss would put little pencil marks on the map where he was going to have his house, and everything had been perfect, everything had been just right.

Adam pushed himself away from the desk and stood up. He walked to the safe and opened it carefully. He knew what was in the safe as he was the one who would put the money for wages and other business deals there every week. He knew the letters, the bonds, the deeds that were stacked there in one section of it. But he couldn’t recall seeing one particular deed for a long time.

“Hi Adam.”

Joe’s voice made Adam jump. He stood up and swung the safe door shut.

“What’s wrong?”

With the perception of a youth who knew every shade and shadow of his sibling, Joe knew immediately that something had happened during his absence. He ran his fingers through his shock of hair, and frowned, while Adam returned to the desk.

“Well? What’s happened?” Joe asked again, perching on the corner of the desk and looking at his brother with a puzzled expression on his face, “Cat got your tongue or summat?”

Adam drew in a deep breath and released it slowly,

“Joe, do you remember Pa making a will?” he asked.

“No.” Joe shook his head, “I was just a kid, remember?” he smiled, then his face changed and he looked anxious, “Why do you ask?”

“Pa always talked about what was our share of the Ponderosa should anything happen to us. He talked about it as though it was guaranteed as our inheritance. A Will would be the legal guarantee…”

“Sure, of course.” Joe nodded, narrowing his eyes.

“I can’t find it.”

“What? You can’t find the Will?”

“No. I can’t find it. I swear to goodness that I saw one drawn up once, it was here on the desk, before Pa died. He showed me what he wanted left for you, and Hoss and myself. He wanted Marie to have the house here, and her share too, and preferably for us to live and care for her until we each married. I remember saying then that she could marry first, and he said, no, that would never happen, but if it did, our share would be safe.”

“Didn’t you see it again?”

“No. I assumed it was here in the desk with his other legal documents. I’ve looked through them and I can’t find it.”

“So what does that mean?” Joe bit his lip and looked anxiously at his brother.

“Everything is in Pa’s name. All legal and above board. Since Pa died Marie, as his wife, would naturally take over ownership of everything.”

“I guess we kinda assumed that, didn’t we?”

“If I can’t find that Will, it means that she is the legal owner of the land Pa wanted us to have, it means that the Ponderosa …” he paused as though the words were too difficult to think about, “Well, it will remain one complete unit but David Carter, should he marry Marie, will own it should she die at anytime during their marriage.”

“Then what about us?”
“Exactly…what about us?” Adam sighed. “I’ve got to find that Will, Joe.”

“Perhaps Pa left it with the lawyer in town.”

“Good idea, I’ll ride out there and check.” Adam stood up and walked towards the door, checked only when Joe grabbed his arm,

“”Why the hurry? Something else has happened, hasn’t it?”

“David Carter was here, going through Pa’s papers. And,” he paused, thinking back to the sight of Marie kissing Carter, “And, Joe, I doubt if we’ll be able to persuade your mother not to marry him. She loves him.”

Chapter 9

The sky was so blue and the sun’s warmth bathed them into a cocoon of pleasurable comfort. The scent of wild flowers and grass wafted about them, and the waters of the lake shone with a million million diamonds as the sun gleamed upon its surface.

They held hands loosely, but it was sufficient. The pleasure was from being together. Whatever thoughts David Carter may have been thinking about Adam, Hoss and Joe were certainly not restricting his passion for their mother. Marie had stopped thinking about the boys as soon as they had ridden out of the yard. Her mind was full of … what to say, how to say it, when to say it. She wanted to let him know how much she loved him, without him feeling that she was being too forward, or too amorous too soon. She wanted to see the pleasure in his eyes, and the love, and to hear only the words a woman besotted by a man would want to hear.

And she had not been disappointed. Nor had he.

So now they sat together watching the wild flowers tossing their heads in the breeze, and being dazzled by the effects of the sun shining upon the water. She turned towards him,

“Thank you for this afternoon, David. After what happened last night, I really needed the reassurance of this time spent with you.”

He smiled and raised her hand to his lips, and kissed the open palm tenderly. Then he kissed her wrist and enjoyed the pleasure of feeling her tremble as his lips brushed against her skin, against the pulse beat.

“It wasn’t so bad really. Your sons are obviously on the defensive. They’ve had you to themselves for a long time.”

His voice was deep and kindly, understanding and sympathetic. The fact that he had returned home and kicked the furniture about the room, would never have been suspected. He had felt insulted, and was more than a little angry. A Southern gentlemen back home would have demanded satisfaction by means of a duel but somehow, he had rightly sensed, that would have resulted in difficulties with Marie.

“Adam was there when Ben died. He has helped me to bring up Hoss and Joe, and he has more or less run the Ponderosa single handed. It has only been since Hoss and Joe reached more mature years that he has been able to delegate any responsibility to them. He feels passionately about the Ponderosa, David.”

“Such passion should be reserved only for a woman,” David smiled and leaned forward to kiss her cheek, then allowed his lips to follow along to reach her lips.
But, he could sense, that the time for passion was gone, Marie’s mind was now concentrating on the problems her son and step-sons could cause in the future.
He frowned slightly and sighed as he did not want to have this intrusion into these few brief hours together, and he released her hand, and clasped his own hands between his knees as though in deep thought.

“Yet, Adam is not the owner of the Ponderosa, is he?”

“He believes that he and his brothers own the Ponderosa, with me, of course.”

“He believes ? Are you saying, then, that he is not the owner? That he is, perhaps, acting only in the role of caretaker, or foreman?”

“Yes, I suppose that is the better way of describing it. Of course, it goes without saying that they will have their share of the Ponderosa should they require it.”

“Ben did not make a Will?”

“He probably did,” Marie shrugged her shoulders and smiled dreamily, “He never liked to talk about such things. For such a practical man, he didn’t like to think of death and such as that.”

“What man does when he has everything he could wish for in the palm of his hands.” David looked down at his own hands at that point, as though the statement he had just made reminded him that his own hands were, figuratively, empty.

Marie suddenly remembered what David had mentioned earlier, before they had started their ride together, she turned to him, her brow creased in a slight furrow of anxiety,

“Why did you say Adam was angry with you?”

“Oh, for nothing really. He was angry because I was sitting at his father’s desk, looking through some papers.”

“What papers?”

“Some old deeds that were in the bottom drawer of the desk.”

“Why were you looking at them?”

David shrugged, smiled, and looked at her thoughtfully,

“I was curious, that is all. I was waiting for you, and had time on my hands. I opened the drawer and saw the papers. Being a businessman, anything with red seals on appeals to me. I wanted to wile away the time, that is all.”

“I can understand why Adam would feel angry, David. He could have thought you were snooping into the Ponderosa’s private affairs, into his father’s business.”

“Oh for goodness sake, Marie, Ben has been dead twelve years now. Doesn’t the man realise that yet?”

A puzzled look swept over Marie’s face, but then she thought of how things must appear to those who did not know Adam, or Ben, and realised, yet again, how they needed to move on from that terrible tragedy that had befallen them twelve years ago.

“He has perhaps an obsession about his father, but then they shared a very difficult, arduous time together. Hoss’ mother died horribly, and he saw that too… you must give him the benefit of the doubt, David. He is a good man, a loyal son. I leaned on him heavily after Ben’s death. He may find it hard to adjust to the fact that I shall not be doing so any longer.”

David sighed as though content, and, in a way, he was, for she had said in that last sentence what he wanted to hear. He leaned towards her, just as she leaned towards him.


Hoss strode into the big room and flung his hat onto the bureau. With a scowl on his pleasant face he looked over at Joe who was comfortably seated in the red leather chair, reading a book and munching on an apple.

“Finished early,” Joe muttered.

“Yeah, and I wish I hadn’t,” Hoss growled deep in this throat, picked up an apple and slumped down on the settee.

“Why, what’s wrong?” Joe glanced over at his brother with his eyes wide with curiosity. It wasn’t often that Hoss returned home so disgruntled,

“Wal, I was riding home and saw Ma’s horse and some strange horse up thar by Millers Gate.”

“Yeah?” Joe frowned, and felt his stomach churn over. He cleared his throat, “Well, go on…”

“So happened I just looked over the ridge to see who Ma was with, although I had a fair notion, but …”

“But?” Joe put his partially eaten apple on the table, sensing that he might drop it.

“Wal, they were kissin’ and canoodlin’ and all that kinda stuff.” Hoss sighed, and put his untouched apple back in the fruit bowl, “I guess she’s does love him, after all.”

“Do you think she loves him more than us?” Joe said quietly after a few moments of silence as he tried to imagine the scene and wished he hadn’t, while Hoss tried to erase it, unsuccessfully from his mind.

“It’s a different kind of love,” Hoss said, repeating Adam’s words from the previous day. “But if she marries him, things here are sure going to be different.”

“Do you really think they will be?”

“Sure. You don’t think a sensible guy actually likes sitting behind a desk in a bank when he could be running the Ponderosa, do you?”

“Adam runs the Ponderosa,” Joe said quickly, and then smiled, “Well, with our help of course.”

“Yeah, we all run the Ponderosa. We own it, and we manage it. If it weren’t for us, then all Pa’s hopes for this place would have gone up in the smoke. All due respect to your Ma, Joe, but she ain’t got no head for business now, has she?”

Joe sighed and nodded. True enough, Marie had made several bad investments since Ben’s death and several times it had taken all they could manage to get back level again.

“I don’t want to think it would be that bad, not really.” Joe said slowly, “I mean, if Ma loves Carter, and marries him, then we’ll have to just get on with it, won’t we? In the long run it won’t make much difference, except that he’ll be here.”

“And do you reckon he’ll let Adam, you and me keep running this place? It won’t be long before he’ll be ordering us around, and making decisions and such.”

“I guess, no matter who Ma marries, we’d have to accept that would happen. It’s the natural order of things, after all.”

“Wal, I ain’t wanting to be ordered about by the likes of David Carter.” Hoss smacked one fist into the open palm of his other hand with such force that Joe winced.

Again they were silent for a while, and then Joe grinned, his eyes sparkled.

“Hoss, I’ve got an idea.”

Chapter 10

The solicitor methodically he leafed through files until he pulled one out and looked over at Adam as though to say, ‘this is it’. He returned to his seat with the file in his hand, and sat down.

“Didn’t we go through all this after Ben’s death?” he asked, opening the file carefully.

“Probably, but I don’t think we really took much of what was said in at the time.” Adam sighed, and crossed one leg over the other, “I really want to have verification of what is ours and what is Marie’s.”

“Oh, family dispute is there?” the old grey eyes widened with interest. Like many old people James loved gossip.

“Oh no, nothing like that,” Adam smiled briefly and shrugged, “It’s just that …”

“Things change all the time,” James said with a sigh, “And it has been twelve years. For a woman like Marie, it must have seemed far longer.”

“What do you mean by that , Mr Cooper?”

“Why, lad, haven’t you eyes in your head to see for yourself? She’s a lovely lady, and the kind of woman that needs a man in her life. It’s no wonder she’s taken up with that Carter feller.”

“You know about Marie’s -,” he paused and sighed again, “Marie’s romance?”

“Most of town do, young feller.” Cooper smiled, “He’s a good looking man, and charming. Comes from the same neck of the woods as your step.mother, so they probably know folks from back there. A common interest makes for a bond of sorts.”

“And do the people of this good town anticipate a marriage?”

“They certainly do,” James nodded and his eyes twinkled, “Most just want Marie to be happy. She’s not just lovely to look at, after all, but a darn fine woman as well.”

Adam nodded, and stared at the file that remained unopened on the desk,

“And, what about Mr Carter? Do the townsfolk reckon on him being a darn fine man as well?” he asked, a touch of sarcasm in his voice.

“Not many know him that well, Adam. He’s been here, what? A year? But what we do know is that he’s a decent enough chap. Doesn’t drink too much, doesn’t gamble. My wife likes him.”

Adam cleared his throat, and wanted to say that Mrs Cooper’s ability to judge characters was not, in itself, the most reliable reference anyone could be given. He leaned forwards,

“Do you trust him?”

Cooper frowned, and looked at the younger man thoughtfully,

“I’ve no reason not to trust him, after all, he is a banker. The Manager at that…” he paused, “Is this the reason you want to check on this file?”

“If Marie marries Carter, I want to know for sure how my brothers and I stand with regards to possession of the Ponderosa. Look, Mr Cooper, we have lost blood, and shed blood, to keep the Ponderosa safe from all manner of crooks. I don’t want to be half killing myself protecting the back door, when opening the front door to the biggest crook that could have ever lived.”

“That’s strong language, young man. Be careful now.” Cooper looked anxiously at Adam, and wondered if he should caution him about the laws of slander.

“Could you please check the file, Mr Cooper?”

James nodded, and opened the file. Several sheets of paper, some with Bens writing on it, were glanced at and put to one side. Then James looked up with a frown,

“That’s strange, I’m sure I had the documents here.”

“Pa did make a will then?”

“Of course he did, didn’t I just say so? I was checking it out only the other day for some reason or another. It must be here somewhere.”

“Why would you be checking out the will? Was someone else making enquiries about it? Did you show it to anyone else? Who?”

“No one asked about the Will. I had the file out for some other reason altogether. Marie wanted to have some information and I had to get several files out of the drawer and put them all on the desk here. This file wasn’t even opened when Marie was here, I just flicked it open myself as a matter of curiosity.”

“But now it’s disappeared?”

James nodded, and then got up and made a hurried scramble through the other files in the cabinet. He finally gave up and shook his head,

“That’s a mystery.” he muttered.

“Could anyone have come into the office while the file was on the desk? “

“Who else would be interested in your father’s files, for goodness’ sake.” James snapped, “I had very few customers that day if I recall correctly. Your mother and ..”


“Well, your step-mother came with someone else. A young woman.”

“Who was?”

“I don’t know. A pretty girl. Very much like Marie to look at in fact, but I didn’t get the name.”

Adam bit his bottom lip. Without a word he rose to his feet and placed his hat slowly upon his head. Well, at least he knew Ben had made a Will, but then he knew that anyway, the important thing to know was whether he had signed it, and had two witnesses to confirm the signature. Now he was left with yet another mystery as to why Marie would visit Cooper about Ben’s business, with a young woman … as yet, unnamed.

He bade the older man good bye and left the building. It had been a most miserable day. He stepped out into the sunlight and glanced up and down the street. At least one mystery would be solved pretty quickly, and that was the name of the woman with Marie. All he had to do was ask her the name of her companion, and she would surely provide it. But what then?

Chapter 11
It was a strange, uncomfortable meal. The three men and Marie were too aware of the tensions among themselves to relax and enjoy one another’s company as had been the case for so long.

Hoss longed to be able to slip back to how it had been but the spectre of David Carter hung heavy in his mind, no matter how hard he tried to shake it off. He ate slowly, a man deep in thought, and sad at heart.

Joe was busy with his plan. Working it through in his mind and struggling to forestall any shortcomings that could exist. Of course bringing in someone else into the situation could cause a problem or two, but he was confident that he could sweet talk the other party into compliance. That evening he found the food unappealing, and every time he looked up at his mother and saw the way she kept looking at them his heart tightened. He could sense her unease, but could not find the words to make the way easier for her to initiate a conversation.

Adam ate his meal like a man who had no appetite for food at all. He pushed food around the plate, crumbled the bread into pieces while he stared into space, caught Marie’s eyes upon him several times and attempted a half hearted smile. But his mind was too full of problems to make light conversation. He knew if he opened his mouth he could say things that would be instantly regrettable and cause, perhaps, unnecessary hurt.

Marie, looking at the three men, felt as though David Carter was suddenly out of her reach. She loved these ‘boys’, she loved Hoss and Adam differently to how she felt for here own flesh and blood, that was obvious, but the love she had for them was intense. They were Ben’s sons, and they had shared her life long enough for her to do anything she could to make them happy. Once or twice she almost told them that she would not see David Carter any more, but then she would remember the touch of his lips upon hers, and the things they had spoken about, the promises already made to each other.

She longed for the meal to end every bit as much as did the three young men sharing the table with her.

David Carter stretched out his long legs and clasped his hands behind his head as he relaxed in the big chair by the fire in his house in Virginia City. Oh, everything was going so well. Marie, beautiful Marie, was eating out of his hand. He had the papers he needed. Not that they were that important really. Having Marie as his wife was what really was important. Once he had the ring on his finger, then everything else would just fall into his hands.

He sighed contentedly. Life had its ups and downs, and at times he had struggled to maintain the standard of life into which he had been born, and to which he had become accustomed. But now, yes, he could congratulate himself.

The light tap on the door startled him at first. He had not been expecting any visitor. He rose to his feet and walked across the room. As he passed the mirror he caught a glimpse of his reflection, and smiled smugly. He was still a handsome man despite his age, and he was slim and healthy. He was younger than Ben Cartwright would have been had he lived. Still smiling, he opened the door.

“What are you doing here?” he exclaimed, “I thought I told you never to call here at my home.”

The young woman standing in the doorway blinked, surprised at the vehemence of his words. She stepped back and shook her head, then tilted her chin determinedly,

“Why shouldn’t I come to see you, David?” Evie stepped forwards and crossed the threshold, then pushed the door shut behind her. “Why shouldn’t I?”

Carter said nothing, then took her elbow and led her into the room. He looked at her and smiled, gentling his features as he gazed at her,

“I’m sorry, Evie. I was rude and I apologise. Sit down here and make yourself comfortable while I get you a drink.”

She relaxed and sat down, slipping off her shawl as she did so. Like many women she used the time to gaze about her, noticing the possessions the man displayed on the walls, the personal clues to his personality that women pick up almost sub-consciously. She took the drink he proffered her and smiled up at him,

“This is a lovely room, David.” she sipped the wine and sighed again, “Did I do well, the other day? Did I get you the right papers?”

“You did very well.” David sat down in the chair opposite to her, and drew it closer, “I had the chance to look through some other papers at the Ponderosa today. I know it has been said they own a thousand square miles of land, but it isn’t until you actually see it in writing that you realise the enormity of their possessions.”

“All that land, and the gold and silver in those hills. Did the Will help at all?”

“It confirmed what Marie had already told me, although when I spoke to her about it today -,” he paused, recalling the conversation and the reason for it, Adam’s interference.


“Well, it doesn’t matter.” he frowned thoughtfully, and began to consider just how much he should tell the girl. True, she had been useful, and he was fond of her, very fond of her, in fact.

“Did – did your other plan work out alright? You know, the wedding plans you had?”

“Oh yes,” David leaned back against the chair,, “Oh yes, that went very well. Marie has agreed to become my wife and the date is set for three weeks time.”

“Is she happy about it?”

“Yes, very happy.” he looked at her approvingly, “It was a good idea of yours to become acquainted with her, as a friend, that could prove very useful in the future.”

“I’d like to think so,” Evie laughed, light heartedly. “So, everything is going well? No problems?”

David Carter returned to his previous memory of the day, of Adam walking in, and the way, the scathing insolent way, the young pup had spoken to him, he scowled deeply,

“One big problem. Adam Cartwright.”

Evie laughed out loud at the statement and set down her glass before she spilled it,

“Oh David, I told you earlier that you would have problems with him. Adam Cartwright is one of the most stubborn men you could ever wish to meet. Goodness me, if he has set himself against you then you will have the devil’s own job to get him to change his mind.”

“He’s obsessed.”

“Well, he isn’t the only one, is he?” she replied, still smiling up at him.

“The problem isn’t just him though, it’s the influence he has over his brothers. Where he leads, they’ll follow. They’ve looked to him as their guardian for so long they can’t think for themselves now.”

“Oh, I don’t know. Joe can be pretty stubborn himself if he wants to be…” she picked up her glass and looked over the rim at him, “I know Joe very well.” she smiled slowly, “Very well indeed.”

He looked at her thoughtfully and caught the look in her eyes. Well, he thought, this could be one way to get around a problem, although there was another way, a more permanent way of removing Mr Adam Cartwright from the scene. He rubbed his temple with his forefinger as he considered what next to do.

Chapter 12
Ben had taught Adam all he knew, and what he hadn’t known, they both learned as they went along. Each evening Adam had been shown how to draw up ledgers, keep the accounts, organise the working shifts for the next day, or week. Ben had shown him how to work out men’s wages, even how to tally up the house-keeping with Hop Sing and Marie’s rather haphazard accounts.

Each evening since Ben’s death Adam had continued with these chores alone. Now there were timber contracts to be drawn up, discussed and considered. Hoss was the man to deal with these and everything Ben had shown Adam had since been passed on to Hoss. Ben had started a line of business with the horses and the army outposts on the borders of the territory. This Adam had passed on to Joe, quite recently, for the boy had developed a passion for the horse hunts and enjoyed being allowed some responsibility in the running of the ranch from that angle.

Of course, at the end of it all the accounts would have to be passed onto Adam who would diligently work them into the ledgers and write any necessary letters. It was time consuming work and at the end of days of hard physical labours took self discipline to accomplish.

Often during the evenings as he toiled over the paperwork, Marie would come down the stairs and slip into the kitchen to make a hot drink for them both. Then they would share a pleasurable hour discussing various aspects of the past events, of the current work load and other problems that would or could come to mind.

He raised his head when he heard the familiar creak of a stair, and looked upon the sight of Marie coming carefully down the stairs with a candle guttering in her hand.

“You don’t mind, do you?” she asked softly, standing on the half landing and looking down at him.

“You don’t usually ask?” he replied with a smile, for she looked so young in the light of the single flame, that it touched him to look upon her like it.

Reassured by the kindliness of his smile, Marie made her way to the desk and set the candle down, pulled out a chair and sat opposite to him.


“Yes, Ma?”

“You haven’t called me that for a long time,” she said, very softly.

“I wasn’t sure you’d want a man of my age calling you that,” Adam smiled again, and put down his pen, “Do you want to talk to me about David Carter?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Then, go ahead.” he released a sigh, as though the inevitable had come, and involuntarily he raised his eyes over her shoulder to the portrait of his father.

“Adam, David could be such an asset here. Look at how hard you work? This is what he does for a living. It would be so easy for him to handle all these things for you. It would ease your work load so much.”

“I’m sure it would,” Adam replied quietly, thinking of what pleasure it would give Carter to hear Marie pleading his cause for him like this, “But -.”

“I know. I understand. I really do, Adam. You’ve been doing this for so long, it’s become second nature to you. I can quite see how you may feel that David could be usurping your place, but really, what would he be doing that a good efficient secretary could be hired to do instead?”

“If he were your husband, Marie, he would be more involved that a secretary, no matter how efficient a secretary may be.”

“I know that too. It’s difficult,” she paused and sighed, her long hair in its braid fell across her shoulder and reached her waist. It was as luxuriant now as the day Ben had first met her. “Adam, can’t you see that it would work?”

“I’m sure it would,” Adam replied slowly, looking down at the ledgers before him.

“It’s been twelve years, my dear, and time to move on. You can’t live your life as though he were going to walk through the door at any moment and expect to find the ledgers perfectly done, or the cattle totally branded. It’s time to … to take the opportunity to change.”

Adam sighed again, and picked up the pen which he turned and twisted between his fingers thoughtfully,

“Is that what you think I do? That all this is because I have a feeling that Pa will walk back into our lives again? After twelve years?”

“No, no, I didn’t mean it literally. How could he?”

They said nothing for a moment but looked down at the desk as though searching for another way out of the conversation.

“Adam, I didn’t realise your father had discussed your going to college with you. That was a surprise.”

“Pa was talking to me about it the morning he was killed. It seemed irrelevant to mention it after that…” his voice trailed away and once again he glanced over at the portrait. Ben’s eyes seemed alive in the painted facsimile of him, as though he were there, watching. Perhaps, just a trick of the dying fire?

“He wanted it so much for you. We had made such plans and discussed where you might like to have gone. It was so unfortunate that you never achieved that dream for you.”

“Life doesn’t always work out as we would like it, as you know.” Adam frowned slightly, “What does this have to do with Carter?”

“Nothing I suppose.” Marie sighed, and looked at him again, “I love David, Adam.”

“I guess so, as you intend to marry him.” there was a slight edge to his voice now, and he bit his bottom lip, “Are you sure he loves you?”

“As sure as any woman can be. Of course I can’t love him as I loved Ben, just as I couldn’t love Ben as I loved Jean, but…I do love him, and he’s asked me to marry him.”

“And you’ve accepted?”

“Yes. The wedding is in three weeks time.”

“Three weeks?” Adam’s brow furrowed, and he looked at her as though disbelieving what she had said, “Does Joe know?”

“I wanted you to know first.”

“Why? He’s your son.”

“Yes, but he follows your lead, Adam. If he knows that you accept David, and that you have no objection to the marriage, then he’ll be quite happy with it.”

“Joe does know his own mind, you know?” Adam responded curtly, “And no matter what I say about this wedding, I think you may find Joe has very definite ideas about him for himself.”

“You mean, he’ll object?”

“Yes, he’ll object. You’re his mother. Suddenly you expect him to share you with someone he doesn’t know.”

“And doesn’t like?” she said softly, her eyes brimming with tears.

Adam said nothing but got out of the chair and walked to her side, pulling out a handkerchief as he did so, which he thrust into her hand. He squatted down beside her and took hold of one hand as she dabbed at her eyes with the other.

“Don’t cry, Ma, don’t cry,” he said softly, looking at her with his eyes soft with affection for her, “We only want you to be happy, surely you must know that?”

“But I want for all of us to be happy, Adam” she replied in a stammering voice, trying to hold back the tears, “I don’t want to be sitting at a table with those I love and feel … oh, so shut out and unhappy with everyone hating and distrusting each other.”

“But, dearest Ma, David Carter has done nothing to make us feel to we can trust him. He may love you, but -.” he paused, holding back on words that could ruin the harmony that now existed between them. He stroked her hand and then reached out and touched her cheek, gently wiping away her tears.

How odd, he thought, this woman is not my mother, and I have lived in this house with her all these years, and only now do I realise how much I love her.

“Marie, don’t cry. It’ll work out alright, in the end, you’ll see.” he said quietly and got to his feet, leaned forward and kissed her on her forehead, as any good son would do.
Now the house was still and in darkness. Adam stood up and walked to the door, taking down his hat and the yellow coat. Outside the darkness wrapped around the house like a cocoon, shutting out even the luminaries of the night sky. He walked quickly to the stable and hurriedly saddled Sport, mounted up and rode out slowly, as quietly as possible in order to waken no one.

It wasn’t so far to Ben’s grave. He dismounted at a short distance and walked towards the mound beneath which his father lay his eternal sleep. He looked down and with a sigh placed his hand upon the headstone. The townsfolk of Virginia City had wanted to have a grand marble tombstone erected, but they had refused it, preferring instead a humble slab of rock from the soil of the Ponderosa. Pa had been like a rock to them, and the earth in which he now slept was Ponderosa soil, so such a humble headstone was far more fitting for such a man as he had been.

Now he was here he didn’t know why he had come. He couldn’t think of words to say that couldn’t and hadn’t been said over and over again in his mind. He took off his hat and the darkness swallowed him up in its embrace so that no one would have known he even existed. He felt as though he had disappeared into eternity itself for no sound could be heard and nothing could be seen.

“Oh God, what do I do?” he suddenly exclaimed, “I can’t hurt Marie. I can’t let her marry a man who will hurt her? Oh Pa, Pa, why did you have to die and leave us ?” he put a hand to his mouth, and pressed his fingers against his lips as though to hold back the torrent of words that were now piling up to spill out. His eyes filled with tears. Twelve years? Oh for heaven’s sake, it might as well have been twelve hours, twelve minutes … what did time matter? They all still ached for their father, and although life went on, it did so, differently.

He knelt beside the grave now and felt with his fingers for the familiar words that had been carved upon the headstone. Like a blind man he groped for them, found them, traced them out.

He remembered standing behind his Pa, holding a silly hat, while Pa had grieved beside the humble grave of his wife, Inger. He recalled how he had felt when Pa had married Marie, who had come home smiling and laughing with no knowledge of that faraway grave, that simple little monument that they had abandoned only a few years earlier. He thought back on how happy Ben had become, how young and excited and exhilarated he had been by his new wife.

It had been an odd transition. The eleven year old boy, so old for his years, so grave, had loved the happiness Marie had brought to the family. Her warmth had drawn him to her like a moth to a flame. Ben had said that with Marie it was springtime every day of the year. And so it had been. But evenso, at times the child had remembered the way he had felt standing behind his father as they said their final farewells to Inger. And he had missed her so much. There were times when he had felt disloyal to sweet, gentle Inger and angry with Ben for forgetting her so quickly. At those times he had not been as considerate of Marie’s feelings as he should have been.

But Ben had never forgotten Inger, anymore than he could forget Elizabeth. As Adam grew into manhood so father and son would talk, exchange confidences, console one another, just as they had all those years before, when they had just been together, the two of them. And Ben had told him how he loved Elizabeth still, and Inger also, because when you loved it didn’t come to an end, just because one died.

Now Adam recalled the day Ben had opened the big family bible, and turned the pages to the words of the Song of Solomon, chapter 8.

“Here, son, read this,” he had said, pointing to the words with his forefinger, “Read it aloud so you get the sense of the words.”

How old had he been then? Oh maybe fourteen years, and Joe had been a baby in the cradle coo-ing contentedly, and Hoss was carving with a blunt knife a piece of old wood.

“Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death: jealousy is cruel as the grave: coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.”

Adam Cartwright returned to his horse and remounted it, and beneath his breath he repeated the words he had read out all those years ago. By the time he had reached the stable and was leading Sport back to his stall, he knew he had only three weeks in which to prove to Marie Cartwright that David Carter could never be her husband. He also knew that if he were unable to prove that, then he would have to leave the Ponderosa.
Chapter 12

“Well what?”
“Well, how is your plan working out?”
Joe frowned and glanced at his brother before signalling to Hank to pour another beer into his glass,

“It’s coming along alright. You know what Hop Sings always saying…slowly, slowly, catchee monkey.”


“It means, be patient. That’s all.” he raised his glass to his lips and drank a long draught of beer, wiped his lips dry and crooked an eyebrow, “Let’s say, Hoss, that it’s gently simmering.”

“In your head or have you actually done anything about it?” Hoss cradled his glass between his hands and stared mournfully at their reflection in the mirror.

“Both. It can’t be hurried. It takes time.”

“That means you ain’t done nothing’ about it, ain’t I right?”

“No, you aren’t.” Joe snapped crossly. He swallowed down more beer, “There’s plenty of time yet.”

“I thought you said,” Hoss paused and then lowered his voice, “I thought you said you had it all worked out for the Town Social on Saturday evening.”

“And I thought I said be patient,” Joe replied peevishly. Why did Hoss have to be in a hurry about everything. He hunched his shoulders and turned his back on his brother who sighed heavily and hunched his shoulders and turned away also.

“What’s wrong with you two?” Adam asked as he elbowed his way between the two of them, and signalled to Hank for a glass and some beer, “Disagreed about something – again?”

“No.” they both exclaimed in unison.

“Mmmm.” Adam twitched his shoulders, and nodded, he didn’t need to ask further, he knew them both too well.

“It’s just that, well, we’ve got to do something to stop Ma from marrying Carter. Right?”

Adam glanced from one to the other, swallowed a gulp, and nodded.

“Yeah, and Joe has come up with a real doozie of an idea.”

“He has?” Adam ran the tip of his tongue over his bottom lip, something Hoss had noticed his brother doing when he was feeling signs of panic.

“Yeah, but don’t tell anyone.” Joe hissed.

“What exactly do you have in mind, Joe?” Adam flipped a coin over to Hank and drew the glass towards him, he picked it up as though to form a protective barrier between himself and whatever Joe was about to reveal to him.

“I can’t tell you yet, Adam. It’s still in the – er – stewing stage.”

“That means he ain’t done nothing about it as yet,” Hoss scowled, “And we’re running out of time.”

“Yeah,” Adam sighed, “You can say that again.”

He turned and nodded a greeting to Paul Martin who had just entered the saloon. Ross Marquette was talking earnestly to Ken Marlow, so he excused himself from his brothers and strolled over to them. Hoss frowned, and stood closer to Joe,

“He didn’t seem much interested, did he?” he hissed into Joe’s ear.

“Well, he always under-estimated the power of a superior brain.” Joe replied nonchalantly.

“Whose brain is that then?”

“Hoss, don’t try being witty, it doesn’t work.” Joe replied and put down his empty glass, wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. “Come on, there’s work to be done.”

“I came in here to get out of doing any work for the next few hours.” Hoss sighed.

“Not that kind of work,” Joe hissed, and grabbed his brother by the sleeve to indicate that it was time for Hoss to abandon the saloon and follow him.

Outside they stood together in the baking sun and looked up and down the street,

“What are we looking for?” Hoss asked anxiously.

“Not what, who!” Joe explained impatiently.

“Oh, right. Who are we looking for?”

Joe shook his head and heaved a sigh, then turned to his brother and looked him right in the eyes,

“How am I supposed to pull this off if you don’t keep up with me on it, Hoss? You keep asking questions and you ain’t doing nothing. Now, keep looking.”

Hoss opened his mouth, then closed it again. Perhaps, somewhere between walking into the saloon and drinking that beer, he had missed something. He sighed, turned and leaned against the wall. Watching.

“Hi, Joe.”

The voice caught Joe unawares and he flinched in surprise, then smiled. Gallantly he slipped off his hat,

“Oh, hello, Evie. How are you today?”

“I’m well thank you. Hello, Hoss.”

“Howdy, Miss Evie.” Hoss touched the brim of his hat, and then lowered it a little to shade his eyes. Vigilence was essential.

“How’s your mother, Joe?”

“She’s very well, thank you, Evie. How’s your Ma?”

“Oh, as usual. You know?”

Joe said nothing but nodded pleasantly. Evie’s mother suffered from nerves, severe nerves. The medicine she took for her nerves seemed to do little to help her, but kept her housebound most of the time. Everyone was too polite to mention the fact that gin was not exactly renowned for its curative powers.

“Is it right what I’ve been hearing, Joe, about your mother and Mr Carter?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Evie. Just what have you been hearing?”

“Well, he’s taking her to the social on Saturday for a start.”

“Is he now?” Joe raised himself erect and thrust out his chin, “Well, I wouldn’t be too sure about that, if I were you.” and he smiled and tapped the side of his nose and winked.

“Really?” Evie opened her eyes wide in surprise and looked at Hoss who gravely nodded and tapped the side of his nose as well. He didn’t wink though. “Well, I guess I must have misheard. Still, it sounds like it will be great fun. I guess I shall just hear about it though.”

“How do you mean?” Joe frowned, and looked at her. She was a real pretty girl, was Evie. Nice shape, slim and willowy with curves where they should be, and with her thick curly hair falling about her shoulders.

“Well, you know how it is, Joe. A girl can’t go to the town social without an escort. She’d be considered … you know?” and she lowered her eyelashes coyly.

Joe refrained from saying that it hadn’t stopped her attending in the past, but swallowed hard, before snapping his fingers as though the solution had just popped into his head, which, in fact, it had.

“How’s about I take you, Evie? I’d sure be pleased to escort you to the social if you’d not mind?”

Evie opened her eyes wide as though caught by complete surprise, then she simpered a little and lowered her head before nodding,

“Oh Joe, that would be lovely. Are you sure you weren’t – well – going to take anyone else?”

“No, I’ve been too busy to think about it.” Joe replied, which was quite true. His mind had been so occupied with the ‘plan’ that he hadn’t thought about asking any of the girls in town for a date. He looked at Hoss,

“Have you thought of whom to take, Hoss?”

“Nope, I’ve been too busy.” Hoss replied, which was true. He was a hard working young man who didn’t really stop to think about girls, and dates, and socials. He just tended to turn up and hoped for the best.

“Well then ..” Evie simpered, “I’ll see you at my house about 7 o’clock, Joe.”

“Sure will. Thank you, Evie.”

Evie smiled at them both, and strolled away to her house, to where her mother slept sprawled drunkenly across the unmade, unkempt bed in a musty smelling, dusty room strewn with discarded clothes. In her own spotless pristine room Evie unbuttoned her jacket and hung it carefully in the wardrobe. She hummed a tune to herself and smiled at her reflection in the mirror. Everything was working out perfectly. Her ‘plan’ had already passed stage one.

Joe’s ‘plan’ was still stuck on the landing stage.

Matt Fraser had been a friend of Ben Cartwrights although he was some years younger. Like Ben he had been widowed, unlike Ben he had been childless. However, he owned a large spread which bordered onto the Ponderosa, the water that fed the water holes on Ponderosa land were supplied by the river that ran through Matt’s land. It had been a good friendship and when Ben had died, Matt had grieved as though he had lost a brother.

He had loved Marie from afar for years but after a few years from Ben’s death he plucked up courage from somewhere to approach her and take her to the town spring fete. For several months he turned up at the Ponderosa at regular intervals to escort her to whatever social function was going on in town, and several times, to enjoy her company at home.

Folk in town began to speculate that there was an oncoming marriage between the two of them, and upon getting an idea of this speculation, Marie stopped the friendship developing any further. Matt was a good friend, but her heart belonged to her Ben, nothing and no one could change that … not then, anyway.

He was a handsome man, with rugged good looks, bright blue eyes, and a wide generous mouth that quite rightly indicated a kindly generous soul. He was a quiet soul, proven by the fact that his isolation had not seemed to bother him one bit. He obviously enjoyed his own company for apart from Marie, he had never ventured to court any other woman since his wife had died 15 years earlier in childbirth.

He wiped his hands on some red cloth and strode out of the barn to greet the two horsemen as they galloped into his yard. Chickens squawked and scurried to get out of the way and the dog at the end of a long chain nearly choked itself to death trying to reach them. Hoss and Joe dismounted, tethered the horses and took off their hats,

“Howdy, Mr Fraser.” Hoss nodded over to Matt and smiled widely.

“Hot day, sir.” Joe said, nodding up at the sun as though it alone could testify to the truth of this statement.

“It certainly is, come on in, boys, out of the sun. I’ve coffee on the brew, if you’re interested.”

Hoss and Joe exchanged looks for it was commonly known that Matt Fraser’s coffee could strip paint off walls. Hoss sighed, and nodded gamely. For Marie .. Anything!

They pulled out chairs and sat down, Joe gave Matt the benefit of one of his largest smiles. Matt smiled back. For some reason, probably due to his isolation, Matt had still to realise that Joe and his smiles were to treated with some caution.

“So, how are things with you, Sir? Everything going well?”

“Yes, Joe.” Matt poured out coffee into three mugs and placed them on the table, then he sat down and looked at them both, “Why the visit? Haven’t seen you two here for some while.”

“I’m sorry about that,” Joe frowned as though chiding himself for his lack of consideration, “Life’s been busy since Pa died.”

Matt narrowed his eyes, Joe had been five coming on six when Ben died, how busy did a kid have to be not to visit until he was seventeen.

“I came two years ago last spring,” Hoss ventured.

“S’right, so you did. That thar bull you brung me was no good.”

“No good?” Hoss frowned, “Sure am sorry about that, what was wrong with it?”

“Just about everything. But let’s not talk about that, otherwise it’ll put me off my coffee.” Matt frowned even more deeply than Hoss, “So, what brings you here? First off – how’s your Ma?”

“Ah,” Joe widened his eyes, “You’ve hit the nail square on the head, Sir.”

“Something wrong?” Matt looked anxious, “Is she alright?”

“She’s missing Pa a whole lot, Sir. Time doesn’t always heal, you know?”

“Ah, I know what you mean.” Matt stared down into his mug. “She’s a lovely woman, your mother.”

“Thing is, she was thinking of going to the town social this Saturday, but there just isn’t anyone around to take her.”

“I thought there would be a whole line of men wanting to take her.”

“Well, there is actually, just between you and me.” Joe agreed, “But my Ma, she’s kinda particular about who she goes with, do you know what I mean?”

“Oh, sure. She’s always been like that, ever since I knew her first.”

“She sure wanted to go on Saturday, didn’t she, Hoss?” he kicked his brother on the ankle as Hoss looked as though he had gone into a private day dream of his own, Hoss nodded and sighed.

“Hmmmm,” Matt frowned, “She sure is a mighty fine looking woman.” he repeated thoughtfully, “But, I tried courting her once before, you remember?”

“Oh, this isn’t as serious as courting, Sir. It’s just escorting. That’s a whole different thing altogether, ain’t it, Hoss?”

“Sure is.” Hoss replied, forgetting himself he took a swig of the coffee, and struggled to swallow it.

“I’ll do it.” Matt rose up to his full height, and squared his shoulders, “I’ll come by and collect your Ma and take her to the social. You’re sure there ain’t no one else taking her?”

“Positive.” Joe replied, standing up also, and putting out his hand, which Matt took and shook warmly.

“I sure am glad you boys came on round. Shows you how it’s not fitting to listen to town gossip after all.”

“What town gossip is that, Sir?” Joe asked politely, as he walked towards Cochise.

“Oh, that your Mother was getting married in three weeks time.”

Joe went slightly pale, paused, steadied himself and then smiled widely. Under the shadow of his hat no one could see the smile had not reached his eyes,

“There – just shows.” he gulped.

They mounted their horses and with a wave of their hands rode out of the yard. Matt Fraser watched them go. He rubbed his hands with anticipation and pleasure. It was about time things in his life had begun to change for the better.

Joe’s plan had been launched!

Evie leaned towards the mirror and examined her face carefully. The ear rings and necklace matched perfectly, and the artfully painted make up made her look several years older than her twenty years. She felt a tingle of excitement as she always did when about to meet David. These clandestine meetings may not have led to anything immoral but she had certainly benefited as these handsome pieces of jewellery testified. Evie was a girl who believed in living for the moment, yet planned ahead for the future. She smiled to her reflection in the mirror.

“Where are you going? Is it a man? Is it?”

The slurred voice of her mother startled her, and she turned to placate her. There were times when her mother could lose control and start screaming, which alerted the neighbours. That would mean not seeing David and she knew already that David did not like his plans to be upset.

“Mama, be calm, please. I’m just going out for a walk.”

“A walk? All dressed up like that? You shouldn’t bother. Men aren’t interested in nice girls, you know.”

“Why not go back to bed. Try to sleep.”

“Sleep? Isn’t that what I do all the time? Go to bed, sleep, she says. When have I been able to go out and take a walk all dressed up ?”
“There were times, before, when you had everything. Don’t you remember?” Evie put a gentle hand on her mothers arm and steered her to her room, while with the other hand she closed the door to her own.

“Once I had everything. It all went wrong. All of it.”

“I know, I know. Hush now. Go to sleep. I shall be back soon.”

“Don’t go out, Evie. Don’t go and leave me alone again.”

“I must. But when I come back I shall tell you all about what has happened today. Good news, Mama. You’ll like it.” she smiled like a child at the woman who slumped down now upon the bed.

“I had everything once. Then it all went wrong.”

Evie hurried down the stairs. She had heard this litany often enough. Soon she knew her mother would sleep. Time was speeding by, and David did not like to be kept waiting.


“You look very nice this evening. The necklace suits you,” David Carter eyed her appraisingly as he handed her a glass of wine.

“Thank you,” she replied and settled back into her chair. It was strange, she thought, but she couldn’t work out why he kept making these clandestine meetings when all they did was drink wine, and talk. However, she fingered the jewels around her neck and smiled, she should not complain, not really. “They are beautiful. Thank you for giving them to me.”

He smiled and felt pleased. He was not a generous man by nature but liked to be given credit for the times when he was,

“So, tell me, what have you been doing with yourself all day?” he asked, and sat down opposite her.

“Ah,” she smiled, and leaned forward, “Today I put the first step of my plan in to action. Joeseph Cartwright is going to be my escort to the social on Saturday.”

“Really?” David frowned, and shrugged, as though he didn’t consider that anything to get unduly excited about.

“Really.” she laughed, a low chuckle of satisfaction that made her little face look like that of a kitten who had discovered her first bowl of cream. “Well, with you getting married to Mrs Cartwright very soon I knew you couldn’t escort me there, so I thought I’d ask Joe.”

“And so, what are the next steps in your plan?”

“Ah, that’s what is so funny. You see, I intend to become your step-daughter-in -law. Now, don’t you think that funny?” and she laughed, a good hearty laugh that resulted in her slopping some wine over her fingers and spilling drops onto her dress.

“You intend to marry Joseph Cartwright?” he intoned, narrowing his eyes and surveying her with just a hint of contempt in his face, and the thin lips curled over his teeth as though he found the whole idea preposterous.

“Yes. Well, aren’t I as good as anyone else? When we were at school together Joe was always chasing after me. ‘Evie, do you want me to carry your books?’’Evie, do you want some candy?’ Everyone else had as little to do with me as possible, but Joe didn’t seem to care -.”

“How do you mean? What didn’t he seem to care about that everyone else did?” David’s voice was sharp and he leaned forward now, as though this new revelation from her made her doubly interesting to him.

“People don’t approve of children born outside of wed-lock, Mr Carter. Not that I’ve anything to be ashamed of, because as far as I’m concerned, I’m just as good as anyone else. Some of those do gooders, going to church every Sunday, would have branded me with a big letter B if they had had their way. Well, marrying Joe would just put them in their place, that’s for sure.”

Carter leaned backed and surveyed her thoughtfully. Then he nodded, and smiled, and picked up his glass,

“So you’ll be going to the social with Joseph Cartwright on Saturday. Well, my dear, there’s something I would like you to do for me.”

“Is it to do with all those papers I got for you?”

“Similar to that, yes, something to do with them. All I want is for you to find out where Adam Cartwright will be during the week.”

“Adam? But I’m not interested in Adam.” she protested.

“No, my dear, I know you’re not. But I am…”


“Did you know?” Hoss asked Joe, as they rode away from Matt’s homestead.

“Do I look as though I did?” Joe replied tautly, with his lips thinned across his teeth.

Hoss glanced hurriedly over at his brother, and shook his head,

“No, I guess you don’t. Shucks, Joe, this is a mite awkward, ain’t it? We’ve just asked Matt to escort…”

“I know, I know.”

“Well, you got any idea on how to get us out of this mess? I don’t reckon David Carter’s going to be any too pleased to find a neighbour of ours taking Ma to the social when he intends to himself!”

“Why don’t you try thinking up a few ideas yourself, Hoss.”

“Well, I would, but …” Hoss paused and dropped into silence. After a few moments had elapsed he shook his head, “Look, Joe, Ma must love this guy a lot to be thinking of marrying him. Perhaps we should give him more of a chance. Get to know him a bit more.”

“Get to know him?” Joe’s voice was shrill, “Look, Hoss, from the first moment I saw him he gave me the shivers. He makes me cringe and my flesh crawl. Haven’t you ever met anyone who makes you feel like that?”

“Yeah, I guess so. Animals can be like that too. You jest got to look at one and you know it’s dead trouble. A rogue bull or …”

“Carter’s not exactly a rogue bull, but he’s trouble, Hoss. I can sense it. I know it. I can’t believe Ma could even think of marrying him.”

“I told you, she must love him.”

“But, Hoss, how could she love him after having been married to Pa? Why didn’t she tell me that she was going to marry him in three weeks time?”

“Well, she didn’t tell me either, nor Adam.”

Joe frowned, and swallowed a lump in his throat. Everything was going wrong. Very wrong. He said nothing more but urged Cochise to stretch his legs and get home sooner.

Chapter 13
Joseph Cartwright walked into the room with an ache in his heart and a storm in his head. From the moment Matt Fraser had uttered those fatal words about Marie’s marriage, he had felt himself sinking from light hearted optimism into a black hole of despair. Overe and over again he turned the subject of David Carter upside down in his mind.

How was it possible that Marie could not see what he, her own flesh and blood, could see so obviously? How could she profess to love the man? Did he even possess any qualities, any attributes at all?

He didn’t want to discuss it with Hoss, and his brother, knowing Joe’s nature so well, tactfully kept quiet. With the understanding borne of having lived with Joe so long, Hoss took Cochise’s reins and led him into the stable along with Chubb. He knew only too well Joe’s desire to be alone with his mother.

Marie was standing by the big window in that part of the room where they ate their meals at the big table. She had been arranging some flowers and even now stood dreamily holding some blooms in her hand. She wore a soft dove grey gown with white collar and cuffs and wore her hair caught up at the nape of her neck in a silky grey snood. She wore no adornments, no jewellery.

The light from the window was soft and kind, falling across her features in such a way as to blend in the shades and the highlights of her bone structure,so that to the on looker, she appeared younger in years than her actual age. Looking at her now Joe could see only too well what would have drawn a man like Ben Cartwright to her. In repose, like now, she looked beautiful. When she smiled and laughed she looked wonderful.


She turned slowly, as though it were a struggle to come from out of her dream world and back into reality. She sighed and put down the flowers upon the table, and walked towards him,

“Joe? You look tired, darling? Have you had a hard day?”

“I’m fine, Ma. I’m fine.” he paused, seeing in her eyes the doubt that the way he had spoken had created. He glanced about him, “Are we alone?”

“Hop Sing’s in the kitchen. Adam’s down at Millers.”

“Ma, I – I want to talk to you. Please.”

Marie straightened her back, and smiled. She put out a hand and touched his face, gently, as though to reassure herself that this was her Joe. Her boy. Nothing Joe said or did could hurt her. She loved him and he loved her. There now, she smiled again and nodded,

“What is it, my dear?”

“Can’t we sit down?”

“Of course we can,” she sat down immediately in the deep leather chair, and waited for him to settle himself and to speak. She could anticipate what was coming and frame her reply, but knew it was important for him to speak out first. Why rush and fall at the first hurdle?

“Ma, is it true what they’re saying in town? That you’re going to marry David Carter in three weeks time.”

A frown furrowed her brow, and she pursed her lips in annoyance. Small town gossips. How could they have found out so soon?

“David asked me to marry him. I’ve accepted. If you would prefer us to wait, Joseph, then I’ll tell David when I see him to-morrow.”

“But, Ma, why didn’t you tell me? I found out from Matt Fraser of all people. He couldn’t believe it either.”

“Don’t you believe it, Joe?”

“If you – I mean – if you say you are getting married then I guess I have to believe it. It’s just that I didn’t think you would inform the whole town without letting me know.”

“I haven’t mentioned it to anyone.” Marie replied tactfully, “I don’t know how they knew but it seems to me that the people in Virginia City always did manage to find out information about things before it actually happens.”

“Oh Ma,” Joe slumped forward, his face in his hands, “This should be a happy time for you, but – but I can’t help but think you’re making a big mistake.”

“Joseph, David is a very kind man. He’s considerate. He’s…”

“Ma, please, don’t try and sell him to me. I don’t know him. I’ve only met him on a handful of occasions, and you are expecting me to accept him as my father?” he shook his head miserably, “I can’t do that.”

“You really mean that, Joe? You can’t accept David as my husband? Even though I love him and want to marry him, you won’t accept him?”

“Oh Ma,” Joe groaned and looked away at the familiar things that were in the house. All the things he loved and knew and were part of the world with which he was so comfortable. He rubbed his brow, “I want you to be happy more than anything in the world, but why David Carter, why not Matt Fraser for example?”

“I don‘t love Matt. He’s a good friend, and was a good friend to your father, but I don’t love him, nor care enough about him to consider loving him. I care about David.”

“But you hardly know him.”

“He’s an old friend, Joe. He goes back to when I was a young girl and getting married to Jean. He loves me.”

“Yes, but, Ma, oh Ma, please don’t marry him.”

“Now you’re talking like a child, Joseph. Look, I’m prepared to post pone the wedding for a while, to let you all get to know him better. To get to respect him and see what a kind man he is. But this attitude you all have in telling me who I can or can not marry, no, I won’t go along with that. I never would be dictated to in the past, and I certainly shall not be dictated to now, not even by you, Joseph.”

“Alright, then, tell me all you know about him. Tell me what he’s done in his life, where he’s been, and what brought him here? Tell me so that I can get to understand why you care so much about him.”

For a moment it seemed as though Marie were going to lose her famous temper. She was fiery at times, especially when cornered, but she also loved her boy and could see that what he asked was only fair after all. She paused to think,

“Well, he’s New Orleans born, like myself and Jean, my first husband. He went to college with Jean, they were close friends. He met me on my wedding day.”

“Jean never introduced you before then? Isn’t that a bit unusual for a close friend not to put in an appearance earlier than his friends wedding day?”

“Joseph, you’re being very unkind. I can only tell you what I know, and I am trying to do the best I can. He had been away to Europe and returned only to find that we were about to marry. He can’t be in two places at once.”

Joe sighed, shook his head, and said nothing.

“Not long after we married, David married a young woman and they moved to Baton Rouge. His family were wealthy people, and he soon became prominent in the banking world. I don’t know much about that part of his life, of course, but he had a good lifestyle there. Then his wife died in childbirth and for a while he was so distressed that he was unable to settle down to work or anything. He travelled. By the time he returned to New Orleans I had left to marry Ben.”

“And what did he do?”

“He lived with his family. He worked hard. Eventually he became restless and decided to travel.”

“Why come here?”

“Because he wanted to come here. He said the world seemed to be migrating to San Francisco and Virginia City. So he came along to see what was happening here. Then he accepted the position as Bank Manager here. Joe, if you wanted to know this you had only to ask him. There is no secret agenda in his life.”

“What does Adam say about it? I presume Adam knows?”

“Yes. He found out by accident.” Marie replied, glancing away from her son, knowing that this would only add to the antagonism.

“So? What did he say about it?”

“Nothing. He just seemed to accept the fact that I must love David enough to want to marry him. He said nothing.”

“That’s unusual for him,” Joe said quietly, “I guess he was just too shocked to think of anything to say.”

“Joe -”

“No, Ma. Don’t say anymore. I love you so much. You’ve been the best mother in all the world and – and I know you love me. I want more than anything to say I’m happy for you, because I want you to be happy. But something deep inside makes me feel that this is all wrong. He isn’t the man for you, Ma.”

“And I suppose you know who is?” Marie snapped, “Matt Fraser for example? Is that who you think is good enough for me?”

Joe said nothing to that but shook his head and got to his feet. He put his arms about her and held her close. His mother. The first woman he had ever loved. The only woman who had retained that love over the years. Then he turned and walked away.

Adam rode into the yard just as Joe left the house. One look at his youngest brother was sufficient for Adam to realise that the youngster had received the news about Marie’s marriage. It was also sufficient for him to see it had not made Joe very happy. He looked around for Hoss, and saw him loitering by the stable door and after meeting Hoss’ eyes and raising his eyebrows in question, he dismounted.

Joe looked over at him, and his lips tightened in exasperation.

“You knew about Ma and Carter, didn’t you?” he muttered in a voice choked with emotion.

“Not long ago, Joe. I’ve not seen you since to talk to about it.”

“What’s there to say?”

Adam said nothing, but extended a hand which Joe brushed aside impatiently,

“Look, Joe, I think we need to talk.”

“It’s too late for talking. You had your chance and now it’s too late.”

“We need to talk, Joe. You don’t want Ma to be unhappy do you?”

Joe looked over at his brother in surprise, for it had been some time since Adam had referred to Marie as Ma. His hazel eyes widened, and his features softened,

“Of course I don’t want Ma to be unhappy. If she marries Carter though, you can guarantee it that she will be.”

“So what do you intend to do about it? Ride into town and challenge him to a duel? Blow his brains out? Order him out of town?”

Joe chewed on his bottom lip as he thought of the possibilities presented and the possible fallout as a result. In the meantime Adam carefully steered him to the stables, where Hoss was waiting.

“I can’t do any of those things, even though I’d like to,” Joe muttered, leaning against the rails of Cooch’s stall. “Ma would hate me and it wouldn’t prove anything.”

“Not about Carter, that’s true.” Adam agreed, folding his arms across his chest and leaning against the back wall of the stables, “What do we know about the man? Only what he has told us, and who is there to guarantee that any of it is true? Ma never even knew him before he rode here, even though he claims some knowledge of her because of a friendship with Jean. Somehow it doesn’t ring true.”

“What are we going to do about it, Adam?” Hoss asked anxiously. “I hate seeing Ma so unhappy when she should be looking forward to getting married. I don’t reckon we’re handling this aright.”

“I agree with you, Hoss.” Adam replied, nodding his dark head in confirmation of his words, “Look, I’ve written to a friend of Pa’s in New Orleans and asked him to make enquiries about our friend Carter. If what he has told us is true, and he comes out of this search with a decent reputation, we may very well have to just accept the fact and – well for Ma’s sake, stand back and -,”

“No, I can’t do that,” Joe snapped instantly, his eyes blazing and his cheeks reddening with the intensity of his feelings, “I can’t, Adam.”

“Alright, Joe, calm down. Don’t you think we both feel the same way as you? Look, the more we pull away from Ma the more she’s going to defend him, and feel she has to be loyal to him. Joe, she’s your mother, you should know her well enough to realise how stubborn she can be? If we just give her a little rope, she may feel less pressure from us and think more and feel less.”

“Think more and feel less? This is my Ma you’re talking about,” Joe smiled wryly, “Ma’s all feeling, you know that? Her heart rules her head all the time.”

“Which is why she needs us to back off for a bit. We want her to be happy, don’t we?”
Adam looked from one to the other of them, “We have only three weeks to prove to her that David Carter is the one man she should not even think of marrying. So?”

“So?” Joe and Hoss replied together, looking at Adam with wide eyed anticipation.

“So, that’s what we do, we ease off, and we try and find out as much about Carter as we can.”

“What if -” Joe took a deep breath, “What if whatever we do doesn’t work, and she still wants to marry him?”

“Then,” Hoss said, shrugging his shoulders and grimacing, “she must be in love.”

“And if she’s that much in love, Joe, then there isn’t anything we can do about it.” Adam said sadly.

Joe looked at them both, at Hoss who stood before him with a downcast face, and Adam, who looked defiant. He nodded,

“I guess you’re right,” he said quietly, “If she really loves him, then we’ll just have to be here for her when it all goes wrong, because, believe me, it will.”

Chapter 14

Hoss dismounted and holding the reins walked towards the Fraser home. The chickens still squawked as loudly and the dog barked as enthusiastically. The house itself remained shut off, and silent.

With a sigh he looked around him. There was no sign of Matt Fraser anywhere. Hoss yelled out his name several times which sent the chickens into more panic and the dog into a frenzy of barking. When peace settled along with the dust dog and chickens had created around them there was still no evidence of Matt.

“Typical!” Hoss snorted. He tethered Chubb and then walked to the door of the house and opened it, “Hey, Matt, you in there?”

The room was empty. There was no sign of the man and no scent of anything having been cooked or boiled for at least 24 hours. Seeing paper and a stubby pen on the table Hoss tore off a scrap and very laboriously scrawled down a note. Concentrating hard, Hoss hoped that all that he had written would explain everything without the man harbouring any ill feelings towards either himself or his brothers, but most of all, against Marie.

With a last look around him Hoss left the note on the table where he hoped it would be obvious and quickly left the premises. Trust Joe to leave him with the rotton job of having to disappoint Mr Fraser about Saturday, but the social was looming ever closer and he was the only one of the three close enough to the homestead to make the errand.


Saturday morning dawned, and David Carter opened his mail with his brow creased in deep thought. His meeting with Marie the previous afternoon had not gone as well as he had hoped. Her suggestion to post pone the nuptials for a few more weeks worried him. Even the explanation she gave, despite its plausibility, was inadequate. His mind had worried the matter over like a terrier with a bone. The conclusion he arrived at was absolute. Adam Cartwright had initiated the whole thing and had obviously played on his youngers brothers’ emotions to put pressure on their mother.

As he read the letters David found himself thinking more and more about Adam. He, being the first born, had been moulded more by his father than either of the others. Ove the years he had been solely responsible for running the Ponderosa. His share from Ben’s will was sizeable, equal to his brothers certainly, Ben had been fair in that, but for David it was the share that appealed to him most. And why? Because it was Adams.

He put down the letters now and walked to the window. He saw Evie leave the dressmakers with several boxes balanced in her arms and a gleeful smile on her pretty face. He followed her with his eyes until she disappeared from sight. What a silly little girl she was, he thought, but she was useful. If her plan to inveigle Joe into marriage worked it could well turn very much to David’s favour, especially if he and Marie were already wed.

He smiled slowly and stroked his upper lip thoughtfully while his eyes narrowed in contemplation. Everything he had planned over the past few months had been working very well until yesterday. As a knock came to the door, so he dismissed the problem as temporary. Tonight, he resolved, all would be back just the way he wanted it to be.

“Enter,” he intoned and turned to face the entrant.

A tall thick set man filled the doorway. David frowned and gave the man a swift up and down appraisal, only too aware that the newcomer was doing exactly the same to him.

“Are you Henry Chambers?” he asked finally, leaving his place by the window to reach the security of his desk at which he stood, close to the drawer which contained a lethal little derringer … just in case.

“Are you David Carter?” the newcomer asked in a voice that was reasonably pleasant and amiable. He walked further into the room with a smile on his face, and closed the door behind him. “I believe you wish to discuss some business with me. Some tidying up you want me to do for you?”

Chambers pulled out a chair and sat down, crossed one leg over the other, brushed off a speck of dust from his jacket, and smiled up at David who watched this nonchalant performance with cold detachment.

“What are your terms?”

“Half before the job, half after. If it goes wrong I’ll forfeit the one half, but won’t hang around too bail you out of any trouble that may result.”

“Are things likely to go wrong then, Mr Chambers? If they are, then you may as well leave now. I don’t like half finished jobs, let alone bungled ones.” David’s tone of voice was like ice and his eyes darkened with annoyance.

“I’m just giving you fair warning. I’m not stupid, Mr Carter. That’s the way things do go wrong, people get complacent, they brag that they can ‘tidy up’ without any problems. Well, that only happens in cheap dime novels. In real life anything can happen to ruin the most carefully laid plans. The wind can change direction and the bullet goes adrift … who do you blame for that? You aim at the perfect target and someone else appears and gets in the way. Well? It happens. Chance and unforeseen occurrence , Mr Carter. You have to make allowance for that every time.”

David relaxed and pulled out a chair. Having sat down he looked at Chambers thoughtfully and then nodded,

“Very well. I like the way you think.” he knew only too well how the best laid plans could go awry, hadn’t it just happened to him?

“Just tell me about the person you want me to tidy away. Accidents can happen at any time, but it would be best if you tell me if there is any particular time period you may want it to occur in. Any other details I may need to consider?”

David leaned back and smiled. What a pleasant man. Such a pleasing manner about him. One would really think he was just discussing the best way of ridding the streets of garbage! He folded his hands together neatly on the desk’s surface and in his mind’s eye saw himself holding Marie in his arms as he consoled her over the loss of her eldest son. He frowned, that was really what ate like poison into his soul … Adam Cartwright was not Marie’s eldest son. There was no flesh and blood tie between them. Adam Cartwright was a young, handsome, virile young man. Carter jumped as he heard his name coming, seemingly, from a long distance away. Startled he looked around and saw Chambers looking at him, rather doubtfully.

“Are you alright, Mr Carter? You sure you want me to go ahead with this job?”

“Positive. The sooner the better.”

“How soon?”

“Anytime this week. I’ve a friend who has promised to find out some details as to where,” he paused at the look on Chambers face, “What’s wrong?”

“No, it won’t do. I don’t like there being any friends involved. Just you and me. That way things stay neat. Just tell me who you want removed, describe him, tell me where he hangs out. I’ll do the rest of the work myself. Then when it happens you can be properly surprised.”

“I like that, Mr Chambers. You know your job pretty well, don’t you?”

“Oh, well…” Chambers smiled pleasantly, his eyes twinkled, “I’ve been in the business of tidying up for some years now. You’d be amazed at how many people I have helped disappear, to the joy of their relatives, I may add.”

Carter nodded with pleasure. Everything was working out wonderfully well. Wonderfully! He took a deep breath and then released it,

“This is the person I want you to deal with, Mr Chambers. His name is Adam Cartwright.”

“One of the Cartwrights from the Ponderosa?” Chambers eyes narrowed.

“The eldest son. You can’t mistake him, he wears black all the time.”

“Adam Cartwright from the Ponderosa. Don’t worry, Mr Carter, about him. Just worry about paying me. Here’s my fee.” he slipped a piece of paper over the desk to David, who picked it up, then after looking at the price scrawled upon it, nodded.

“I’ll get the half of it to you within the hour, Mr Chambers.”

Chambers smiled and stood up. He adjusted his jacket, brushed away some dust which wasn’t there anyway, and smiled coldly,

“A pleasure doing business with you, Mr Carter.”

David Carter nodded and put out his hand to clinch the deal, but Chambers had already left the room. The door closed with a soft click. David was just left with a piece of paper with the amount of the money to be paid, and the name of the boarding house in which Chambers was staying.

Chapter 15
“Smells interesting?” Adam said as he passed the door of Joe’s room. He peered inside and smiled as he watched his brother smoothing pomade onto his thick mane of hair, “Anyone special?”

“Evie Templeton.” Joe said quickly, then he glanced over at Adam who had said nothing, “She’s a nice girl.”

“I didn’t say she wasn’t, Joe.” Adam folded his arms across his chest and frowned slightly, “Why so on the defensive?”

“Well, folk talk, don’t they? They aren’t always kind about Evie and her mother.”

“Well, I guess people feel secure in themselves if they have others they can pass judgement on. Will we see you there?”

Joe nodded, checking in the mirror to make sure that he looked as good as he hoped and then he smiled, pleased at his reflection. Adam smiled too, there was no doubt about it, Joe was growing more handsome every year.

Adam returned to his own room and began to dress. He heard Joe hurry along the landing, call out something, the thud of his feet on the stairs. He smiled again, Joe would never be short of girls to go out with, that was for sure.
Marie Cartwright took care with her dressing that evening. She coiled her hair in a style that she hoped was modern, and put some small velvet flowers in amongst the curls. The flowers were the same colour as her dress, a soft green with a deeper green collar trimmed with lace.

She looked at herself closely in the mirror. It was strange how age crept up on one, she mused, she had been so busy living life that she didn’t notice the tracery of lines upon her skin especially around the eyes and mouth. She tilted her chin, which was still firm and smooth. Well, she thought to herself, she had lived a strange and wonderful life, but, all in all, she didn’t think she had come out of it too badly.

She frowned a little now, thinking of her meeting with David the previous day. It had not gone smoothly. She had asked him to postpone the wedding for several months and he had become decidedly angry. She had been surprised at the vehemence he had shown, and some of the things he had accused her of had been unfair and unkind. As she tweaked a curl into place she saw his face in her mind’s eyes and shivered.

For the first time since they had met, she now doubted whether or not she should proceed with this courtship. She asked herself now … do I love this man? She looked at her reflection in the mirror and saw the doubt in her own eyes.

“Is David collecting you, Ma?” Hoss asked as he paused at her doorway.

“No. I told him there was little point in coming all this way from town just to go back again.” she replied, recalling that she had also said that unless he changed his attitude she wouldn’t want to have anything to do with him at the social. He had backed down, surprisingly enough, for he had never experienced her temper before, and had promised that all would be well, he would see her at the social and all would be as it had been before. She stood up and smoothed her gown, and wondered, would it?

The knock on the door caught them by surprise. Adam was knotting his black string tie, and Hoss was slicking back his hair. They both walked to the landing to see who it would be that Hop Sing would admit into the room. Adam smiled at the sight of Matt Fraser, and Hoss groaned.

Matt had spent an inordinate amount of time in town that day. He had been shaved and his hair had been trimmed by the town’s barber. He had bought a new suit, new shirt and tie, and his shoes gleamed as though his life depended on them being glossier than anyone else’s in town. He smiled up at them and drew a corsage, gardenia’s no less, from behind his back.

“Matt? What in tarnation are you doing here?” Hoss cried.

“Matt, how lovely to see you.” Marie exclaimed as she appeared on the landing from her room.

Adam and Matt said nothing, they just looked at her and caught their breath.

“You look beautiful this evening, Ma.” Adam managed to say eventually.

“Thank you, Adam.” she smiled at him and touched him on the shoulder gently as she passed him to descend the stairway, “Matt, what a lovely corsage.”

“For a lovely lady.” he said, and bowed from the waist while his eyes shone up at her.

There could not have been a more gallant escort. Marie, surprised to see him (as was Hoss), smiled and pinned the corsage to her dress.

“I wasn’t expecting you this evening, Matt.” she said sweetly, picking up her shawl as she spoke.

“Wal, I wasn’t too sure what to do, Marie, seeing as there are these rumours in town about you and David Carter. But then, I thought, perhaps you would take pity on an old friend, just this last time.”

“Oh Matt, you are very kind, and a very dear old friend as well, thank you.” she slipped her shawl around her shoulders and sighed, as though truly content with life, although all she could think about was the reaction that David would show when she arrived at the social with another man.

Hoss watched as the couple left the house. He wiped his very dry mouth with the back of his hand and then shook his head, he looked over at Adam, who seemed to be daydreaming.

“We’d best be getting along, Adam, seeing as there could be fireworks any time now.”

Adam nodded and sighed,

“This,” he said to his brother, “”Will be very interesting to see.”


Sophia Templeton watched as Evie put on the necklace and ear rings that David had given to her. Sophia moved her head from side to side as though trying to see the jewels as they flashed in the light of the oil lamps.

“They’re very pretty, Evie. Where did you get them from? Are they real diamonds?”

“They scratch glass,” Evie said proudly, “so I guess they must be. I got them from a

“A man friend?”

Evie sighed and looked at her mother through the mirror. Sophia wore that angry, disdainful look on her face again, that often heralded trouble.

“Just a friend, nothing more.”

“I don’t like you having men friends.”

“I know, Ma.” she sighed, and tweaked at her hair, wondering how Joe would prefer her to wear it. She brought a coil up in her hand and wound it around her head, “It’s alright, Ma, I know how to take care of myself.”

“That’s what I said too,” Sophia said quietly, walking to the dressing table and standing behind her daughter. She picked up a brush and began to brush the girl’s hair, very gently, “Who are you going with to the social?”

“Joe Cartwright.”

“Joe Cartwright? One of the Cartwright boys from the Ponderosa?”

“Yes. I used to go to school with him.”

“I remember him. He came here once for cookies and a glass of milk. A charming child.”

“I don’t think Miss Jones thought so,” Evie laughed, “But he was sweet. He was always very nice to me.”

“Is he the friend who gave you the jewels?”

“No, Ma. It was someone else.”

Sophie sighed and put down the brush. She stood back and watched as her daughter finished doing her hair. No doubt about it, Evie was lovely. She had her father’s eyes, but the rest of her was from her Templeton forebears. Sophia shivered, and turned away. She had been beautiful too, once. Men had come, they spoke words of love and made promises that they never kept. Then too late, she was expecting the child and the father stepped out of her life, leaving her to bring up the child on her own, on a meagre inheritance that she had eked out miserably over the years. No wonder she sought comfort from drink. Her sole trusted companion, made no promises, told no lies, provided solace and oblivion for a few hours at least.

“Evie, be careful, won’t you?” she said quietly, as she reached the door of the room and half turned to look, once again, at her daughter.

“It’s alright, Momma. I have a plan, and if it works out, you’ll never have to worry about a thing ever again.”

Sophia sighed and slipped into her own room. She sat down in front of the mirror and picked up her silver backed brush … she couldn’t remember a time when she had ever stopped worrying.
If David Carter had been a cockerel he would have been crowing. The Mayor had been in deep conversation with him and invited him to become a member of the Town Council. He was bursting with pride, and longing for Marie to arrive to share the news with her. Within his pocket he had a small velvet covered box that contained a ring that had been in his family for generations. He was confident that the news of his prestigious appointment and the sight of the ring would dispel any doubts she could possibly have about their commitment to one another. With a sigh of contentment he glanced around the room and awaited her arrival.

Evie smiled over at him, and he smiled in return. He watched as Joseph Cartwright guided her amongst the guests there, talking to this one or that one, and laughing, his hazel eyes twinkling in pleasureable enjoyment. How easy to be so popular, David mused, when one has lived in one place all one’s life, and a Cartwright to boot. He turned aside and looked towards the door.

Marie entered with her arm through that of another man. A stranger to Carter which made it worse. She glanced around the room and smiled to various ones. Then her eyes fell upon David. The emotions he was feeling were as obvious as the writing on the pages of a book. The most obvious of all was a seething rage. The skin around his collar was going scarlet. She felt herself quail at the sight of the man who had professed to love her, and anxiously she stepped back.

Behind her Adam placed a firm hand on her arm, as though reassuring her that she was safe. By her side Matt retained hold of her hand through his arm, and next to him stood Hoss. She steadied herself, smiled and forced herself to look straight into David’s eyes.

By the time David had crossed the room, he had succeeded in calming down sufficiently to mask his feelings. He smiled pleasantly at Matt, and leaned forward to kiss Marie on the cheek.

“My dear, you look beautiful this evening,” he said to her.

“Thank you, David. David, this is Matt Fraser. I don’t think you have met, have you?” she smiled, and looked from one to the other, “Matt is an old friend of Bens and a very dear valued friend of the family.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Matt said, shaking the banker’s hand vigorously, “ I sure hope you didn’t mind my escorting Marie to the dance this evening. Thought I’d bring her this time as I couldn’t be sure how long it would be before I would get the change again.”

David smiled coldly, a slight sneer touched his lips, the arrogance of the man!

“Let me get you something to drink, my dear. Matt, it’s been a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for bringing Marie safely to the dance but…”

“But it’s customary for the escort to have the first dance with the lady he has brought to the dance, David. I’ll have that drink later …” Marie smiled at them all, and with Matt’s arm around her waist drifted into the dance.

Carter swallowed loudly. Adam raised his eyebrows and rocked on his heels, pursed his lips and stared at the ceiling. Hoss pulled a face, and rolled his blue eyes, and wished he could disappear.

“Can I get you a drink?” Adam said eventually to David who seemed to have taken root to the floor.

“I don’t want anything from you,” David hissed, and strode away. Seeing the Mayor and his wife approaching him, he fixed a smile to his lips and struggled to compose himself for polite social conversation.

“I’d say that was round one to our side, huh?” Hoss whispered.

“I’d say so. How long do you think it’ll last?”

“Who knows? I’m going to find myself a filly to dance with now,” Hoss replied and promptly disappeared.

Adam sighed, and turned his attention to the dance floor. Marie and Matt looked comfortable together. A handsome couple some would say, relaxed with one another, and laughing as they danced. He saw Evie laughing at something that Joe has whispered into her ear. He saw David fingering something in his pocket, while he was talking to the Mayor. He wondered, fleetingly, if Carter possessed a derringer.

The music stopped, Matt gave Marie a final swirl and then leaned forward and whispered something that made her laugh. Even before the laughter had ended, David was at her side, his hand on her arm.

“I need to talk to you, Marie. It’s private. Outside.” he ordered imperiously.

“I don’t see what you need to say to me outside that can’t be said here, inside.” Marie replied, smiling at him, but with her eyes cold.

David Carter stepped back, as though surprised at Marie being so stubborn in her refusal to meet his request. He was about to speak when Adam was there, a smile on his face,

“Excuse me, Mr Carter, if I may have the next dance, Ma?” his arm cut across David’s body, pushing him very gently away from Marie, while his other hand took hold of hers and instantly he stepped into the next dance. David stared at them, glared at them, and then turned upon his heel and returned to the tables to watch them from there.

“Are you alright?” Adam asked Marie quietly, the words were soft against her skin, and she smiled and nodded.

“I’ve got used to you calling me Marie.” she said suddenly, “It’s been a while since you called me Ma so much.”

“Perhaps it’s to remind myself that that is who you are,” he replied cryptically.

She said nothing to that, but felt reassured by the firmness of his grip around her waist and hand, she sighed contentedly.

“Your father would be so proud of you, Adam,” she said suddenly, “The way you’ve managed the ranch all these years, and helped me with the boys.”

“I didn’t do that much really.” he replied and looked down at her with a smile, “Remember that time the Indians attacked and Joe was hidden in the hayloft?”

“I was terrified. I thought they would find him and take him away, the scamp.”

“You faced up to them though. Never knew a woman could handle a rifle the way you did that day.”

“Oh, I have to say I was mighty grateful that Ben took the trouble to teach me so well,” she sighed, “He was a patient teacher.”

Adam said nothing, musing still over the picture of the younger Marie gripping her rifle, the wind blowing her hair across her face, her skirts billowing about her ankles.

“I’m glad Pa married you and brought you home,” he said, “They were happy years, those we had with Pa, weren’t they?”

“Yes,” she replied in a soft, still voice.

The music ended and people clapped. Adam said nothing but stepped back, and led her to the table where David was waiting. Marie smiled at him, and was about to speak when a disturbance at the door caused a ripple effect amongst everyone there, as all turned to look at its cause.

“I’ve come for Evie. I’ve come to bring my little girl back home.”

Sophia swayed in the doorway and narrowed her eyes as she peered through the crowd of people. She stepped further into the room, and swung her arm wide, nearly knocking Widow Hawkins off her feet in the process,

“Evie, you gotta come home with me, honey. Where are you?”

Evie shrunk against Joe’s side, her face had gone white when she had first seen her mother standing there, but now the blood rushed back and rouged her cheeks a brilliant red.

“It’s alright,” Joe whispered, “I’m here for you. Don’t worry. Just go to her. We’ll get her home as quickly as possible.”

“Oh Joe,” she whispered and together they walked towards the woman who was obviously finding it hard to keep upright.

Adam turned away from the sight. As far as he was concerned the woman needed, and was about to get, help. As his gaze turned from Sophia it caught the look upon David’s face. It was a look of horror, disgust, dismay. Adam felt a surge of anger well up through him, couldn’t the man even feel pity for the poor wretched woman,he asked himself.

Sophia staggered further into the room, and the people stepped back, as though she were contaminated by some contagious sickness.

“Evie?” she cried, seeing her daughter at last and the smile that came upon her face was sweet and tender, “Evie.”

“It’s alright, Momma, I’m here and so is Joe. We’ll take you home now.”

“Evie, I had to come. I just don’t feel right, something inside of me…” she touched her breast, and her face contorted with fear.

“Shall I get the doctor?” Joe asked, taking hold of the woman’s hand.

But Sophia was no longer looking at Evie, nor at him. Her gaze was upon the face of someone else. Her eyes widened. Her face drained of all colour,

“Remy?” she cried, “Remy?” and then she fell, fainting, upon the floor.

Chapter 16
It was Hoss who gently lifted Sophia up into his arms and after glancing over at Evie and Joe, carried her from the room, and out of the building.

Marie was about to follow but David caught her arm and pulled her back,

“There’s no reason for you to go with them, Marie. The poor woman has her daughter with her, she wouldn’t appreciate strangers there as well.”

“For pities sake, David. That poor woman has lived here for over ten years, we should not be strangers to her now, when she needs friends.”

“Marie, stay here.” David said in a very low tone, for they stood close, side by side, and he murmered the words in her ear, “I have to speak with you.”

“Whatever you say will have to wait, David. I want to make sure Mrs Templeton is taken good care of,” and she pulled away, but he held her tightly by the wrist,

“Is she more important then, Marie? More important than I am to you?”

She looked up into his face. A handsome man, yes, but suddenly, no longer appealing. His eyes were hard, they glittered like those of a snake when it is at its most dangerous.

“Let me go, David.” she said, and forced herself to look into his eyes. She saw her own face mirrored in the dark pupils and wondered if he also could see the fear mingled with disgust that was on her face.

The music had restarted and couples were dancing again. There were several whoops and hollers amidst the clapping. She pulled away and as she turned Matt Fraser was there with her shawl, which he draped clumsily across her shoulders while he gave David a look more eloquent than words. Back off could not have been said more clearly.

David pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his face. He had felt like strutting like a cockerel earlier on in the evening, now he felt as bedraggled as a plucked chicken ready for the pot.


“Remy? Is he here?”

The whispered words could barely be heard, but Evie leaned closer to her mother and hearing them told Sophia that there was no Remy there, nor had there been for a very long time.

“I saw him. Evie, he was there. Please, please tell him to come to me. I love him so much. I forgive him. I do, I do forgive him.”

Sophia closed her eyes and drifted away into unconsciousness, perhaps she could feel the gentle fingers that held her hand, perhaps not. A small smile lingered about her mouth, as though she had found some contentment, some hope, at last.

“Who’s Remy?” Joe asked Evie in a soft voice.

“It’s the name of the man who was my father,” Evie replied without taking her eyes from her mother’s face. “You wouldn’t realise it, Joe, but there was a time when my mother was very lovely, and wealthy. But she loved too easily and trusted too often. Remy said he loved her but when she told him she was expecting me, he suddenly remembered his duty as a husband and returned to his wife.”

“I’m sorry,” Joe sighed and looked at Sophia and then at Evie, “Why do you think she called out for him at the hall? Do you think she was …”

“She wasn’t drunk.” Evie snapped defensively, “Doctor Martin said she was not drunk at all. She was ill, in pain. She thought she saw him, that’s all.”

Adam, leaning against the door frame with his hands clasped together in front of him, frowned slightly. Had he been the only person there to think, no, to believe that she had been looking straight at the person she addressed as Remy? The same person who had looked upon her with fear and horror and disgust on his own face?

He moved slightly as the door opened and Marie stepped into the room. They exchanged a look, said nothing, but understood all. In silence Marie hurried to Evie’s side and put an arm around her shoulders,

“Come, Evie, let her sleep now.”

“I’m afraid that if I leave her, she’ll die without anyone being here with her. I wouldn’t want her to die alone.”

“I’ll stay here. Why not go out and rest awhile, Joe will take you out into the fresh air and if your mother needs you, then Adam or Hoss will come for you.”

“No, it’s very kind of you, Mrs Cartwright, but I would really rather stay here with her. I’m all she has, you know?” and Evie gave them a bleak, heart breakingly sad smile.

“I know,” Marie said softly and dropped a gentle kiss upon the girls brow.

Adam opened the door and together they slipped out of the room. On the landing Hoss was leaning against the wall, and immediately straightened up as they came out,

“How is she?”

“Unconscious,” Marie replied and smiled at him, “That was a kind thing to do, Hoss. It gave her some dignity, the way you carried her so quickly.”

“Shucks, Ma, I jest felt so sorry for the poor lady, and for Evie too.”

They went down the stairs in silence and sat down on the rather frayed chairs in the sitting room. Marie looked around and sighed, there was little to gaze upon, in her poverty Sophia couldn’t afford many luxuries.

“Poor Sophia. What did Paul say was wrong with her, Adam?”

“Her heart, among other things, can’t handle the stress she’s living under. Life is just grinding her down, with the aid of all the alcohol she consumes.”

“Don’t judge her harshly, Adam. I feel guilty in that all these years have gone by and the town has done nothing but stand in judgement of her.”

“For one mistake? It was hardly her fault, and she did her best in raising Evie.” Adam replied rather abruptly, as though he had been stung by the accusation from Marie that he could also be one to stand in judgement of another.

“Who do you think Remy was?” Marie asked after a moment or two of silence.

“Evie said it was the name of her father. Remy …” Adam shrugged his shoulders, “I think Sophia saw the man in the hall tonight.”

“Thought she saw him,” Hoss said quickly, “If’n he’d been there, I doubt if she would have left it this long before she had gone to see him.”

“It may have been the first time she had seen him, the first time in a long time.” Marie replied quietly, and she looked over at Adam, “Did you see who she was addressing?”

“Yes, and he didn’t like it, not one bit.”

“Who was it?” she asked in a very quiet subdued kind of voice but Adam just shook his head and said nothing, “Adam, do you think Evie saw?”

“No, she was more concerned about her mother,” Adam replied.

They paused at the sounds of footsteps on the landing and looked up to see Evie peering down at them. She looked from one to the other and then said to Marie,

“My mother asked to speak to you, Mrs Cartwright, in private.”

Marie stood up, nervously smoothed down her skirt, and made her way to the stairs. For an instant she faltered, and looked back at Adam and Hoss, then she took one step at a time, as though dreading the conversation to come.

Evie opened the door to her, and smiled, but she looked nervous and scared. Joe came out of the room and the two of them went downstairs and joined Hoss and Adam in the shabby little sitting room.

Upstairs Marie took the chair that Evie had previously occupied and took the womans hand. It was dry and hot, and trembled slightly.

“Is that you, Mrs Cartwright?”

“It is, Sophia. Is there something you wanted? Can I get you anything?”

“No, no. I just wanted to speak to you about something very, very important. Raise the pillow a little so I can look at you.”

Marie did as requested, and helped the sick woman to sit a little higher in the bed. Then she looked at her and smiled, Sophia just looked intently into her face, then sighed and closed her eyes.

“When I moved here all those years ago I couldn’t believe that it was you, married to that Ben Cartwright. Imagine you being here of all people?”

“Where did you expect me to be, Sophia? Why were you so surprised to see me?”

“I lived in the same town as you, years ago. I never knew you, to speak to you or anything like that, but I would know you if I passed you in the street, which I did, often. We would smile and nod at each other and pass on by. You married Jean, but his mother hated you, isn’t that right?” her hand convulsively tightened on Marie’s and Marie felt her heart start to thud noisily in its cavity and her mouth went dry as she wondered what else the woman was about to say.

“I was wealthy then, my family were well connected. But I was a silly young woman, vain and easily led into trouble. When I met and fell in love with Remy I believed everything he told me, everything. One evening he came to the house with a little baby swaddled in blankets. A baby boy only days old.”

“A baby boy?” Marie’s voice faltered.

“He told me that he had been paid a lot of money to take the baby from its mother. She was very sick. She would be told that the baby had died during her sickness and would never know, never, ever know, that the baby had been taken from her.”

“Taken from her?” Marie echoed the last words, her heart beat was thudding in her ears now. She both dreaded and longed to hear everything Sophia had to say.

“Remy was always needing money. He had debts. I don’t know what happened to the baby, but I think the grandparents took him. Then Jean left and you were all alone.”

“Do you … are you talking about my baby?” Marie whispered hoarsely.

“I had to tell you, Mrs Cartwright. I had to let you know about the baby. If I died without telling you, it would be the greatest sin of all, and I don’t think God would forgive me.”

“Where did he take the baby?” Marie could barely get the words through her lips.

“I don’t know what happened to the baby, but I think the grand-parents took him. I don’t know for sure, Remy wouldn’t say. I saw the baby only for a little while and held him in my arms when he cried. He was so sweet. I longed to have a baby of my own …” her voice faltered, she closed her eyes.

“Sophia? Can you hear me?”

“Yes,” came the whispered reply.

“Is it my baby you were talking about? Are you saying that my baby did not die?”

“Yes.” Sophia’s fingers twitched and tightened around Marie’s hand.

“Do you know where he is now?”

“No. Perhaps he’s dead. I don’t know. You have to ask Remy.”

“Who is Remy?”

“Evie’s father.” came the softly spoken reply, “Please? Can I see Evie now?”

Marie released the womans hand and gently placed it upon the bed covers. She walked, somehow, to the door, and leaned her burning brow upon the cool woodwork. Her baby son had not died then? Was that right? Had she heard right?

Somehow she made her way downstairs and told Evie her mother needed her. She sat down, her back straight and stiff, her eyes glazed and staring at the far wall, seeing nothing.

“Ma? Ma?”

The voice seemed to be coming from a long way off. She became aware of Adam rubbing her hands with a look of concern on his face, and of Hoss, leaning down, with a glass of brandy in his hand, looking scared and forlorn like a scared child.

“Are you all right? We thought you were going to pass out.” Adam said anxiously.

“I’m all right.” she said and took the brandy from Hoss’ hand, “I’m all right.” she repeated.

From upstairs they heard a muffled cry, then the sound of sobbing. Evie had been right when she had told her mother earlier that she would soon have nothing more to worry about…

Chapter 17
David Carter wiped a sheen of sweat from his face with a handkerchief and hurried to his desk. From one drawer he produced a glass and a bottle of whiskey. He poured himself a liberal amount before opening another drawer and producing the derringer.

Was everything in ruins now? Had he nothing left upon which he could fall back and retrieve, hopefully, something from the mess? That wretched, wretched woman, why had she to appear like that and, after so long, to recall his face, his name!

He lowered himself into his chair and placed the derringer on the desk in front of him, the glass of whiskey he drank in two hasty gulps and then slammed the glass down onto the desk’s surface.

Such high hopes for to-night and for what? What had he to show for it now? His hand reached out and his fingers curled around the handle of the derringer.

“That would be rather a waste, wouldn’t it?”

The voice was behind him. Close behind him. Startled he turned and stared at the man who stepped towards him from out of the shadows.

“How long have you been there?” he asked, his eyes widening in confusion.

“Oh, about an hour.”

“The door was locked.”

“So? I unlocked it.” the man shrugged and then sat down in the chair which only hours he had vacated. He smiled slowly, “What was the whiskey for? To give you the courage to blow your brains out?”

“Why are you here? You were sent the money you requested, weren’t you?” David replied in an attempt to divert the conversation from himself.

“Do you still want me to go ahead?”

“Yes.” David said with a power behind the word that even caught him by surprise. “Yes, more than ever.”

Henry Chambers smiled and nodded,

“How soon do you want it to happen?”

“How soon can you arrange things to happen?” David looked at the other man with his eyes gleaming. If he had lost everything, he still had this chance to take something down with him.

“Best not to tell you too much, after all, you want the surprise to be genuine when you go to console the man’s mother. I presume, you will be consoling the grieving mother, won’t you?”

If there was a slight sneer in the man’s voice David chose to ignore it. He smiled at the thought of going to see Marie, feigning surprise, horror, dismay … oh yes, he could do that, and then giving her the comfort she would be needing. The shoulder to cry upon. The important thing was ensuring that it was his shoulder that was there to be cried upon and not that idiot Matt Fraser’s.

“Why did you come here tonight?” he asked Chambers, a frown furrowing his brow as he recalled his previous meeting with the man. “I don’t think it wise for us to be seen together, so why did you come back here tonight? Hadn‘t we already said all that was necessary earlier?”

Chambers nodded, and crossed one leg over the other in a nonchalant manner that made David feel uncomfortable.

“True enough. The problem is that when all that unpleasantness occurred over there at the social this evening, I got to wondering whether or not you would be around to pay me my other half. I just wanted to make sure my investment was sound.”

“You’ve no worries on that account, Chambers. You do what we agreed and you’ll get paid the agreed amount.”

“Mmmm, so why the gun? Why the whiskey? Seemed to me, Mr Carter, that you seemed like a drowning man reaching out for a straw to hold onto … not a very reliable source of income for me, if you take what I mean?”

“No. I don’t understand what you do mean.”

“Well, I just thought I’d come over and see how things were with you. After that debacle over there you didn’t look so good. I waited here and what happens? You looked like a man about to blow his brains out…that isn’t good, Mr Carter. Not at all good. So, I think, if you have no objection, it might be a good idea if you pay me the other half now.”

David said nothing. In a way he felt as though he were drowning. Everything was just winding down slowly around him and falling apart.

“Well, Mr Carter?”


David stood up, squared his shoulders. He’d lived long enough by his wits and come far enough as a result without falling into the hands of this kind of shyster. He stared into Chambers eyes and felt some flicker of power within himself come back to life and burn anew.

“No, Mr Chambers. The agreement stands as it was earlier. You deal with Adam Cartwright first. Then you’ll get the money afterwards. Now, if you don’t mind, get out of my office.”

Chambers smiled slowly. He rose to his feet and took a deep breath. He looked at Carter, not with respect, but with something that indicated an acknowledgement of Carter’s authority over him. He left the office and closed the door.
David Carter walked to the window and watched the man walk away into the shadows. From the hall he could hear the strains of music and laughter. His hand returned to his pocket and he withdrew the small velvet box. Opening it he looked at the ring and smiled, then he snapped the box shut. Marie Cartwright would be a fool to say no when he saw her again.


Joe opened his eyes to a dark room. Something had woken him. He tried to open his eyes but they were still heavy with sleep. His hand moved to his head and he rubbed his face automatically, as though by doing so he would wake up sooner. The dark didn’t seem so black now, he could shapes of furniture in his room, and the drapes at the window were drifting back and forth very slowly in the slight breeze from the window. He heard it then, the sound that had roused him from sleep. The sound of a woman weeping.

He was awake now. Alert and anxious. He swung his feet over the side of the bed and pulled on his pants, buttoning them up hastily as he hurried to the door of his room. On the landing he picked up the lamp that was kept burning there and holding it aloft he made his way to his mother’s room.

“Ma? Oh, Ma, what’s wrong? What’s wrong, Ma?”

Marie shook her head, made an attempt to stifle the tears, and turned to look at Joe. She had been sitting at the dressing table with her face in her hands, but now she rose to her feet and turned to him,

“Oh Joe, I wish your father were here tonight. I miss him so much.” she whispered, and held out her hands to him.

Setting down the lamp, Joe went to her side and held her close to him. He couldn’t help but wonder whether she were speaking the truth, but then, for what reason would she lie?

“Is there anything I can do, Ma? Were you upset about Sophia? Did she say something that could have upset you?”

Marie closed her eyes tight and tried to shut out the memory of Sophia’s frightened eyes as she told her about Remy and the baby. A woman frightened to meet her God with what appeared to be a monstrous sin upon her conscience. Glad perhaps to have had the chance to pass on the secret and the misery that went along with it. And now here was dear Joe, innocent to the fact that somewhere he had a brother, still alive.

“What’s wrong?”

Adam’s voice broke in upon her thoughts, and upon Joe’s also. He had heard the weeping and then the voices. Now he stood in the doorway and looked at them both,

“It’s all right, Adam. Ma’s just a little distressed about … about Mrs Templeton.” Joe said very quietly, and his breath brushed against his mother’s cheek, warm and sweet.

Adam looked keenly at Marie, then again at Joe. He said nothing more, just gave a brief nod and retreated, closing the door behind him. Joe felt his mother slowly move away from him, and return to her seat at the dressing table,

“Joe, do you have any idea who Sophia thought was this man, Remy?” she asked, while at the same time she dabbed at her eyes and nose with a handkerchief.

“No. I never heard mention of anyone by that name before. Remy? French, isn’t it?”

“Sophia came from my home, back in New Orleans. She knew me from all that time ago.”

“Really? You never said you knew her before.”

“I’m almost ashamed to have to admit it, but we didn’t move in the same social circles. I didn’t know her. We would perhaps pass in the street, but not to speak to, in fact, I never recognised her when we met her. It was Sophia who knew me, but she never said anything until this evening, before she died.”

“Is that what upset you, Ma?” he reached out and put a gentle hand, touched a curl of her hair that had fallen, coiled still, across her shoulder.

“I wish I could know who this Remy was …” she whispered as though he were not there at all now, as though she were quite alone.

“Why? What’s so important about him? We know he was Evie’s father, and Sophia in her distress thought she saw him this evening, but there is no reason for you to concern yourself about him.”

Marie stared down at her hands that clutched at the handkerchief, and nodded,

“Perhaps you’re right,” she said quietly.

“Of course I’m right, Ma.” he squatted down in front of her and smiled, looking up into her face and brushing away a curl, just like his father would have done.

“I’m sorry to have disturbed you, Joe. You’ve enough to worry about as it is. I’ll be alright now. Good night.” she leaned forward and kissed his brow. Somewhere, perhaps, there was another young man who may have eyes like Joe’s. Who had no mother to kiss him goodnight. Somewhere, perhaps, her other son had lived , and died…how was she know? How was she to know?

Chapter 18
Chambers was a methodical man. He was also a man who believed in keeping very much in the background. Too many gunfighters, gunmen, call them what you will, liked to advertise their profession. They tended to go in for the low slung gunbelts and the dark clothes. They began to groom an air about them so that people who came into contact with them could almost smell the aura of death about them.

In the morning after had had eaten his breakfast he returned to his room and checked over his weapons. Then he sat at the window of his room for a while to go over in his mind the details of what he was going to do that day. The Cartwrights were an easy family to get details about because of their prominence in the community. People were only too pleased to discuss all manner of information with him about the Cartwrights comings and goings.

He waited without moving as patiently as a spider waits for that slightest of touches on its web. Just as he had been told and just as he had anticipated, Adam Cartwright rode down the main street of Virginia City and dismounted outside the Telegraph Depot. Chambers watched as Adam walked into the building. He smiled as the thought occurred to him that Adam Cartwright looked more like a gunman than he did.

Chambers did not actually like the thought of being in the same category as a gunman. He never challenged people to fight duels or anything as crass as that because it brought attention to himself. He had to live after all, just an ordinary life with his wife and family back home. He liked to fade back into the background. Just an ordinary man going about his business.
He stood up and picked up his hat and the valise on the bed. He was unarmed. A well built good looking man, pleasant, yes, all those things, but nothing that really stood out to mark him as – well – someone who got paid for tidying other people’s messes.

He hired a buggy for the morning, and passed some pleasantries with the stable hand at the livery stables. Then he rode out of town. It was a pleasant day with hardly any wind about anywhere.
Adam Cartwright looked through the envelopes and frowned thoughtfully. The one he was particularly hoping for had not arrived. He put them all in his saddlebags and crossed the road to the hardware store where he placed his order and was assured that everything was in stock and would be ready by the time Hoss came in later to collect it in the wagon.

Standing on the sidewalk he glanced up and down the road, and then lowered the brim of his hat to shade his eyes. Turning to the left he made his way to Evie Templetons home.
The door opened to his knock and he found himself face to face with Mrs Allen, the wife of the town’s newspaper Editor. He slipped his hat off,

“I came to see how Miss Templeton was today, Mrs Allen.”

“She’s sleeping. She’s very distressed,” Mrs Allen replied, pulling the door partly shut behind her, “The doctor came and gave her something to help her sleep, and Mr Carter, the Bank Manager, he came as well.”

“Did he get to talk to her?”

“No, but -,” she paused, glanced over her shoulder and stepped closer to him, “You were there last night, standing close by him, weren’t you? You know, when Sophia Templeton came in and started calling out as though she had seen someone she knew, before she collapsed.”

“Yes, I was, but what’s the significance of that?”

“Did you notice who she was looking at?” Mrs Allen narrowed her eyes and looked straight into his own with such a meaningful expression on her face that Adam had to step back a pace,

“I thought she was looking at someone, yes.”

“Did you notice the look on HIS face?”

Adam recalled to mind only too well the look on David Carter’s face and he nodded,

“You believe that he is this person Mrs Templeton was calling out to?” he asked Mrs Allen, who nodded with that pinched lip look well known to gossips throughout the world. It occurred to Adam then that Mr Allen probably got all his ’scoops’ for the newspaper from this source and he resolved to watch every word he said in front of her in future.

“Another thing,” Mrs Allen leaned forward, “Evie has been looking through her mother’s papers and they were all over the table when he came in. I caught him looking through them when I came downstairs to tell him Evie was sleeping.”

Adam nodded, looked thoughtfully over Mrs Allen’s shoulder at the partially closed door and wished he could have a look throught the papers as well. He smiled, muttered his thanks, and made his departure.

He wondered how many others in town had noticed Carter’s discomfiture at Sophia’s outburst and had started to conjecture on just what the connection had been between them.
Chambers drove to an area that he had noticed the previous day when he was doing his ‘research’. He then turned the buggy round and headed back towards town. He pulled the horses up at a convenient outcrop of rocks and deftly disconnected the back wheel so that the buggy lurched down onto its axle. He then made his way over the rocks and prepared himself to wait.

Adam rode without too much concern about where he was going. Sport knew the way so well that had Adam been blindfolded he would have led his master safely home. Given to reading and reciting poetry on horseback, or just slipping in and out of daydreams was the normal course of events for Adam. Like all of us, when making a regular journey it become monotonous in time.

He did stop though when he came across the buggy sprawled rather inconveniently across the road. Dismounting he kept hold of the reins, and walked towards the vehicle, looking to left and right of it to ascertain whether or not the driver and/or passengers were still in the vicinity. The silence was profound. He walked around the buggy and stopped to regard the wheel that was propped up against the back of the contraption. It all seemed very unusual.

He looked up at the sky, which was clear and blue. No buzzards wheeling about in anticipation of an early lunch then. He slipped off the holster loop and put his hand slowly onto the handle of his gun. Something was definitely wrong here.

Chambers smiled as he watched the young man circle the vehicle. He watched as Adam began to study the prints that were scuffled about the site, and it was when Adam peered up, almost as though he were looking right at him, that Chambers aimed, and fired …

Chapter 19

For a fraction of a moment the young man stood facing the rocks, then a look of surprise spread over his face at the realisation that he had been shot. As though in slow motion he tried to raise a hand to where the blood was pumping from his body, staining the black shirt. Chambers watched as, in slow motion, the hand failed to reach the wound, but faltered, grew limp and heavy.

Adam could feel strength ebbing from him. He struggled to move. Everything was too much effort, far too much, and then he was falling. His knees buckled beneath him, his brain told him to put out a hand to stop but he had not the strength to move. His eyes were closing, he had not the strength to keep his eyelids open. Everything was shades of grey, getting darker, getting darker until there was just a dense blackness, blacker than the darkest night, darker than anything he could remember.

He could feel the heat of the ground beneath him and stones, small and shart, dug into his flesh. He knew he had to move but nothing worked anymore except this weird sensation of feeling the ground beneath him. Footsteps approached. Someone coming to help him. He had to call for help. But he couldn’t move his mouth. He was finding it harder and harder to breath.

He struggled within himself to stay awake, to stay alive. Take a deep breath he told himself, but when he tried there was pain, and all he could do was release his breath in an abrupt sharp sigh.

Chambers looked down at the younger man and nudged the body with the toe of his boot. There was no resistance. He looked about him and listened intently for a moment and heard nothing. Not even a bird was singing. Swiftly he stripped himself of his jacket and shirt, and hauled up the body onto his broad back. It took no time at all to make a way through the rocks and boulders until he had reached the designated area to leave his victim. Without any thought to respect or dignity for the dead Chambers heaved Adam over and then dropped him onto the ground at his feet.

Pain surged like a wave over him and through him. His teeth shot small darts of agony through his face and skull. He gave an involuntary gasp. Inside his brain Adam thought he had screamed loud and long, certainly the pain had warranted such. But the gasp that came from his mouth was not even noticed by Chambers who saw an opening in the rock that he had not noticed before.

The man walked over and peered inside. It was well hidden, very well hidden. In fact, he had not even noticed it himself the previous day. He went back to the body and dragged it to the covert, and pulled him in. It went further back than he had realised and so he rolled Adam as far as he felt necessary. He stood up carefully, it was so dark inside that it was not easy to discern how much headroom was actually available.

Still, there was no time to lose, there were things still to do. To keep things tidy he had to continue with this subterfuge of being a pleasant visitor who had lost the wheel to his buggy. If he was seen stripped naked to the waist, well, so what, it was hot and putting wheels on a buggy was not easy on one’s own. He had to remove the blood, from himself and from the road. Take care nothing was left that could point a finger at him.

He hurried now back to the roadside. A bird was singing now and to Chamber’s mind it was a mournful song, had he the time he would have shot the fool thing off its perch. As it was, he grabbed a canteen of water and hurriedly rid himself of any blood upon his person. Then he checked out the road and the rocks. There was a lot of blood, far mre than he had wanted to find. But he kept his nerve, after all, he knew that most errors at scenes like this were caused by those who panicked and lost patience.

He was sweating large drops of perspiration by the time he had covered over the blood stains. Then he noticed the horse. The horse! He bit his lip, he should have thought of the horse before now. He gave Sport a good whack on the rump, which quite startled the poor beast who had been enjoying nibbling at the fresh grass. With a whinney of protest Sport tossed his head and galloped away.

Harry Chambers watched as the horse paused and turned to look at him. If the horse were to hang around people would notice, and recognise it. Then they would get to putting two and two together. He took out his rifle and aimed.

“Calm down,” he told himself, lowering the rifle, “Where can you hide a dead horse?”

He aimed again, and fired. Sport lept forwards, straight into a full gallop, and with a sense of satisfaction, Chambers watched as the animal galloped out of sight.

Ten minutes later he had nearly got the wheel back onto it’s axle when there came the sound of a wagon approaching. He paused in his work and looked about him. His sharp eyes surveyed the scene of the murder. He relaxed, there was nothing there to indicate that death had been carried out there. He returned to his task, a man struggling to repair his vehicle.

Hoss rounded the curve in the road and saw the man ahead of him. He hauled up the team of horses and clambered down, wiping his hands down the legs of his pants.

“Hey, thar, anything I can do to help?”

“Well, thank you. It seems to be harder to put on than it looks. Thankfully it wasn’t broken at all, it must have just worked its way loose and rolled along the track a mite.”

“Here, let me…” Hoss gently nudged Chambers out of the way and with a smile lifted the buggy by the axle, he nodded over at him, “Right, get her on now…”

Chambers pushed on the wheel, and Hoss set about tightening it up with a speed that would have drawn words of admiration and gratitude from the man Chambers was pretending to be, but instead he was busy wiping his hands clean.

Hoss stepped back and pushed his hat to the back of his head,

“Thar now, stranger, that should get you back to Virginia City with no trouble at all. You just passing through?”

“Yeah, that’s right.” Chambers pulled on his jacket.

“Well, enjoy your stay, sir.”

“Thanks, I will.”

Hoss frowned and turned just as Chambers was about to clamber into the buggy,

“Hey, you didn’t happen to hear a gun shot did ya? A rifle mebbe?”

Chambers continued to settle himself on the seat and was glad he had concealed the rifle. It took no time at all to dismantle and put back into his valise. He shook his head and picked up the reins,

“I heard something some while back, but wouldn’t know if it had been a rifle or not. I’m a peaceable man. I don’t even wear a gun.”

“Mister,” Hoss frowned and shook his head, “That’s a mighty big risk you took hereabouts. Soon as you get into town, you’d best go find yourself some hardware.”

“Thank you. But you know what the good book says ’He who lives by the sword shall so perish by the sword’”

“Yeah, but I ..yeah, well, I see what you mean. G’day to you, sir.”

Chambers nodded, smiled and waved the big man farewell. Then he flicked the reins and urged the horses forwards. Behind him Hoss clambered back onto the wagon and whistled a tune, pleased at accomplishing his good deed for the day and oblivious to the fact that he had helped a murderer on his way.

Chapter 20
He couldn’t remember opening his eyes but the darkness was far less now. He remained as he had fallen, with his head to one side, staring blankly at the rock just inches from him. The thought occurred to him that had he fallen just a fraction more to the left his head would have been smashed against that rock and he would have been killed. The irony did not go amiss and he closed his eyes again in silent inward mirth.

‘I could be dead now anyway -” he thought as his eyelids opened and he stared once more upon the uncompromising rock. “Where am I? What is this place?”

He made an attempt to move but the weakness of his limbs caused him to feel nausea as he struggled to move. Just an inch. Just a finger…

Nothing. Nothing at all. He wondered if he were going to just bleed to death in which case he felt that would not be so bad, after all, there was no pain if he did not move. He would simply go to sleep and not wake up. That was all really. May be one day someone would stumble upon his bones and they would bury them, perhaps, next to his father. Joe would say ‘So that’s where he’s been all this time.’ Hoss would create a storm and say how they should have looked harder when it happened. Perhaps Marie would weep for him…perhaps.

His eyelids were closing but he wanted to stay awake. He had to stay awake.


Evie read through the letter that she had found among the papers in her mother’s room. It was yellowing with age and the ink was faded. It was a letter that had never been sent telling a man who did not want to know, that he had a beautiful daughter. Her name was Evelyn Cartier Templeton. The letter was addressed to a Remy David Cartier in Baton Rouge.

She folded it and slipped it back among the other papers. So that was why she had such an odd middle name. It was her father’s name. Remy Cartier. Remy David Cartier. How odd. If one said it quickly enough it would be Remy David Carter.

She sighed and put the papers in the drawer. Life was full of co-incidences, she concluded as she closed the door to her mother’s room. The David Carter she knew was kind. So kind. He would never treat her the way Remy Cartier had treated her mother.

Is this then what love can do to a person? A beautiful young woman suddenly cast aside and left on the scrap heap of mortality. Her life ruined, and spiralling ever further into ruin until her final escape into the grave. It was too cruel. Evie went to her room and threw herself upon her bed and wept for the woman she had never really known, and had never really loved.

There was music and hands clapping. A fiddle played, its notes soaring up into the night sky. There was laughter and in the laughter there was excitement, pleasure. Adam clapped his hands and laughed, he looked up at the man standing by his side.

“Aren’t you going to dance, young man? There’s a little lady over there who would like you to ask her?” Ben Cartwright smiled down at his son, who cringed back against his legs, and scowled just a little

“It’s Matty Blades, Pa. I don’t like her.”

“Why don’t you like her? She’s a nice little girl.” Ben’s black eyes were on a level with the childs, as he squatted down to talk and the flames of the fire cast shadows over his face so that he didn’t look quite the Pa he usually did.

“She calls me names. Do I have to dance with her, Pa?” his voice was thin and reedy, a child’s voice.

“It would be the kind thing to do, Adam. No one else is dancing with her, are they?”

“No, sir.”

Her hands were small and sweating. They fumbled with their holds but it took hardly any time at all before they were laughing and dancing with everyone else there. It was sheer delight. Dancing beneath the stars far out in the wilderness. Even the coyotes were silent, probably listening to the sounds of merriment from the wagon train.

The fiddle played on, a lonely sound, soaring higher and higher and then slowly ebbing away… taking with it the laugher and the clapping and Pa’s dark eyes and the smile of pride he gave his son.

Adam groaned. He wanted to snatch back the elusive dream. He wanted to drift back into the comfort of having Pa with him again. Or perhaps it was the pain that was now trickling through his body, making first one foot jerk, then his hands curl into fists.

It wasn’t fair. He didn’t want to fall asleep. And had he done so, he didn’t want to wake up. He ground his teeth together. Far away he could hear the fiddle playing again …
Chapter 21
Evelyn Cartier Templeton suddenly stopped her crying, instead she stared up at the ceiling of her room as a thought crept unbidden into her head. She traced back to the time David Carter had first approached her. He had been polite and pleasant, had shown no interest in her mother whatsoever, but had flattered her into thinking she was the prettiest thing in town.

There had been plenty of meetings since then, and he had given her gifts, the latest being the necklace and ear rings. No man gives a girl gifts like that without there having been something in it for him. Usually sexual favours in return. But she had given him nothing, except chatter and perhaps a little flirting, of which he had not really approved .

She closed her eyes and a tear, hot and stinging, slipped from under her eyelids down into her hair. The hazy picture was beginning to clear into focus now. She remembered her mother coming into the dance hall, looking for her. Yet, suddenly she had seen someone else and it had been him to whom she had called out. Evie, concerned for her mother had not looked back, she had not needed to, she knew who had been standing there at the table. She knew now to whom her mother was calling.

She sat up now and wiped away the tears. It was time to get the matter out in the open once and for all. At least Sophia would not feel any pain now.


David Carter smiled and looked out of the window. The stagecoach rolled by and he could see the outline of the man he had made a whole lot richer just half an hour earlir. He sighed and clasped his hands behind his back. The funny thing was that it had not cost him a nickel. Here in this prosperous crazy gold hungry town there were enough people with enough money in their accounts to keep him living to a high standard for years. He had been siphoning money from their accounts into his own for some months now, and not one of them had realised. This latest withdrawal, to pay off Chambers, did call for some strategy to be involved but he had taken a large amount of the money from an account that would not be used by the owner again…he smiled again, and sighed happily.

Hoss touched the brim of his hat as Chambers passed him in the stagecoach and raised a hand in salute to him. With so much to do in the way of chores Hoss didn’t spend too much time thinking about who he was and where he was going. He had recognised him and now he was out of his mind. Forgotten.

Chambers leaned back and smiled affably at his fellow passengers. In a few hours he would be getting on another stage bound east. He was a whole lot richer and could carve another notch on whatever means of keeping a tally he used. He sighed contentedly. Harry Chambers had disappeared now. For this journey he had a different name. He didn’t want any law enforcement officer knocking on his door and disturbing his wife and family with talk of people getting murdered. In a few days he would be back home, back to his life, and no one would ever know.


Adam shivered. He was getting increasingly cold now and he knew that it was due to the shock of the blood loss and perhaps some broken bones. He was able to move his head now and did so, looking about him to try and recognise just where he could have been placed. Nothing looked familiar.

He clenched and unclenched one fist without too much pain, but the other hand was numb. It felt like putty. He closed his eyes.

“Fight it. Don’t go to sleep. You must fight this, son. You must not give in to it.”

He forced his eyes open and looked around him. His father’s voice had been so clear, deep and resonant, that he couldn’t believe that he would not see him sitting by his side, as he so often would have been were he ever to be ill in the past. But there was only the darkness in different shades of grey and black.

“You aren’t going to die, Adam. Do you hear me, son?”

He shivered again. His body was cold but the blood still flowing, although more slowly now, was warm upon his skin. He put his hand to the wound and shivered again as his fingers touched the wet cloth of his shirt. He had almost located the wound site when the effort proved too much and he was drawn back, sucked back into the vortex of unconsciousness.


“But, Ma, I want to go now.”

“I told you, Willy, you should have gone when we were in Mr Cass’ store. He would have let you use his wash house.”

“But I didn’t want to go then, Ma. I need to go now.”

Jenny Perkins sighed in exasperation, and turned to her husband,

“You’re gonna have to stop, Jim, the boy wants to go.”

“Go? Go where?” Jim Perkins scowled, and looked at his son with a surly face.

“You know, he needs to you now what.”

Mumbling beneath his breath Jim Perkins drew on the reins and his two emaciated mules gratefully came to a halt. He looked at his son,

“You hurry on and get on with your business, boy. I haven’t got all day to waste waiting for you.”

“No, Pa. I shan’t be gone long.”

“See that you aren’t.” Perkins replied and turned to stare ahead of him, beyond the ears of the mules and to the road ahead.

“Be careful, Willy. Don’t slip on those rocks.” Jenny yelled as her son clambered up the rocks with the skill of a mountain goat.

“I won’t, Ma.” came the shrill reply as the boy suddenly disappeared from sight.
Having done what he had to do, Willy adjusted his clothing and turned to go back the way he had come. His foot slipped. Thrusting out a hand to stop his fall the boy felt his fingers touch something wet and sticky. He looked at his hand for a full minute, baffled as to what it was and how it could have got there. Then, howling, he bounded down the rocks to the wagon,

“Ma. Pa. There’s blood up there. Lots of it.”

“Stupid boy -.” Perkins hissed and raised his hand as though to give the boy a clout across the head.

“Are you hurt? Did you hurt yourself? Where did you get this on yourself?”
Jenny examined the bloodied hand carefully, her anxiety decreasing somewhat when she realised her son was unscathed.

“Up there. It’s on the rocks.”

Willy pointed to where he had been, and looked at his parents, who, he was sure would know exactly how to handle the matter.

“Let’s get out of here,” Perkins said gruffly, “I ain’t gonna be accused to anything that may have happened in this neck of the woods.”

“Someone could be hurt, Jim. We can’t just ride away, “ Jenny cried, reaching out a hand to grab at his arm.

Jim grumbled under his breath, but clambered down from the seat, then foraged about for his rifle which he took with his as he followed his son up through the boulders.

“Here, Pa, see?”

Jim looked at the blood that had splattered onto the surface of a rock. He glanced about him, and then squatted onto his haunches. It seemed an odd place to find a splatter of blood. He had been a scout in the army until a few year previously when adventure in the gold fields had been too great a lure for him, but he could still remember the things he had been taught. He crouched down now and began to look about him at the ground, at the grass, and at other stones. Willy heard him give a grunt of satisfaction,

“Here’s another,” he said triumphantly, and pointed to where a small splash of blood had fallen across some blades of grass. A less observant man would have missed it. This was the change and foreseen occurrence that Chambers had warned about and which, had he know about it, would have given him cause for several sleepless nights.

Jim continued in his search and found a foot print, which Willy couldn’t even see even his father outlined it with his finger, and then, at the same time, they both saw the crack in the rock.

“That’s big enough for a man to fall into,” Jim said, “especially if he’s been hurt.”

“Shall I get a rope? Shall I tell Ma?”

“You get a rope while I go and have a look.” Jim replied, and gave his son a pat on the back and a smile, “Well done, son.”

“Is this an adventure, Pa?”

“It sure is, son. Now go and get that rope.”

Willy turned and promptly disappeared, calling as loudly as he could “Ma, Ma.”
Adam sighed and opened his eyes, someone was calling for his Ma, that must be Joe again. What did the boy want now? He struggled to get into a sitting position, and couldn’t understand why it was so difficult,

“It’s okay, Joe, I’m coming.” he cried, except that it was just a croak and a whisper.”I;m coming.”

Chapter 22.“Joe … Joe”
Joe sighed, put his book to one side and got to his feet. He pushed his fingers through his hair and started towards the door, only to have it pushed open from outside and Hank Myers practically fell into the room,

“What’s wrong, Hank?”

“Adam’s horse just came in. I think you’d best come and have a look see for yourself.” Hank replied, stepping aside to let the young man rush out of the room and head for where Sport stood.

Sport was a splendid beast. Sound in wither and wind. Yet he stood in the yard and trembled as though he had ran a marathon. He snorted down his nostrils and tossed his head when Joe appeared, his mane clung to the fine arc of his neck, and the nearer Joe came towards him the more agitated he appeared to become.

“What’s wrong with him?” Joe muttered as though to himself and he raised his hand to reach out towards the horse, uttering shush-ing sounds in an attempt to calm the animal.

Sport rolled his eyes and shook his head, pawed the ground, and then stood still as though knowing that he had done what he could, now he had to leave it to the humans to work out the rest for themselves.

“Look at this, Joe.” Hank beckoned and indicated the saddle. “What would you say caused this?”

A neat round hole was embedded in the saddle, the cause of it could well have been the death of Sport had it been several inches lower, entering him instead of the worked leather. But it wasn’t just the hole that caught there attention, but the splattering of blood that came along with it. Joe stared, blinked, and then shivered into action,

“Hank, Get Cochise saddled for me, will you?”

“Do you want me to come along as well, Joe?”

Joe said nothing, he was already running back to the house.

“What’s happened?” Marie turned from the bottom of the stairs to look at Joe, “JOe? What’s happened?”

“That’s what I’m aiming to find out,” Joe replied in a distinctly shaky voice, “Sport’s come home without Adam, but there’s a bullet in the saddle and blood.”

“Do you think, Adam’s been hurt?” Marie cried, hugging the clean laundry to her body in an instinctive action as though to protect herself from what was about to be told.

“It seems pretty much that way.” Joe tightened the buckle of his gun belt, “I’ll be back as soon as possible, Ma.”

“No, Joe, I’m coming too.”

He looked at her, and then shook his head,

“No, he’ll need you here, Ma. Get the room ready for him.” softening then he walked to her and put his arm around her shoulder and drew her towards him, “It’ll be alright, Ma. We’ll find him.”

“Bring him home safe” she whispered, and then she reached out a put a hand on his arm, “Are you sure I can’t come with you?”

“Just stay here, Ma.”

She watched him leave the house and then sat down on the stairs, her shoulders sagged.
What kind of world was this, she pondered, when a man can leave home and in a few hours come home dead, shot to death. She shook her head, no, she was thinking of Ben, that was how it had been when Ben left her, no one had said Adam was dead. He’d come home. He’d be alright. She bowed her head, he had to come home, he had to be alright.
Evie knocked on the glass paned door with the gold lettering that declared the logo “David Carter. Manager.” She stared at it for a little while, before pushing it open.

David smiled as she stepped into the office and closed the door behind her, he stood up and walked around the side of the desk towards her and held out his hand to lead her to the chair. She ignored it and stood for a moment to look at him intently.

“Are you all right, my dear? What’s wrong? What are you looking at?”

“I’m looking at you.” she replied in a strangely hollow voice.

“Yes? Well, what’s wrong? What’s the matter? Do sit down, my dear, before you fall down. Are you feeling ill? Obviously you must be, you’ve had a big shock with your mother’s death and…”

“Yes, it was a shock. My mother’s death was a shock,” she repeated and her voice trembled. “But it was a bigger shock finding out the truth.”

“The truth?” David frowned, his colour began to ebb from his face.

“About you. About who was my father. About Remy David Cartier.” she straightened her shouders, “My mother wrote to you, you know, to tell you about me. She gave me your name …Evelyn Cartier Templeton. It should have been Evelyn Templeton Cartier.”
She stared at him, saw the look on his face and knew she had been right, that her mother in her dying hours had seen the man she had loved and had condemned her to the misery of her life.

“Evie, you’re distressed. Where did you get this all from? What makes you …”

“I’m not making this up. I know you are my father. I know your real name. Are you going to deny me all over again? After 20 years are you going to say you don’t want to know me? Then why come here? Why make so much effort to get to know me?”

David shook his head, not in denial, more as a gesture of finality. He beckoned to the chair,

“Sit down, Evie. Please.”

This time she did as she was asked. Her legs were shaking now. Her heart thudded beneath the thin fabric of her gown, and she wondered if he could see it going thump-thump. She swallowed the lump in her throat and gripped more tightly to her purse.

“Evie, I didn’t know you and your mother were living here. I came because of someone else that I wanted to see, and get to know again.”

“Mrs Cartwright, you mean?” she narrowed her eyes and looked at him almost angrily.

“Yes. I knew her husband before she married him. I .. I wanted to get to know her and renew our acquaintance. But then I saw your mother, and you.”

“You didn’t talk to her, to my mother. You were ashamed of her, weren’t you?”

David said nothing, he sat down and picked up a pen which he twirled between his fingers in a slow revolving motion.

“No. No more than you were yourself,” it was an unkind remark, and he could see that he had hurt her for the colour rushed into her face and then drained away, “I couldn’t risk Sophia recognising me. But when I saw you… I knew I had to get to know you. I wanted to meet you, my daughter.”

“You knew I was your daughter then?”

“People talk. I heard that Sophia Templeton had had a little girl. When I saw you with her, there was no denying who you were, you are so like Sophia as a young woman, when I first met her.”

“Did you love her?”


Evie felt the colour drain from her face and she looked at him with her eyes large and bright in a pale little face, her lips trembled,

“Then why did you leave her? Why didn’t you help her when she needed you so much?”

“Because I was married, Evie.”

“In which case …”

“Yes, I know. I should have known better and kept my distance, kept loyal to my wife. Let me tell you, Evie, that I loved my wife. She was the sweetest, gentliest creature on this earth. I loved her so much. But I was young and a fool. I didn’t appreciate what I had until it was too late, when I lost her.”

“But, you could have still helped my mother, helped me.”

“Your mother was everything Gwen was not, and she gave me what I craved for at the time, something that was not in Gwen’s gift to provide. As it happened, Gwen became pregnant. As she neared to the birth it was obvious that things were not going to go right. There were problems. Then when the child was born, Gwen died, with the child. My son.” his voice shook a little with sincere emotion, and he bowed his head and stared at the inkwell, “Then your mother told me she was expecting our child. It was the wrong time, the wrong moment.”

“But she needed you, she needed your help. You left her on her own.” Evie’s voice rose to a high shriek, and David rose to his feet quickly, anxious to silent the girl, “No, don’t touch me.” she sobbed and put a hand to her face to stem back the tears that she had vowed not to shed in front of him.

“I had lost my wife and son, Evie. It seemed cruel fate to have my mistress tell me she was expecting my child while Gwen and the infant were still warm in their grave. I couldn’t handle it. I wanted to put as much distance between us as possible.”

“You succeeded in doing that very well,”Evie replied sullenly.

“Sophia disappeared. Even her family couldn’t locate her. It got around that she had a daughter but whereabouts she was no one knew, or, if they did, they wouldn’t tell me.”

“So why now? Why all the attention now?”

“Because you are my daughter. I wanted to get to know you. Chance had thrown you into my path and I wanted to grab hold and not let go again. I didn’t want to lose you a second time.”

Father and daughter looked at one another. Evie was the one to lower her eyes. She stood up, and turned away


“I have to go home and think about it,” she said quietly and then paused, and opened her purse, and took from it the necklace and ear-rings which she placed upon the desk, “You can have these back now. I don’t want them.”

Her voice was very low, she looked up at him, saw a look on his face that made her shiver inside, and turned very quickly away. Softly she closed the door behind her.

Chapter 23

Jim Perkins scrambled out of the cleft in the rock and slithered across several boulders before he managed to get his feet steady enough to run down to his wagon, negotiating the rocks blindly as he went.

“Jim, was there anyone there? I was just getting the rope …” Jenny paused, “What’s the matter? You look scared to death.”

“Jenny, it’s young Adam Cartwright. He’s in a mighty bad way. There’s – there’s nothing I can do to get him out of there. Whoever got him there knew what they were doing. If it hadn’t been for our William …” he paused and passed a hand across his mouth, “You don’t think them Cartwrights will think we’re the cause for this, do you?”

“Don’t be so silly, Jim. Why should they?” Jenny hugged the rope towards her as though the very thought was beneath contempt.

“Well, they can be a pretty wild bunch when riled up. “

“They’re also a very fair bunch. Now, look, Jim, this is not the time to be thinking of ourselves, we’ve got to get that Mr Cartwright out of this mess. Is he far down?”

“It’s not so much as him being far down, as the gap in the rock being so doggone narrow. He’s hurt bad, could be dying even. I can’t lift him up through that cleft, not by myself.”
He looked at his wife and then at his son, and shook his head, “This ain’t good, honey. We’re wasting time here, and we can’t afford to do that, else he’ll be a dead ‘un before you knows it.”

“Can I help then, Jim?”

“No, not in your condition. I ain’t gonner risk anything happening to you, and William’s too small and not strong enough.” Jim glanced up at the rocks and chewed on his bottom lip, before turning to his wife, “Jen, you’ll have to go back into town with the boy. Get some men out here as soon as possible, and get the doc as well.”

“Are you going to stay here?” she asked even as she began to clamber onto the wagon seat, with William hurrying to get beside her, “What if the person who did this comes back? What if …”

“Don’t think about them kind of what if’s, Jen, just think what if you don’t git into town soonest you can…” he scowled darkly at them, and turned to go back to the man who was dying in the darkness, alone.

Jenny Perkins said nothing more, but with the skill many a woman had honed to perfection out in the wilds she urged the mules forward and then carefully turned them back towards Virginia City. Just a brief glance to see her husband hurriedly toiling his way back up through the rocks and then she slapped down the reins and sent the mules moving faster than they had done for years.


Hoss Cartwright whistled to himself as he hauled the last barrel onto the back of the wagon. Mr Jenkins, the hardware store keeper, came out to him with a list in his hand, and together they checked the items off one by one. Then Hoss handed over the money and with a mutual smile of satisfaction they parted company. Hoss put his near empty wallet back into his pocket and recommenced whistling.
“Morning, Hoss.”

He glanced up and squinted against the sun, then recognised Roy Coffee. He straightened up and smiled,

“’Morning, Roy. How’re things with you?”

“Nice and quiet. Just how I like it,” Roy smiled and his eyes twinkled. He liked Hoss. The qualities in the young man shone out to Roy like a diamond shines amongst baubles of glass. “How’s everything at home?”

“Fine, Roy, jest fine.”

“This story true about your Ma thinking of marrying the bank Manager?”

“Wal, I don’t know to be exact, Roy. It could be,” he noted Roy’s eyes narrow as though he didn’t like that information much, “then again, it might not be.” Roy’s eyes widened, and a slight dawning of relief seemed to shine forth, although briefly, he was not one to be too open in his opinions.

“Well, he’s only been here just over a year.” he mentioned just in case Hoss had not remembered the fact for himself .

“Yeah,” Hoss nodded, “I guess we’re all well aware of that, Roy, thanks a lot.”

Roy scratched the back of his neck and was about to say more when Ted Evans from the Mail and Telegraph Depot came hurrying over to them, waving an envelope

“Caught you then, Hoss. This here is the letter that Adam was so fired up about, thought it best to give it to you than leave it waiting for Adam to get back into town.”

“Thanks, Ted.” Hoss didn’t bother to look at the envelope but just put it in his shirt pocket. “Best get going then, Roy.” he nodded over to Ted who was already making his way back to the inner sanctum of his workplace.

Riding out of town Hoss started whistling again. He smiled to himself as he whistled his weird little tune, one he had made up by himself and which changed all the time. He remembered when he was small and Pa had bought him a harmonica. Adam had teased him about making sure not to swallow it, so much so that he convinced himself that he would the next time he took a deep breath, so he stopped playing it. He often wondered what had happened to his old harmonica. Hop Sing would have told him, eventually, having been the one responsible for shoving it in the fire as soon as he could get his hands on it for the sounds Hoss was producing was driving the poor man crazy.

He had to pull up hard on the reins as a wagon came hurtling around the corner of Main Street, and just missed colliding with him.

“Dang fool,” he muttered, glaring behind him, and then seeing a woman in the drivers seat he shook his head, “Shouldn’t let women drive. No idea of what they’re doing. You’d think they’d never heard of brakes.”

He mumbled and grumbled his way out of town and it wasn’t until he was at the outskirts that his equilibrium was restored sufficiently for him to resume whistling again.


“We’re going for a ride now,” the deep voice said and Adam smiled, “It’ll be a bit bumpy, so you’ll have to grit your teeth.”

“I will, Pa.”

“You have to be quiet, really quiet. Remember how I showed you …” Ben smiled at the child and placed a gentle hand upon the dark unruly curls that dropped over the boys brow.

“Sure, Pa. I’ll be quiet.”

Jim Perkins placed a gentle hand on Adam’s shoulder and felt a tremor beneath the flesh. He could feel the heat of a body already burning with fever. With a sigh he sat back on his haunches and waited for help to come. He could only pray that it would come soon, he didn’t fancy being alone in the dark with a corpse. The trouble was, he had never really been a praying man before now.


Adam smiled at his father, who smiled back.

“Now, hold tight, remember, hold tight like I said, and be quiet. Grit your teeth hard.”

Adam nodded obediently. He was determined to stay as quiet as possible. His father gently led the horses forwards, and the heavy wagon followed slipping this way and then that way through the mud. Rain was pouring down in torrents. The earth beneath the feet and wheels were a morass of red clay and muck. Ben ground his teeth together and hauled at the ropes that controlled the lead horse. They were travelling downhill, a rocky slope but currently streaming with rain water that was pouring from the higher hills. He glanced back over his shoulder at the white face of the child who sat as still and quiet as can be, just as he had been told.

“It’s alright, son, I’ll get you there safely,” the deep voice boomed above the racket of creaking rumbing wagon and the slopping of horses ploughing through mud.

“Yes, Pa …” Adam Cartwright whispered and Jim Perkins leaned forwards to catch the words and then leaned back with a sigh.


Joe felt his heart hammering in his chest as Cochise galloped steadily towards town. Perhaps he was going in the wrong direction but he didn’t know what other way to go. He had only the memory of Adam saying he was going into town to check on the mail and perhaps see if Evie Templeton was alright.

He felt cold sweat bead his brow. Hoss would be in town now, perhaps they had met up together. An idiotic fool of an idea. Did that mean that Hoss was shot too? Joe recalled to mind the saddle, and the bullet hole. Hank had mentioned just before Joe had started to ride out, that the bullet was buried in the padding of the saddle. The blood had sprayed out, leaving a splattering upon the saddle as the bullet made it’s way into the leather. That meant that Adam must have been standing by Sport when it happened.

The whole thing kept going round and round in Joe’s head. The saddle. The bullet. The blood. Hank standing there speculating in that deep nasally voice of his, and Marie standing by the stable door and telling him to be careful. What if Hoss had been hurt too? What if ….

If he could just turn his brain off and stop thinking just for a moment. If only Cochise could go faster. Why didn’t someone invent a method of transport that could get a person from A to B within minutes, except that he didn’t know where B was at the present time. Should he have got some more men out looking for Adam? Would it have helped if a whole bunch of men had ridden out? Oh fool that he was, of course it would have done! Why hadn’t he thought of that earlier? Should he turn back now or carry on? No, no, don’t waste time now. Get into town, and let Roy form a posse if necessary. Perhaps when he got into town everything would be much clearer than it was now.


The jewellery gleamed upon the desk top. But David Carter did not seem to notice it. He just stared at the door through which his daughter had passed moments earlier. She didn’t want him. She had walked out, turned her back on him, rejected him.

His mouth tightened and he felt the rage beginning to boil inside his gut. No one, no one ever rejected him. He took a deep breath and turned away to face the window. No one rejected him, and that included a newly found daughter, and Marie Cartwright. He allowed a slight smile to touch his lips, as he recalled to mind the fact that very soon now, Marie would come running to him. Sad, tearful, frightened Marie . Then he would console her, and comfort her and reassure her. That would be easy enough. She would soon be showing her gratitude and everything would be just the way he wanted it to be, with no stubborn mule headed young man in the way. And no silly little girl either …
Chapter 24

“Yes, Ma’am, Mrs Cartwright?”
Hank Myers had been examing Adam’s saddle with a little more careful scrutiny than he had previously, but now he dropped it back onto the wooden mount and hurried out to the yard to see Marie Cartwright striding towards him, pulling on her riding gloves.

“Where are you going, Ma’am?” Hank asked as he saw, over her shoulder, Hop Sing bobbing about at the front door signalling to him to use delaying tactics.

“Where do you think?” Marie snapped, adjusting her hat by it’s cord under her chin.
“And it’s not where am I going, but where are WE going. Get the men mounted up. I want every man available to ride towards town. Now, Adam was shot either before or after he got to town, whichever makes no difference except that he may have been injured somewhere for longer than we originally thought. Once we hit the left fork into town I want the men to start sweeping out and searching every bit of land there is …”

“Sure, Ma’am, I’ll see to it right away.”

“It would probably have happened near the road into town, so that keeps it reasonably tight. I’ll be blessed if I’m going to sit on my backside waiting for those boys to find him. I did that once before…” she paused, and took a deep breath before she disappeared into the stable.

Hank looked over at Hop Sing and shook his head, Hop Sing made an eloquent shrug and disappeared into the house to carry out the orders his mistress had just given to him. He hurried into the kitchen, and began to make preparations to turn Adam’s room into a hospital ward.

Marie was a striking woman, but on horseback she cut a magnificent figure. She was still slim and her riding habit was immaculately cut to emphasise the fullness of her figure. The skirt, cut as riding dictated, mid calf length, so that the long black boots she wore could be seen to full advantage. The colour was a light heather, in a tweed material.

Ben used to say that she was dangerous when she was in her riding gear mounted on her horse. She would say in what way could she be dangerous, and he would laugh and grab hold of her and hold him very close, and growl in that deep voice “This kind of dangerous” and then he would kiss here.

Sometimes he would whisk her up into his arms and take her back into the house and when she would protest that this would make them late for whatever the occasion happened to be at the time, he would just laugh and kiss her protests away.

She saddled her horse, Mignon, with the speed that was borne of necessity and experience. Then she was galloping out at break neck speed through the yard, and out to the open country beyond.

She slapped the reins against the horse’s flanks to get Mignon to stride out further, faster. The sooner she could eat up the miles the sooner she would know if Adam were alive, or dead.


The clamour of the triangle being clanged heartily by Mr Jenkins brought David Carter to the main body of the Bank, leaving his office door open. He watched as the customers crowded around the door and spilled out into the street

“What’s going on, James?”

The bank teller looked over to his Manager and straightened himself up, he had been bent double trying to see what was going on through a gap between Widow Hawkins and Mrs Allen.

“Roy’s organising a posse.” he said, heading for his place behind the counter.

“Seems that Adam Cartwright’s been ambushed on the way out of town.” Clemmie Hawkins offered the information in her usual garrulous manner, while Mrs Allen did a little war dance of her own in an effort to get her few words said. “Young Jenny Perkins and her boy found him.”

“No, they didn’t” Mrs Allen cried in a kind of high pitched squeal, “It was Jim Perkins that found him. .He’s stayed behind to make sure Adam Cartwright is all right.”

“Is he alive then?” David managed to stammer out, and got a withering look from both women as a result, “I thought, from what you said, that he had been killed.”

“No, not quite. Ambushed, but not killed.” Clemmie said coldly.

“He could be killed though, it depends if they get to him in time with the doctor. I heard that he was bleeding like …”Mrs Allen tried to find a fitting adjective, which gave Clemmie the opportunity to speak,

“No one saw what happened, you know. He was shot and stuffed down a hole in the rocks, so Jenny said to Roy.”

David Carter nodded slowly and then returned to his office and very quietly closed the door behind him. He leaned against it for a moment and felt cold fury wash over him. He thought of the money he had given Chambers, all right, so the money had not been his personally, but even so it had been a large sum. Now the man had vanished, no doubt with another pseudonym to ease him back into his real life.

He felt a slight touch of panic as he saw his whole plan falling to pieces before his very eyes. If Cartwright lived … then everything would be over. Adam Cartwright was no doubt the person who had suggested to Marie to post pone the wedding in the first place, in the hope that it would never get to be finalised. Adam Cartwrights influence over the boys, over Marie, was insidious and would constantly undermine his, David’s, efforts to take control of the Ponderosa. If Adam were dead, then his share of the ranch would go to Marie, that had been clear in Ben’s Will & Testament, it would be a fine beginning for his marriage to Marie. He shook his head as though by doing so he could dispel the negative thoughts that had washed over him. He had to think.

He walked to the window and watched as Roy Coffee, Paul Martin and a crowd of men galloped out of the town, leaving a dust cloud that filmed the window at which he stood.

He turned, smiled slowly, nothing really had changed. Marie would be anxious and concerned, whether the man lived or died. Either way she would need consoling and comfort. She would need to feel loved.


Jim Perkins was snoring. He had not meant to fall asleep but it was something that always seemed to happen if he set his mind to praying. It was a deep reverberating rumble that penetrated through to Adam‘s consciousness, and forced him to open his eyes.

“Who’s there?”

The words sounded very hollow, but there was no answer except for another rumble.

“Hoss?” Adam struggled, gasped for breath, and with the help of one elbow managed to raise himself forward, just a little,”Hoss, is that you?”

“Jiminy, did I fall asleep?” Jim cried, startled at the sound of a voice in the cavern, “Mr Cartwright, are you awake?”

“What happened? Who are you?”

“It’s me. Jim Perkins. Me and my missus and boy, we found you. Jenny’s gone to town to get the doc. We need some help to get you out of here as well.”

“Get me out? Get me out of where?”

“Wherever it is that this is…a cleft in the rock is what it looks like from up top, but it widens out into quite a cavern inside.”

Adam sunk back. There was little strength in him now to do much. Breathing was getting more difficult. He closed his eyes and released a deep breath.

“Mr Cartwright? Mr Cartwright? Don’t you go dying on me in here, Mr Cartwright.”

Jim tugged at Adam’s sleeve, but there was no response, the young man’s arm moved sluggishly under Jim’s rough handling, but there was nothing else.

“Doggone it, why is it taking so long?” Jim cursed beneath his breath.


Hoss pulled at the reins of the horses and drew the wagon to a halt as he watched a familiar figure hurtle towards him enveloped in a dust cloud. He shrugged and shook his head as Joe hauled Cochise to a stop, causing the horse to rear up onto his hind legs before landing beside the wagon.

“Now, Joe, how many times have I..”

“Have you seen Adam?” the youth demanded, breathless from his frentic ride.

“Adam? Shucks, no. Of course I ain’t seen Adam. He’d left town a good time before I got there with the wagon. Got a letter for him though,”and Hoss tapped his shirt pocket.

“Look, Hoss, Sport came home … there was blood and a bullet embedded in the saddle…” he spoke in gasps, struggling to catch his breath “I’ve got to get Roy and Doc. Have you seen anyone or anything odd hereabouts?”

Hoss shook his head and shrugged again. He glanced around the wide open space, with its limited amount of woodland. It was rocky and sparse. He pushed his hat to the back of his head,

“Look, Joe, if he’s been hurt, he could be anywhere. He could be back in town already?”

“Without Sport? Wounded and walking?” Joe replied scornfully.

“Where do you want me to start looking?” Hoss said quietly, and loosed the gun in his holster, ready for use should he need it.

Joe frowned, and swallowed. He looked around him just as Hoss had done seconds before, and shook his head.

“Where do we start?” he asked in a voice that was broken by fear.

Chapter 25
Hoss felt as though a great weight had replaced his heart. As he sat on the wagon seat and looked about him, at the vast open wild landscape, he felt as though the chances of finding his brother were as remote as finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. He wanted to shout and yell, to hear his own voice in angry protest at what had taken place. But what exactly had taken place? He looked at Joe,

“Why would anyone want to kill Adam? Do you think it could have been an accident? Perhaps someone has found him and taken him back into town?”

Joe shook his head in denial of such simplistic solutions. He turned Cochise round and looked back to the way he had come. Everywhere there was nothing but rocks, boulders, scree laden slopes mounting higher and higher to touch the bluest of skies.

“Hey, Joe, I jest thought of summat.” Hoss cried, his blue eyes widening with hope, “Jest as I was leaving town, some fool woman came careering down the main street in her wagon. Nearly drove me off the road. Perhaps she’s found Adam and was bringing him to the doc?”

Joe frowned thoughtfully, and then slowly nodded,

“Could be, Hoss. But, then again, can we chance the time it would take for us to go back to town to find out?”

“Come on, let’s not waste anymore time, Joe. We’d best start looking.”

“I’ll carry on towards town. You go on ahead and keep your eyes open for anything that could seem suspicious. Hoss?”


“I’d reckon there’d be quite a bit of blood in the area.”

“Yeah?” Hoss’ mouth drooped, and a shiver trickled down his spine, “Right, I’ll look out for summat like that…” he said.

Resolved now to find his brother, Hoss urged the horses forwards. He struggled to hold back the fear that niggled at the back of his mind, and several times found himself getting bleary eyed with tears.

Joe rode more slowly now, his eyes scanning the road, the rocks. He paused to investigate several places on the road which seemed suspicious but there was nothing. The baked solid track remained as innocent looking as always. Frustrated, he stood up in the stirrups and gazed higher about him, then cupped his hands around his mouth


A bird squawked as though annoyed at the noise. He saw a rattler slither into the cool shade of a rock. Nothing stirred.

Hearing Joe call out Adam’s name prompted Hoss to do the same. His voice bounced off the rocks. Then suddenly he saw movement out of the corner of his eye and turned to see a man standing on a boulder, waving a battered hat above his head.

“Hey, Hoss Cartwright? Here, up here.”


“Shucks, I ain’t gonna be able to get down thar,” Hoss muttered as he observed the cleft in the rock.

Joe pushed him to one side and nodded,

“I’ll go down with Jim. It’s probably better if you stay here anyway, Hoss. We’ll throw up the rope to you and you can haul him up to the surface.”

Hoss clenched and unclenched his hands nervously, and shook his head

“I don’t like it, Joe. What if it does him more harm ?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Hoss. He can’t stay down there.” Joe’s voice rose as anger and panic overwhelmed him, “It’s his only chance, Hoss.”

Jim Perkins shook his head,

“Reckon on Hoss being right, Little Joe. Your brother’s in a bad way down there. Could be that bringing him up by rope could do him a lot more harm than good. Look,” he said quickly seeing Joe’s face reddening, “Jenny has gone for the doctor. Once he’s seen to Adam, he’ll know best what to do.”

“But that could take time. How much time does my brother have, for Pete’s sake?”

“Jest that I wouldn’t like to take risks with his life, son, that’s all.”

Joe glanced from one to the other, and bit down on his bottom lip, then nodded,

“Let me get down and see him then. Hoss, keep an eye out for the doc.”

Hoss rounded his eyes at his little brother as though to say what else would he do but that? He said nothing however, and stepped back to make way for Joe. Just as Joe stepped down through the gap, there came the sound of horses. Hoss put his hand to his gun, just in case, and waited for the horsemen to show themselves.

“Hoss? Is Adam up there?”

Roy’s voice floated towards him and Hoss stepped forwards in order to get a better view of who had accompanied the sheriff. He was more than relieved to see Paul, who was already dismounting from his horse.

“We found him, Roy. Jim Perkins has been with him … he’s been shot.” Hoss gabbled on, stating the obvious, but needing to say something, anything, as relief over whelmed him as Paul made his way, rather laboriously, through the boulders and rocks, his medical bag banging against his legs as he did so.

The men in the posse, taking their orders from Roy, now realised that the job was done and that the injured man had been found. They wheeled their horses round and returned to town, leaving Roy alone in the road.

The sheriff dismounted and with the thoroughness bred from a long time in the profession, he began to search around for clues. It was all well and good to have found Adam, dead or alive. But a crime had been committed and as sheriff Roy felt it his bound duty to do all he could to find the person who had committed the deed. The doctor could get on with his doctoring, but his task was to find the murderer.


Paul took a bit of time getting through the gap in the rock. Hoss then lowered his medical bag down to him and then he went to see to the injured man.

“He’s been shot here,” Joe cried, his white face just discernible in the darkness of the cavern, and indicating the wound which was nigh on impossible to see.

“Is there any means of light here? I can’t examine him in the dark.” Paul said quietly, kneeling down beside Adam and taking hold of the young man’s hand. It was still warm, clammy to the touch, the pulse was thin and reedy.

“Hoss, we need some candles and matches ..” Joe yelled up to his brother and he heard the scrabble of feet upon rock as Hoss immediately moved to get to the wagon and find the necessary items.


Joe’s eyes widened with surprise as, not Hoss’ voice, but that of his mothers, floated down towards him,

“Ma? What are you doing here?”

“Don’t ask such a stupid question, Joe.” Marie snapped, on her hands and knees and peering down through the crevice into the darkness below, “I want to come down.”

“There’s no room, Ma. You’d be best staying there with Hoss.”

Joe heard more scrabbling and some dust and small pebbles trickled down the sides of the stones that comprised the walls of the cavern. He saw a bundle of candles being lowered on the rope and gratefully snatched at them.

As light at last gleamed about them, Paul leaned closer in upon his patient and carefully unbuttoned the sodden black shirt and pulled it gently away from the wound. He glanced over at Joe, who looked at him anxiously,

“This doesn’t look good, Joe. Did you say the bullet was in the saddle?”

“There was a bullet in the saddle, but who knows how many bullets were fired at him?”

“Jim, could you help Joe to raise him up very carefully so that I can see if there’s an exit wound. If the bullet has gone right through then we can have some hope that he may come out of this mess after all.”

Adam groaned as they lifted and turned him so that Paul could see the extent of the damage the wound had caused. Joe winced when he saw the exit wound, but he knew Paul was right. If the bullet had not damaged too many internal organs in its passage through Adam’s body, then Adam had a greater chance of recovery than had the bullet remained lodged within him. Paul nodded and indicated that Adam could be turned back.

“Joe? Joe? How is he? How is he?” Marie cried from the rocks above them.

“He’s alive, Ma. The bullet went right through, just the one bullet. Paul’s seeing to him now.”

Paul looked up at Joe and then, with a sigh, returned to treating his patient. It seemed to him that Joe had sounded far more optimistic that Paul had actually intimated to him. He opened his bag and began to look for the items he would now need.


Hoss put his arm around his step mother’s shoulders and stood by her side. Together they waited in the hot sun, gaining strength from the nearness of one another. Marie remembered how, the day Adam brought Ben home, Hoss had gone to her and slipped his hand into hers, and had held it tight. Just like now they had stood together with the sun beating down on their heads, and felt as though their world had imploded in upon them.

Chapter 26
“Adam? Can you hear me?”

The deep voice came from a vast distance away drawing Adam from the depths of unconsciousness until he blinked open his eyes and looked up into Paul’s face. There were shadows flickering about them, but the intense look in Paul’s eyes captured Adams eyes to focus solely upon him. Paul smiled reassuringly,

“We have to get you out of here, Adam, and home. Somewhere we can treat your injuries properly and ensure you get the proper treatment. It’s going to be a bit rough from now on, do you understand?”

Adam frowned, and wondered why he had been dragged back to awareness to be told that when he could have remained securely where he had been. He sighed and inclined his head. Joe leaned forward

“Hey, Adam?”

“Joe…” the name came through his lips in a whisper, but it increased Joe’s optimism tenfold.

“We have to get you through the gap in the rocks that you fell through earlier. It isn’t going to be very comfortable.”

Adam frowned. So that was it, he had fallen through some rocks. He had not thought that was the reason for his injuries but Joe seemed to know what was going on. He closed his eyes again and allowed the world and its problems all confined in that little space, to ebb away as he slipped back to the darkness.

“All right, Hoss, pull away now.”

Hoss and Hank Myers, both holding an end of a rope, gently began to haul away so that Adam’s body was slowly and rather more gently than had been anticipated raised towards the gap in the rock, then very carefully hands gripped him and manoeuvred him through it and onto the flat surface.

Down on the track Jenny Perkins, with the aid of her husband and several of the men from the Ponderosa, had transferred the majority of Hoss’ goods from his wagon to their own, leaving adequate space in the back of Hoss’ to accommodate Adam. She was even now arranging blankets upon which he could recline during the journey.

Marie watched as, with great care, they carried their precious burden down to the wagon and set him down. Having tethered Mignon’s reins to the tailboard, she got up and sat down beside the injured man. Once he had seen Adam and Marie securely settled, Hoss took the reins of the horses and set them on a fast trot towards home.

Behind them the little calvacade followed. Paul Martin rode beside the wagon, however, his eyes switching from watching the road to watching his patient. He had known the Cartwrights since before Joe had been born and tended to their every need. His main regret in life had been not being able to save Ben’s life, but then, no one could have done the impossible.

Adam’s eyes flickered open and he looked up to see blue skies and small white clouds. Then a face leaned forward and obscured his view. Marie smiled down at him,

“Hello, darling.”

His lips twitched into something resembling a smile and then it faded as his eyes closed once again.

He slipped back into a different world with blue skies and fluffy clouds, and a mainsail billowing out before a stiff but pleasant breeze. Beneath his feet were the firm oak boards of a ships deck, and when he looked up he saw the masts towering up to the sky.
The ship swayed back and forth, and dipped into the waves. The breeze was getting fresher now, and men were on the rigging loosening the other canvases so that they filled with the wind and sent the ship scudding forwards across the waves.

This was how it would have been, this was his father’s world before he married Elizabeth and this is what he had spoken to his son about so many evenings around so many campfires on their long journey to the Ponderosa.

Adam could hear voices beyond his dream. Mutterings and mumblings from far off in the distance that didn’t connect to what he was experiencing now. He chose to ignore them and watched as the sea turned green and the ship’s sails snapped taut beneath the onslaught of a fresh north easterly.

“Is he going to get through this, Paul?” Marie asked the doctor as she followed him up the stairs to Adam’s room.

“He’s strong. He has the Cartwright constitution. It depends on how hard he fights to live. It often ends up with that as the only chance a man has got to survive, Marie.”
“Has he said anything at all about who did it?” Roy enquired of Joe as they stood in the big room, unsure of what to do next, waiting for something, anything, that would make the coming moments more endurable.

“No, nothing.” Joe replied and slowly sunk down into the chair with the faded blue back. “Nothing at all.”

“Mmm, I wish I could have helped by finding something at least. But there was nothing . If it had not been for the Perkins’ Adam could have died up there and his bones never found. As it is, whoever shot him, did a good job in concealing everything.”

“Yeah.” Hoss rubbed his hands together as though cold, “If only I had come along a bit sooner I might have seen something or someone that would have tied this matter up. Even the Pastor didn’t see anything.”

“What Pastor?” Joe asked, looking at his brother curiously.

“I dunno,” Hoss shrugged, “I thought he was a Pastor on account of his not wearing a gun and talking scripture to me. He’d lost a wheel on his buggy. I helped him get it back on. He said he had heard a bang but hadn’t realised it was a rifle because he didn’t know about things like guns and rifles.”

“Did you get his name?” Roy asked

“Nope, didn’t think to ask, dadburnit. He was a stranger though, just passing through he said. He must have hired the buggy.”

“Well,” Roy’s brow furrowed in concentration, “If he’s still in town he may be able to give us the only lead we have… hopefully.”

Hoss said nothing but began to chew the side of his thumb. There was something in the back of his mind but beyond reach. He needed time to think.
Chapter 27

Evie had been unaware of the situation beyond her front door. In her mother’s room once again she had found a ledger concealed beneath the mattress of Sophia’s bed. There were not many entries, some had been written in a firm bold handwriting, others had been scrawled across, shaky and spidery. Evie sighed, the amount of drink Sophia consumed was even evident in her writing. She had wondered, at first, whether to just throw it into the fire but a name caught her eye, and from that moment she knew she had to read everything.

Some entries were vague commentaries on the day. The purchase of a new dress. Offence taken at a remark passed by Mrs Allen. The difficulties of trying to stop drinking – for Evie’s sake.

Evie sat in her mother’s little chair by the window, and with the light falling across her shoulder she began to read her mother’s private thoughts and observations, and details of her life slowly began to merge. With her blonde hair tumbling down her back, and her head bowed over the book in her lap, her face composed and the sunlight on the pink floral gown she wore, Evie looked the picture of a young girl content with life reading nothing more harmful than the latest novel. Had they but known that what she was reading had deconstructured her life, and she knew she could never be Evelyn Templeton ever again.

“This morning I went out for a short walk. I needed air. This house wraps itself around me and becomes my prison. Drink just numbs the pain. I saw Evelyn. She was talking to a man. I watched her. How lovely she is, how beautiful. I did not know the man. He is tall. Dark. Slim. When he left her he half turned. Oh my, but he so reminded me of Remy.

Evie told me he was the new Bank Manager, his name is David Carter. She’s happy. Pleased with herself. He paid her compliments and made her feel good. I can remember how that feels. I need a drink.”

“Evie talks a lot about this David Carter. This evening she went out for a meal with him. He is older than her. I would rather she was out with a younger man. What does an older man want from a child like Evie.?”

“I made an appointment to see the Bank Manager today. I gave a false name just in case. Silly really as the Clerk knows me anyway. Needless to say, Mr Carter was too busy to see me.”

“I keep dreaming of Remy. Oh, what a handsome man he was, I wish Evie could have met him then she would have understood why it was that I loved him, I mean, I LOVE him so much. I wish I could forget. He hurt me so much. Broke my heart. Gave me no help for my child. Which reminds me … what ever happened to that baby?”

This last phrase puzzled Evie immensely and she made a mental note to keep track of any references to this baby, unless, of course, the reference was an oblique one about herself?

“I saw Marie Cartwright today. She’s such a lovely woman. Does she realise how fortunate she is to have married such a man as Ben Cartwright. I said hello to her and she smiled and said hello to me, but her eyes passed through and over me, as though I were too insignificant to notice. Does she know? I wonder, does she know? She has three sons here, but what if she remembers the other one? If she remembers me from that time in New Orleans?”

“There’s talk about David Carter and Marie Cartwright in town. I hear the whispers, and ask Evie. She doesn’t seem too concerned, just laughs and says it is all part of the plan. I don’t understand what she means, what plan? I’ve not been told about any plan. I wish I could get to see this David Carter. Evie says I can’t. It would upset things for her. “

“My head aches. Evie came home wearing a diamond necklace and ear-rings that had been a gift to her from David Carter. I looked at them when she was asleep. I sneaked into her room and found them on the dressing table. When I held them in my hands I could just close my eyes and remember, years ago, when they belonged to me. I knew how they felt. They were as familiar to me as the my face. I wore them the first night I met Remy. A ball my father gave for my brother’s betrothal. Remy said I looked beautiful. I felt it then. The necklace had been in my family for generations.”

Evie put the book down here and wiped her face free from tears. Her mother said nothing, nothing of all this. Here it was in dark ink upon the paper. But David had said the jewellery had been in his family … had Sophia been mistaken? Surely she had been.

“I was going to take the jewellery and pay David Carter a visit. I know where he lives. But I’m frightened for Evie. She’s so innocent, such a child. Remy used to say that he loved me bcause I was such a child. Naïve he called it. But this jewellery worries me. What has Evie done to get it? I dread the thought, dread it. If David Carter is Remy then the most gross sin has taken place. God forgive me. God forgive them..I don’t now what to do. Should I go to Marie Cartwright? But how can I? She’ll ask me about the baby and what can I tell her about him?”

“I walk the floor at nights wondering and worrying. I want to protect Evie, but is it too late? I am sure that David Carter is Remy. Why doesn’t he come to me? I love him and hate him at the same time. I had to think hard and long about how he got the jewellery. It was that mixed up time when his wife was so ill having the baby. He had gambled away a small fortune. I gave him the jewellery then, but I thought he had given it to me back. I can’t remember all the details now. Things get muddled if I try to think too deeply about things back then. Poor Gwen. She was such a sweet creature. He killed her. I don’t mean he strangled her or anything as dramatic as though, he just broke her heart. I suppose, in a way, that is how he killed me, all those years ago.”

“I was thinking about the baby. I remember how sad he had been when Gwen died and her baby too. It was a difficult time. There were the debts and so much anxiety about whether or not her family would find out about me, and the lack of money. Then the night he came home with the baby. I wanted to know whose baby it was and he said I should not ask questions like that, it had nothing to do with me. It was only a few days old, and so sweet. Big smokey blue eyes and lots of hair. He stopped crying when I held him and just looked up at me. I asked Remy again about him, and he said it was something he was doing for a friend. I didn’t understand but after a while he left, with the baby.”

“I wonder now how I knew it was her son. I keep thinking about it. I wish things then had not been so muddled. I wish I didn’t have to drink but … “

“How lovely she looked tonight. She was wearing the jewellery and so proud of it. Joseph Cartwright came to escort her to the dance. How handsome he is. They make a fine looking couple. I wish to God that some honest man would come and help me. Where can you find an honest man when you need one? But,Evie, Evie, how lovely you are. I hope you never get to realise how lovely … that would be too bad.”

Evie closed the book and put it away in a drawer along with the sweet scented undergarments her mother would have worn. She knew that like all alcoholics, her mother would have concealed there a bottle, hidden amongst the fripperies.

She walked to the window and looked out into the street. A large group of men were riding into town. She watched them separate and go their separate ways. Two of the men were deputies and they dismounted outside the Sheriffs Office and went inside. She looked for the bank and stared at the door, thought of the man sitting in his office, so charming and so polite. No one knew who he really, and what he had done. They had accepted him without hesitation. Just as she had done, even with a great deal of pleasure.

She turned and picked up her shawl, which she slipped over her shoulders. Then she picked up her mother’s journal and carefully tore out one of the pages which she slipped into her glove. The journal she concealed in her own room.

She needed to get away from Virginia City. She wanted to leave the stench of the corruption and greed way behind her. But to leave, meant a great deal of money. She needed money and where better to get it than from a bank.

David Carter looked up and smiled as his daughter entered the office. She stood in the doorway with her hands clasped bemeaurely before her in her skirts. Her eyes were clear and untroubled. He thought she had never looked more lovely, nor more serene.

The clerk closed the door behind Evie, and once they heard it click shut, she stepped forward, closer to the desk. He indicated the chair,

“I’m glad you came, Evie. Sit down. Let us talk.”

She said nothing, nor did she move to take the seat. He looked up at her. She looked as though something had died inside, as though someone had reached inside her and switched off the essential something that made humans special. Her eyes were serene he had initially thought, but now he could see that they were just remote, cold, vacant.


She raised her chin. A stubborn little chin, and full voluptuous lips above it, but they were firm and tight now, with no hint of laughter lingering at their corner.

“Sit down, my dear. We have to talk.”

“My mothers dead. There’s funeral expenses to be met, and rent for the house.”

“You want a loan?” he asked, meeting her coldness with a chill of his own.


“What do you want then?”

She pulled a scrap of paper from her glove and tossed it onto the desk. She stared ahead of her, looking through the window.

“What does this mean? Why did you bring this here?”

“My mother wrote it all down in a journal. I thought you would be interested in that piece, Remy.”

“Don’t call me that here. It’s no longer my name.” he looked down and re-read the paper, the words of a drunkard wouldn’t hold up in court as evidence, surely? He looked up at her determined face,

“You want money? I can understand that, you have expenses that have to be met. How much would you like?”

“How much would you think that piece of paper is worth? How much do you think a journal would be worth? How much to stop me from going to Marie Cartwright and telling her all about it?”

He said nothing for a moment but waved the slip of paper too and fro as though considering it. Then he slipped it into his pocket and stood up.

“The jewellery you returned to me, you could have kept it and sold it .”

“It wasn’t yours to give me, it belonged to my mother’s family.”

“Is that what she told you? Poor demented fool that she was, she didn’t know what she was talking about,” he scoffed with a sneer in his voice, and he walked towards her, “Come with me, I’ll get you some money.”

“Where are we going?”

“Where I keep my money. At home.”

She frowned and shook her head. He reached out to snatch at her wrist, but she drew away, and shook her head again.

“You’re a little fool if you believe the rubbish your mother has written. She was no doubt drunk when she wrote it. If you want the money you will have to come with me, otherwise go without.”

She stared ahead of her. Then stood up,

“I could get the money from Mrs Cartwright,” she said in a very quiet voice.

“Do you really think she’ll give you five minutes, child? She has problems of her own anyway, with Adam so ill.”

She frowned, and darted a look at him, one of doubt and concern, then the remote coldness dropped over her features once again. She turned towards him,

“Very well. I’ll come with you.”

David shrugged as though it hardly mattered to him whether she came or not. He opened the door, and pulled it open.

“I’ll not be long,” he told his secretary, “There’s a small matter that has to be dealt with concerned Mrs Templetons’ estate.”

The secretary nodded and smiled. When he and Evie had left the premises the staff there exchanged knowing looks and winks. He had been seen with Evie often enough and rumours were rampant with regard to their relationship. And as for Mrs Templeton, well, everyone knew she had never managed to snare a Mr Templeton so why now keep up the pretence?

Chapter 28

The young man in the bed was totally inert. So far away from all that was happening around him that Marie feared that he was already dead. She looked anxiously over at Paul who was looking down at Adam with a gentle, fatherly expression on his face that caused her even greater anxiety.


The mention of his name brought Paul Martin out of his reverie and he turned, looked at Marie and nodded, as though in acknowledgement of her unspoken question,

“I don’t know, Marie. This is the time we hold our breath, pray and hope that faith in our prayers can work miracles.”

“Is it that bad?” she walked to the bedside and took hold of the limp hand that rested on top of the coverlet.

“I can’t pretend to you, Marie. There’s no point in doing so, but the reality of the situation is very, very grave. I’ve done all that I can -,” he shook his head and once again looked down at Adam. “He has a concussion. I can’t judge how severe that is because the loss of blood has seriously weakened his system. The bullet missed his vital organs but I don’t know what other internal damage has been done. Perhaps, one day, medical progress will develop some system by which we will be able to see beneath the flesh and bone of our patient … at the moment it sounds like necromancy to even hope for it.” he released a long drawn out sigh and rubbed his face with one of his hands, while, with the other he reached out for her, “Marie, I can’t make promises, you understand that?”

“You’ve done everything you can, Paul. I can’t and wouldn’t expect anything else from you. Thank you for that,” she said softly, while her eyes looked down upon the still features of the injured man.

“Whoever did this didn’t mean for him to live, didn’t expect for him to be found. He was dropped as casually into that – that pit as if he were a dead dog. It’s a miracle every bone in his body hadn’t broken. He came out of that quite well, some injuries as expected , but minor ones. I think his body was so limp as he dropped down that it was his best protection.”

Marie sighed, and shook her head, trying to remember what Paul had just said, for it all seemed like words, words, that just spun around in her head. She nodded now and smiled blankly, and he picked up his hat, and bag, and turned to the door.

“If he takes a turn for the worse, give him the medication I’ve left here, and get one of the boys to fetch me back. I’ll be at Mrs Saunders when I leave here. She’s about to have her fourth child, and she usually delivers very quickly. All being well, if I’m able, I shall go on to Jake Fellows to lance a boil.” he shook his head, “Lancing a boil…gah, ridiculous!”

The door opened, closed behind him leaving Marie alone with the eldest Cartwright. She drew closer to the bed and pulled up a chair to sit near him. The sun light had gone now. Evening was drawing in. She leaned down and turned up the wick in the oil lamp.

It was a good sized room, with a large window at which the drapes had been pulled across. Hop Sing had removed the evidence of Paul’s ministrations upon Adam, but it were the things left behind that created the greater reminder of what had happened. Adam’s boots, his gunbelt and the black hat, all left on the floor by the closet. It meant everything else had been removed, cast away. It reminded her of the torn and bloodied shirt, the padding upon a wound pumping blood that stained the white cloth with red petals widening out all the time, and the wet blood stains clotted on the black trousers. She shuddered and turned away.

Once before she had seen one of the men she loved cut down in his prime in just this same way. She leaned towards Adam and held onto the limp hand, and remembered how Ben had been brought home twelve years before and how she had held his hand, cold and colourless.

How Adam loved books. She allowed her eyes to wander along the shelves upon which he had stacked his most loved volumes. If Ben had lived Adam would have gone to college. She wondered then in which direction the young man’s life would have taken as a result of a good college education.

Still he didn’t move. She held his hand and longed for the warmth of her flesh to impart life and strength into him. She prayed that there would be some indication that would give them hope to get them through the long night, and perhaps, longer days ahead..

The door inched open and Joe stepped into the room, gave her a brief smile and raised his eyebrows,

“How is he?”

“Not good, Joe.”

“Paul and Roy have gone. You’ve a visitor.”

“I have?” she raised her eyebrows in query, and then looked down at Adam, “I don’t want to see anyone, Joe. Not to-night.”

“I don’t think HE’ll take no for an answer,” Joe said in a manner that made it obvious to her that this visitor was unwelcome.

She brushed aside a long strand of hair and tucked it behind her ear (how odd, she thought, Ben would have done that, and kissed my cheek as he did so .. I miss you, my love).

“Who is it?” she asked as she passed her son by the door.

“David Carter.”

He stood just by the settee looking up at the stairs with his hat in one hand, and the other hand clutching at his jacket front. His eyes were bright, almost fever bright, as they watched her descend towards him.

“Marie? How is he?”

“Didn’t Paul tell you?” she replied with a distinct chill in her voice. She noted how his hand dropped to his side, and he bowed his head. It occurred to her that it was almost theatrical, rehearsed. She closed her eyes for a second as a wave of dizzyness swept over her, and when she had opened them David was standing by her side. She felt his hand on her arm.

“Paul told me briefly, but I wanted to hear from you. A mother can discern more than a doctor.”

“Can she?” Marie replied and stepped away from him and walked over to her chair. Gratefully she sat down, her legs felt weak and she couldn’t really understand why she feel this way now, when she had been so strong throughout the rest of the day.

Hoss came into the room from the kitchen and viewed the two other occupants of the room anxiously. He paused, then walked forwards and sat down, nodding to David in acknowledgment of his presence,

“Hop Sing’s rustling up some supper, Ma. Reckons we need some food and some coffee.”

“Oh a good idea, dear, I was wondering why I was feeling so dizzy.”

“Marie?” David stepped towards her, nearer the big coffee table in front of the fireplace. “Marie, I came to help in any way I can, please let me know what you would like me to do? Could I relieve you at all during the night? Let you and the boys sleep? I’ll watch over him for you.”

She frowned and looked at him thoughtfully, then smiled gently,

“It’s kind of you, David, but unfair of us to expect it of you. You have your work, you can’t really be spared in town. Don’t think me ungrateful, but I think it better if we, the family, just stick together on this. We’ll be alright.”

“Dear Marie, I know I am not family, but there was …I did think that soon I would be part of it, and as such …”

“That was then,” Marie interrupted him abruptly, too anxious about her current situation to worry about being considerate to him now, “This is now, David. I have other things to consider.”

“Isn’t it my right as your fiance to consider them along with you?” David replied in a gentle soft voice, stepping nearer to her, and reaching out for her hand, “You know, Marie, the other day, when we talked of love and commitment -”

“David, this is not the time, nor the place.”

“Perhaps not, perhaps not,” he said as though in compliance to her request, “But, I love you, Marie, and I don’t want you to ever forget that, nor to ignore the fact that I’m here to help, to do anything…anything at all.”

Hoss wriggled uncomfortably in his seat and swallowed hard in embarressment. He looked from one to the other and longed to be able to get up and make his excuses. David appeared to be oblivious of the young man but now took Marie’s hand in his own and raised it to his lips, kissed it gently.

“Thank you, David,” Marie replied with a tremor in her voice that David mistook for a favourable response to his overtures, “But we need to be alone tonight. Please understand?”

“Of course,” his lips twitched into a smile, but his eyes remained downcast so that she was unable to read any expression in them, “Of course, I understand. Send for me should you need me.”

She nodded, and withdrew her hand from his grasp. “Thank you,” she whispered and closed her eyes.

She heard Hoss bid their guest good night, and heard the door close. Then she relaxed, put her hands to her face and burst into tears. Hoss was by her side immediately, his arms, big and gentle and loving, wrapped around her in a tender embrace,

“Oh Ma, don’t cry, don’t cry. It’ll be alright.”

“I’m sorry, Hoss.” she held onto him tightly, as though a drowning soul clinging to the last vestige of security left to her, “Oh Hoss, what on earth possessed me? How could I have thought I loved that man?”

“Don’t you love him then, Ma?” Hoss said, surprise loud in his voice.

“Oh, no, no. I can’t …” she shook her head and buried her face in his shoulder. How odd, the thought drifted into her mind, he smells like his father.

Chapter 29
The house was enveloped in both darkness and silence. No one slept but Adam, whose sleep was of the most unnatural kind. By his bedside Marie kept a constant vigil. In Hoss’ room both he and Joe sat anxious and alert, speaking in whispers, and the things about which they spoke were mainly of irrelevancies.

In his own room Hop Sing burnt incense to his ancestors and said the prayers that his people had taught their people for centuries. In the bunk house the men tried to sleep, some succeeded. A ranch could not afford to stop functioning no matter what was happening in the main house.

In the shadows the watcher tried to blend further into the darkness as he kept a vigil of his own. He noticed when, one by one, the lights were extinguished in the lower rooms. He saw the lights flicker and go out in the upper rooms. The room he knew was Marie’s remained in darkness. The only room with any light in it at all was Adams. Once or twice he saw Marie’s shadow pass and re-pass across the window as she paced the room.

David Carter was both puzzled and worried. Marie’s reaction had confused him. He thought over the evening of the dance and how they had parted, not on particularly good terms. But he had expected her to run into his arms, to beg him to stay with them and to give her in particular, some consolation and comfort. And, had she done so, he would have provided it willingly. But she had, in effect, frozen him out. Even that moment when he had thought she had shown some emotion, he now realised it to have been a negative one. Marie Cartwright had turned off her feelings for him as effectively as a dam prevents water flowing.

Why? Why? Had she some idea of his connection with Adam’s attempted murder? No, impossible. Had she, in fact, even considered it she would have talked to Roy, and certainly would not have allowed him in the house. But what then? Evie had had no chance to seeing any Cartwright or of telling them anything at all about their connection. So it could not have been anything to do with Sophia and himself and the events that had taken place in their past.

He stood watching the house for some time as he pondered over what to do next. What errors had he made that could now be retrieved and covered over? What could he do to repair the damage between him and Marie? He finally surrendered to the fact that he needed to sleep. It had been a long day and evening and now that the sky was turning purple and the morning star had appeared he realised he had stayed overlong, and had reached no conclusions that would get him out of the dilemma in which he now found himself.

“Hey, Joe, I jest remembered ..”
“That letter to Adam.” Hoss pulled it out of his pocket and looked at it, smoothed over the creases and handed it to his brother, “Should we open it?”

Joe scratched the back of his neck and shrugged, then passed it back to Hoss,

“I reckon we should, it might be something we need to know about.”

Hoss nodded, and ripped open the envelope, extracted the letter and smoothed it out,

“Dear Mr Cartwright,

With reference to your letter in regard to a David Carter, I regret to inform you that I can, at present, find no information that would be of any interest to you. However, I have information on a Remy David Cartier who had connections with the people to whom you referred in your letter.

As this information is private and confidential I would need to have a written request to further this correspondence with you by forwarding the details you require.

I should mention at this point that I have been approached by an unknown person who has been making enquiries about your father and step-mother, Marie Cartwright. As an old friend of your father’s and of your family I did not give him any information, but it is possible he could get it from some other source.

Yours truly…..” Hoss stopped and turned the page over just in case there was more to follow, then shrugged, “Well, that was hardly worth sending.”

“I wonder who this Remy person is, and who would be making enquiries about Ma?” Joe frowned, “I don’t know about you, Hoss, but there’s a lot of very odd things happening around here, quite apart from the attempt to murder Adam.”

“It’s strange, isn’t it, Joe, that someone would take such a lot of trouble to conceal Adam. A gunman would just take aim, shoot him and leave him for dead in the road. Why go to the trouble of concealing …”

“What? What, Hoss?”

“Er .. I was jest remembering summat.”

“What was it? Was it something important?”

“Something odd.” Hoss crinkled his brow in concentration, then leaned forward, Joe did likewise, their heads nearly touched as a result, “That pastor, preacher, whoever he was, had lost a wheel, right?”

“Right! That’s what you said had happened.” Joe nodded in agreement.

“It was right at the spot where Adam was shot.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yep. Wal, give a foot or two, but it was right thar anyhow …” he drew in his bottom lip between his teeth in concentration “You know, it’s odd, because Adam wasn’t shot near that place we found him, someone carried him up there. We know that because the bullet passed through his body and went into Sport’s saddle. He was shot on the road. There must have been a lot of blood there.”

“So? What are you saying, Hoss?”

“Someone carried Adam up and dropped him throught that cleft in the rock. Then came back down, covered over the blood in the road, and …”


“And that’s when I git a mite confused. The man I spoke to lost his wheel and was trying to get it back on agin. But how long does it take to lose a wheel, retrieve it, try to get it on.”

“Quite some time, depending on how far it had gone, what damage had been done.”

“It was hot, he’d barely raised a sweat. I’ve gotta think this out in my head, Joe, because something sure doesn’t add up rightly here.”

Joe sighed and leaned back in his chair, and then got to his feet. “I’ll just go and see how Adam is, and if Ma needs anything. You just stay put, Hoss, and think.”


In the pink room that was her very own private solace from the world, Evie counted the bundles of money once again. She could hardly believe that it had been so easy. All that money, bundles of it, all neatly piled up on her dressing table.

There was enough there to pay for Sophia’s funeral, the very best and fanciest funeral the town had seen in years. There was enough to buy the house if need be, and get herself a whole new wardrobe of clothes. By the piles of money was the blue velvet box that contained the diamond necklace and ear rings. David had said, with a strange smile, that as she was his daughter, and there was no point in denying it now, she should have possession of them. That had been his intention when he had given them to her initially, but now, at least he could make the reason perfectly clear to her.

Whether they belonged to Sophia’s family or David’s all that time ago Evie no longer cared. They were hers now. She opened the box and peeked inside and then closed the lid with a sigh of satisfaction.

She no longer felt grief over her mother’s death. That was over now. She was in a new phase of her life. She had tasted a new power, new authority. She hummed a tune as she prepared for bed and turned down the lamp in her room. David Carter had been only too happy to oblige, to hand over these vast sums of money. Where had it all come from, she wondered?

She drifted into sleep still wondering. She was, after all, her father’s daughter.

Chapter 30

Morning … a bird sang its heart out, trilling with full throated zeal, the little feathers at its throat fluttered up and down as he sang his song and bathed in the warmth of a new day dawning.

The sounds of the ranch awakening. Horses stirring, smells wafting, life in all its forms and patterns beginning a new cycle. Hope and optimism, despair and despondency, hand in hand awoke with the new day.

“How is he?” Hoss asked as he joined Marie in Adam’s room and looked down at the invalid, “Doesn’t look much changed, does he?”

Marie shook her head and stood up. Despite the warmth of the morning she pulled her shawl closer around her, and walked to the window. She pulled back the drapes and the sun burst into the room.

“It seems to have been such a long night, Hoss.”

“Yeah, it has been,” Hoss replied, looking at his brother thoughtfully, then, with a sigh, he looked at Marie, “I’ll take over for a spell now, Ma. You go and get a rest, have a coffee.”

She smiled and touched his shoulder gently. Sweet Hoss, she could remember him as a little boy, running to her and holding out his hand, or showing her his knee where he had injured himself. He was the one so free with his kisses and unreserved when it came to hugs. The one to bring in the injured creature, big or small, to cry over the demise of a dog or cat, who gave names to the chickens so that Hop Sing had to kill and pluck them out of sight of this sweet sunny natured child.

Hoss sat down and pulled the chair closer to the side of the bed. Adam had not seemed to have moved from when he had last seen him, but he knew, without a doubt, that his brother was fighting, striving to survive. He touched Adam’s hand,

“Got a letter from the guy you wrote to, about David Carter. Remember him? He came round last night, expecting Ma to fall into his arms for help, and gratitude. The guy makes my flesh creep. Ma seems to have got the sense of him now, Adam. She didn’t want him near her. It’s an odd set up.”

The man in the bed said nothing but his eyelashes fluttered as though consciousness was struggling to surface.

“Another thing that was odd though, about that buggy. You see, I came along not long after I’d heard that rifle shot, and came across a guy in a buggy…only he wasn’t in the buggy at the time. Trying to get a wheel on that he said had come off. Nothing damaged though. Thing is, it was stopped around where I reckon you were bushwhacked. Now, how come huh? Don’t that seem odd to you or am I just being too suspicious? But don’t you reckon it odd?”

He chewed on the flesh of his thumb and scowled. He conjured up the face of the man to whom he had given assistance, and frowned again.


“What?” Hoss leaned forward, nearly choking himself as the word broke into his thoughts and caught him unawares. “Adam? What did you say?”

“Wheel? Not there…”

“No, I mean, yeah, it was there, I helped him put it back on.” he stood up, and leaned over the bed, to see Adam blinking confusedly up at him, a slight, very slight colour rouging his cheeks, “What do you remember, Adam? Do you recall seeing a buggy without a wheel?”

Adam closed his eyes again. Hoss’ words had triggered some memory in his mind, but what it was seemed very far away and hazy. He raised a limp hand and gestured to Hoss to draw nearer, which Hoss did, taking hold of his hand as he did so,

“Water …”

“Sure, sure ..” Hoss looked around, got the glass of water and then gently raised Adam up in order for him to drink from it, “Is that all right? Are you all right? Adam?”

Adam sighed and opened his eyes, and looked at Hoss without emotion. He was tired. He felt drained of any energy, any strength. He wanted only to sleep. He saw his brother’s blue eyes sparkling and the lips on the generous mouth smiling, and managed to muster up a smile in return, a very feeble one that has to be said.

“Where’s Joe?”

“He’ll be here in a minute, Adam.”

“Where’s Ma?”

“She’s been here all night with you, Adam. I jest sent her into her room to rest up a while.”

Adam sighed, he could recall waking several times in the night and seeing her sitting there by the side of the bed. He closed his eyes,

“What’re you thinking?” Hoss asked noticing the slight furrow on his brothers brow.

“There was a buggy on the track. Wheel missing.”

“You saw it?”

“Got off my horse to help. What happened ?”

“What happened was that someone shot ya, that’s what happened.” Hoss growled.

“Shot? I thought … someone said I fell down …rocks.”

“Huh, shoved down.”

Adam said nothing. It was all a void. A blank. He closed his eyes and let his mind drift back into the cocoon of dark protectiveness in which there was no pain, no awareness.

Hoss walked over to the window and looked down into the yard. He didn’t know it but had he done that some hours earlier he would have seen David Carter blending into the shadows, staring up at the window. He looked down and saw only the everyday things that he saw each morning. He bowed his head and began to think, to think hard.

Chapter 31
Roy Coffee had just buckled on his gun belt when the door to his office swung open and Hoss strode in, followed by Little Joe. Having seen the look on their faces many times before, Roy pursed his lips – which made his moustache bristle – and raised his eyebrows.

“Well, and what can I do for you two? I hope you haven’t come into town to check up on whether or not I’m dealing with this case of Adam’s ambushing. If you are I’ll tell you here and now that -”

“It’s all right, Roy. I ain’t checkin’ on you, that’s a fact. The thing is that I wanted to tell you summat that came into my mind and that Adam -”

“Adam’s all right?” Roy interrupted abruptly, “He’s come through this?”

“He’s holding his own,” Joe said quietly, “Paul was riding into the yard to see to him as we left. We wouldn’t be here now if we didn’t feel confident that he was going to be in good hands.”

“That’s a blessing, then. I was as sure as anything that he’d not pull through this round this time. Now then, what was it you were sayin’, Hoss?”

“Wal, you recall I told you about the Pastor and the way I helped him with his wheel ?”

“I remember, Hoss. I was just about to go over and see about the buggy. See what I could get out of the livery stable Manager.”

Hoss licked his bottom lip thoughtfully and then pushed his hat to the back of his head as he scratched his brow,

“Wal, Roy, I got me a kinda itch. You know, Adam said that he was riding on home and met up with the buggy without a wheel. Then he can’t recall what happened next. I reckon it was there on purpose.”

“You do?” Roy surveyed Hoss thoughtfully and then looked at Joe, who nodded.

“I do too.” Joe affirmed with a nod of the head.

“So, you got this itch too have you?”

“Itch? What itch? No, I ain’t got no itch, I just think it too much of a coincidence, that’s all.” Joe shrugged.

“That’s a fact. Now, Hoss, just hold on thar about itches, I need more than an itch to get this sorted out, I need hard nosed evidence and facts. Now, the only way I’m going to get them is by going out there and askin’ questions of folks. People notice things without even realising it, and they talk, saying things they don’t even realise they’re saying. So, itches apart, that’s what I’m about to go and do.”

“Yeah, but, Roy, don’t you think it odd?”

“All right, Hoss, tell me about the Pastor. What was his name? What did he look like?”

“Shucks, I don’t know his name, Roy. I don’t even know if he was a Pastor ‘cept he said he didn’t know much about guns and rifles as he never used one. He said that those who live by the sword would die by the sword, and I know that’s scripture because I can remember my Pa telling me it more times than – well, a lot of times.”

“Right,” Roy scowled slightly, and picked his hat up from the peg, “So what does he look this, this guy in the buggy.”

Hoss frowned and screwed up his face and then gave a fairly accurate description of the man he had helped with the buggy wheel. Joe listened and watched Roy’s face,

“You should be writing this down, Roy. It’s a statement of sorts.”
“Thank you very much, Joseph,” Roy snapped, “When it comes to taking down statements I shall personally see to it that your brother is given the time to make one. In fact, if he wishes, he can sit down at my desk right now and write it out for me to put with the others I’m going to collect this morning. Is that acceptable to you?”

“Shucks, Roy, you in a bad mood or summat?” Hoss asked anxiously, “We came hot footing it into town to tell you what we found out and thought you’d be pleased.”

Roy grunted and slapped his hat onto his head, pointed to the desk and walked quickly out of the building, slamming the door behind him.

“Odd for Roy to get annoyed like that,” Hoss muttered.

“Are you going to write down that statement now, Hoss? Or shall we go over and get some coffee and doughnuts from the coffee shop?”

“Hey, yeah, that sounds just about right.” Hoss grinned, and then his face fell into more solemn lines, “Perhaps we oughta go and check out how Roys getting on with the livery stable manager, Joe. I want to hear for myself what he has to say about things.”

Roy paused in mid-stride and turned to see the two brothers walking close behind him. He sighed. It put him all on edge when the Cartwright brothers chose to ‘help out’ . Joe was so volatile, and inclined to erupt no one knew exactly when, and Hoss would just follow Joe’s lead, no matter where it happened to take him. He turned to wards them and waited for them to catch him up.

“Why are you two following me around town?” he asked in a plaintive voice.

“I thought – we thought you’d be pleased to have some company, Roy.” Joe said, giving the Sheriff the benefit of a big smile.

“Fact is, Roy, this matter concerns Adam. He could have been killed yesterday, and we want to make sure his killer is found, before he gets another chance.”

“Yeah, that’s right, Roy. If this killer gets to know Adam survived his attack he could well come back and try again.”

Roy said nothing, but looked from one to the other of them and then nodded.

“You’re right. That’s possible. Hoss, you’re a valuable witness for the case. You’ve seen the man who could possibly be the shooter. So, let’s see what we can find out from Jack Mayhew, shall we?”

They looked at one another, triumphant, and Roy sighed inwardly. Together they made their way to the livery stables.

“Morning, Jack.”

“Morning, Roy. Howdy, Joe and Hoss, how’s your brother getting along?”

“He’s going to live.” Joe said quietly, “We’ve come to ask you for your help though, Jack.”

“Her-hummmm,” Roy grunted and cleared his throat noisly, “Jack, Hoss here met a man yesterday who hired a buggy from you. Tall, thick set, didn’t wear any gun. May have mentioned to you that one of the wheels came off the buggy he’d hired.”

Jack nodded and tugged at his moustache,

“There was a man came and hired a buggy. Odd, well, he made me feel odd, not that he was odd. He had a cold manner about him, didn’t seem the type to go riding around the country just to see the view and kill time before catching the stage outa here. He wasn’t armed that’s true, but he was carrying a valise with him which he put into the back of the buggy. Now, I’ve been around guns and arms for a long time before coming here, and he had that smell on him of someone who had just cleaned and oiled a weapon. That was odd. I wondered if I had mistaken it, but I’ve a might keen sense of smell. You know yourselves how that oily smell lingers.”

“Did he mention anything about the wheel coming off?” Hoss asked

“No, nothing.” Jack said quietly, but there was something I thought I’d show you, Roy.” he beckoned to them to follow him.

In the interior of the building he housed the horses tackle, and also several buggies that he hired out for various occasions. He led them to one and stood to one side, pointing to it.

“Notice anything ?”

Joe scratched his chin thoughtfully, and then leaned forwards to look more closely at the buggy. He could see nothing, and shook his head. Roy and Hoss likewise leaned down and peered at the buggy. Jack sighed,

“Didn’t think you’d see it. Ain’t noticeable, is it? Guess that’s why the killer didn’t see it, which is a good thing for us…not for him.”

“For Pete’s sake, what is it we’re supposed to see, Jack?” Hoss exclaimed impatiently.

“Just here.” Jack pointed to the body of the buggy, “I had to look hard myself, just caught a shadow of it, then when I’d seen it, it was purely obvious and I see it every time I look there. Told the boy not to clean it down until you’d seen it.”

Roy squatted down onto his haunches and then nodded,


“Yep, blood.” Jack nodded in turn, and looked at Hoss and Joe. “A handprint in fact. I reckon your brother must have grabbed at something solid to hold onto as he fell. He left a print there.”

“Which ties the killer in with the guy who hired this buggy… don’t it, Roy?” Hoss looked at the sheriff with excitement in his eyes, and then turned to Jack “What was his name? Where did he come from?”

“Didn’t give me a name,” Jack frowned, “But he came from the direction of the hotel Internationale. Said he was going to catch the mid-day coach. Just wanted to wile away the time by having a little ride out.” Jack stroked his chin, “Fact is, his money was good. He paid what I asked, and, because of his nature, I didn’t feel inclined to ask questions.” he looked at them as they stood quietly in front of him, “Some folk are like that, ain’t they? Intimidating, kinda.”

Roy nodded and looked at Hoss and Joe,


The brothers nodded. Jack shrugged,

“He didn’t say much when he came back. I asked if he’d had an enjoyable ride and he just said he had. Then he went back to the hotel. I ain’t never seen him since.”

“I did. He left town on the mid day stage, as he said he would.” Hoss sighed.

Roy thanks Jack and turned to walk to the Hotel. As he had expected his two shadows followed him.

Chapter 32
Evie counted the money again. It hardly seemed possible that anyone could possess so much money. Yet, here it was in front of her. Piles of the stuff. She wanted to throw it up in the air and let it fall all about her but didn’t dare in case she couldn’t find all of them again. Carefully she placed the bundles of notes in a hat box which she then tidied away in a very deep wardrobe. For good measure she placed another hat box on top, plus two shoe boxes (both empty).

She had stuffed some of the money into her purse and her intention was to pay the Undertakers bill. She had to steel herself to do that because Mr Hinkley the undertaker would no doubt want her to see the fruits of his labours… namely, the laying out of her mother.

From somewhere she had hobbled together some black garments, and found her mothers prettiest black bonnet, rather old fashioned now, but still retaining some sophisticated attractiveness. She tied it on, surveyed herself in the mirror, and then left the house.

She walked thoughtfully away into the town. She did not even notice when she had passed the bank, nor would she have noticed Joe had he not called out to her, several times.

“Evie? Evie, how are you?”

She blinked up at him . It was strange but so much had happened since she had seen him that it made her knees go weak. She actually felt them give way beneath her. As she began to, rather gracefully given the circumstances, crumple to the ground so Joe caught her by the waist.

“Hey, Hoss, come and help me here?” Joe called, supporting the young girl in his arms.

“What shall I do with her?” Hoss asked, scooping her up into his arms and holding her much like a mother does her child.

“We’ll take her into the hotel with us. She needs a strong cup of coffee.” Joe decided.

Roy, in the meantime, had taken the opportunity to proceed to the hotel and was already being admitted into the Manager’ s office when Joe, Hoss and Evie entered the building. Very gently Hoss set Evie down onto the plush cushioned chairs, while Joe rubbed her hands, hoping it would help revive her.

“Is she alright? Do you think I should go and get the doctor?” Hoss asked, looking at the girls pale face.

“She’ll be alright. It’s the worry she’s been through, Hoss, and I guess she has not stopped to eat or anything. Girls don’t seem able to handle things like we do.”

Hoss pursed his lips and pondered on that, in his lifetime he had realised that women handled things very well indeed, oftentimes, better than men.

“I’ll get some coffee ordered.” he muttered and ambled off to find a waiter.

“Joe?” Evie breathed softly through coral lips, and she fluttered her eyelashes more than usual for good measure, “What happened?”

“You fainted.” he replied, “I guess it’s the worry. Have you eaten anything at all lately?”

Evie frowned and realised that she could not, in fact, recall when she had last eaten or had anything to drink. She shook her head and looked wistfully up at him.

“Then come on, it’s time that you did.” he smiled and took hold of her hand, “Hoss will be only too pleased to accommodate …” he paused, hoped he had got the wording right, and smiled again.

Evie smiled as well, and her eyes twinkled. It was not so much at pleasure at seeing her admirer again, but at the thought that were he to know what she had been doing since seeing him last he would … well, be simply amazed.


“Here he is,” the Manager said, scratching his brow as though surprised at his own ability to trace the mans name in the register, “Harry Chambers. Placerville.”

“And he definitely left here yesterday?” Roy said, staring at the entry in the register as though it could reveal more than just a name and place.

“Caught the mid-day stage to Placerville. He was only passing through. A quiet man, kept himself to himself”

“Did he give any reason for being here? Business, was it?”

“No,” the Manager shrugged, “He went out several times. To the restaurant. Oh, he saw Mr Carter at the Bank, and he did ask me where he could hire a buggy as he wanted to take a look around. I thought, personally, that he may be interested in buying up some land. He looked the type.”

“Did he wear any pistol at all? Carry a rifle?”

“No, no, nothing of the sort. Just a small travelling case and a valise. He was very particular about the valise. Wouldn’t let anyone else carry it at all. I noticed he took it with him when he went out for his trip yesterday. But, on the whole, he was a pleasant man, although very private.”

“Has he ever been here before?” Roy asked, turning over the pages of the register very slowly and glancing up and down in the pages.

“No, never seen him before,” the Manager said, taking the register from Roy and closing it rather sharply.

“When did he go and see the Bank Manager?” Roy asked.

“The day before yesterday if I recall correctly. He didn’t say he was going there, but I saw him in the bank, because I was there myself, making a deposit.”

Roy nodded. He pursed his lips thoughtfully. Well, at least he knew now where he was going to make his next visit.

“So,” Evie gave her two companions a wide eyed plaintive stare, and then blinked her lashes at them for good measure, “anyway, after they took Mother away, I just moped about the house and looked through a few things. I found a journal…” she paused and looked at them both, this time warily, wondering just how far she could go with this particular line of conversation, “She talked about the past, and how she felt about… things.”

“You must have felt very lonely,” Joe said in a hushed voice, especially used for plaintive females, and he took hold of her hand and held it in both of his, “I wish I could have been there to help you, Evie, but we had troubles of our own.”

“Oh?” she looked at him, then Hoss, “What kind of troubles?”

“Adam got ambushed. Someone shot him.” Hoss said quickly, in his usual tone of voice. No pussy footing around where Hoss was concerned, no matter how long a dame’s lashes happened to be…

“Shot? Adam?” she cried, and brought her hands to her mouth as though to stifle a cry, which resulted in her dropping her purse. Gallant as ever, Joe stooped down to pick it up, and as he did so, quite a number of notes … dollar notes … tipped out onto the floor.
“Hey, Evie, this is quite a lot of money you’ve got here,” he said quietly, looking around hoping no one else had noticed, and stuffing it hurriedly back into her purse, “Don’t you think you should get it banked for safety?”

“I’ve got bills to pay.” Evie said and sighed heavily, “There’s Momma’s funeral. I want her to have the very best. She didn’t get much out of life, the least I can do is give her a fine farewell. I want a glass carriage, the best coffin …flowers…” her voice trembled, and the sudden on rush of reality crashed in upon her, this was her Mother of whom she was talking, her Mother who would never say kind sweet things to her, drunk or sober, ever again.

“It’s alright, Evie, I understand.” Joe patted her hand and looked into her face, and sighed when he saw a tear trickle slowly down her cheek, “Shucks, when you think about it, we could have been arranging a funeral of our own in the family if it hadn’t been for the Perkins family finding Adam.”

“Oh, Joe, Hoss, I am so sorry about Adam, I truly am. I had been so immersed in my own problems and such that I didn’t even hear about it, or, if I did, I – I kinda forgot,” she put a hand to her temple, as though suddenly realising that she had lost a whole day and not been aware of anything that had been going on, except for … well, best not for Joe to find out about that! “Do you know who did it?”

“No,” Joe said with another sigh.

“Yeah,” Hoss said adamantly “It was a big guy, visitor to Virginia City, called Chambers.”

She looked at them both blankly, and then shrugged very slightly,

“I’m sorry, I don’t know anyone by that name at all. Well, I had better go. Thank you so much for the coffee and cake, Hoss. Please give your mother and Adam my regards. I’d better go and arrange things with the Undertaker and pay off my Mother’s debts.”

“Have you enough money, Evie?” Joe asked in true concern and willingness to help a friend in need.

“Yes, thank you,” she said sweetly and smiled. She was still smiling as she left the hotel as she thought to the mound of money piled neatly in her hat box.


David Carter was not too happy when he saw Roy enter his office. He nodded and smiled and indicated the chair for the lawman to sit. Roy remained standing, but took off his hat.
“Is this an official visit, Sheriff?” David asked, with a smile on his lips and a cold veil over his eyes.

“Not really. Just an enquiry.”

“About ..? Your account, perhaps?” David felt his heart beat quicken. He straightened his back, waited, and prepared himself.

“You heard about young Cartwright getting ambushed?”

“I did,” David replied with a nod of the head by way of emphasis, “I’ve been to see Marie, and offered her any help I can give.”

“It seems that there was a stranger in town over the past few days. A man called Harry Chambers. Would you know him?” Roy’s eyes looked straight into David’s, a slightly myopic gaze as he was not wearing his spectacles, but to David it seemed as though the sheriff could read his mind like a book.

David spent several seconds thinking of what to say … if he denied Chamber’s having been anywhere in the Banks vicinity, and it was proven by witnesses that he had been, then what doubts would arise in Roy’s mind? If he said yes, he had met him, where would it lead?

“Harry Chambers? Was he a biggish man, with a deep voice?” he said slowly, looking at Roy for a clue as to where this would go now,

“I don’t know about his voice, but that kinda fits. You know him?”

“I don’t know him personally, no.” David replied, and once again gave the sheriff the benefit of a smile,”He came here to withdraw money. As he had no account with this bank I obviously had to see him and arrange for the money to be handed over to him.” David frowned, “He took quite a large sum of money from us.”

Roy thought the statement over in his mind. It seemed strange that anyone would come into town and withdraw large sums of money, but then, he had an hotel bill to pay off, perhaps other things also, but somehow it seemed out of the ordinary way of things.

“Did he give you any indication of his business here?”

“He said he was in retail,” David said quickly, “and was considering setting up business here in Virginia City sometime in the future.”

“And did he give you his address? A man making a large withdrawal from a Bank would, no doubt, give you his address.”

“Of course,” David swallowed, and pulled over a large red book, “He lives at 308, Mapel Street, Placerville. He gave me his bank details as well… obviously, I would need those.”

“I should imagine they would be on the bankers draft he’d give you to cover the amount of the withdrawal.” Roy drawled, looking up at the Bank Manger from hooded eyes, as he appeared to be scribbling down Chamber’s address in a notebook.

“Yes,” David said hesitantly, and he lowered his own eyes, “But those kind of details are confidential.”

“Not to the law they ain’t, and not in the case of murder.”

“But there hasn’t been a murder.”

“If Adam dies, it will be murder.” Roy intoned and gave David a narrow eyed look, before putting the notebook in his pocket.

David said nothing, but merely pursed his lips. He had told enough of the truth but had tripped himself into a cul-de-sac. All he could do was hope he could think of some way of backing out of it.

“I’ll be back for the details should I need ‘em. Let’s hope he’s a bonafide retail businessman with a solid bank account in Placerville, otherwise, your Bank will have handed over a lot of money for nothing.”

David watched the Sheriff leave and his heart beat thudded as the door closed. It didn’t pay to under estimate Roy Coffee, and David was just realising that to his cost.

Roy, on the other hand, thought over his interviews as he wandered back to his office. They had all been pretty sound, but of all the men he had seen that day, David Carter was the only one who had broken out in a sweat during the course of his questioning.

Chapter 34
“So what are you going to do, Roy?” Joe demanded, his eyes flashing as he watched Roy scribbling notes on a scrappy piece of paper with a stubby old pencil, “Shouldn’t you be out there, looking for Chambers?”

Roy nodded, without looking up, but continued to write,

“How long do you think it’ll take me to catch up with the Placerville stagecoach that left town yesterday afternoon, young feller?”

“We’ll go, won’t we, Hoss?” Joe slapped his brother on the chest and did a half turn around, but was stopped from going any further by Hoss holding him back,

“No point in doing that, Joe,” Hoss frowned, “If he does live in Placerville he’ll have got there by now and settled back into his own life, whatever that might be, but not retail.”

Roy quirked an eye up at the big man, and then resumed looking and concentrating on his writing, then he leaned back and smiled, picked the paper up and passed it over to them,

“Hand that into the Telegraph depot and ask them to send it off right away. I want a reply from the Sheriff at Placerville as soon as possible, if not, sooner.”

“Hey, Roy .” Hoss looked at the Sheriff as though Roy had restored his faith in all mankind, and Roy accorded him a bristling smile in return.

“Right, boys, be quick about it. I have things to do.” Roy announced, and watched as they left the office, Joe reading the words on the piece of paper as he went.

With the door shut behind them Roy relaxed and leaned back in his chair. He took off his spectacles and closed his eyes. Now, time to do a bit of cogitating…


Marie watched as the young man in the bed took his medicine, grimaced, and shook his head, she smiled,

“You’ve hardly changed from when you were a boy, Adam. You never did like taking your medicine.”

Adam said nothing but settled back into the pillows. He looked over at Marie and then returned to stare up at the ceiling,

“Who do you think would be behind this, Marie?”

“Trying to kill you?” Marie pulled up a chair and sat down. From her work basket she produced a pair of socks, Adam recognised them as a pair of Hoss’. She examined them carefully, then got out her needle and matching wool. “I don’t know. But then I could never fathom out why anyone would want to kill your father.” she threaded the needle and pulled the wool through, and deftly began to darn the sock.

“We know who hired those killers. It was Jacob Kerney. He owned the biggest mine in the area and wanted our land to mine on. Pa refused. It took Kerney a year of trying to persuade Pa before realising that Pa wouldn’t give in to him. That was when he decided to kill him. He thought if Pa was out of the way we would just fold in and give in to his demands.”

“He offered a fair price.” Marie replied with a sarcastic twist to the smile on her lips.

“Before he was taken for trial and hanged for murder along with his men.” Adam closed his eyes. He hated thinking back to those days. Hated it. He raised his arm and covered his eyes with it, clenched his fingers into a fist.

“Do you think that someone hired a hitman to shoot you, so that …” she paused and shook her head, “No, I can’t think of any reason for anyone doing so. We’ve had no pressure to sell anything, no rustling, no wrangling about anything at all in fact.”

“Do you think then, Ma, that this was just a random chance encounter of an extraordinary kind?” he asked with a wry grin, his eyes still hidden by the arm across them.

“No, how could it be? Unless you were not meant to be the victim.”

“A bit of a clumsy error on the part of the killer, huh?”

She said nothing to that, but continued to darn Hoss’ sock. She sighed,

“Your brother is so heavy on his feet. He wears out socks quicker than anyone I know.” she murmered.

“Who’s Remy?” Adam asked suddenly, as a thought crossed his mind.

“Remy?” Marie looked up, as colour rushed into her face, “Why did you ask about him?”

“I don’t know,” Adam replied honestly, “It just came into my head. Sophia saw Remy at the social. She saw him and called out to him. It was almost the last thing she did, except for the conversation she had with you.” he removed his arm and looked thoughtfully at her, “She must have known she was dying. Remy was strong on her mind but she didn’t want her daughter, she wanted you.”

“That has nothing to do with your being shot down in cold blood, Adam.” Marie said with a slight shrug of the shoulders.

Adam frowned. He had known Marie for 18 years now, and knew all the little feminine tricks that she would use so knew that she was now trying to hedge for time, thinking of something to sidetrack him from this line of conversation. Sophia had obviously told her something that Marie did not want to discuss with her nearest and dearest.

He observed her in silence for a while. She had been a beautiful young bride when Ben had brought her to the house, and she had given them all the love she could, easily accepted by Hoss, not quite so easily by himself. But not for long, by the time Joseph had arrived he had fallen in love with her himself, and was as charmed by her coquettish ways as his father.

But the years had passed and been hard ones at that, for all of them. The loss of Ben, the rigours of life, take their toll. Even on the lovely Marie, who sat so calmly darning Hoss’ socks, while, Adam knew, she was scheming on how to get him to change the conversation. He smiled craftily,

“Of course, I could always ask David.”

“Ooh,” Marie exclaimed and pulled her hand away from the sock quickly, for the needle had pierced the skin and a bead of bright red blood appeared at the tip of her finger.

“You should use your thimble,” he admonished as though he had said nothing out of the ordinary beforehand.

“I haven’t got one,” she replied, and looked at him sharply, “Why did you mention David?”

“Because …” Adam frowned, “Because Sophia was looking at him when she called out for Remy.”

“That doesn’t mean anything. She may have been looking at you. Whoever she was looking at must have reminded her of this … Remy.”

“David looked pretty shaken up, confused, scared even.”

“Nonsense.” she sucked at her finger and shook her head.

“He was very interested in Pa’s Will.”

“Was he?” she looked at him, recalling to mind previous conversations she had had with Adam about David and Ben’s Will. “Adam, I really am not interested in David Carter and his interest in anything.”

“He even had Evie Templeton accompany you to the Attorneys, so that she could steal the papers he wanted, and I caught him rummaging through Pa’s papers.”

“For goodness sake, you have an obsession about the man!” she scolded, with a slight frown on her face.

“I don’t like him, that’s true enough.” Adam agreed.

“I don’t want to talk about him anymore.” Marie shrugged again, and Adam smiled. One of the things that fascinated men about Marie were the gestures she used. A hint of her heritage, French. He had loved especially her ability to speak in the French dialect spoken in New Orleans and known as Creole. When she was really angry, or in a passion about something, she could slip into the dialect as easily as Hop Sing could mumble in Cantonese.

“Odd though ,” Adam said softly, half closing his eyes, “that it was David Carter who told us about your son.”

Marie said nothing. The colour rose in her cheeks and faded. She stood up and shook her head,

“I don’t want to talk about this person anymore. That’s enough, Adam. Enough!”

Adam frowned, and watched her through his half closed eyes. She was anxious, very anxious, about something. He could tell by her agitation that he had hit a nerve, a raw nerve. Whether it was about David, or whether just mentioning the child, her first born son of whom they had known nothing, he could not tell. He did know Marie well enough to take her advice, and say nothing more.

She left the room quickly and Adam bit his bottom lip and regretted having pushed the subject so far. He had obviously hurt her feelings in some way, but in what way he could not tell. A wave of weariness swept over him. He should get out of bed and go and reassure her that all was well, there was nothing about which to worry about now. But when he tried to move his legs realisation struck him at just how weak he was and how desperately he wanted to go back to sleep.


“How much longer do you think we need to wait?” Joe asked his brother, and glanced up at the clock.

“I dunno.” Hoss replied, and sighed, “Look, Joe, we’ve been here all morning, and it’s past mid-day. I’m starving. Can’t I just go and have summat to eat now?”

“Go ahead, Hoss, go ahead. I’ll just wait here on my own,” Joe sighed, “as usual.”

Hoss gave his brother a darkening scowl, but decided, when his belly gave another protesting rumble, that he just could not hold out any longer. He picked up his hat and promptly departed.

It was good to be out of the stuffy old telegraph offices anyhow. The sunlight bounced off the clapboard buildings and dazzled the eyes somewhat, but it was good to be out on the street again. He walked over to the hotel and into the restaurant. His stomach lurched in anticipation.


David Carter stood at the window with his hands clasped behind his back. There was no doubt about it, he had got himself cornered, but at the same time he had to give Roy some reason for Chamber’s visit to the Bank. Perhaps he should have said the man had come to discuss opening an account? But, whatever, it was too late now. The die was cast. How could he lie himself out of this one?

He opened the door to the outer area of the Bank and surveyed the counters. Only one teller on duty and he was busy dealing with a customer. David walked to the counter nearest to him and looked through the drawers. It took hardly any time at all to filch out the necessary documents needed. He took them back to the office and sat back behind his desk.

Things were getting muddy. He hated it when things began to go just that little bit awry. There was Evie for a start with her demands for money, and Sophia’s journal. How much and just what had Sophia written down? What did Evie know? Could she really blackmail him again? When, he told himself, had a blackmailer ever seen reason for stopping? Hadn’t he tried a hand at him himself from time to time ?

She had taken a lot of money. More than he had wanted her to, and more than he felt she had been entitled to despite what she was threatening him about. David suddenly felt the need for fresh air. The room was closing in on him.


“Hi, Paul.”

Paul Martin looked over and nodded at Hoss, stood up and came over to his table. He pulled out a chair and sat down,

“Well, Hoss, you don’t look overly concerned about your brother.” he said with a smile.

“I knew he was in a good hands.” Hoss smiled, and looked into the doctor’s honest eyes, and knew he had nothing to worry about, although his heart had given a lurch when he had seen Paul’s broad back at the table next to him, “How was Adam when you left him?”

“Doing well. He’s very weak due to loss of blood, of course, but the concussion was not as bad as I had feared. His arm should mend quite naturally enough, as should the other breaks he’s incurred. Rest, rest and more rest. It won’t do him any harm.”

“I sure could do with a rest.” Hoss grumbled, and he cut a wedge of steak and stuffed it into his mouth, “Little Joe’s been running me ragged.”

“I’m sure he has,” Paul smiled, and stood up to return to his own meal, “Hoss, make sure that Adam does get proper rest, won’t you? He was badly hurt and I wouldn’t want him thinking he could wrangle cows and break horses too soon, otherwise it will ruin everything I’ve been trying to do.”

Hoss nodded and promised to keep Adam tied to the bed, if needs be. He continued to eat his meal while his mind roamed over the mornings events. He had just about finished eating when Joe appeared, and pulled out a chair.

“Hoss, guess what?”

“Tell me, I ain’t in the mood for guessing.” Hoss replied

“Roy got a reply from the Sheriff in Placerville.”


“There ain’t no one by the name Harry Chambers in Placerville.”

“How sure are they of that?” Hoss frowned, putting down his fork in annoyance.

“As sure as they are that there ain’t no Maple Street in Placerville.”

“There ain’t?” Hoss screwed up his face and shook his head,”Shucks, you mean that hombre lied?”

“For Pete’s sake, Hoss, a guy that tries to murder someone isn’t going to worry about lying, is he?” Joe replied scornfully.

“Don’t that beat all?” Hoss exclaimed, “Jest when we thought we had got the critter cornered.”

Joe nodded and then noticed Paul at the next table. Like his brother before him he asked about Adam’s condition and was told the same thing.

“Come on, Hoss, let’s get back home. We’ve work to do.” Joe sighed, and pushed back his chair, “I want to see Adam, make sure he’s alright.”

“He isn’t exactly going anywhere, Joe.” Hoss muttered, seeing his hopes of another portion of apple pie disappearing like mist before the sun.

“Mmm, I’m just worried, that’s all. I don’t like it when people vanish into thin air.”

“Chambers didn’t vanish, he went on the stagecoach to Placerville. I told you, Joe, I saw him with my own eyes.”

Joe said nothing but shook his head. Itches were catching, he surmised, for some reason or other, he had an almighty big itch all of his own now,

“He didn’t get to Placerville,” he said, as Hoss matched his own stride to his brothers, and they left the restaurant.

They stood out on the sidewalk, and looked about them, while Hoss thought about what Joe had said,

“What do you mean, Joe? It’s a direct route through to Placerville.”

“With an overnight stop.”

“Oh. Yeah.” Hoss groaned.

“For a start, according to the sheriff in Placerville, no one called Harry Chambers got on the stagecoach, although a man of his description did, but he was called Tom Jefferson. At the relay station this Tom Jefferson went out for the night air, took a horse, and disappeared into the wilds. No one saw him after that, and he certainly didn’t arrive in Placerville. Anyway, as I already said, the address Roy was given was a false one as well.”

“Shucks. So Harry Chambers known also as Tom Jefferson has just vanished?”

“That’s what I just said, brother.” Joe sighed, and pushed back his hat so that a lock of dark hair flipped forwards and curled upon his brow.

“That ain’t no good.” Hoss stared into the street and saw nothing, “That means all our leads have led – nowhere.”

Joe winced. It was a horrible thought, but Hoss was right. They had come full circle and ended up nowhere.

Chapter 35
Evie felt a shiver trickle down her spine as Mr Hinkley took her into the room, a small Chapel area where relatives and friends could share a few last precious moments with their loved ones. Sophia Templeton looked as though she had fallen asleep, happy to be free from the turmoil and tribulations of her worldly flesh. Her hair was soft and curling about her face, and in this last repose, she looked as though she were young once again.

Evie looked down at her mother and realised at last that her mother had been beautiful, and had been happy and young. She could have given away the burden of an illegitimate child, she had the family position and wealth to have done so quite easily. Others had done so. Instead she had taken the child and reared her, alone, in a hostile world, a harsh world. It had been a world that had not accepted either of them with warmth, had not taken them to its bosom, but rather, had made the way as difficult as possible. No family member had reached out to help, no friend had stood by the support them. Sophia had contrived and worked for them both. Evie felt tears well up in her eyes as she thought of how easy her mothers life would have been had she not made the supreme sacrifice for a child. There had been no other man in her life, although with her looks and sweet nature she had attracted many. She had spurned them all, because there had always been a condition attached to any relationship, and it had been to get rid of Evie. Sophia gave all her love to the child, received little in return and so sought solace in drink.

Evie bowed her head, and watched a flame flickering from the wick of a candle set beside her mothers head. Gently she placed the flowers she had bought on the pillow upon which her mother reclined. Then she leaned forwards and kissed the cold brow.

“I’m sorry, Momma. I should have been a better daughter. I should have loved you more, you should have loved me less.”

Mr Hinkley stood by the door and watched the pretty young girl pay her respects to the dead woman. He had known Sophia Templeton since she had arrived in Virginia City, with a small child clutching at her skirts. Like many he had had little to do with them, Mrs Hinkley didn’t ’approve’ of such people in town. Such a narrow minded hypocritical attitude, he thought now, as he surveyed them from the shadows.

He wondered whether he should mention to the girl that he had had a previous visitor earlier that morning. The Bank Manager had been, with a single red rose, which he had set beside Sophia’s body. He had said nothing, niether to Hinkley or to Sophia, but he had looked down upon the dead woman with such an expression of sadness, misery and longing that Hinkley had wondered, speculated, considered the visit from just about every angle.

He watched as Evie turned towards him, and he saw the expression on her face, and then, of course, he knew. He could see it as clearly as though he had just read her birth certificate (if she possessed one).

“I want to make the arrangements for Momma’s funeral, please.” she said in a small, childlike voice.

“Of course, come into my office, dear.”

She turned at the doorway, and took a last look at her mother. She blinked, and a tear glistened its course down her pale cheek.


Adam woke up with a start. He had been in such a deep sleep that for a moment he could not recall what had happened or where he was now. He heard the sounds from the yard and slowly memory returned. He looked about the room. There was no sign of Marie. No sound or sight of his brothers. He tried to sit up, but found it too painful, too difficult. He closed his eyes.

‘I have to think,’ he told himself, ’there must be a reason for all this. Where is everyone? No, let me think now… where does the thread start, where did it all begin?”

The door opened and Hop Sing came into the room, he smiled at the invalid and nodded over at him as he balanced the tray in his hands which he placed onto the table beside the bed.

“You eat now, get back strength, get back health.” he admonished the sick man, and began to plump up pillows and help Adam into a sitting position.

“Where’s Ma? Are the boys here?”

“Boys gone into town. Big investigation. Missy downstairs making special cake.”

Adam frowned, this was not, oddly enough, a good sign. When Marie took over the kitchen to bake cakes it meant she had a lot on her mind and sorting out how many eggs went into the mix seemed to unravel whatever was tangled up in her head. He had known her long enough to know this procedure by heart. Occasionally they had had ’special cakes’ as Hop Sing referred to them, almost every day of the week. Oftentimes they never ever found out the reason why! They had simply concluded it was a ’woman’s thing’.

“Has Carter been here, Hop Sing?”

“One time only, last night. He not stay long. Missy said for him to go.” Hop Sing smoothed over a serviette and brought over a plate of chicken noodle soup.

“How was Ma after that?”

“When he gone?” Hop Sing nodded, “Missy fine, very fine. We can say goodbye Mr Carter.” and he smiled enigmatically, but the satisfaction gleamed in his sloe black eyes to such an extent that Adam could only return the smile with one of his own.


Marie added three eggs to the mix, a dash of olive oil, water and began to beat hard. What was all this going on in her head? She beat at the mix as tears trickled down her cheeks.

She saw herself a young girl, married to a dear kind loving man. She remembered the touch of his hand, and the kiss on her cheek as she had lain in the big bed, supported by fat lace trimmed pillows, and her baby in her arms. A beautiful baby. Lots of dark hair and smokey blue eyes. Jean had been so proud. He had laughed like a little boy. He had even clapped his hands and then taken the child into his arms and she had lain back and watched them, content and proud and happy. So happy except for one dark cloud that always hovered over their lives. Jean’s mother. Proud, possessive, aristocratic. Cold,, cruel, calculating. Madame, as she preferred to be called, had been like a black raven spreading out long dark wings over their household, its talons extended to grasp and snatch away at their joy in each other.

She had loved him passionately and had believed herself to be equally well loved. When the child had been born, a boy, a son, their joy in each other had been complete. Ev en the dark shadow of his mother had not been allowed to intrude into their lives.

But then she had become ill. She had slipped into this malaise only days after their son had been born. She could remember hazy figures by her bedside, and hands tending to her. She had heard Jean’s voice whispering words of love to her. In the background she had heard the crying of her baby. Her breasts had become engorged by milk… she needed the baby to feed from her. But there had been no baby. Suddenly there had been no baby. Her illness became worse and she knew she was hovering on the doorway to death.

As she whipped up the chocolate cake mix Marie remembered the silence when she woke up. The fever had gone. The sun sparkled through the window. The birds sang on the trees and the sweet smell of roses wafted from the garden into her room. But the silence came from no sound of a baby, no sweet voice of a husband.

She had dragged herself from her bed, pulled on a lace negligee and groped her way from one piece of furniture to the other. Then she had reached the door and pulled it open.

“Madame?” the voice of her maid came from the doorway, surprise, astonishment.

Marie remembered the face, the look, not of sympathy, anxiety, but one of horror, fear even. Why?

“Madame?” the word was spoken in admonition, and the eyes had hardened, and she had approached Marie and taken her arm,

“Pourriez-vois m’aider?” Marie whispered. (can you help me?)

“Hush, hush, vite…”

The hand was like a claw, that tightened around her arm and turned her round, back to the bedroom. She glanced down at the little crib as she passed, it was empty. Empty? She had given a cry,

“Mon bebe n’est pas la?” (My baby isn’t here?)

“Hush hush, je suis desole, je ne peux rien faire” (I’m sorry, there is nothing I can do)

“Jean! Jean!”

She heard her own voice screaming for her husband, it filled her head. Marie beat at the cake mix and the tears fell faster. Her baby had been beautiful, beautiful … and he had gone, just gone, just like that!

Later they had told her that there had been an illness in the town, she and the baby had been taken ill with it, and while she had survived, her little son, too small, too weak, had not. And she had grieved, grieved bitterly for all these years.

Marie poured the mix into the tins, and levelled them out before putting them into the oven. She remembered the love of another man, one she had resented, rejected at first but the only one who had had the strength and courage to battle on her behalf. He had married her, and brought her to a new territory. Here on this land Jean had been buried. Here on this land this wonderful man, Ben, had been buried also.

She closed the oven door and stepped back. The cakes would be ready in half an hour. She wiped her hands down her apron, and wiped her tears away. She remembered the day Joseph had been born. She had not wanted him out of her sight, this little defenceless vulnerable scrap of mortality. Oh her heart was bound up totally in this little life. Ben had understood and had loved them both.

And now she had been told the truth, that the first born son had not died. But it was really only half a truth. He had lived. Was he still alive and if so, where was he?
Chapter 36
Roy Coffee walked towards the bank. Time to pay Mr Carter another visit. Roy didn’t like surprises and the fact that Mr Harry Chambers had suddenly metamorphosed into someone called Tom Jefferson annoyed him immensely, especially as Mr Jefferson had taken himself off and disappeared without trace.

From the window of his office David Carter watched the approach of the Sheriff. There was no doubt about the purposeful stride of the lawman. Something had happened to bring him back to the bank so soon but what? David licked his lips and glanced around the room. There was nothing here that could incriminate him in anything at all. Not the fraud, nor the embezzlement of vast sums of money. The thought of the money made his hair stand on end. Some Chambers had ridden away with, the rest was at David’s home. He chewed on the inside of his cheek, and remembered just how much money had had given to Evie.

Roy paused to talk to one of the townspeople. He touched the brim of his hat politely and continued on. His purpose for the moment was not going to change for anyone. He reached the banks doors and pushed them open.

Jimmy Dunlop glanced up and smiled,

“Can I help you, Sheriff Coffee?”

“I’d like to see Mr Carter.”

“Certainly, I’ll just go and see if he’s available.”

“No need.” Roy said, “I know the way.”

He opened the door to the office without knocking. It would not have made much difference had he done so, for the room was empty. Everything was in its place. Everything except the Bank Manager.


Evie was not worried when she found her front door open. She often forgot to lock it up and most people in Virginia City didn’t lock up anyway. She closed it behind her and walked to the settee, pulling off her hat as she went through the room. As she sat down she flung the hat aside, as far from her as she could, and then she realised, as she looked around, that the room did not look quite as it had when she had left it that morning.

Some ornaments were broken upon the floor, books and papers were scattered about, pictures that had been hanging on the walls were either at odd angles with themselves or on the floor, the glass shattered about them. She sat there for a moment frozen with fear. What had happened in her home to cause all this? She could feel her heart beating rapidly beneath her hand. Someone had come into the house and ransacked it. But why? Then she remembered why.

She did not stop to think that perhaps someone would still be upstairs. She gathered up her skirts and ran to her bedroom as quickly as she could. All along the landing she found further evidence of devastation and ruin. The door to her mother’s room was open, and that also had been ransacked methodically. She ran into her bedroom and stopped.

She looked around her wildly. Things were strewn everywhere. Clothes, bedding, even the curtains had been ripped from the poles. She swayed on her feet. The hat boxes … !
She ran towards the wardrobe and pulled open the door. The hatboxes were still there. She felt a wave of relief sweep over her and she put her hands to her chest to try and still the beat of her heart and to get her breathing under control.

Don’t panic, she told herself, be grateful that whoever did this had not thought of the hat boxes. But who would have done this? Who knew she had this money?

She hurried to her dressing table and pulled out her jewellery box, and opened it. It had been untouched. The diamond necklace and ear rings remained where she had left them.
Had there been someone in the restaurant who had seen the money in her purse when she had dropped it? Did someone see it and think that she would have had much more in the house?

Who else knew she had this money? Mr Hinkley who had stared in amazement at the sight of the money she had counted out in his hand for Sophia’s funeral? Surely not. That left one other person, which meant he would be looking for something else as well.
She licked her lips and turned around, her eyes flicking from corner to corner of the room. Was he still here?

Nothing moved. There was no shadow anywhere that she could not account for herself. She swallowed back the desire to scream with fear and panic. Before she did anything else she had to make sure the journal was safe. She rushed to its hiding place and with relief pulled it free. Holding it to herself she turned, and opened her mouth in a silent scream.

“Thank you, my dear, I’ll take that now,” was all he said.

“It’s mine, and Momma’s” she whispered, her eyes fixed on the snub nosed derringer in his hand.

“As if you cared about Sophia,” David growled, “You thought she was a joke, remember? Do you want me to remind you of some of the things you said about her? Now, give me the book.”

“No, no, you can’t make me. What do you think the Sheriff will make of this …” she swept her hand wide to encompass the room about them, “Do you think you’ll get away?”

“Why not? What have I done wrong?”

“What have you done wrong?” her voice raised an octave, “What do you call this? All this mess? What were you looking for, the money you gave me?”

Her eyes stared into his, but she knew that no matter who she was, there would be no mercy from him. A rat, when cornered, bites and they don’t care who it is … ever.


“Marie?” Adam said quietly after some moments looking at her in silence, “Talk to me.”

“Of course, dear, what do you want me to say?” she smiled, and looked at him with a thoughtful air, “What shall we talk about?”

“I – I don’t want to be the cause of making you unhappy. You know that, don’t you?”

“Yes, of course.” her smile froze a little and her eyes became wary. She glanced away and looked at the door as though measuring the distance from the bedside to the door for an escape.

“Hoss loves chocolate cake, but more than one in a day could be even more than he could take on board.”

“What do you mean?” she looked at him, and gave a little laugh, almost a giggle, young and silly, and he smiled, remembering how often he would hear it when Ben was alive.

“I can’t chase you down the stairs if you decide to run,” Adam said quietly, and twisted the sheet between his fingers, “So please hear me out. I’ve been thinking about things a lot while I’ve been up here. I just want to talk, try and get some things clear in my head.”

“Very well,” Marie said quietly, “Say what’s on your mind.”

Adam smiled slowly, it was a phrase his father would have used, “What’s on your mind?” Ben would say, or “Speak plain.” He shook the memory of his father away, and looked at the woman who was sitting within hands reach and watching him nervously.

“David Carter told us about your child, a boy called Clay. Your first born son. Yours and Jeans.”

“Yes, I remember.”

“You never told us about him before, but David Carter knew. I wondered why, how could you have possibly told him something so private, something that you had never told us. Little Joe, for example, had a right to know he has another brother somewhere.”

She sighed, and shook her head,

“I explained that, Adam. Clay died when only a few days old. David knew because he was a friend of Jeans, I suppose, most of town knew.”

“Sophia Templeton wanted to talk to you before she died. She recognised David Carter as Remy, the man with whom -,” he paused and frowned, “I’d hazard a guess that he, this Remy, was Evie’s father.”

“Guessing and knowing are not quite the same thing, Adam.”

“I know, that’s where I need your help, Ma. I need you to fill in the gaps.”

“I don’t know of any so called gaps.” she frowned slightly and felt the colour rising in her cheeks. “Oh, Adam, go on, say what else is on your mind.”

“Well, if Remy and David Carter are the same person, it means there was a connection between him and Sophia. Obviously there was, because of Evie. Evie had been befriended by Carter, and told to get some papers from the Attorney, the day you went into town to check on papers there. She went with you, didn’t she?”

“She was talking, mostly girlish nonsense, and we just drifted into the office together. She just sat there, looking bored, being polite. We parted as soon as we left the office.”

“Of course you did, she went to Carter, I daresay, with the papers she had taken from the Attorney. He was concerned about the papers missing, but when I saw David rummaging through the desk drawers I could understand then what was going on in his mind. He needed to see just how much he would gain by marrying you.”

“Don’t be so horrible,” Marie snapped, “You make me sound like a piece of merchandise.”

“So far as Carter was concerned, you were, and worth a lot of money, and land. If I died, then you would be worth even more. If I died, Hoss and Joe would not put up much objection to your marrying him. If I died, Hoss and Joe would fall in line with whatever he wanted in the future. It would be the end of the Ponderosa as we know it. As Pa intended it to be for us all.”

Marie stood up and walked over to the window. She pushed back one of the lace curtains and looked over at the mountains. How she wished for Ben to come up from behind her now, and to put one arm around her waist and hold her close to him. She would smell the warmth of his body and the tobacco smell that lingered upon his clothes. She would hear him whisper sweet silly things in her ear, and he would reassure her that she was loved and needed, not just a piece of merchandise.

“David Carter loved me, Adam, and he didn’t just say it to gain my confidence, or my acceptance of his proposal, he loved me.”

“As you loved him?” Adam replied, looking over at her and wishing that he could give her what she most needed now, but he was the man known as her eldest son, and too young a man as well. He sighed, and bit into his bottom lip. It was obvious he had hurt her, no woman who had given of herself for love’s sake wants to be told it was not love after all, but a far baser reason, a more selfish, greedy reason.

“What do you mean?” she didn’t look back at him, but continued to stare out of the window, at the mountains.

“Well, a few days ago you would have fought to defend him, protest that you loved him. But suddenly that’s all gone, vanished. You can fall out of love for him that quickly? Why be surprised to know that he didn’t love you, but only the thought of loving you and possessing what you owned.”

“No, I don’t agree, Adam. I know …I’m a woman and I know when a man is sincere when he says he loves me.”

He frowned and shook his head, although she did not see him do that, he sighed,

“Alright, so he loves you. Where is he now? At your side? Comforting you? Reassuring you?” he noted the rigidity of her body, and wondered whether to stop but he pressed onwards, “Marie, what did Sophia tell you about Remy? Did she tell you something about him that had to do with your son?”

“What makes you say that?” she turned to him, her eyes wide, and her face pale, “What brought you to that conclusion?”

“David Carter mentioned your son, he’s Remy, Sophia recognised him before she died and wanted to talk to you. What better lever to arouse love in you than to remind you of the love you had and lost all those years ago.”

She opened her mouth in protest, silent words rose to her lips but she could not utter them, instead tears rushed to the surface and she buried her face in her hands and began to sob, bitter, heart breaking sobs.

Weak as he was Adam pushed back the covers and groped his way towards her, he touched her arm and she turned, and fell into his arms.

“Oh what can I do? What can I do? I don’t even know if he’s alive, Adam.” she sobbed, her voice smothered in the curve of collar bone, “She saw Clay alive, just after Remy had taken him from me. I don’t know why, and I don’t know where he took him, she didn’t know and couldn’t tell me. I wish, I wish Ben were here.”

Adam held her close to him, and stroked her hair gently, and wondered if he could continue standing up much longer before he fell down, with, embarrassingly, his step mother landing on top of him. Perhaps she sensed the tension in his body and remembered that he was far from well because she pushed herself away from him, and stepped back.

“Do you think that Remy, I mean, David Carter, shot you?” she asked him.

“If he didn’t, then he arranged for it to be done by someone else.” Adam replied, “Yes, I do believe that to be the only possibility.”

He knew he wouldn’t manage to get back to the bed, so sunk gratefully down into the nearby chair. He could feel weakness trickling all over him, and nausea swept up to his throat. He felt wretchedly weak and his head was spinning.

“It’s the only logical conclusion,” he whispered and closed his eyes, “Now, could I have some water?”

Chapter 37
Roy looked around the neat and orderly house. It was in the better part of town, where those fortunate enough to have struck their millions from the gold and silver ore overlooked those who were still struggling to come up the ladder. The equivalent to San Francisco’s so-called Nob’s Hill. He had been surprised to discover that a mere Bank Manager had a property there, no matter how prestigious his bank.

He wandered through each room. Everything in perfect order. Pictures were aligned on the walls, curtains draped just so, nothing out of line to spoil the symmetry. He went up the stairs and looked around the bedrooms. Not even a bed had been rumpled on. It was as though no one had ever lived in the place. Then he noticed the paper crumpled up and left on the floor. He stooped and picked it up. Smoothing it out he saw it to be a Banker’s Draft, but with nothing written on it. He frowned and shook his head. This was not quite turning out how he had expected.

Back on the sidewalk he stood for some moments in contemplation. Now and again he looked down at the crumpled paper in his hands. Somewhere in the recesses of his memory he recalled mentioning that Harry Chambers would have acquired the money from the bank only upon receipt of a Bankers Draft. Was this blank form linked to that statement, and thereby connect the two men? If so, for what purpose?


His reverie was broken by Mr Hinkley who stood by his side. He had approached so silently that Roy was taken by surprise and wondered from what direction the man had actually approached him. He nodded, trying not to look startled, even though he had been,

“Sheriff, do you have a spare moment?”

“Not exactly. Talk as I walk back to the office,” Roy suggested, tucking the slip of paper into his pocket.

“It is just that I was – I am – rather concerned about Evie Templeton. She came to see her mother today, and changed the arrangements for the funeral.”

“Nothing out of the ordinary in that, is there?”

“When Sophia died, Miss Templeton requested a modest funeral, saying it was all she could afford. Well, I quite appreciated that fact, I’ve known the family for a long time and they have not been exactly well off. Far from it.” Hinkley frowned, “Then this morning she changed everything. She wants the very best, the most expensive funeral we provide. Glass fronted carriage, black horses with plumes, everything.”

“So?” Roy frowned and looked at the man who was bobbing up and down nervously as they walked along,

“She paid for it there and then. I tell you, Sheriff, her purse was stuffed full of notes. Not just plain one dollar notes either. She was carrying a fortune in that purse.”

“Maybe she discovered that her mother had a secret horde somewhere. They had to live on something all these years after all?” Roy frowned more deeply and his moustache bristled, these busy bodying folk should mind their own business and let the law get on with carrying out the law. “Have you seen the Bank Manager anywhere about today?”

“No, sir.” Hinkley said, too quickly. His Adam’s apple bobbed up and down convulsively, “Well, he came and paid his respects to Sophia Templeton really early.”

“Did they know one another then?” Roy looked at Hinkley thoughtfully and received a shake of the head in reply, “Rather strange, isn’t it?”

“I thought so.” Hinkley replied, almost falling off the sidewalk into the main street as Roy prepared to cross the road.

Roy said nothing, and it was not until he reached the door of his building that he realised Mr Hinkley was still there, looking nervously up at him. He nodded,

“Thanks for your help, Mr Hinkley.” he muttered, and pushed open the door. He looked around the office, nodded over to his deputy who promptly got to his feet to put the coffee pot on the stove. Roy stood there for a while, his initial relief at not seeing any Cartwright in sight ebbing as something came into his mind.

“Doggone, now I’m getting these confounded itches.” he muttered and turned around, left the building and strode over to Evie Templeton’s home.


As soon as he pushed open the door it was obvious that there was something very wrong there. The chaos he saw around him was in stark contrast to the sterile conditions of the house he had previously visited. He stood in the centre of the room and looked about him and then slowly drew his gun from its holster.

He took the stairs slowly , listening for any sound as he went along. He peered into Sophia’s room, and then reached Evie’s pink fluffy sanctum. Only it was no longer a sanctuary.

She had obviously put up a fight to live. What disorder there had been when Evie had walked into the room was doubly so now. But it had ended with the ultimate outcome. Roy felt a sadness tug at his heart as he knelt on one knee by the side of the young girl’s body. Her face epitomised the terror in which she had lived during her last brief seconds. Her open eyes stared up at him in unseeing appeal. Blood from the bullet wound covered her pretty new dress, and had soaked into the threadbare carpet upon which she had fallen.

Roy remembered Hinkley’s comment about Evie having so little and then, suddenly, having so much. The contrast was right there in front of him with the cheap carpet and the expensive new dress. Poor Evie, he sighed. Then, noting something of further interest, he moved her body, very slightly, to pluck from beneath it a ten dollar note. The corner of it had been just noticeable. He wondered how many, if any, others would be beneath her body when they finally removed it.

So, someone had been here and not only relieved the girl of her newly found wealth, but had also stolen her life. Roy bowed his head, looked at the waxen face of the girl who should have had all her life ahead of her, and nodded slowly. It was not fair. It was not right. He swore, there and then, to find her killer, and he had a pretty good idea of who that person was, but the task now was to locate him.

Leaving his deputy on guard outside Evie’s house, awaiting the doctor, and the undertaker, Roy returned to Carter’s house. He went immediately to the stable, and found it empty. He had seen Carter’s horse often in town, a big powerful beast, as black as night with a fiery temper. Somehow it had suited the Bank Manager, being so cold and aloof. He obviously liked the challenge of this hot tempered beast, and keeping it in control.

Roy rubbed his chin thoughtfully. The man had gone, lost control no doubt, had a moment of panic and after shooting Evie had realised there was no turning back. He would go – where?

Chapter 38

The wagon bearing the weeks washing in big wicker baskets trundled along the road towards town. It passed the spot where a deep pool of blood had dried black into the sand, covered over by the cautious Mr Chambers after he had shot Adam. It went its way with Hop Sing singing under his breath in a most unmelodious tone of voice some popular Cantonese ditty.

Adam had slipped easily back into sleep once he had been helped into his bed. His sleep was touched by fever, and Marie watched him anxiously for some time as he turned his head this way and that as though to shake away the pain and heat by doing so. She bathed his face gently with cool water and slaked his thirst by offering water to drink.

Slowly he seemed to settled into a more restful sleep and she left the bedside to return to the window. She looked across once again to the mountains, and thought over all he had said. She knew, without a doubt, that he had been right. There was no point in pretending, even to herself, that David had really loved her. She felt that she had made herself look silly, a little immature, like a giddy schoolgirl, but what did that matter in the long run, so long as she made no further mistakes. She had been spared the worse error of all, that of marrying him.

She glanced over at Adam again. He had whispered her name, and she smiled. What a dear handsome young man he had become, and how much she loved him. She returned to his bedside and stroked back the dark curl of hair that had fallen across his brow. Who would have thought such a sullen little boy would have grown into such a mature, caring man. She sighed, and allowed her hand to caress his face, how like Ben he had become as he had grown older. It were as though everything Ben had taught him, shown him, Adam had stored away to be used at a more significant time, a more pertinent place.

He stirred, and his lips mouthed something but there was no sound. She rinsed out the cloth again and wiped around his face and brow.

“Ben would be so proud of you, Adam. You’ve borne your responsibilities wonderfully.” and she whispered some words of endearment in French Creole, before smiling down at him.

The sound of a horse coming into the yard caused her to leave his room. She knew Hop Sing was not home, and she was anticipating Joe to return at any time. She sighed, and felt free at last. She even began to hum a little tune from her younger days as she made her way down the stairs, across the main room and opened the door.

Chpater 39

She welcome him with a wide smile on her face and her eyes gleaming. She had expected to be saying “Darling, Adam’s so much better.” instead the 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,” David said sarcastically, and he looked at her briefly, before walking past her and into the house.

He looked around him, glanced almost nervously at the portrait of Ben that seemed to glower down at him, and threw his hat onto the bureau behind the door. He could see that Hoss and Joe’s hats were absent, only Adams remained on a peg. His lips twisted into an ironic smile,

“So, dear Marie, how is our invalid? Is he well on the road to recovery? I would have thought from the way you threw open that door with such a smile on your face that you were going to tell me some good news.”

“He’s recovering.” Marie said quietly, and took a deep breath. This was the time to summon her strength. She was alone in the house apart from Adam. She was not a silly weak minded woman. Life, time, experience had forged a lot of steel in Marie, and she was not going to bend to the will of this arrogant man.

David nodded and walked towards the side table where the decanter of port stood, with its glasses, and he filled both and handed her one of them, the smile still on his face.

“Marie. Dear, sweet, beautiful Marie.” he took a gulp, savoured the taste and nodded , as though his approval was, at that moment, the only thing she wanted to hear from him. He drew in his breath, “I’ve decided to leave Virginia City, Marie.”

“You have?” she was surprised, ignorant of the events in town, such an event caught her unsure of how to proceed next. She took a sip at the port, and then looked at him, “Why?”

“Various reasons. One of course, my dear, is due to you.”

“Me?” she felt the colour rush to her cheeks, and she shook her head, “I’m sorry, David. These things happen, you know. When we reach our age, we should be mature enough to realise that just sometimes we -.”
“Don’t say anymore.” he said abruptly, and his eyes flashed in a way that forced her to step back, as though for an instant she saw a glimpse of the madness behind the mask.
“I don’t want to know why you suddenly stopped loving me. Or was that just pretence?”

“No, it was not pretence. I thought I loved you.”

“You either love, or you don’t. It isn’t something that stops at the mere whisper of disapproval. Was that it? Did you beloved sons disapprove of me for some reason?”

“David, it had nothing to do with my sons. Had they disapproved , and I loved you, sincerely, deeply loved you, it would never have made any difference. I am a woman who will not give way to others on a mere whim. When I love someone I do so, with my whole heart.” she put down the glass and moved towards another part of the room.

“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.”

Marie 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 up towards the stairs where there was no sound at all.

“So? You just decided that you didn’t love me, is that right?”

“You said you didn’t want to talk about it?” she said very quietly, and lowered her eyes, hoping that she looked docile and submissive.

“For goodness’ sake, Marie, a man can change his mind just as much as a woman. So you stopped loving me, and I, remain as much in love with you as ever. Is there nothing, nothing at all, that I can say or do that will change your mind, Marie? I would do anything for you, anything at all, you must know that by now?”

She looked at him with candid eyes. He was a handsome man, with a fine physique, attractive hands, and a reasonably deep (in comparison to Bens) voice. Looking at him now, as though he were a stranger, she knew she would be attracted to him, and flattered by the attentions from him. But, she was no stranger to him, and she did not love him.

“Do you love me then, David? Really?” she asked, and stepped closer towards him.

“With all my heart.” he replied with such fervour that she was surprised, and wondered whether or not she had misjudged him after all.

“Then, tell me who is Remy? And where is my son?”

She had not meant to say that, not so soon, not so quickly. She could see from the rush of colour to his face that it had been the last thing in the world that he had expected to hear from her. He stared at her, his eyes wide and startled and his mouth open. Then he shook his head and took a deep breath, gulped down some more port and put down the glass. Then with a cry of dismay he sunk down onto the settee and buried his face into his hands,

“Marie, may God forgive me, I did you such a wrong.”

“Why? Tell me what happened?” Marie said very softly, and sat down beside him, and gently placed a hand upon his arm. She felt it tremble, and wondered what strong emotions were being contained within him.

“It was a long time ago. Well, you know yourself how long ago it was, for it was when you had just married Jean. I – my name – my name was Remy David Cartier. My family were wealthy, well known …” he glanced at her quickly, as though needing to see for himself what she looked like before he proceeded with the story.

“I knew the Cartiers. I did not know you were connected to them.” she replied, nodding her head, and a ringlet of golden hair loosened from its coils and fell across her shoulder.

“I was married, and I had a mistress. It was not uncommon for a man of my status to have such an arrangement, as you must know. But my child died, my wife …” he sighed deeply and bowed his head lower, and reached out for her hand, which she allowed him to hold within his own. “I was crazy for a while. I spent money wildly. I got into debt. I got into a dishonourable situation. Then your mother in law asked me, via a proxy of course, to ’rescue’ her grandchild from you. She was frightened for his safety, because she had heard that you had the pox.”

“For heavens sake, the stupid woman.” Marie muttered, and shook her head in disbelief. “So it was she who has my child?”

“I arranged for your maid to take the child and bring him to me. Sophia saw him for a few moments, while I waited for the carriage to come from your mother in law. I took him to her.”

“And – and -?” Marie asked, her voice hoarse, a whisper only.

“Marie, don’t you know what it is like being here, with you? Oh, Marie, you are so beautiful, and I love you so much. Could you not come with me now?”

He looked at her with such appeal in his eyes, and such sadness, that Marie could only feel the utmost sympathy for him, but she shook her head,

“No, I can’t come with you, David. I don’t love you. I want to stay here with my family.”

“I always wondered what had happened to you,” David whispered, bringing his face closer to hers, “After I took the child, Sophia told me she was expecting a child of ours. I couldn’t bear that, not after having lost my wife and son. I couldn’t, didn’t, want to stay there, after what had happened to your son. Jean left. You were distraught. I was penniless apart from the money your mother in law gave me. So I left. Travelled. You know, my sweet, travel does not broaden the mind, it coarsens it . What a travesty! Oh, what a waste.”

“I don’t understand, David. Explain to me what you mean?”

“Nothing. I don’t mean anything. It’s all meaningless anyway, without you. I couldn’t believe it when I saw you here. Then, what madness, within days of seeing you, hoping that perhaps I could get to know you, Sophia walks into the bank. The stupidity of it all. Stupid, stupid.” his voice was rising, becoming shrill. Marie tried to free her hand from his grasp, but his fingers were like a vice tightening around hers despite her efforts.

“Let me go, David.”

“No, no, not again. Never.”

“I insist.” she cried, her eyes flashing.

“Insist? YOU insist?” he cried, and his voice was a shout, a growl of anger. He stood up, dragging her up alongside of him, and then his other hand seized her shoulder, and gripped it hard, “How dare you. How dare you tell me what to do. You insist, do you?” he released her wrist only to seize her by the back of the head, his fingers twisting into the abundance of her hair.

“Leave me, let me go. Haven’t you harmed me enough, Remy?” she screamed.

“Don’t you ever call me that again!” he yelled and shook her, and 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.

In his room, the sounds penetrated Adam’s fever ridden brain, and for a second he lay there, his heart pounding so hard that it was the only sound he could hear. Instantly, another scream rang through the house, and he recognised it as Marie’s voice. Marie. He knew he could not waste another second, not another second.

Chapter 40

Joseph gave a low chuckle, and pulled his hat lower to shield his eyes from the sun. It had been an odd mixture of a day, what with their attempts at playing detective going rather awry. But it had certainly had it’s good points. For a start, he felt he had got to know Evie Templeton a little better, although it was worrying the amount of money she was carrying around with her. Still, once she had paid off the funeral expenses and other debts her mother had incurred she would probably be reduced to her usual penury. Then, he had met up with Eddy Tavener who owed him $50 from a gambling session they had been involved in several weeks earlier, and had been paid the full amount. The good thing about it was that Hoss had not noticed, so when Hoss offered to buy a round of drinks, he had been able to slip the money in his pocket. Then, just before they left town he had met up with Mark Ford who had introduced him to his sister, Maria. Maria had just left the Finishing School in Philadelphia, and was totally new to Virginia City. So Joe had arranged to escort her around the ’very best spots’ . He sighed contentedly and began to whistle under his breath.

Hoss was thoughtful. He was very concerned about this business with Chambers. How could a man just turn up in a town and take a pot shot at his, Hoss’, brother, and then catch a coach and disappear? Roy had not been exactly helpful either. In fact, Roy had slipped rather in Hoss’ estimation. A lawman should know how to get round these factors. Not sit there twirling his spectacles around or pulling hairs out of his moustache. Hoss had felt a bit ashamed at thumping the desk like he had, but thankfully, Joe had not been around to reprimand him. Hoss thought of Adam, and felt a shiver go down his back. What if Adam had died? What if he had ridden down that track and found his body, sprawled out in the highway like that? He glanced over at Joe who seemed as merry as a cricket, whistling away, while for all he knew Adam could have died in his sleep or something equally horrible. Hoss wasn’t quite sure just what could be as horrible, but the thought of losing Adam was heart stopping for him.

Hoss Cartwright could remember times before Marie had arrived at the Ponderosa and Joe had arrived in all his squally glory. They had worked along with Pa to build that place up. He could, at times, recall quite vividly working the clay between his fingers to stuff between the logs of the house, and as the walls grew up higher and higher wondering if it would all stay upright and not fall down like a pack of cards. He could remember how Pa made up the clay by throwing buckets of water over the earth and getting the horses to walk around and around to churn it up. Then he would roll up his pants and tramp it down with his bare feet, the wet moist stuff squidging through his toes. No child could forget memories like that, nor could they forget the older brother who would come and jump in the clay with him, and together they would laugh and flick mud pellets at one another.

Then they would fill the pails up with the wet clay and pack it into the gaps between the logs. That was the boring bits, but Adam would tell him stories. Hoss could remember some of them even now, mostly about sailors and the sea, but sometimes about robbers like Robin Hood in a land called England. Oh it had been a great fun time.

It had seemed to Hoss that most of his infancy had been spent in the great outdoors, with nights sleeping under the stars, or the worse, under the tarpaulin of the wagon that had been their home for years. He had slept with Adam by his side. In the morning Adam had been there, often awake with his arms folded behind his head, with his black curls messed up, and freckles over his nose. He would be there staring up at the stars and when he knew Hoss was awake he would tell his brother the star’s names, until Hoss was able to tell him them himself. After that he would teach Hoss the alphabet, or the times tables. Joe missed out on all that fun because he had a Ma to teach him.

They had passed Hop Sing along the road and given him a wave of the hand. Hop Sing had yelled out something about chocolate cake and nodded at them. They had nodded back at him and then winked at each other. But niether of them seemed in too much of a rush to get home. It had been too odd a day. And yet, Hoss thought, they should be getting home faster, they should, because Marie was alone, and Adam was ill, really ill.

“Joe, we should be gitting a move on here,” he said anxiously.

“Why? You worried about Adam wolfing down that chocolate cake Ma has made?” Joe chuckled.

“No. Fact is, Adam ain’t gonna be fit to eat chocolate cake for sometime yet and well you know it. I’m jest worried about them being on their own, that’s all.”

“You worry too much, Hoss. Now you should stop before it gets into a habit, worrying could seriously stunt your growth.” Joe laughed at his own joke and shook his head as though he just couldn’t believe how funny he could be.

“Chambers could be there, or sniffing around.” Hoss replied, scowling at Joe, “Anyhow, you take all the time you like, little brother, I’m going to go on ahead.”

Joe shrugged, and then turned Cochise’s head in line with Chubb, kicked with his heels and sent the obedient creature leaping forward. It was too good a day to argue. He had $50, unexpected, dollars in his pocket, and had met a really gorgeous new girl in town.

They galloped at a fast pace towards the Ponderosa. While some distance away they heard the sound of a gun, and then almost instantly, another. There was no need to say a word, both brothers dug their heels into their horses and urged them to gain faster speeds while at the same time their hearts pounded with fear.
Chapter 41

Adam’s fingers curled around the handle of his gun. He took a sharp intake of breath as pain burned down his left side, and he rocked for an instant on his heels, as weakness threatened to engulf him. A crash from downstairs focussed him on what he had to do, and with his heart pounding from the adrenalin rush through his veins, he managed to reach the door of his room.


His voice was just loud enough to be heard above the noise from the room below. Carter paused, turned and looked up at the stairs. 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, David pulled out a pistol, and holding it at Marie began to make his way to the stairs. He was breathing heavily, and felt a pain across his cheekbones. Touching his nose he realised that one of the blows that Marie 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.

Marie 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.


She had to stay awake, she had to stay alert. God grant her strength. What if Carter were to kill Adam? She struggled to get back to her feet and then looked up and saw David’s face.

The gun was levelled at her even as he inched closer to the foot of the stairs. She turned her head beseechingly towards the door, praying for Joe or Hoss to come. But then, what if they did? If they were to come through that door now what would David do? 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.

“Marie, you look lovlier than ever,” David said softly, “All I wanted to do now was sweep you away from all this and take you where you belonged, where you could take your proper dignified place in society. There was, there is, no need for you to stay here, in this wild, primitive wilderness. There’s a world out there ready for you to grace it, to dignify it. Why not just let me take you with me?”

“Said with a gun at my head, David.” she replied.

He wavered. The gun moved from her towards the stairs where there came the sounds of someone approaching.

“ADAM -” she shrieked “Stay there, stay there. For pities sake don’t come down, no matter what you hear, don’t come down.”

David frowned and the gun swung back towards her, he shook his head as though he couldn’t believe what he had just heard.

“Marie, ma cherie, what are you thinking? Are you putting that ragamuffin before me? Are you really seriously implying that you care more about the welfare of that Cartwright’s son, than of me?” he stepped closer towards her, and involuntarily she tried to scramble back, pushing herself along the floor, away from him. He smiled as though seeking to placate a child, and put out his other hand, “Dear girl, don’t you realise that if you ever want to see YOUR son again, you have to forget about Ben Cartwright’s son? If you ever want to know what happened to Clay -.”

“Clay?” the name slipped past her lips in a gasp. Clay, her son, her first born son.

“You see how much I have to offer you, Marie? The world at your feet, high society, and Clay Stafford.”

“Clay Stafford,” she whispered as though there was a spell upon the name and it had caught her up in its mystique.

“Just say the word, Marie. Just say that you’ll come with me.”
Adam inched his way along the landing. He had never realised how far away the stairs were before now. Why on earth had he chosen the room at the far end of the house? His hands felt clammy, and he had to hold the gun with both hands for it was too heavy for just the one. He stumbled, fell onto one knee and then didn’t have the strength to get back onto his feet.

He heard her call out to him, warning him to stay where he was now, but how could he? This was a journey that had to have an ending. A story that had to have its finale.

Perspiration stung his eyes, and the pain gnawed at his nerves. Holding the gun in both hands Adam inched along the landing and finally reached the top of the stairs. Looking down upon a hazy scene, obscured by his failing eye-sight, Adam saw David standing close to the bottom stair, near to the gun rack. He blinked several times to clear his vision.

David was standing with his arm stretched out and the gun in his hand pointing to wards the stairs, waiting, Adam correctly surmised, for its target. Adam could see that the man had suffered as a result of the fight put up by Marie as there was blood not only on his face but dripping onto his shirt, which was torn. In an agony of suspense, Adam looked around the room, at the broken ornaments, the toppled over chair, the smashed glass from the turned over table. Then he saw Marie, struggling to reach the arm of the settee to get to her feet. Marie, 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. Adam shook his head, but the pain that caused made him groan. Sweat dripped once more into his eyes, and once again he had to wipe it away with the back of his arm.

“Well, Marie, tell me? What’s it to be?”

Adam inched along, he was on both knees now, and the effort to move was making him feel faint. His hands were shaking, the gun was too heavy to hold.

“Stand back, David, stand back and put down the gun or I shoot.”

He could barely believe that he had actually managed to get the words pass his lips. But David looked up, shocked. His eyes registered their surprise, and then the man smiled and shook his head,

“Oh dear oh dear, is this your champion then, Marie? What a wretched picture of a man he is too.”

“I said, put down the gun or I shoot.” Adam repeated, leaning against the banisters he managed to get down two of the stairs towards the half landing. “Ma, move, get out of the way.”

“Stay there,” David growled and the gun swung back to Marie, “Adam, put the gun down or I’ll shoot her. I swear it.”

“Don’t be so stupid, man, you know you love her. You wouldn’t risk losing her now, would you?” Adam had reached the half landing, and paused. He was beginning to feel the need to pant, to just get air into his lungs. His vision was blurring again, and his aim at David was wavering. “Put the gun down, David, I don’t want to shoot you.”

“Marie,” David said quietly, more calmly than he had spoken most of the time he had been there, “You have the chance to come with me now, and to find Clay. Don’t miss out on that,” he pointed the gun at Adam “for this wretch.”

‘I’m going to have to shoot him,” Adam thought, ‘before I pass out, or he’ll kill her’, and he steadied his aim, concentrated and pulled the trigger. The gun exploded -as guns do – but before the sound had rolled into silence Adam had fallen, and crashed down the remaining stairs to land, face down, across the bottom step

“Adam!” Marie cried, and rushed towards him.

David turned to her, and smiled. The smile was so cold, so evil, that she felt her blood freeze within her veins. Her feet could no longer propel her forwards. She looked down at Adam and then at David,

“David, please?”

“Come with me then, Marie, now. I know where Clay is, come with me for his sake, if not for mine. I’ll be magnanimous and permit you that, should you wish it.”

“I don’t know Clay, he doesn’t know me.” she whispered, “He doesn’t love me. He’s a man and he doesn’t know me. But I know this man, I know Adam, and I love him. Please, David, please, just leave us and go.”

David Carter shook his head, stared at her briefly and turned back to look down at Adam, he raised his arm and fired. Adam’s body jerked, once. Then he was still, his eyes closed with the lashes a dark smoky crescent upon his cheeks.

David laughed, actually laughed and turned to look triumphantly at her.

He had forgotten how skilled she had been as a fencer. While he had turned to glory in his triumph, she had pulled free from the wall one of the epee’s that she had brought with her to the Ponderosa. Now she stood opposite him, and the tip of the foil was cold steel upon his throat.

“I hate you, David.” she whispered and drew back her hand.

“For pities sake, Marie, don’t -” he put out a hand to grasp the weapon but she swiftly withdrew it and then lunged back, the cold metal now kissed his temple.

“You showed Adam no pity, no mercy. Why should I spare you now?”

“Because I know where Clay is, I know…” he stammered.

“Why should I believe you? You’ve done nothing but lie and cheat all your life, and I hate you for it. I hate you for what you’ve done to my family, to Adam, to me. God forgive me, I loathe the sight of you.” and she drew back her hand.

“Ma, don’t, don’t do it.”

The door had swung open and Joe stood upon the threshold his gun in his hand and a terrified look on his young face. Behind him stood Hoss, his blue eyes like cold blue ice as he stared at David, looked at his brother fallen upon the floor, and at his mother with the epee in her hand.
David Carter shook his head. He looked from one to the other of them, and put a hand to his brow, as though he could not believe what had happened to him. In just a few hours, his world had imploded upon him. The woman he loved, hated him. The only money he had was that taken back from the daughter he had never really known but had destroyed nevertheless. He brought up his gun and aimed at Marie

“I’ll kill you, Marie.” he whispered.

“Try it,” she hissed between clenched teeth, “And the last thing you’ll taste is steel.”

He smiled, a wide knowing smile and in a swift move raised the gun and fired.

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.

Chapter 43
Someone was gently prising her fingers from the guard of the epee, very gently, and saying something to her. She blinked, and found herself looking into Joe’s face, her Joe, her own son,Joseph. She was sitting on the settee, and he was squatting in front of her, trying to get her to release the epee, while talking very gently to her. There were tears in his eyes and she could see his eyelashes were spiked by them, and his lips were trembling as he spoke.

She leaned forward, and touched his face with her fingers, before remembering what had happened. Involuntarily her fingers released the epee, which clattered upon the floor at their feet.

“Did I kill him?” she whispered.

“No, Momma, no, you didn’t kill him. Don’t worry. There’s nothing to be afraid of now. Nothing at all.” he said soothingly, putting a hand on her shoulder in reassurance.

“Adam? Where’s Adam?”

“Hoss has taken him upstairs to his room. He’s safe now, Ma, he’s alright.”

“Alright? Are you sure? I saw Carter shoot him, are you sure, Joe, you’re not lying to me, just to make it easier, are you?”

“No, Ma. You know I wouldn’t lie to you about anything like this. You’ve always taught us to square up to the truth, haven’t you?” Joe’s eyes widened in appeal to her and he stroked her face gently.

“Then why are you looking so upset?” she said softly, leaning towards him and wanting to hug him so much. He would never understand just how precious he was to her right then and there. No words could explain it but her heart felt full of the love she had for him, her very own child, her very own – and perhaps – only child.

“Because I was scared. Ma, I’ve never seen you like that before, you … you were pretty frightening you know?” he gave a laugh, a boyish shout of laughter, and wrapped his arms about him.

“Here, Marie, have this to steady yourself down now.” a kindly voice said closeby, and she looked up as Roy came to here with a cup of coffee with a dash of something extra in it. She could smell the alcohol from where she sat. “And don’t worry about the mess, it’ll get cleared up.”

She shivered. She didn’t really want to know what mess he was referring to exactly. Her hands were shaking so much when she took the cup and saucer that Joe had to hold them for her.

“And, it’s true, Adam is safe?”

“Paul’s with him now.” Roy assured her, “And he’s alive, believe me.”

“But, Roy, what are you doing here? Have I the whole of Virginia City outside in the yard somehow?”

They smiled at her attempt in humour, and Roy sat down opposite her and shook his head,

“David Carter murdered Evie Templeton earlier on. Soon as I realised what was happening I knew he would make for the Ponderosa. The only person he seemed to care about was you, and I knew you would be in danger. I got Paul to come along with me just in case we were … well, a bit too late.”

“I thought I’d killed him.” she whispered, “I wanted to, but, it was already too late. I couldn’t reach the foils soon enough, before he shot Adam.” her teeth began to chatter and tears sprung to her eyes. The cup and saucer were dropped onto the floor as she buried her face in her hands, “Oh, I should have got hold of it sooner and killed him before he shot Adam.”

“Ma, Ma, I’ve already told you, he’s alright, Adam’s alright. David Carter didn’t shoot him, the bullet made a hole in the stairs, missed Adam by an inch I’d reckon.”

She allowed her son to put his arms around her, to hold her close and safe. Over his shoulder she could see the blood splattered walls, and the body covered by a blanket. The thought went through her mind that there was a lot of cleaning up to do. Then she thanked God that none of it was Adams, and that he was, indeed, safe.

That Carter had chosen to kill himself rather than surrender and face justice made Hoss shudder. He didn’t stop to look at the neat hole in the stairs barely an inch from where Adam’s head had been , he didn’t want to be reminded of that, because he knew there was still a long way to go before this particular round of the fight had been fought … and won.
Paul Martin stood by the bedside of his patient and observed him thoughtfully. He had his hands clasped behind his back and when the door opened he did not look around, he knew who would be coming into the room. He knew he didn’t have the best of news to tell them.

“Paul? How is he?” Marie asked, hurrying towards the bedside and pausing by the side of the doctor.

“Well, I couldn’t promise he would pull through, Marie, when I last saw him. But this latest episode has put a lot of strain on his nervous system, and on the injuries he had sustained. I can’t promise you anything, you have to realise that.” he still stared down at Adam, refusing to meet her eyes.

“You mean that he could still die?” Joe whispered, as his mother approached the bed and knelt down beside the sick man.

“I’ve known men survive injuries like this before now, and I’ve known men die of lesser ones. I can’t give you a promise, I can’t guarantee some miraculous instant cure, I just don’t know. I’ve done everything I can in my limited power, it is really up to him, what reserves he may have, and how he responds to the medication which I’ve left here for him. Marie, I know he’s in good hands but I must advise you and the boys not to rely on your own reserves here, because you’re going to need to fall back on them over the next few days. Rest as much as you can. Hop Sing will help you all, he’ll be a great help to you.”

He sighed and picked up his medical bag, then cast another look Adam. Joe turned his head away, the look on Paul’s face did not inspire confidence.

“If you feel he’s deteriorating or you need me at all, send for me. I’ll get here as soon as I can.” Paul promised and turned towards the door.

Hoss accompanied Paul out of the room and down the stairs. As they made their way to the door Paul paused and turned, and looked at the portrait of Ben Cartwright,

“I wish your father were here now, Hoss. Your mother needs him at times like this.” he said quietly.

“Yes, sir. I wish he were here too, I miss him.”

Paul looked at Hoss and nodded, he put a reassuring hand on the big man’s arm,

“You’d be surprised how many feel like that, Hoss, obviously not in the same way as yourself, but he touched a lot of people’s lives. He was a big man, in more ways than one.”

“Yes, sir, that’s what I believe too.” Hoss replied, and narrowed his eyes as he felt tears prick behind them, and he didn’t want to disgrace himself in front of Paul.

“I remember when Adam had diphtheria. Your father stayed by his side throughout it all. You were very small then yourself, it was before Marie came here. Yes, I was very impressed by the way Ben acted in caring for Adam. He was the same with you too, you know.”

“Yes.” Hoss replied gruffly, and cleared his throat loudly,”I can recall waking up once or twice to find him by my bedside when I was ill.”
“I wish more fathers were made in that same mould. Adam -” he paused as though he had changed his mind about what he was going to say about Adam, and shook his head and sighed.

Roy Coffee walked towards them as they approached the horses. He had been supervising the removal of Carter’s body, which was being stowed into the back of the wagon. His black horse, which he had ridden so proudly out of town, was tied by leading rein to the back of the wagon, behind his master.

“How is he?” Roy asked quietly, referring to Adam, and Paul sighed and shook his head, and walked over to mount his horse.

“Is it true that Carter killed little Evie?” Hoss asked, rather than dwell on Paul’s lack of enthusiasm about Adam’s recovery.

“Yes, quite true. There’s definite proof that he killed her, but she put up a good fight to survive. We found this, Hoss, in his saddlebags along with quite a large sum of money. I think you should give it to Marie, it may explain quite a lot.” he passed Hoss a slim book, a journal, which Hoss accepted with a sigh.

“What about that Harry Chambers, Roy, any word about him yet?”

“No. And I don’t think we’ll ever hear of Harry Chambers again, Hoss. He’s gone. Vanished. Perhaps the man may come into this part of the world again, but not by that name. I hope, one day, he makes a mistake and gets what he deserves.”

“He made mistakes here, even though he tried to cover his tracks, he left a pile of mistakes here.” Hoss said quietly.

“Chance and unforeseen occurrence, Hoss, that’s what it was, but -” Roy sighed again, and shook his head, “Fact is, all the mistakes he made ultimately led us to David Carter. By which time Chambers had disappeared.”

Hoss nodded, and stepped back to the porch. He held the journal against his chest, and watched as the small calvacade rode slowly out of the yard and out of view. Then he turned back into the house and stood for a while, looking at Ben’s picture.

“Doggone it, Pa -” he whispered, then bowed his head, turned away and walked pass the bloodied mess that seemed to be a total violation of all they held dear.
It was dark in the room. The only light was from a small lamp on a table near the bed. Not too bold a light as to disturb the sleeper, but sufficient for the watcher to note any changes that may have occurred. The window was open to allow some cool air to sift through the heat, and the soft lace curtains drifted too and fro like dancing wraiths over the rug.

Everywhere was quiet. Marie sat beside the table and by the mellow lamplight concentrated on sewing the hem of a skirt that had long required repair. For a while her head was bent over her labours, and it seemed as though she were a woman without a care in the world, as the silence enveloped her through her solitude. The glow of the light was like a halo around her golden head, and softened the lines of her face. The needle slipped in and out of the hem and gleamed in her hands. No one looking at her would have thought she had just survived one of the worse ordeals in her life.

Hop Sing had returned home and thrown his hands up in despair at the sight of the mess. His response had been so melodramatic, so comedic, after all that had preceded it that Marie had started to laugh, but needless to say her laughter had quickly turned to tears and she had sought comfort in the arms of her dear Hoss.

To a shrill accompaniment of Cantonese spoken at top speed Hop Sing bustled about the house, cleaning this and that, and gradually falling silent as the enormity of what had happened even appeared to overwhelm him. There is no pleasant aftermath to a bullet through the skull, the physical remains of which Hop Sing had to remove. As Marie sewed the hem of the skirt she thought of the loyal labours of her friend as he scrubbed the walls and carpet and furniture clean of Carter’s detritus. No, he would not allow her to touch it, No, he refused to let her help him.

Then he had made her soothing green herbal tea and made her sit on the settee with her feet resting on (if Ben had but known) on the small occasional table in front of the hearth. Hoss had appointed himself Adam’s guardian for the afternoon, and sat by the bedside patiently. Joe had taken on himself the role of caring for the chores around the yard, and checking on the mens duty roster for the coming week.

Now she sat and sewed. Occasionally she would lift her eyes to check on the invalid, and sometimes sigh when she saw no change. He sat barely breathing, the lightest movement of the sheet covering his body indicated the rise and fall of his lungs. There had been no sound since Hoss had lain him upon the bed after Carter’s death. It was as though he had been suspended between life and death, hovering between the two.

The hem was secure, and she knotted the thread and snapped it in two. Then she folded away the garment and reached for a book to read. She looked at Adam. Had he moved? Was there just the faintest change in his appearance? She leaned forward and placed her soft hand upon his, how cold it was and how still.

“Adam?” she whispered, but there was no answer.

She sat back and looked down at her book, some poetry. She turned the page and began to read, just loud enough to make a sound trickle through the stillness of the room and perhaps be heard by the sleeper *

“Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
‘Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea.

All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon,

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean”

A sigh slipped through his lips, and instantly she was by his side, upon her knees, and took hold of his hand again. This time the fingers curled around hers, and when she looked at his face his eyes were open and he was looking down at her, a slightly puzzled expression in his eyes,

“Ma?” he whispered.

“Yes, darling?” she said softly, stroking back the dark curl of hair that had fallen across his brow, which now she could feel was hot and clammy to the touch, “Did you want some water?”

“Water.” he said and sighed again.

She turned and poured water from the carafe into a glass and then held it to his lips. It was an effort for him to raise his head and sip it, and his brow creased as though it required intense effort on his part to do so. She then settled him back down upon the pillow, and took hold of hand,

“Poetry?” he sighed, and looked at her as though mocking her, but there was some hint of Adam coming through and for that she was grateful,

“It was one of your books.” she smiled down at him, “THe Ancient Mariner by Samuel Coleridge“ she paused, her smile wavered and the words caught at her throat “Oh Adam, I was so afraid for you. I thought you were going to die.”

He looked at her as though he could not understand what she meant, and then closed his eyes. The hold on her hand tightened slightly, then slackened before his fingers became limp again. He whispered ‘Ma?” and slipped back into the realms of another world.

The tall dark man with the black eyes and booming voice stepped into the room and smiled at them. A tall for his age child, with golden curls and big blue eyes, ran to him, arms outstretched and a gleeful smile upon his cheeks, in which dimples were plainly seen. He was swung up high and both he and the man laughed. The child’s laughter was high and shrill, but the man’s was a shout of delight, deep and heartfelt.

The other boy stood by the hearth with his eyes wide and dancing with laughter. When the child had been put down onto the floor, he approached quickly and looked at his father as though asking a question, before putting out a hand which the man took and gripped firmly in both his, before sweeping the boy into his arms in a strong fatherly embrace.

“Marie, Marie, come on in, let me introduce you to my sons, my family.”

Ben turned, and with a broad smile, dancing black eyes, he ushered the woman into the room. The two boys and the Chinese gentleman standing before her stopped there frolics and stared at her.

Ben had told her about his two boys, and about Hop Sing. She felt that she knew them already, but then, when she saw them, confronted them in the flesh, she suddenly realised that she did not know them at all. It was the eldest boy who approached her first, extending his hand politely, smiling at her generously, but with a hint of wariness in his dark eyes. A handsome boy, with all the promise of becoming a very handsome young man. He tossed his head as he approached, flicking back long dark curling hair.

“Welcome to the Ponderosa, Marie.” he said warmly, sincerely. “Hoss, come here and say hello to Marie.” he turned, stepped aside and ushered the child forward, but Hoss, shy and timid, clung to his Pa’s leg and peeked at her from around them, “Hoss, come on, come and say hello to the pretty lady.”

Ben stooped down and picked Hoss up and tossed him up in the air again, stepping closer to Adam and Marie,

“Hoss, say hello to your new Momma.” Ben said, holding the boy in his arms and facing him towards Marie,

“Oh, he is shy,” Marie said gently, and reached out to take hold of the childs hand, “Hello, Hoss, how are you today? I am Marie, your Maman, mother.”

Bashful Hoss turned his face into his father’s neck and then turned, peeking at her again,

“This is Hop Sing,” Adam said proudly, introducing the other man in the room, “He’s our friend. He cooks great meals. Do you cook, Marie?”

“I can cook.” she replied, smiling, and then saw Hop Sing’s lips droop, “But only when strictly necessary,” and Hop Sing smiled again,

“Missy need nevah cook again. Hop Sing cook, cook all the time.” Hop Sing bowed over her hand, and then shook it gently, as though he were handling fragile porcelain.

“Adam, it’s a pleasure to meet you at last. Your father has told me so much about you.” she smiled at him, wanting to capture his heart, wanting him to surrender it to her without her having to wrestle with the past, with other claims and previous loyalties. He smiled,

“Pa wrote quite a lot about you too, Marie.” (was he over emphasising something here by insisting on calling her Marie? Was it his way of telling her, reminding her, that she was not his mother. It was early days, she resolved to be patient, after all, she had been there only five minutes). “He said you were very pretty, but I think you are really lovely,”

“That’s a real compliment,” Ben laughed, perhaps a little embarrassed, certainly very relieved. The meeting had been, thankfully, easier than he had anticipated.

He was proud of them all. Marie for being everything that he had hoped she would be, and for the boys, dressed in their best clothes and ready to receive her into their home and their lives. He tweaked Adam’s hair as he passed in a teasing paternal gesture, a reminder that it needed to get shorn, and Adam smiled and shrugged. The boy was growing up, and in the past months in which they had been apart, it was quite obvious.

Marie took off her coat and Hop Sing was immediately there to receive it with a bow. She wondered if he would be popping up like this every time she wanted to go in or out of the house, and hoped she would be patient enough to handle it. Patience was not part of Marie’s temperament at that time. She looked around the room, and then at the children. Hoss was a cherubic looking child, four years of age, with the biggest blue eyes. He stared at her all the time from the safety of his father’s arms. Adam was tall and thin for his age, she calculated that he would be eleven now, although he looked older. He was dark skinned, tanned from his constant time in the sun. She noted that he had lovely hands, changing from those of a child into an adolescent. He was trying to act nonchalant, as though meeting a new step mother was nothing out of the ordinary after all. Every now and again he would turn and look at her, regard her gravely, and she knew that he was wondering what life was going to be now, now that they were a foursome, now that there was a woman in their lives.

Chapter 42

Adam stirred in his sleep. His memories were becoming too real. He could see her there, standing in front of them, the smile on her face and the anxiety in her eyes. It had been a difficult first meeting for them all. But that was the time they had met, the time he had first seen and spoken to the woman who was his new Ma. Now it trickled through his mind as he languished in this half way house , this nothingness of life.

It seemed as though the only part of him functioning at all was his brain. It shuffled and reshuffled memories back and forth like a pack of cards. Sometimes he would sense someone in the room, hear their voice, and a word or two that they would utter would send his brain flicking through the memories until he found one that would appear to fit.

Hoss came in one morning to sit with him, and talked about the ranch. He told Adam how the new saplings were doing just fine despite the heat. Branding was good, more calves this year that previous, a record for the Ponderosa. Of course, Sport was worried about his master, and looked to be pining as he was refusing his food.

Flick,Flick went the memories and there he was watching a herd of horses thundering through the valley. He was with Pa and several hands astride a horse of some non-descript looks. Pa had set up an arrangement with the army to supply them with horses. Quite an enterprise then especially as Eagle Station was still a pretty unknown location.

“There’s some fine horses down there, son. Seen any you like?” Ben has cast a smile at his son, and his eyes had looked at him with pride. Adam had been on horse roundups several times now, and each time was more skilled at handling a rope, picking out a horse. Seamus O’Malley had said to Ben that his son was going to be a top notch horseman the way he could pick out a good horse. That had been the day Adam had first seen Sport. Sport was young and gangly and thought he was king of the herd, despite his ability to fall over his own feet. But he had a mischief, stubborn look in his eye and Adam liked the look of him.

In his memory now he fought that tussle all over again. Roping the lively youngster and talking him through his fear of man. As Adam muttered and tossed in the fever ridden bed, Marie had wiped his brow and wondered what ailed him. She had called Hop Sing who had rightly diagnosed a brain fever. By the time they had administered the medicine Adam had re-fought his battle with Sport, and once again the horse had lost.

He heard Joe talking in a low voice and the word Ma spoken repeatedly, and he drifted back to the time when a pretty young woman with a thick accent had cuddled him, and told him he could call her Ma.

“Really? Like the other kids?” the little boy with the freckled nose had looked up at her and exclaimed, with his eyes wide and bright, “A real Ma of my own?”

“Yes, Adam, a real Ma of your own.” and Inger had laughed and held him close. He had liked that, he had liked her smell and her warmth, and the difference in the way her body was to Pa’s. It was what mother’s were like, he thought, because he had seen other boys and girls with their Ma’s being held and cuddled.

He remembered Inger laughing at the little foal that had been born, thanks to her ministrations. Lovely, laughing Inger.

“Ma,” he whispered, and a tear trickled from his eyes, “Oh Ma.” he sighed and Marie leaned forward and whispered something in his ear, not realising that he was weeping for another mother, another woman.

There was the sudden surge of fear as they waited for Hoss to be born, and his memory trickled around to the time he sat in the wagon with Ben and looked at the baby, and exclaimed ‘He’s a big ‘un’ and Ben and Inger had laughed. Ben laughed a lot those days.

“Pa laughed a lot then, you know,” he whispered to no-body in particular because his world was enveloped in darkness and he was it’s lone occupant, but Marie had held his hand and raised it to her cheek, and wept.

Noise filled his head, feet scuffling across the floorboards and the sound of gunfire. Shrieks and screams. Pa had cried out in a loud voice. Hoss cried and his baby mouth opened, wet and gummy, seeking solace. Adam relived the moment and cried out aloud


“It’s all right,” Joe whispered and gave him some water to drink that tasted bitter. It was Joe who sat through the night with him, made sure the pillow was cool, and wiped his brow as he muttered and mumbled through the misery of that time when he had lost Inger. Ben had lost hope, and Adam had lost his Ma.


“How is he?” Marie asked. She looked at Joe who stood up as she entered the room. The room smelt like a sick room. She walked to the window and pushed it open a little more.

“Ma, do you think he’s going to pull through this?” Joe asked, and he clenched his teeth together in anticipation of her reply, but she just stood there, staring out of the window.

“I’m sorry, Joe. I’m just so tired.” she turned and looked at him. We all look like we’ve been under a seige, she thought, this is intolerable. She shook her head, and smiled, “Go and rest, Joe. Hop Sing has cooked a good hearty breakfast and you need to get something to eat, and to rest for a little while.”

“I don’t think he’s going to pull through, Ma. It’s been too long now.”

“But, he is calmer now, isn’t he?” she said, approaching the bed and looking down at Adam, and then she frowned, “He has a temperature.”

“I’m not surprised, I’m not sure what demons he was fighting last night, but it sure was a battle royal.” Joe sighed, “Shall I go and get Paul?”

“Send one of the men.” she replied, “Joe, you will rest, won’t you? I can’t handle it if you were ill too.”

He smiled and nodded, and dropped a kiss on her brow. Then he was gone, the door closed softly behind him, and she heard his footsteps hurry along the landing.

“Adam? My dear boy, you have to fight this, you know,” she whispered, “Don’t give in to it, just fight as hard as you can.”

He opened his eyes then and looked directly at her. He had woken during the night, during the ordeal with Inger and Joe had been there. Now he found her again, and he sighed deeply, and raised his hand towards her,

“Where’s Joe?” he croaked through parched lips.

“He’s gone to rest.” she replied, and knelt by the side of the bed, taking hold of his hand, it was hot and dry. Too hot. She could see the red rouge spots of fever in his cheeks. The dark eyes were slightly sunken into hollows, dark hollows.

Every morning Hop Sing would come and carefully shave him. Then sit with him for several hours to give the rest of the family time to do other things. She had about an hour before that morning ritual would take place. She knelt beside the bed, and held his hand.


“Where’s Joe?” he heard his voice ask the question and then his brain ticked back the years, and he was a boy again, standing in the doorway of the big bedroom, and looking at his Pa.

“Here he is,” Ben was laughing, holding in his arms a swaddled package that squirmed and bawled. A little clenched fist appeared from the folds of the shawl, “Gentlemen, may I present JOSEPH FRANCIS CARTWRIGHT.”

Hoss and Adam exchanged looks, smiled at one another, and then stampeded into the room to have a look at this little miracle. Ben lowered his arms for them to peer into the shawl and gaze upon the infant protesting very volubly at his entry into the world,

“Is that MY baby?” Hoss asked, wide eyed with wonder, and looking from Ben to Marie in confusion.

“Don’t be silly, Hoss, it’s Pa and Ma’s baby. It’s our brother.” Adam had said, a slightly patronising tone in his voice and he smiled broadly and leaned forwards to touch the little face with his finger.

“Well, Adam, what do you think of your brother, huh?” Ben asked, his eyes twinkling with pride.

“Well, Pa, compared to the last one I got this one is kinda puny, ain’t he?” Adam laughed, and was pleased to hear laughter from his father and Marie, he turned to look at her, and smiled, “He’s real cute, Ma.”

Marie nodded, and settled back into the pillows. Had it really required a difficult pregnancy, ten hours labour, to get this boy to call her Ma? She smiled and looked at her husband, how proud he was, goodness me, she thought, he’ll explode with happiness if he’s not careful.

“He is kinda small,” Hoss said thoughtfully, giving the baby a prod with his forefinger.

“It’s because he was born before he was ready,” Marie explained, “We weren’t expecting him for another few weeks.”

“Why’d he come so early for then?” Hoss queried, jumping up onto the bed and snuggling into Marie’s arms, and he sighed contentedly, “didn’t you know he was coming? Was it a surprise?”

“Kinda,” Ben said quietly and looked over at Marie, and they shared a smile for the last 24 hours had been frighteningly dire, ones that made Ben recall Elizabeth’s loss, and for Marie, the agony of her own secret sorrow.

“We should call him Little Joe,” Hoss declared, “seeing how small he is.”

They had all agreed to that, laughed over it, and declared Hoss to be as bright as a button. Hoss beamed cherry red and basked in the glory of it. For Adam it was a turning point in his life, he had accepted that he was to share Pa with Marie for the rest of his life, and that this little infant was to be protected and loved, forever.
A week later he awoke to footsteps running along the landing, and whispers on the stairs. He pulled open the door to find his father, fully dressed, holding a lamp in his hand and talking urgently to Hop Sing. Then Hop Sing had hurried away, disappearing into the shadows.

“Pa? What’s wrong?”

“It’s Little Joe, Adam. He’s ill. Very ill.”

“But he can’t be, Pa, he’s only just been born.”

Adam felt panic, fear, it made his hair prickle on the back of his neck and he ran into the big room where Marie sat, the baby in her arms, tears coursing their way down her cheeks.

“Ma? Ma?” he cried, “Ma. Is he going t be alright?” and Marie had looked at him, shook her head, and dissolved into tears. In her arms the baby was limp and the tiny heart could be seen under the thin skin, pumping so fast that Adam promptly burst into tears.

The tears trickled down his cheeks now, and Marie leaned forward to wipe them away, gently with a cold cloth.

“Little Joe?” Adam whispered, “Little Joe, don’t die, don’t die, little man.”

“Joe’s all right, Adam. He’ssafe, he’s here with me.” Marie whispered, wondering what nightmare it was that Adam was travelling through now.


The boy pushed open the door and looked at his father. Unobserved Ben had his hands over his face and was whispering words that seemed to make no sense to the twelve year old, until he realised that his father was praying. He heard Ben say “Please, God, please, I beg you, please spare him for us.”


Ben stopped and turned, his face was pale and the dark eyes glistened. Adam had a terrible foreboding, the same haunted look on his fathers face as had been there years before, when Inger had left them. He slipped closer to his father, and put his arms around the man’s neck, and leaned his head against Ben’s shoulder,


“Yes, son?”

“Did you pray like this when I was born?”

Ben felt a shudder run down his back, a tremor that Adam felt for he shivered as though in response.

“Yes, I prayed. Of course I prayed.” Ben replied with a quavering voice.

“Then why did she die?”

“I can’t explain that, son.” Ben replied, his throat tightening.

“Was it my fault, Pa? Did I get born too soon, like Joe? Is that why?”

“No, son. Your mother, Elizabeth, had been weak for a long time before you arrived. It was – something that happened. I can’t explain why.”

“But you prayed for her to get well, didn’t you?”

Ben closed his eyes, and nodded. His head was full of fears for Joe and now his son was asking questions about something that had happened 12 years previously. He sighed,

“It happened too quickly.”
“Too quickly for God to do anything?” Adam’s brow knitted together in confusion.
“Adam, sometimes we pray for things, and we want the answers the way we want them to be, but sometimes, the answer is something we don’t want. I can’t explain it. Perhaps one day, when you’re old enough, you’ll be able to explain it to me.”

Adam had nodded and took a deep breath. He walked away, back to the door, and looked back at the haggard faced man he had just left,

“I’ll go and have a good long prayer myself, Pa.” he said quietly.

Ben nodded, could say nothing, could barely swallow his throat had gone too dry.


“Pray for him.” Adam whispered, and clutched hold of a hand, someone’s hand, as it was, it turned out to be Hoss’.

“Sure, Adam, sure we will.” Hoss replied softly and looked over at Paul Martin, who shook his head, and bit down on his bottom lip as though to stifle any words that may have broken the atmosphere in which they were now.

Marie knelt by the side of Adam’s bed, wiping the face that was wet with rolling perspiration, a pool of which puddled at his throat. She looked at Joe, at Hoss, and bowed her head so that they could not see her tears.

Adam gave a shuddering sigh. His body heaved and his fingers tightened around Hoss’. Then he was still. Quite still.

“Is it over? Is he all right?” Joe asked, his voice shrill, caught on a sob.

“Yes,” Marie whispered, “It’s over.”

Chapter 49

Adam closed the journal and then settled back against the pillows. He closed his eyes and enjoyed the cool breeze from the window as it drifted over him. The worst thing about being an invalid was the frustration on being tied down to a bed because of being just too weak to get out of it. Patience was not a virtue where Adam Cartwright was concerned, and despite trying really hard not to become too bad tempered, he could see that he was already beginning to wear his family’s forbearance down.

But, oh, it was so irritating to hear the sounds from outside and feel the longing to be out there with everyone doing what he should be doing instead of having to stay in the wretched bed. He folded his arms behind his head and thought over the contents of the journal that Marie had given him to read as a mental exercise.

“If you can’t exercise anything else, young man, read this and tell me what you think I should do about it,” she had said handing it to him with a smile.

He sighed, and thought again about the cruel irony that had David, Sophia and Evie sharing a grave-yard, side by side, as a family group really, when in real life they had been so far apart. It was cruel what had happened to little Evie, crueller still the life Sophia had been forced to endure.

David’s duplicity had been revealed with regard to the money in the various accounts he was stealing from, including one of Adam’s. Although people shook their heads and muttered ‘I’m not at all surprised, I had him pegged as a bad ‘un right from the start’ it had shaken them, and quite a few closed their accounts at the First National and transferred it to its main competitor in town.

It had also been discovered that Sophia had been far more astute than many had assumed. Far from living a life of sin (as some ladies who should have known better had rumoured it around the town) she had bought shares in various mining corporations whenever she had had enough money to do so. This had reaped her sufficient funds to keep Evie and herself in decent accommodation, food and clothing. Marie had felt truly sad about this fact, having accepted, like the vast majority, that the rumours about Sophia’s source of income were true.

“I feel terrible,” she had told Adam and he had merely sighed and said it was too late now, and what was the point of worrying about it, Sophia was beyond being hurt by gossip mongers any more.
“Mistah Adam, you have a visitor.”

Hop Sing’s entrance was so unexpected that Adam realised that he had fallen asleep. He blinked and turned his head, screwing up his eyes to take in the shape of the woman who was standing at the doorway.

She was a slim young woman, probably not much older than Joe, with very blonde hair and blue eyes. Her face was pale, thin, and she looked a nervy kind of woman, despite the fact she was already married and expecting a child.

“Good morning, Adam. I hope I have not disturbed your rest.” she stepped further into the room, and looked about her, before setting down the posy of flowers upon the side table, “I met your step-mother in town, she said you were getting very bored, so I thought I would bring you some books to read.”

“That’s very thoughtful of you, Mrs Dayton. Thank you.” Adam smiled and nodded affably at her.

She produced a package, three books tied up in a blue bow. Adam nodded again and smiled once more. How like Laura Dayton to ‘prettify’ a parcel of books.

“That was kind of you to think of me, Mrs Dayton. I appreciate it. You must be very busy yourself right now, what with the branding season coming up.”

“Branding?” her pale brow furrowed slightly and the over large blue eyes looked anxious and nervous, they darted around the room as though she were looking for her personal branding iron and calf, “I don’t know … about things like that,” she paused, “I’m sorry.”

“No need to be,” Adam replied, wondering what it must be like in the Dayton household. He had heard that her husband had taken to drink, and she looked the kind of person who would find that hard to live with on a daily basis. He drew his bottom lip over his teeth, and frowned, “Have you had anything to drink yet, Mrs Dayton” oh – clarify it quickly “Tea, I mean?”

“No, but it’s fine, just fine, Adam. I – I have to get back home anyway, Frank doesn’t like me being away from home too long.”

“Of course not,” Adam sighed, and nodded, “How long before the baby arrives?”

“Oh, several months yet.” she blushed, and lowered her eyes, a little embarrassed perhaps in talking about such things with another man, and alone with him in his bedroom no less!

“And – “ Adam groped to find what else he could to say to her, “And do you hope for a boy or a girl?”

“A girl,” she replied most definitely, “I don’t think I would be too good with boys. A girl would be easier.”

“Well, if it turns out to be a boy, you can always ask Marie for advice.” he smiled over at her, his brown eyes kindly, but tired.

“I was sorry to hear about what happened to you, Adam.” she sighed then, and smiled, a pretty smile but tense. Everything, Adam thought, was tense around Laura, one could not help but wonder if she were actually unhappy. “I hope you enjoy the books. If you want any more, please let me know.”

“Oh, I guess I’ll be up and about soon,” Adam replied and thought he saw disappointment in her eyes, but she said nothing, just smiled again and bade her farewells.

Adam rubbed the back of his head, and sighed. Yesterday he had had a visit from Widow Hawkins who regaled him with tales of her days touring around the world with her husband, the wonderful ‘Arry ‘Awkins. By the end of her visit he was exhausted and Marie had said that was proof enough that he just was not well and should not even think of getting up just yet.

How he would love to get up and walk about, to feel the fresh air on his face again and the sun. He wanted to ride Sport. Just to ride out through the Ponderosa and feel the wind against his skin. Darn it, but he was going crazy and if Hop Sing were to admit any more women into his room … the journal fell with a thud on the floor, and he groaned in irritation, leaned over to retrieve it and fell out of bed.


Marie sat opposite him, writing a letter. She had made it a habit since his recovery to do a lot of personal things like this in his room, so that he would have some continuity in his life. She looked up at him and smiled,

“I hear you had a visitor today?”

“Laura Dayton. She brought me some books to read.”

“That was kind of her.”

“Mmm.” Adam sighed, “I was thinking of getting up tomorrow. Just going downstairs for a bit.”

“Thinking and doing are two different things, Adam. Wait and see what Paul has to say first.”

“Drat it, Ma -” he closed his eyes, shook his head, re-opened them and looked at her stern face, “Sorry, I meant … “

“I know what you meant, young man.” she said sternly, “What did Mrs Dayton have to say while she was here?”

“Not much. I don’t think she’s very happy, do you?”

“How can she be, her husband isn’t the kindest man in town.”

Adam said nothing to that, but settled back against the pillows and thought of the things he could be doing right now if he were fit enough to do them. He’d saddle up Sport and ride into town. Go to the Sazarak or the Bucket of Blood, have something to drink.


“Yes, Ma?”

“What did you think about Sophia’s journal?” she looked down at her letter, attempting to appear not really that interested, that this was just a casual enquiry.

“It was sad. It was interesting. What else do you want me to say, Ma?” he smiled, knowing her too well to fall in with her game.

“About … about Clay. My son. What did you think about what she had to say?” a little colour rouged her cheeks and her eyes glittered, as though with tears.

“It seems to tally with what you were told about your child from David Carter. It was a despicable thing to do, but it seems in keeping with the character of your parents-in-law.”

“Jean’s parents did not like me, Adam. The de Marigny family considered themselves to be the hub of the social elite in New Orleans. I was French Creole, and not worthy of their son. You met Jean, so you will know how kind he was, so different from his mother.” she sighed, and she was silent for a few moments as she thought of her first husband. She had been very young when she had married Jean, but she had loved him with a passion.

“I can understand why you loved him. Pa thought a lot about him, that’s why he wanted Jean buried here on the Ponderosa. Life has a strange way of dealing with things, if Jean had not travelled here, and died here, then Pa would never have gone to see you in New Orleans. It was only due to how often, how lovingly, Jean spoke about you, that Pa felt he had to go and let you know of his death. Most people would have had a letter,” he smiled slowly, thinking back to the time when Ben had made the decision to go to this widow, whom Jean de Marigny had loved so much.

Marie nodded, and looked down at her letter. Adam watched her for a moment in silence, thinking and trying to understand how she must have felt when she had been told her husband and son had died while she herself had been so ill. Then discovering it had all been a tissue of lies.


“Yes, Adam?”

“There is one thing that concerns me. David Carter referred to your son as Clay Stafford. But he’s Jean’s son, so he should be de Marigny, surely?”

“He was named Clayton Stafford Charles de Marigny.” Marie said with a smile as she recalled the morning she and Jean had held the infant in their arms and chosen his names, “Stafford was the name of a dear friend of mine.”

“So, for some reason, your Clayton de Marigny has chosen to be known as Clay Stafford. I wonder why?”

“Who knows?” she shrugged her shoulders prettily, and put down her pen, leaned against the chair, “He could be dead, couldn’t he?”

“Possibly.” Adam replied, chewing the inside of his cheek as he thought about it.

“Adam, what would you do if you were me? Would you go and look for him?” her eyes looked beseechingly at him, begging him to say the words she wanted him to say,

“What can I say, Ma? I’m not you, and I don’t ever want to be in this kind of situation, so I don’t know how I would react.” he saw the disappointment flood over her face and bit his lip, he had said all the wrong things, and was annoyed with himself as a result. He reached out and touched her hand, “Let me put it like this, Ma. If someone came and told me that Elizabeth Stoddard Cartwright were alive today, I would do everything in my power, come hell or high water, to find her.”

She clutched at his hand and her fingers tightened around his, and she smiled, although it wobbled slightly,

“What if I wouldn’t let you, after all, I have been your mother for over 18 years now?”

“I know. And my mother never knew me. Clay Stafford has never known you. But …I wouldn’t stop you wanting to find him, Ma. Nor would Joseph, nor would Hoss.” and he sighed and settled back against the pillows. He felt enormously tired. If he could only ride his horse, he thought, he would ride over the hills, through the Ponderosa, smell the pine and feel the sun on his back and the wind on his skin…if only…

Chapter 50

Summer was over now. A cooler breeze blew down from the sierras and threatened them with the first flurries of snow. The ranch hands had been, in the main, paid off and were returning to their homes or journeying on to new tasks for the winter with other employers. A small core of hands remained in the bunk house, for despite the bad weather, there was still a lot of work to be done on a ranch the size of the Ponderosa.

Marie Cartwright was restless and had been so for some weeks. Like many women she had put her plan to find Clay into action as soon as she had been able to do so. She had written to various people she knew in New Orleans and had been desperately longing for news from them ever since. She had one letter returned with Return to Sender stamped on it, and another had replied with the news that the correspondent had died some years previously.

“I feel so useless,” she protested one evening, “Nothing seems to be going right.”

“Uh-huh,” Hoss muttered, and slammed three checkers down, and grinned, “Beat that, buddy.”

“Are you kidding me?” Joe replied, and immediately ended the game by taking all of Hoss checkers in one foul swoop.

“Hey, you didn’t have to do it that quickly,” Hoss groaned, and began to collect his checkers up, he looked over at Adam, “How about a game, Adam?”

“Not right now,” came the reply, “I’ve got this to sort out.”

“Can’t it wait until tomorrow?”

“Nope,” and Adam glanced up, caught Marie’s eye and smiled, “Don’t worry, Ma, things will work out. After all these years you can’t expect all the strands to come together right away.”

“Sure, Ma, it’ll be fine. You’ll see, when you stop expecting news to come, it’ll arrive in bundles.” Joe grinned, “Ain’t that right?”

Marie smiled and shook her head, it seemed as though no one else was taking the matter very seriously. She resumed her reading. Perhaps, she thought, they really didn’t want it to be resolved. Another man entering their lives. A stranger with blood claims to Joe, and not to Adam or Hoss could cause a major disruption in their lives. Then she thought back to the experience with David, and how much of a disruption he would have made.

Adam was working on the ledgers, checking figures with a swiftness that Marie still found hard to compete with, and Joe and Hoss didn’t even try. He ended his work by closing the ledger quietly, putting away the pen and closing the ink well. Then he stretched, reaching high to the ceiling, and yawned. He glanced up at the picture of his father, and then looked around the room.

Sitting at the big desk Adam tried to visualise what it would have been like had Marie died, and Ben had lived. Would Joe and Hoss still be playing and squabbling over a game of checkers .. No doubt they would have been, but instead of it being under the benevolent eye of a doting mother, it would have been under Ben’s dark eyes. How would it have been?

There was Marie sitting in the red leather chair, with her glass of wine and a vase of fresh flowers on the side table. She was reading, Hoss and Joe playing checkers. But what if Pa were there instead? Perhaps he would have been sitting there, puffing away at one of his pipes, sending up clouds of smoke if he were reading something with which he disagreed. He would talk about what they had done during the day, what had to be done the next. Man’s talk. It would have been … well… it would have been different.


The breeze had stiffened into quite a cold wind by the time Joe and Hoss had reached Virginia City. They rode down the main street looking about them, seeing the changes that had taken place since their last visit, noting the new faces, the new buildings. Life was full of changes in this ever evolving gold boom town. Since the Comstock had been discovered there was a constant flow of eager newcomers in search of that crock of gold at the bottom of their particular rainbow.

Hop Sing drove the wagon on towards the Chinese quarter, to where his cousins had a laundry and did the Ponderosa’s weekly wash. Later, after conversation and tea, he would take the wagon to the Cass’ store to load up the groceries. It was a custom borne of habit, as he drove unerringly down the middle of the street, carefully avoiding careless pedestrians and aimless cowboys.

Little Joe pulled the collar of his jacket higher and wished he had put on a heavier coat. He edged Cochise to the hitching rail outside Cass’ General Store and dismounted, waiting for Hoss to join him. Together they entered the building, closing the door sharply to prevent the wind from blowing the more fragile items from their various shelves.

Will Cass glanced over at them and nodded a greeting. A dour man, made more bitter than ever with the death of his wife, and the murder of his son. His only pleasure in life was his daughter, Sally. Sally bore the burden of being Will Cass’ only joy very well, it was a heavy load for a young girl to carry for Wills nature was not kindly now, but had soured with the anger he had felt over the loss of his young boy.

She smiled at them both, and continued to serve her customer, a tall thickset man with a scowl on his face. Little Joe and Hoss exchanged a glance behind the man’s back, it was obvious from the smell of him that he had already imbibed rather too much.

Frank Dayton turned and looked at them both, nodded and continued to see to the packing up of his groceries. Having been thus acknowledged Little Joe felt it only right to enquire into the welfare of his wife, Laura.

“How’s Laura, Frank? When’s the baby due?” he forced a smile. Sometimes it was like walking on eggs talking to Frank, one never knew which way he was going to twist the conversation. He had been known to turn even a simple greeting into an insult that required satisfaction with fists.

“The baby arrived yesterday. I’ve been wetting her head.” Frank replied gruffly, and leaned heavily on the counter. “Have to admit that I didn’t want a puny girl. I needed a son and heir, but she’s here now, and that pretty. Never thought a scrawny little thing could have such an effect on me.”

“Well, that’s great, Frank,” Hoss exclaimed and tapped the other man on the chest, “I bet Laura’s mighty pleased having a gal, huh?”

“We’re calling her Peggy.” Frank replied, dismissing Hoss’ comments as though they had never been said, “Blue eyed Peggy” he smiled, a rare thing in itself recently, and Little Joe glanced at Hoss and raised his eyebrows. Thankfully, Frank did not notice. He picked up the box of groceries “Soon as I got this in the wagon I’m going over to the Bucket of Blood to wet the baby’s head. Why not come over. The drinks are on me.” he looked at them both with narrowed eyes, and then with a sour smile he left the building.

“Phew, I don’t know how he manages to stand up straight.” Little Joe muttered, waving his hand in front of his face to dispel the stench, “Laura must be having a tough time of it with him being like that all the time.”

“He’s a mess,” Sally said quietly, and took the order from Hoss, ran her eyes down it and nodded, “We’ve got all these in stock, Hoss. I’ll go and get them for you. How’s Adam?”

“He’s fine. Busy.” Little Joe replied, thinking to himself how nicely Sally was growing up. The gangly little girl was developing into a very attractive and curvaceous young woman. Joe was inclined to notice things like that.

“And Mrs Cartwright? Is she well?”

“Ma’s fine, a bit restless because…” Hoss paused, remembering that no one was supposed to be told about Marie’s first born son, he gulped back the words, “Any new books arrive since we last came, Sal?”

“It’s the weather,” Sally said quietly, reaching for a sack of coffee beans, “It makes a lot of people really restless.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s what it is,” Joe said and nodded amiably, before joining Hoss at the book shelves.

They found several that they assumed their brother and mother had not yet read, and took them to Sally, asking her to put them in with their order.

“I’m going to see if there’s any mail, Little Joe,” Hoss said, “You coming?”

“Sure,” Joe turned, after tipping his hat to Sally, and followed his brother from the store. They stood on the side walk for a moment and looked up and down, “Shall I meet you at the Sazarac?”

“Yeah, I’ll get the mail and then see you there.”

Little Joe nodded, satisfied that he had the best of the deal, he tipped his hat a little lower and walked jauntily across to the Sazarac. A scattering of rain fell as he crossed the road, and when he walked through the saloon doors he brushed the raindrops from his jacket as he looked around the room.

“Hi, Little Joe,” Lil called over from the far side of the room, and waved him over to join her. “How’s everything at the Ponderosa? How’s your brother, Adam? Tell him we miss seeing him hereabouts, will ya?”

“Sure will, Lil,” Joe smiled, and leaned one elbow on the counter, while he indicated two beers to Charley. “How’s things, Lil? You seem pretty quiet in here today.”

Lil shrugged her plump shoulders and hoisted up the shoulder strap to her dress, a scarlet and black affair with lots of sequins, rather too short and too low. She perched herself on a chair at the table nearest to the bar, and signalled to him to join her,

“Truth is, Little Joe, we just had some trouble. Roy’s arrested a couple of card sharps, and it’s kinda scared the customers away. You know how it is?” she smiled as he asked Charley to get Lil a drink, “Anyway, it’s early yet, the crowd will start trickling in soon.” she took the glass of bourbon and sniffed it, smiled over at Charley and winked at Joe, “Have you seen Frank Dayton yet?”

“In Cass’ store just now.” Joe raised the glass to his mouth, and gulped down some beer. He was still quite new to this visiting saloons and chatting to saloon girls, Adam had kept a tight rein on his little brother and not allowed him such freedoms until he was considered mature enough by Marie and himself. Joe had gained the privilege only the previous year and enjoyed it. With winter closing in on them he knew that it was only a matter of time before the snows would seal up the pass into town, so he wanted to make the most of the privilege that he could, “He looked like he had enough to drink already,” he added, wiping foam from his upper lip.

“You’d think he would be more sensible.” Lil leaned forwards, “He’s got a pretty wife, a new baby and that ranch of his is doing pretty well. If he carries on like this, he’ll lose everything.” she sipped her drink, “I’ve seen it happen before, Little Joe, too often.”

The saloon doors opened and closed, sending a cold gust of air into the saloon. Two cowboys entered and glanced over at them, then turned their attention to ordering their own drinks. They put their heads together to have a low and private conversation.

Little Joe drank some more beer, and leaned back in his chair. He really only wanted to be able to enjoy a quiet beer and the feeling of being part of it all. Part of being this community. He liked being sociable and gregarious. He was wondering what was keeping Hoss when the doors opened again and a crowd of men came in, brushing off the rain that was now falling heavily.

“Excuse me, Joe sweetheart, but I gotta go, business beckons,” Lil whispered, and disappeared amid the throng in a swirl of scarlet and sequins.

The noise of voice was becoming overloud. It was quite an explosive mix of company, cowboys, farmers and homesteaders, and some miners. The two men arrested earlier were miners, and the men who had now come in were eager to get retribution for their companions. Someone yelled an insult, another yelled back, Lil screamed, and within seconds trouble exploded.

A bottle was thrown at the mirror behind Charley, which shattered and fell in shards upon the floor. Fists flew. The saloon girls fled to the safety of the stairs and added their screams to the cacophony of noise that was now resounding through the saloon and out into the street.

Joe hugged his glass close to his chest. He was still but a boy and these were battle scared old campaigners of many a saloon brawl. Without Adam and Hoss by his side he felt naked, vulnerable.

His table was overturned as two men, locked in combat, toppled into it. A fist came in his direction but he ducked in time to avoid it. Falling to his hands and knees he scurried to the safety of a table close by to the wall. A chair was hurled in his direction and missed him by inches. Scurrying onwards he made for a door, reached out a hand and turned the door knob, pushed the door open and rolled into the room. He closed the door firmly behind him and heaved a sigh of relief. He wiped his brow with the back of his hand and turned …

“Who are you?” he said and so did she … they said it together … simultaneously.

“I’ll scream. Just get out. I’m warning you.”

“But, Ma’am, Miss, they’ll kill me if I go out there.” he raised a hat to shield his face, so that his eyes could not see something that would embarrass her more than she had been by his unexpected entrance, “I’m sure sorry, but I’d be real grateful if you wouldn’t mind me staying until it calms down out there.”

“Wait then, and just stay as you are,” the young woman commanded, and Joe heard the rustling of clothes being hastily put on. “All right, you can look now.”

He looked and blinked. Then chewed on his bottom lip,

“Miss, I’m sure sorry, I didn’t know this was a private room. I thought it was the side door to the alley.”

“You’re very young to be frequenting saloons, aren’t you? I bet our Ma doesn’t know you’re here,” she teased now, and sat down on a rather precarious looking stool.

“I’m not that young, and my Ma does know I’m here,” Joe replied, raising his chin challengingly, defiantly. “You’re new here, aren’t you, otherwise you wouldn’t have asked that, because you’d know who I am.”

“Oh, so? Who are you?”

“I’m Joseph Cartwright from the Ponderosa.” he replied, hoping his voice sounded deep and manly and impressive.

“Well, hello, Joseph Cartwright from the Ponderosa. I’m Joy, Joy Marsden.”

“Oh, you’re Charley’s daughter, aren’t you?” he took her hand, which she had offered to him very daintily, “I heard that he was expecting you back home sometime before winter. Well, how do you do, Miss Marsden. I’m …”

“I know, Joe Cartwright.” she laughed, a nice pleasant laugh, warm and husky. Her eyes, deep blue, twinkled, “I must say, I didn’t expect to get a visit from the Ponderosa quite so soon. I’ve heard all about you and your family. You’re very rich, aren’t you?”

Joe smiled and raised his very expressive eyebrows. Adam and Hoss had warned him loud and long to avoid girls who discussed their money, wealth or land with him as soon as the introductions had been made. He turned towards the door, but it shuddered suddenly from the onslaught of some heavy object, and so he was forced to turn back and face her.

“It might be a good idea to bolt the door, “ Joy suggested.

Reluctantly Joe bolted the door as she had said and then stood there, feeling awkward, twisting his hat round and round between his fingers.

“I’m sorry I kinda butted in just then, Miss Joy. I think it might be a good idea if I left now, though. I don’t want Charley to get the wrong idea.”

“The wrong idea?” she looked puzzled, and shook her head, “What kind of wrong idea? I don’t know what you could be implying, Joe.”

“It’s just that it isn’t really – I mean – the bolted door and all. You know your Pa has a mighty quick temper when he’s upset about something.”

“Oh, nonsense.” Joy dismissed her father’s temper tantrums with a shake of her really lovely little head. “Sit down and tell me all about yourself?”

Joe swallowed hard. She was lovely there was no doubt about that with a beautiful tumble of copper gold hair and the bluest eyes. He looked around him, and then back at her,

“I really should be going, Miss Joy. My brother will be wondering where I’ve got to and we have a lot to do.”

“Can’t it wait, Joe? I have a brother too, you know, and -.”

“Oh yes,” Joe nodded, “I know all about your brother. That’s why I think I really ought to be going now. It’s been a pleasure meeting you, Miss Joy. No doubt I’ll see you in town from time to time.” he smiled quickly, and then turned and pulled back the bolt.

Some order was being restored now and thankfully there was no sign of Charley or Joy’s brother. With some relief Joe slipped back into the saloon, and resumed his place at the counter. Hoss was looking around and when he saw his brother standing inches from him gave Joe an odd look,

“Whar did you sprung from?” he demanded.

Joe shrugged and said nothing. Hoss shook his head and looked around him,

“Joe, seems to me that I can’t leave you anyplace on your own, without you finding trouble somehow.” he gave Joe another odd look, “Are you okay?”

“Sure, I’m fine.” Joe replied, “Let’s get outa here, Hoss.”

Hoss shrugged, it made little difference if he stayed or went, it was obvious he wasn’t going to get drink from Charley who was too busy trying to set up tables and chairs.
Joe walked out the saloon and wrinkled his face in annoyance at the rain as it splattered against his face. It was going to be a long and irritating ride home, even though he had a pretty face to think upon. When Hoss asked why he had such a stupid smile on his face when it was pouring with rain, he just shrugged and shook his head. There was little point in saying anything just yet.

But copper hair, blue eyes and a pretty face … Joe sighed and allowed himself the pleasure of building castles in the air.

Chapter 51

Marie fussed when they got home. The rain had grown heavier churning the once dry soil into a quagmire of mud.

“Ma, quit fussin’, it’s just a drop of rain,” Joe said, “A few more in Hoss’ case, though” and he laughed, happy because despite the rain, he had met a lovely girl.

“Hop Sings bringing up the rear with the stock,” Hoss looked over at Marie and Adam, and then produced a wad of letters from his jacket pocket before ambling over to the window. There was something satisfying about standing at a window watching rain splattering against the glass. Better than riding in it.

Adam began to check out the letters, there were several for Marie, several for himself, one for Joe, a Sears catalogue for Hoss, and mail for some of the men who were still at the Ponderosa. He set them aside to distribute when Hop Sing provided them with their meal for the day.

Marie held her letters in her hand and checked the writing on the envelopes. Would it be in this one, she thought, or that one? This is a delicate hand, a woman must have written it, perhaps she would know about Clay. This is a heavy hand, a man’s hand writing, it would be more than likely that a man would know where Clay was now, surely?

Hoss settled down in the big chair, crossed one leg over the other and began to look through the catalogue. That would be Hoss happy for at least at hour. Joe opened his letter and inwardly groaned, he owed more money than he had thought on the account he had with a clothes store … gentlemen outfitters … in ‘Frisco.

“Any good news?” he asked, and perched himself on the corner of the small table, picked up an apple and polished it on his jacket, “Adam?”

Adam smiled and crooked one eyebrow, then looked over at Marie,

“Any news, Ma?” he asked, and smiled at her encouragingly.

She had decided to open the first letter, the one with the feminine handwriting, and after scanning it quickly she shook her head,

“It’s from Esme Watson, a friend I had in Baton Rouge. She just says she had heard that Madame de Marigney had died several years ago. She had met Clayton, several times, over the years but some time before Madame’s death there was a big quarrel and he left them, left New Orleans. No one has seen or heard from him since.” and she sighed heavily and let her hand drop, the letter still between her fingers.

“Well, at least it was good news mostly,” Joe said optimistically, “The old woman’s dead, and he had the sense to leave there before she died. So you know that he grew to manhood at least.”

She smiled at him, Joe was good at raising her spirits and she conceded that yes, it had been good news from that point of view. Now she opened the other letter and quickly read through it, a small furrow creased her brow,

“This is from Mr Sean Haslam, who worked as Madame’s attorney for some years. He writes to say that my husband’s parents were now both dead. Their estate and possessions has passed to Jean’s cousin, Henry, as next of kin due to the grandson being estranged for some years from the family. He has never returned to New Orleans, having left four years ago. He also says that no one appears to have seen or heard from him since his departure, which was not harmonious. Pompous old windbag.”

“Tut,tut,” Adam said and shook his head at her, although he smiled and his eyes were twinkling.

“Hey, says here I could get a new hand stitched saddle with a $4 discount.” Hoss exclaimed and then he wet his thumb and turned over another page.

Marie remained seated,, looking down at her letters. She had to admit that they did at least bear some positive news, that four years ago Clay was well, alive, and separated from the de Marigny influence. But the question remained, where was he?

“I can see you are really eager to know what I have here,” Adam said in a deep drawl, and he waved his letter for them to pay attention.

Joe broke free from his reverie of the pretty girl he had just met, and Hoss looked from the catalogue with the ‘this had better be important’ look on his face, while Marie turned to him with a hopeful expression in her eyes.

“It’s from Judge Warden, an old friend of Pa’s in New Orleans. He says much the same about the de Marigney’s, both being dead now and that Clayton Stafford de Marigney was now estranged from them. He had felt so strongly about whatever the argument was about, that he changed his name to Clay Stafford. Four years ago he left New Orleans. He was last know to be travelling to Texas.” he pursed his lips thoughtfully, “That was about 8 months ago.”

“Eight months ago?” Marie breathed, and clasped her hands together in delight. Adam watched her thoughtfully, and smiled, happy at seeing her happy, but wondering, anxiously, just how this was all going to turn out.

Joe felt his stomach lurch over and tighten into a knot in his gut. Suddenly the reality of what this was about had hit him with the force of a hammer. Somewhere he had another brother, someone with the exactly the same claims on him, by blood, as Adam and Hoss. He looked from one to the other and wondered if they realised the importance of this to him, to them.

“Texas?” he breathed and got to his feet as though in a dream. “Do you realise something?” he drew in his breath and looked at Marie, “I have a brother in Texas. Ma? I think I should go, don’t you?”

“Hey, hold on there, buddy.” Adam said slowly, reaching out a hand as though to steady the boy and slow him down, “Texas isn’t exactly a hop, skip and jump from here, you know? It’s a big state, and you’re not going to know his exact location, you don’t even know what he looks like, or what he has been doing. Before you go haring off making wild ideas, you need to consider the matter more carefully.”

“It’s alright for you to say, Adam, he’s not your brother.”Joe replied sharply.

There was a sudden silence, one of those which is referred to in books as profound. Adam shrugged and Hoss scowled, Marie put a hand on her son’s arm,

“Joe, Adam is right, you need to slow down and think this whole thing out sensibly.” she smiled at him reassuringly, and then turned to Adam, “I’ll make us all a cup of coffee, and then we shall talk this over, all of us, and discuss what to do.”

Adam frowned slightly, and looked at his youngest brother. He saw the excited look in Joe’s eyes, and the patches of colour in his cheeks. This was one boy who was not going to take No for an answer very easily. While Marie made the coffee each one of the brothers settled down with their own thoughts. Hoss had abandoned the catalogue, and sat, leaning forwards with his elbows on his knees and his chin resting in the cup of his clasped hands. Joe paced the floor, went to a desk and pulled out maps, maps that were out of date all ready because the territory was changing rapidly along with America’s history. He unrolled them, finding one of Texas which he smoothed out and pegged down with various objects. No, he was not going to accept any negative comments about whether or not he was going to Texas. His mind was made up, and Joseph Cartwright usually got what he wanted when he was that determined.

Chapter 53
The tension seemed to increase during the day. They had checked over the maps, measured distances,assumed locations but were no nearer to finding the ideal area where they would assume Clay to have gone. Hoss would reckon on one town, and Adam would put forward arguments as to why it couldn’t or wouldn’t be there. Joe would speculate on towns here, there and everywhere, but Adam would object to them all. It ended in Joe losing his temper and accusing Adam of not really wanting them to find Clay.

“That’s not the point at all, Joe. The situation is not one we can just rashly jump into, we can’t just saddle up and ride off to where ever you think is best because …”

“Because?” Joe stood up, his mouth tight, and eyes blazing.

“Because it’s winter coming on, and a lot more things to consider besides.”

“Such as?”

“Such as we don’t know Clay. We don’t know what he likes, what kind of work he would be undertaking. He could be keen on engineering, for example, and go to the towns where the railroads are setting up and get work with them. He could be interested in farming, or ranching, or … or anything. We haven’t really got a handle on the guy , so it makes it harder to get into his mind and work out for what part of Texas he would be heading. Also it was eight months ago, take into account Judge Wardens letter took some time getting here, add it together and you may have about a year. Clay could be well gone by now.”

“You’re saying it’s a useless exercise, then?” it was Marie this time, and she looked at her boys and sighed, and shook her head, “You’re right. Joe, Adam’s right. Let’s just put the maps to one side and leave things as they are.”

Joe scowled, and looked at his mother fondly, then he looked up and saw the look of satisfaction that Adam had allowed to show on his face. Momentary perhaps, but sufficient long enough for Joe to spot it.

“You don’t want Clay here, do you?” he said sullenly, and tossed the pen down on the desk, “Well, I’ll tell you something, Adam Cartwright, if Pa were here he’d give Clay a fair chance, and welcome him into the family too.”

Adam bit his lip, and shook his head, he looked from Marie to Joe to Hoss, and sighed,

“Look, Joe, if Clay were here we would all welcome him into the family, if that was what he wanted. You know that, surely?” he looked at Joe in appeal, but Joe did not look up, and so Adam just shook his head again and shrugged, “Clay could be anywhere. Anywhere at all. I’ll write to Judge Warden again. Better still, I’ll send him a cable and ask if he has heard anything more recent.”

“I think that’s a good idea, Adam,” Marie said in the tones of a mother who has had enough of the squabbling between her children and will say anything to keep things peaceable, “Then we may find out more exactly where he is now.”

Joe looked at Hoss, who had remained reasonably quiet throughout the discussion, he raised dark eyebrows

“Well, Hoss, what have you to say for yourself? Any suggestions? Any ideas?”

“No, I reckon what Adam said to be pretty sensible. I – huh – I think if Clay wanted to get to know us he would be here by now after all, 4 years is a long time.”

“He may not know we exist.” Joe said immediately, assuming that his new half brother would have exhibited the same amount of enthusiasm to find them as he himself felt about finding him.

“He may know, and not want to bother.” Aam said quietly, getting to his feet and reaching for the stick he still needed to lean upon to get about, “After all, we don’t know what lies he’s been told about what happened to him at his birth.”

“You always have to do it, don’t you?” Joe snapped, his temper now frayed beyond the limits he set himself, “You always have to chip in with something negative in a situation.”

“I do not, Joe.” Adam’s black brows beetled across his brow, and his brown eyes showed the light of frustration and anger close to the limits HE set himself, “I just prefer to look at things more logically, especially in cases like this.”

“In cases like this? What does that mean?”

Adam looked at his youngest brother and shook his head. He knew another word and he would no doubt lose his temper. Were that to happen there would be a full scale argument between them and Marie would be the one to have been caused the extra distress. He looked at her now, and she, recognising the plea, stepped in
“Look, I think we have discussed this subject long enough.” she said quietly, “Let’s just put everything away and go and eat. Hop Sing’s cooked something special from the smell of things.”

“Momma, this subject happens to be about your son,” Joe said very quietly, “And I don’t want to stop discussing it until the matter’s resolved.”

“It already has been,” Adam walked away from the desk, leaning heavily on his stick, “It’s just that you’re too pig headed to realise it.”

It was the worse thing to do and say to Joe, for he was at Adam’s side before Adam had had time to reach the table,

“It’s not a case of being pig headed and you know it, Adam.” his voice was raised to shouting level, “it’s a case of my brother coming home.”

“If your brother wants to come home, Little Joe, he’ll get here.” Adam pushed his brother’s hand from his arm, gently but firmly, “Now, leave it be. We can’t do more than we can at this time. I’ll send the cable to Warden tomorrow morning.”

“Joseph,” Marie said, slipping her arm through her sons, “Calm down, and come and have your supper. Please.”

Joe took a long, quivering breath, and without a word walked with her to the table. All the excitement and thrill of the adventure had gone out of him. He felt dejected and miserable, all thanks to his brother, Adam.

Chapter 53
The meal was eaten in sullen discomfort despite Marie’s attempts to lighten the mood. Joe had a mercurial temper, it could come down as quickly as it went up. But this evening he brooded over everything that had been said and felt a tightness in his chest that made eating difficult.

The rain continued to last at the windows, and splatters of wet black soot came down the chimney and speckled the hearth. Marie pulled across the blinds to cut out the draughts and the sounds of the storm, and looked at the three of them.

Adam was making a pretence of reading, but she could see he had not turned over a single page, and every so often his eyes would turn to his youngest brother. Yes, she thought, you are worried now about Joe, you want to get inside his head and turn everything round to make things right for him as well as yourself. Unfortunately, the problem is in his heart. He feels the yearning and the curiosity of the lost brother he never knew he had until recently. Oh Adam, you would have to go far back into the past to never have had this happen.

She looked next at Hoss, who had put aside his catalogue and was just sitting with his arms folded, his eyes half closed, looking into the flames of the fire. What, Marie wondered, are you thinking about, dear Hoss. You are as open as a book, but at times you know how to conceal yourself deep down, even from me. Dear Hoss, are you already feeling as though you are caught up in a very difficult tug of war and wondering how to get out of it?
Joe was cleaning his pistol, and doing the job slowly. His brow was creased as though in deep thought, and Marie knew that her boy was troubled, wishing he could make everything right with Hoss and Adam, but at the same time wishing that they would make the first move. His insecurities were well known to the mother who loved him, and she wished that she could take him in her arms and ‘kiss it all better’ as she could have done not so many years ago.

Poor Joe. He was still so young and with so much growing up still ahead of him. Marie sighed and stood up,

“I’m tired, so if you’ll excuse me…” she looked at them all in turn, and received a smile from each of them.

“Good night, Ma, sleep well.” Adam said, with his customary smile and his dark eyes reassuring and yet, somehow distracted.

“G’night, mom,” Hoss smiled and got to his feet, put his arm about her and gave her his habitual good night kiss.

“Goodnight, Ma,” Joe said softly, and looked at her, his hazel eyes wide in appeal. Oh, if only Ma could turn back the clock and we had all never heard of Clay Stafford, he thought. “See you in the morning, huh?”

She nodded, smiled, and mounted the stairs. When the door closed behind her with a soft click, the three men sat in an uncomfortable silence for some minutes. Hoss wriggled about a little, as though the chair had become suddenly very hard and causing him some grief, he glanced at them both, one at a time, and cleared his throat,

“Anyone for a game of checkers?”

“No, thanks, Hoss.” Adam muttered, and looked over at Joe who shook his head and likewise declined to play. Hoss sighed deeply and rubbed his hands together,

“That storm sure could be causing some grief out thar. Reckon there’ll be some flash floods. Hope the bridge over Mullers Creek don’t bust like it did last year.”

“I doubt it will,” Joe muttered, applying more elbow grease into the task of cleaning the pistol.

“Joe?” Adam put the book down on the table, “I’m sorry I called you pig headed earlier. That wasn’t fair of me.”

“No, well…” Joe shrugged. Having now got what he wanted, an apology from his brother, he was wishing that he had been the first to make the peaceable move. He frowned, “I don’t think you understand how I feel though, Adam. I know everything you said was logical and right, I ain’t stupid. It’s just that, well, time moves so slowly and I want to find him. Wouldn’t you be curious as to what your brother was like if you heard that there was one out there somewhere?”

“Of course I would, but after all this time not knowing he existed, Joe, being patient just a while longer, won’t make much difference to him, or us, will it?”

Joe looked at Adam’s earnest face, the depth of caring in the dark eyes. For years Adam had been Joe’s ‘other’ Pa, shielding him from harm, protecting him wherever and whenever he could, commending and praising him for the good he did, and teaching him all that he could. Now it seemed there was a kind of, well, Joe wondered, perhaps it was lack of confidence? He shook his head, no, surely Adam would never suffer from that.

“Yeah, well, thanks anyway,” Joe replied gruffly and put the pistol and workings away. He stood up, “I’m going to turn in. If this weather carries on this bad, there’ll be a lot to do tomorrow.”

“Sure, good night then, Joe.”

“Goodnight, Adam, Hoss.”

They watched him disappear into the shadows of the landing and looked at one another. Hoss shook his head glumly,

“Things could change around here.” he muttered.

“Mmm, perhaps they already have,” Adam sighed.

“How’d you mean?” Hoss’ brow furrowed and he looked at his brother anxiously.

“I don’t know, I can’t explain it. It’s just a feeling I have.” Adam leaned back and picked up his book.


Joe pushed open his mother’s door and peeked inside. He smiled at seeing her sitting in the chair, reading a book by the lamplight close to her bed.

“I didn’t think you’d be asleep.” he said, his smile broadening as he drew nearer and sat down on the side of the bed.

“I didn’t want to stay downstairs with you all angry with one another.” she replied, “Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say when three grown men are acting like children. When you were little I could give you a good spanking, all of you, even Hoss.” she smiled and leaned forward a little to ruffle his hair.

“Ma, can I ask you something?” Joe looked at her earnestly, his hazel eyes deep and dark in the shadows of the evening.

“Of course, Joe, anything.”

“What was he like? Clay, I mean.”

She looked at him, surprised, and then shook her head and turned away, looked in another direction and tried to recapture the little face with the dark hair and blue eyes.

“Joe, you have to remember he was only a newborn baby, a few weeks old. He looked … well, like most newborns I suppose. Lots of dark hair, smokey blue eyes. I thought when you were born how like Clay you were, so perhaps, now that he is a man, he would resemble you a little.” she smiled softly, and looked at him, as he stared so pensively into her face, “Of course, Ben thought you looked like Adam, when he was born, so I suppose we only see what we want to see in our little ones. Perhaps to be honest, he was just a tiny red faced scrunched up little baby.” and she continued to smile, although her eyes had turned inwards to where she could see once again the joy on Jean’s face as he held his son in his arms.

“Would you be happy if he came home, I mean, here, to the Ponderosa?” he put out a tentative hand to rest lightly upon hers, and, as he had expected, her free hand came to caress his own.

“Of course I would be happy, Joe. But Adam’s right. We now nothing of him at all. What if he were wanted by the law, for example? What if he were a liar or a cheat?”

“But he’d still be your son.” he reminded her gently.

“Yes. But, Joe, you have to remember, he is also a stranger.”

He lowered his eyes and said nothing. Then he smiled and released her hand, stood up and leaned over, and kissed her cheek.

“Goodnight, momma.” he whispered.

She smiled at him, and nodded “Goodnight, my son.” she replied.

Chapter 54

Chapter 41
“Adam. Adam. Wake up.”

The young man mumbled something beneath his breath and then, with a struggle, opened his eyes. He blinked rapidly, then realised that Marie was standing over him, a candle flickering in its holder, and her face a strange pallor despite the shadows cast by the flame.

“Ma? Are you alright?” he mumbled, trying to get his tongue to function. For some reason it felt as though a dog had slept in his mouth.

“It’s Joe. He’s gone.” she whispered.

“Gone! What do you mean – gone? Gone where?” he sat up then, throwing off the covers in alarm. Then he grew even more alarmed at the sight of her standing before him fully clothed. “You’re dressed?”

“So is Hoss.” she whispered, her eyes looking strangely myopic in the flickering light, “I woke up about an hour ago, and went to see if Joe was alright,” she paused as a crash of thunder rumbled across the rooftop, “but his bed had not been slept in. Food is missing from the larder. I got Hoss to help look for him, while I dressed.”

“Why didn’t you get me up sooner, Ma? I didn’t even hear you,” Adam’s voice trailed away, and he shook his head, “I didn’t even hear Joe.”

“None of us did. I think he thought the noise of the storm would cover any sound he made. Hoss checked the stables, and Cochise’s stall is empty Adam, I think he’s gone looking for Clay.”

“I can guarantee you that he’s gone looking for Clay. That fool kid -.” Adam shook his head, and then looked at her again, “You should have woken me. I can’t understand why I didn’t hear all this going on.”

She shook her head and smiled gently, placing a hand upon his shoulder she sighed, “You’ve been ill, Adam. You have to be patient with yourself.”

“I’m not ill now, Ma.”

“No, of course not.” she replied, and stepped back to give him room to manuovre himself out of bed and reach for his clothes, “But, Adam, think about it … you used to be such a light sleeper no one could pass your door without disturbing you. Now you sleep so heavily nothing disturbs you. Don’t you realise that you have been trying to prove to us all how well you are that you are exhausted?”

“I’m not,” he replied angrily, and pulled on his pants hurriedly, “Things have to be done; pass me my shirt, will you, Ma?”

He pulled on the shirt, buttoning it quickly, fumbling as his fingers proved to be thumbs in his attempt to prove himself as able as anyone else there. He bit his lip, chewed on it, angry with himself, with Joe, and with David Carter for letting Marie’s secret spill out into their ordered family life. He paused when her hand once again touched his arm,

“Adam, why not stay here? Hoss and I can go and look for him. He can’t have got too far in this weather.”

“I am not an invalid, Ma, and don’t patronise me.” he snapped angrily.

“I wasn’t,” she replied with a sigh, “It just makes sense for someone to stay here, in case he circles back, and we miss him.”

“In which case it would be a good idea for his mother to be the one waiting at home for him,” Adam retorted, pulling on his boots and feeling frustration well up over him.“Where’s Hoss?”

“In the stables, saddling my horse.”

“Really? I’m surprised you even bothered to get me up,” Adam scowled, and stood up, fully dressed and ready to go.

Marie bit back the retort that came too quickly to her lips. She just shook her head, and held out the walking stick. When he pushed her hand aside, she was not surprised. Adam was a man with a lot of pride, and she realised from the set look on his face now that she had just bruised it deeply.

She walked ahead of him, knowing that were she to walk behind him, and have to wait for him to limp along the landing and down the stairs would only add to his frustrations, to his feeling so obviously an invalid. Doc Martin had been pleased with Adam’s progress but it was slower than Adam wanted it to be and this whole situation now emphasised just how frustrated he was about it.

He pulled his yellow coat from the hook and shrugged himself into it, then buckled on his gunbelt. Without a word to Marie he left the house, stood on the porch, steadied himself, and walked, remarkably straight backed, to the house.

The rain sluiced down. Lightning flashed across the sky illuminating the yard in amazing pyrotechnics of colour. Thunder rolled and crashed as though in a continuous angry growl. But he walked on as though oblivious to it all.

‘It’s my fault. Joe, you stupid, crazy kid. I should have tried to understand how you felt more, instead of sounding off at you. Joe, you idiot. You could get yourself killed going off on a night like this. What are you thinking of, Joe?”

Marie had pulled on a slicker over her clothing and was now walking in long strides across the mud strewn yard. Her mind was tormented with anxiety for Joe, worry for Adam. Why couldn’t he see that whatever she did was for his good, because she loved him, because he was Ben’s son, and in many ways, so like his father. She said nothing as she stepped into the stables, and saw Hoss, exchanged glances, and nodded.

“You alright, Adam?” Hoss asked, looking at his brother with concerned eyes. “Are you sure that -.”

“I’m sure,” Adam replied, and strode over to Sport’s stall and began to turn the horse about to get him saddled.

“Here, I’ll give you a hand.”

“I don’t need you to give me a hand, Hoss. I know how to saddle my own horse by now.” Adam snapped.

Hoss said nothing, but walked over to Chubb, pulled on a slicker and waited patiently for Adam to mount up. He watched his brother carefully, knowing that the brusque manner in which Adam had spoken to him was not due to any lack of respect for him, but because he was afraid for Joe, worried about his own abilities perhaps, and even feeling responsible. Hoss nodded, yep, Adam would be feeling responsible all right. He’d been feeling that way ever since Inger had died and he had taken on the care of his baby brother. So? Why change the habit of a life time?

Together the three of them rode out of the yard. The mud splattered around their horses’ hooves and kicked up the soil in the yard. The lightning played a ballet in the sky but they ignored it. They just wanted to find Joe, their Joe, and make sure he came home safely.

Chapter 53

Alright, so it was stupid. Irresponsible. Call it what you like, and Joe called it all manner of things under his breath as he urged Cochise to ride as fast as he could through the storm. Bent low over his horses neck, whispering encouraging words, constantly willing it to go faster, Joe could only hope that the storm would abate sooner rather than later.

It had been a good idea at the time. Like many, oh so many, of Joe’s pranks in his life, they had always seemed good ideas at the time. Impulsive, impetuous, highly strung by temperament; rash and thoughtless at times due to the manner of youth. Joe was all of these things. He was barely 18 years old and when he got an idea into his head, that seemed so good at the time, it was a dickens of a job to get rid of it.

He had thought the storm would cover any noise that he would have made leaving the ranch house. Not even Hop Sing would have been disturbed. He had anticipated that the storm would end, quickly, once he was under way on his journey. The fact that it did not, but did quite the opposite in that it increased in its intensity, only made him more determined to see the adventure through to the very end.

Ducking to avoid a low lying branch he asked himself why? Then he wondered why he hadn’t asked that of himself earlier, when he was still in bed for instance. Because he loved his mother. That was the main reason. He loved Marie, because he knew that many of the qualities, and faults, that were hers, were also his own. Whereas his father had gone from his life, his mother was still there very much a part of it. Seeing her hurt, or distressed, caused him hurt and distress.

Cochise stumbled on the wet treacle of mud that sucked at his hooves. With a steady, strong hand Joe managed to keep his saddle and by a confident pull on the reins led Cochise out of the problem. They continued onwards.

To be honest, Joe told himself, it was not just Marie. It was himself. He wanted to prove something to himself. That he was a man? Well, he proved that almost every day in one way or another. He could ride a horse into the ground pretty much better than anyone on the ranch. He was not afraid to face a man down in an argument either, whether with fists or a gun. No, it was not that, not really. Perhaps he just wanted to satisfy his curiosity. He chewed on his bottom lip much as his eldest brother would do, and thought over this aspect of reasoning on the situation.

He had another brother. Son of Marie. He would be different from Adam, and Hoss. But in what ways?

Joe grabbed at his hat which was a limp mess around his ears and doing little to protect him from the driving rain. He guided Cochise onto higher land, towards a cabin that could provide them with shelter and warmth for a few hours before he continued with his journey.

It wasn’t even that reason, he told himself. It was really because he wanted to prove a point, and to get what he wanted. That was the crux of it all. He wanted to be able to say, ‘I’ve found him.’ and then present him to his mother, their mother. He swallowed a lump in his throat at the thought. What a splendid end to the adventure, he thought. It would be perfect, just perfect. His mother would be pleased, Clay would be – well – whatever, Adam and Hoss would be proud of him. Yes, that was it. That was exactly it.

Then the lightning zipped through the air and illuminated the land about him, and for a few seconds he was just a black silhouette against a purpling sky slashed by pure white light.

Cochise reared. Pawed frantically in the air, and his hind legs slithered and slipped in the mud. Joe wrenched at the reins, struggled to keep in the saddle. Lightning seared the sky. He could hear the sound of it, the hissing sound of scolding heat scudding through the wet air. Then he felt himself falling. He put out a hand, felt wet mud, twisted to avoid the obvious, and landed flat on his back. The wind was knocked out of him, and he struggled to keep from passing out. But there was little point, nature had the knack of getting her own way, even with obstinate heroes like Joseph Cartwright.


The weather proved itself an ally to them that night as they galloped through the constantly changing light and darkness about them. As though aware of the importance of this ride, the three horses stretched themselves out to the limit, and exercised an uncanny awareness of any fault or danger that could have sent them cascading to the ground.

Not one of the three riders really knew where they were heading. There was no possible chance of getting tracks, they knew that it would have been easier and wiser to have waited, but who was to know how long the storm would last, and what prints would be found then?

‘Hopeless, hopeless, it’s all quite hopeless,” Marie lamented, and yet she could not possibly have turned her horse around and returned home. It didn’t matter that Joe was a young man now, to her, he was her little boy, and he was out there, on his own.

“I should have been more careful. If anything happens to him tonight I’ll never forgive myself. Marie will never forgive me. How could I ever explain this to Pa?” Adam admonished himself over and over as he felt the cold rain penetrate his clothes and the pain in his back reminded himself that he was a fool to have ventured out. But he could not possibly turn his horse around and return home. Whatever happened, he had to find Joe.

“Drat the kid,” Hoss groaned, “Where’s the sense in all this! I swear he has no more brains than those he was born with, and I’ll tan the hide off’n him when I get my hands on him.” He shivered as the cold seeped into his bones. But he would not dream of turning his horse around and returning home. If anyone was going to find the boy, it would be him.

Sheet lightning blistered the air about them, and their horses paused in mid-stride, startled, afraid. In that split second of indecision on their part, Hoss saw a familiar shape riding towards them.

“Over there,” he yelled and turned Chubb’s head towards Cochise, catching at the flailing reins as the horse went to speed on by him.

It took less than ten minutes more to find Joe. He was flat on his back, his arms flung out on either side of him and the rain streaming down upon his. All three of them slid from their saddles and slithered through the mud to reach his side. Adam ran his hands over the boys body to assure himself that there were no broken bones. Hoss raised Joe’s head out of the mud. Marie took hold of one of his hands and rubbed it as though by doing so she would impart life back into it (that is, if it had departed from him, which it had not).

Joe shivered, and blinked open his eyes. He looked from one anxious face to the other, and sighed. So, after all that, this was going to be the end of the adventure. Just how humiliating could it be?

“Hi, Ma,” he croaked, as the rain poured down his face, streamed into his eyes. He looked at his brothers, and then looked back at his mother,”Guess you’re mad at me, huh?”

“Mad at you?” Marie said in the tone of voice that boded ill for her off spring when they returned home, “Joseph, this is the most stupid stupid thing I have ever known you do in all your life. How could you? How could you be so thoughtless, so stupid!”

“Ma, I know how it looks,” Joe tried to struggle to his feet, slipped on the mud, and fell back onto his rear, “But I left you a note to explain.”

Marie looked at Adam who shrugged, then at Hoss who shook his head,

“Get up,” she hissed, “Get up this instance and get back home. Go on. Get up.” and to help him on his way she gave him a resounding slap, “How dare you do this to me, Joe, How dare you.”

Thunder rumbled further in the distance. The storm was moving away at last. Joe sighed, searched for his hat, which was a limp mess in a puddle, and picked it up. It seemed to him that he was about to face an even worst storm when he reached home.

They made their way back up the slope to where the horses stood, patiently waiting for them all. Marie gave her son a blazingly hot glare as she mounted and sat in the accumulation of water in the saddle, her lips thinned, but before she could say a word Joe gave her one of his smiles, his eyebrows twitched,

“Ma, did Pa ever tell you that you’re beautiful when you’re angry?” he said as he mounted into the saddle and headed back towards home.

Chapter 56
Adam rode into Virginia City just as the town was opening up. Stores fronts were getting their goods displayed on the sidewalks to entice the customer to enter the premises for further bargains. Children were hurrying to school and the sound of the bell clamoured loudly above the general din and noise of a busy township.

Those that knew him greeted him with a wave of a hand, tilt of the hat, or a cheery ‘Howdy’ or ‘Morning’. As he rode towards the telegraph depot Adam smiled to himself. If Pa could just see the place now, he mused, he would be so pleased with himself, after all, he had settled on the Ponderosa knowing that the territory would open up, and it had indeed done just so.

He sat in the saddle a moment to ease the pain in his back , and then slowly dismounted. He was grateful that he could lean against the counter to write out the message on the form Eddy pushed over to him. After checking it through carefully, Eddy nodded,

“I’ll send this right away, Adam.”

Adam listened to the message being tapped across the wires and thoughtfully wondered if there would ever be a day when people would actually be able to speak to others thousands of miles away. What, he pondered, would it need to enable such a thing to happen? Realising that there was little point in waiting for a reply, which could possibly never come anyway, he paid for the message and left the building.

He was tiring quickly, far more quickly that he had anticipated. The ride in the storm the previous night had obviously had a very negative effect on his body, and he knew that coming in this morning would have compounded the problems. But what, he thought, could one do when Joe was so determined to find his brother that he would risk life and limb during a storm to find him? Adam had made a promise to send that telegram, and so the promise had to be fulfilled.

He slipped into Roy’s office and found the sheriff about to have some coffee. A look of delight came over Roy’s face when he saw Adam, and he promptly pulled out another mug which he filled with the thick brown liquid. It smelt good, but Adam knew from experience that it would taste foul. One taste proved him to be correct.

But it was good to be able to sit down and rest for a while. He listened to Roy talking about various problems in town that had to be dealt with, and answered the questions that had to answered. He cradled the mug in his hands as though every moment doing so was precious. A deputy came in and put down a large brown envelope and some others on Roy’s desk.

“Don’t mind me, Roy, go ahead and open your mail.” Adam said, feeling rather heavy eyed from lack of sleep.

Roy grinned, and ripped open the envelopes. He put on his spectacles and began to read the letters in a low mumble. One was thrown into the trash bin, the other was handed over to the deputy to be filed under the relevant name. The large brown envelope was full of freshly printed Wanted posters. Two posters per man. To be strategically placed where the public could see them, and thereby protected. Roy sighed and flicked through some of them, before putting them to one side.

“Well, Adam, as I was saying -” he paused as the door opened and Erick Higgins appeared, his hat in his hand and blood streaming down his face from a large gash in his head, “What happened to you, Higgins?”

“Fight over at the Sazarac, Roy. You’d better come and get it sorted before they kill one another.”

“Comin‘, Adam?” Roy asked, getting to his feet and slipping the spectacles into his shirt pocket.

“In a moment, Roy. I’m sure you can deal with it.” Adam smiled at the sheriff as sincerely as possible, knowing that Roy would be instantly suspicious and conjecture to himself that Adam Cartwright had either gone soft or was ill. Adam wasn’t actually too sure which category he fell into just at that moment, he felt too tired to really care.

He looked at the posters thoughtfully. It wouldn’t hurt to while away the hour just to look through them. He might even recognise someone! He smiled to himself and pulled the sheaf of posters towards him. Faces of all shapes and sizes passed under his eyes. Some with odd names like Black Eyed Jack. Two women with prices on their heads, one of them wanted for murder. Then there was the one that made him spill his coffee, the one that bore the name ’CLAYTON DE MARIGNEY

Adam stared at the picture of the man, badly sketched and looking oddly out of proportion, who was, could possibly be, the half brother of Joe. Could such co-incidences happen? Was it possible that he had come across this poster with the details that would be so useful to them. And to be wanted for murder? He looked through the particulars given and then,, looking quickly up at the clock and knowing that Roy would soon be back, he folded both posters in half and slipped them into his coat pocket.

He left the office almost immediately after that and walked to his horse. He was about to mount into the saddle when he heard a familiar voice,

“Hi, Adam, did you get the cable posted?”

Hoss stood on the sidewalk with his pleasant face wearing a wide smile, and if he looked concerned for his brother, he did not show it. He approached Adam quickly,

“There’s been a fight at the Sazarac, so how about a pint at the Bucket of Blood?” Hoss suggested.

“Sure, Hoss, a good idea.” Adam replied and took a deep breath. This meant crossing the street and walking a whole length of the sidewalk, he could feel the sweat breaking out of his pores just at the thought.

He slumped thankfully into the chair while Hoss ordered the drinks and then carried them over to the table.

“Had some errand to do for Ma, “ Hoss explained with a twinkle in his eyes. “Thought I’d meet up with you here. So you sent the cable off then?”

“Yeah, but -” Adam pulled the posters from his pocket and carefully opened one, “I came across this in Roy’s office.”

“Odd looking guy, ain’t he?” Hoss muttered, dripping beer from his glass onto the picture.

“It’s only an artists impression, Hoss, they just hope that you’ll meet up with someone who vaguely looks like it. Look at the name, Hoss. Don’t you think it’s something of a co-incidence?”

Hoss looked at the name and read the details, then he shook his head, and leaned back in the chair, his face slightly perplexed.

“This ain’t good news, Adam. Wanted for murder, huh?”

“The good news is that he isn’t using that name now, but, as you say, it isn’t good news knowing he’s committed murder.”

“Ma ain’t gonna like it any,” Hoss sighed, “Don’t know about Joe, though. He seems pretty set in getting to find his brother.”

“That’s a problem we’ll just have to ride over somehow,” Adam sighed, and he picked up his beer, and swallowed half of the glass’s contents. “Well, at least we know something about him now.” he carefully refolded the poster and slipped it back in his pocket. “To be warned is to be forarmed.”

“Yeah,” Hoss agreed but he didn’t seem to sound too sure about it.

Chapter 57

Eddy caught up with the Cartwright brothers as they were about to mount up and return home. Hoss had not told Adam what the errand for Ma had been, and Adam had not asked him. They knew each other too well, but a little pretence went a long way in avoiding unnecessary hurt pride. Adam accepted the cable and read it through in silence, and then passed it to Hoss.

“Hey, handsome!”

Both of them turned towards the voice and saw a young woman walking towards them. She had a mass of copper gold hair in a froth of curls bouncing upon her shoulders, and her skirts swished about her thighs as she walked. Hoss gulped and his eyes bulged a little, until Adam dug him quickly in the ribs.

“Ma’am!” Adam replied. “Miss!” Hoss said.

“Someone said you were Little Joe’s brothers.” she smiled at them both, and winked at Hoss who blushed a little but not much, which made her smile even more confident.

“Correct. Adam Cartwright, and Hoss.” Adam indicated Hoss with a jerk of his thumb, and smiled, “And you are?”

“You mean Little Joe never mentioned me? Shame on him, after the way he tumbled into my room I would have thought for sure he would have remembered me.”

“We’ve had a lot going on back home, miss” Hoss said pulling his hat from his head very quickly,and smiling widely.

“Our little brother has been very busy. I’m sure he hasn’t forgotten you at all, Miss, just forgot to mention you to us, that’s all.” Adam purred in a voice like warm creamy chocolate.

“Well, I’m Joy Marsden, Charleys daughter. Just remind your little brother that I’m waiting for another visit from him, will you?” and she smiled at them both, young an confident and with that eagerness to grab at life that the very young only possess.

Both of them nodded dumbly and then watched her walk back to the saloon. Adam had his head to one side and watched her with a dreamy expression on his face, while Hoss just stared in evident appreciation.

“Say,Adam, that is one purty little gal.”

“Mm, she certainly is,” Adam smiled and then with a sigh turned Sports head round and began to ride out of town.

Minutes later they were cantering on the track home. They galloped over the area that had been the recipient of more blood from Adam’s body than had been good for him, and on out into open country. Neither of them spoke for some time. It was Hoss who broke the silence,

“What shall we tell Ma and Joe?”

“About Clay? Oh, I don’t know.” Adam frowned, and glanced at his brother, “What do you think?”

“I think you should have left those posters with Roy and just not looked. That way at least we could be riding home with some part of our mind at rest.” Hoss’s brow crinkled in thought, “I don’t think Ma’s going to be happy about it, that’s for sure.”

“Judge Wardens always been really reliable. He was a good friend to Pa.” Adam pulled a wry face, “I think we need to be honest enough with Ma to tell her what we know, then she can tell Joe.”

“That would be interesting,” Hoss said with a sigh, it was obviously going to be interesting but not amusing. Joe was too much like a coiled up spring ready to bounce in any direction bar the one they would most prefer.

“Well, it’s the honest thing to do, and at least she’ll be prepared should Clay ever walk into her life. It’s not easy for her, Hoss.” and having said that, Adam pulled down his hat to shade his eyes, and turned up the collar of his coat. The chill of the wind was no longer pleasant. Or was it someone walking over his grave?

Chapter 58

The young man bowed his head in respectful, reverent homage to the frail bones that had been laid to rest so many years previously. His thoughts, as were his feelings, were deep and numerous. His emotions were as taut as a quivering bow string but he remained dry eyed, and straight backed.

It had been kindly of the Chinese gentleman who had answered his knock on the door, to tell him where the grave was to be located. It would have been all too easy to have lost one’s way as the Cartwright territory was so vast. But the man, Hop Sing, had listened attentively to what he had asked, and then had very carefully described exactly where he could go to find the cairn. It had been made easier due to a faint track through the woodland, and the young man had been surprised and somewhat pleased to find a fresh nosegay of flowers on the gentle mound of grass.

So this was where his father had been buried. Clayton Stafford de Marigney stared down at the soft swelling, the colourful flowers (somewhat battered by the recent rain), and thought of the man he had never known. He was always being told about his father by his grand parents, and it had been explained to him that he had been buried in a land far, far away, even at an early age, so that he had spun a romantic fairy tale story around this loss, which somehow, had buffered the hurt.

About his mother he had been told nothing at all. As he grew older and personality traits became more obvious as his character developed his grand-mother would say ‘That’s just the way of your mother, we’ll have to beat it out of you, Clayton.’ and they did, beat him that is, whether or not it actually changed that particular quirk in his personality he never knew.

It was not surprising therefore that he grew up to think of his father as a romantic cavalier kind of person who, heart broken because of the terrible marriage he had been forced into, had wandered far and wide, and died in a far off place. It was less surprising to realise that he grew up thinking his mother had rejected him, and left him and his father because she was a wayward hussy. As he grew loving one, so he grew hating the other.

So, now, here he was, standing at his father’s graveside. He could not help but wonder who had left the flowers, who could care enough to do that simple act of kindness. He thought too of the Cartwright family who had taken the man in, and befriended him. A kindly act to a stranger. A generous act to bury him on family land.

He sighed. A long drawn out sigh. When he was twelve he was told, after asking too many impertinent questions, that his mother had died. Where was she buried he had wanted to know, but the answer had been a shrug of the shoulders and a trotting out of the old adage ‘Ask no questions, told no lies.’ Considering the number of lies he had grown up with, it was rather a futile cliché in that household.

He wanted to go now, but at the same time there was a peacefulness here under the trees, with the sun dappling the ground about them. He felt a restlessness wrestling with a desire for peace. And for a few more moments he remained where he was, hat in hand, head bowed, thinking of the man, and woman, whom he had never known … his parents.

Suddenly he raised his head and walked away, as though in that moment he could not bear to remain there a second longer. He replaced his hat upon his head and vaulted lightly into the saddle and galloped back along the faint track to the road that led to the Ponderosa.

It occurred to him as he rode along that, if he wanted to know about his father the best people to ask would be the Cartwrights. If not them, then maybe the Chinese gentleman, after all he had knowledge of the grave, so maybe the knowledge would extend to some specific personal information about the person IN the grave.

He rode along at a goodly pace, and reached that part of the yard belonging to the ranch house that contained the stables and barns. He was skirting around them when he saw two men at the hitching rail. One was a big man, with a tall hat, on a black horse, whereas the other was slimmer in build, wearing a black hat, yellow coat, riding a chestnut horse. As Clayton drew a halt to his horse, in order to watch the two men unobserved himself, the rider in the yellow coat, fell sideways from his horse onto the ground. He remained there, unmoving, as the other man dismounted and ran to his side, calling aloud “Ma. Joe. Ma.” as he ran.

Clay’s first impulse was to ride forward and to do what he could to help, but when the door opened and the Chinese man, a younger man and a woman ran from the house, he pushed the initial impulse down, and retreated, turned the horse around and quickly galloped away. Now, he knew, was not the time for strangers to intrude on what was obviously going to be a worrying time for the Cartwright family.

He had ridden for less than fifteen minutes back towards town when a rider appeared travelling at speed. Clay drew aside to allow the rider to pass him by, and then realised it was the big man with the tall hat riding towards him. He put out a hand and signalled for him to stop

“Can I help in any way?”

Hoss wrinkled his nose, as though the surprise of seeing him there, and nearly running him down, had affected his sense of smell.

“I’m on my way to town to get the doctor for my brother, Adam.”

“Then let me go in your place,” Clay offered, “My horse is fresher than yours, and you must prefer to be with your brother now if he is that ill.”

Hoss ran his tongue over his lips, and frowned, glanced over his shoulder as though he would derive inspiration from that quarter if he were to do so,

“Thank you, stranger. I’d sure appreciate it. Ask Doctor Martin to come to the Ponderosa right away. Adam’s ill.”

Clay nodded, turned his horse back towards town and urged it forwards, while Hoss turned Chubb around and put him at full gallop back to home.

Chapter 59

Adam was not too sure what had happened to him once he had ridden into the yard. He could remember slipping one foot from the stirrup ready to dismount when the pain he had been controlling all day suddenly seared through his body so that he involuntarily loosened his grip on the reins and his whole body felt clammy, heavy and then he blacked out.

He regained consciousness in his bed with Joe pulling off his pants, and Marie folding over his shirt. Everything was a blur and he could see that Joe was talking because the young man’s mouth was moving. He wondered for a fleeting moment if he were still wearing his boots. He saw Marie turn to look at him, and the look on her face made him want to call out to her that he was alright, but his mouth would not move. Rigor mortis, he thought immediately, then he remembered that he was still, as yet, alive.

“I think he’s coming round, Ma.” Joe whispered, casting the dark grey striped pants across the chair, “He opened his eyes.”

“Oh Joe, I wish Paul would hurry.” Marie replied, “I – I just don’t understand what could have happened.” she picked up the yellow coat and folded it slowly. It was only when she draped it carefully over one arm that she heard the crackling sound of paper and paused to look at the pockets. The folded posters protruded teasingly from the pocket and she looked over at Joe, who was busy now pulling the sheet up over his brother; and having ascertained that he was not looking in her direction, she pulled the papers out of the pocket.

“He must have been hurting, Ma. And it’s my fault. Oh I wish I could turn the clock back, but I didn’t expect it to all turn out as it did, honestly.”

“Shush, Joe.” Marie said, but not because she thought the sound of his voice would disturb Adam, it was because the sound of his voice was booming her head as though coming from a long way away, and she needed to concentrate, to think, and make sense of what she was reading.

“What is it, Ma?” Joe said quickly, seeing how pale she looked now, “What’s wrong?”

She shook her head, pushing the posters into the folds of Adams coat and draping it carefully on the chair. She looked at her son and shook her head again, but Joe, realising she was distressed came to her side and looked anxiously into her face,

“Ma? I’m sorry. I wouldn’t have wished this to happen to Adam, you know that, don’t you?”

“Of course, Joe. Adam would no more listen to me telling him to stay put than I would have done had he insisted I stayed home. I just wish …” she paused and sighed, “He’s been working too hard, Joe, that’s what it is, he’s just very tired.”

“Yeah, and going out chasing around the country in a storm last night really did him a whole lot of good, didn’t it? If anything happens to him, Ma, I’ll never forgive myself.”

“Nevers a long time, son.” she whispered and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. Both of them turned to look at the sick man in the bed, and she felt the urge to cry when she thought of what he had already suffered, and how hard he had tried not to give in to his injuries, “He’s just tired, Joe.” she said once again.

“I think I hear Hoss. He must have met up with Doc.” and turning upon his heels Joe darted out of the room.

No sooner had Joe closed the door behind him than Marie pulled out the papers from Adams coat and smoothed them out. Once again she read through what she had only previously glimpsed partially, and now she felt herself floundering as the room swirled about her. She put out a hand and steadied herself by leaning against the bureau, and took several deep breaths. She closed her eyes, several more deep breaths, surely, surely she had not read that Clayton was a murderer, surely it meant someone else. This was ridiculous, this was too cruel.

She could hear Hoss and Joe talking and their voices were approaching the bedroom. She folded the papers and pushed them into a drawer. Then she walked over to the side of the bed and stood, looking down at Adam.

“Adam? Don’t die, my boy, I need you here, I need you to live.” she cried urgently, but the man in the bed didn’t move.

“Ma, how is he?” Hoss cried as he hurried into the room, closely followed by Joe. “Is he alright?”

“I don’t know what’s wrong with him, Hoss. Where’s Paul? Isn’t the doctor with you?”

“No, Ma. I met someone on the road who said he would go for the doctor so that I could get back. “

“You what?” Joe cried in horror, “Are you plumb crazy, Hoss? How do you know the guy will get the doctor? How could you trust a total stranger like that.”

“I don’t know,” Hoss said quietly, approaching the bed, and looking down at Adam, “I guess it was because – well, because he didn’t seem like a stranger somehow. Anyway, I felt I could trust him.”

“But ..” Joe stuttered, his face reddening like a turkey cock

“That’s enough, Joe. I don’t want to discuss it no more.” Hoss said angrily, “I didn’t want to leave Adam in the first place. If you’re so dad burned all fired up to get the doc here then go and saddle up your horse and git moving.”

“Joe, go and ask Hop Sing to make us some coffee.” Marie said quietly, deciding to distract Joe by getting him to do something constructive. She watched him leave the room, sullen and slow footed, but he left and closed the door behind him. She looked at Hoss, “You know how he is, Hoss? He feels guilty about what has happened to Adam, and has to let off steam by being angry. He doesn’t mean it.”

“Sure, Ma, but I was scared about Adam and wanted to get back here.”

“Hoss, do you know anything about these?” Marie had walked over to the bureau and now pulled out the posters and showed them to Hoss, “I see that you do. Where did you get them?”

“Adam got them out of Roy’s office. They arrived in a batch today. He was going to show them to you when we got home.”

Marie nodded, and bowed her head. She read through the headings once again, and the name and then folded the papers carefully.

“Did Roy see them?”

“No, Ma, Adam said he was called away before he got to see them.”

She nodded and walked back to the bed, and looked down at Adam, “Why did he do that? Adam I mean? He could be accused of perverting the course of justice. Didn’t he realise that?”

“I dunno what all that means, Ma, but he did it for you, and Joe.”

“Really?” she sounded doubtful, unsure about that, and then nodded, “Yes, I can see that you’re right. And, Hoss, this stranger who has gone to get Dr Martin, what did he look like?”

“I didn’t really look too close, Ma. There was too much going on in my head. He was tall I guess, and dark haired from what I could see. Had a moustache.”

“Was he … handsome?” she asked softly, reaching out to stroke back a curl of dark hair that had fallen across Adam’s pallid brow.

“Shucks, Ma, as if I’d notice summat like that?” Hoss wrinkled his nose up in dismay, and frowned, “Wal, he weren’t plug ugly, I can safely say that.”

“Hoss, just before you came home,” Marie paused and listened, she could hear Joe coming up the stairs, “Hop Sing was telling me that there was a young man here. He wanted to know the location of Jean’s grave.”

“Jean? You mean your first husband’s grave?”

“Yes, that’s right. A tall, dark haired young man with a moustache wanted to see where Jean had been buried.” she put a hand to her heart to still its thumping, and wiped a tear that was making its way down her cheek, “I think Clay is in Virginia City, Hoss. I think he’s here.”

Chapter 60

The labyrinth stretched out ahead of him. It was dark and cold. When he reached out with his hand the side of the walls were wet and slick to the touch like slime. He had to walk on, push his way through the mess, the roots of trees that suddenly appeared as though to entangle him, the undergrowth that covered his feet and threatened to trip him up and smother him. It seemed as though the walls of the labyrinth were moving inwards, closing in on him. He felt sweat dew his brow,

“Pa?” he called out into the darkness, but the only ripple of sound that he heard was his own voice calling back to him “Pa?”

He had to be here somewhere. He had to be otherwise he might as well just sit down and let the walls close in on him and the undergrowth cover him over.

“Paul? How is he?” Marie stood up as the doctor came slowly down the stairs, his head bowed, and the medicine bag thumping against his legs, “Is he going to be alright?”

Joe and Hoss had risen to their feet, and Paul could feel their eyes boring into him. It seemed unfair to have them go through all this again. Unfair and cruel. He shook his head

“I’ll never understand Adam.” he said quietly, “He has to challenge everyone and for what? What is he trying to prove? I told him to rest, that he was a long way from being properly healed, so he gets up and starts to work, pushing himself all the time beyond the limit. I can heal the body but the mind -”

“Are you saying Adam’s crazy?” Hoss said in disbelief.

“No, nothing of the kind. But the mind is the key to the problem, and I’m afraid in Adam’s case, I don’t know what the key is to solve it. There’s something worrying him, deep down.” he paused, and looked at Marie, “Apart from that he has damaged his back badly. He must have rest, Marie, you must make him do as I tell him.”

“That’s easier said than done, “ Joe said with a quirk of a smile, “Trying to tell Adam anything is one thing, trying to get him to do what he’s told is something else.”

“Well, that little ride in the storm last night certainly didn’t do him any good,” Paul said quietly, casting Joe a stern look, “he has a chest infection, that will lower his resistance to fight off the pain in his back. The brain fever, it may subside in time, with rest and the medication I’ve left here for him. Marie, please keep him as warm as possible, plenty of drinks. He’s a very sick young man.”

“How sick?” Joe asked, his voice quavering as he looked into Paul’s face and saw the grave look in his eyes, “Doc, how sick? As bad as last time do you mean?” he looked at Hoss and his mother, “I mean, he got better after that, didn’t he? He’ll get better, won’t he, from this?”

“He got better to a certain extent, Joe. But he’s really knocked himself back to the beginning again now. It’s going to be a harder fight for him to recover this time.”

“It’s my fault, isn’t it?” Joe said softly, “That stupid idea of mine last night. Oh, Ma, I’m so sorry.”

“Adam didn’t have to go out in that storm, Joe,” Hoss said in his little brother’s defence, “He chose to go, just like Ma and I. Don’t blame yourself, there ain’t no need.”

“Yes,, there is, Hoss. Yes, there is.” and Joe turned away in self disgust, slumped down on the settee and buried his face in his hands.

“Send for me if you need me, Marie. I’ll call by tomorrow morning.” the doctor put his hand on Marie’s shoulder and looked into her face. The woman looked tired to the bone, and he wondered how much longer she would be able to endure this situation. He had felt sorry for her over the David Carter situation, and during Adam’s illness had grown to admire her once more for her stoicism and patience. Now he wondered how much longer she could manage things here.

She walked with him to the door, and as they stood on the porch she managed to say what she had been wondering could, or should, be said,

“Paul,, the young man who came to tell you about Adam?”

“What about him?” Paul asked as he put his bag into the back of the buggy, “He’s a stranger in town.”

“Yes, I gathered that, it’s just that -” she paused, “What kind of man was he?”

“He was young,” Paul replied, his hand on the handrail of the seat, “nice looking and polite.” He clambered onto the seat and gathered the reins in his hands, “He didn’t give me his name, I’m afraid. Just delivered the message and urged the importance of getting here as soon as possible.”

“Did he seem worried about anything at all?”

“Worried? No, not really. Concerned, possibly, about finding me and getting the message delivered. He looked satisfied when I said I would go right away.”

“Paul?” she stepped closer to the buggy and put a hand on the doctor’s arm, quite a strange action on her part for she preferred not to have too much physical contact with people, “Would you be so kind, should you see this young man again, to ask him to call by the Ponderosa? Tell him that Marie Cartwright would like to speak to him.”

“Mrs Cartwright would like to speak to him? Very well, I’ll tell him that if I see him again.” Paul smiled and then frowned as she shook her head,

“No, tell him Marie not Mrs, Marie Cartwright.”

Paul frowned, and looked at her anxious face and the wide eyes. Hereby hangs a mystery, he mused, but he nodded and smiled, and assured her that he would deliver her message, should he see the mysterious stranger again.

“Why do you want to see him, Ma?”

Marie jumped, startled at the voice from behind her, and turned to see Joe looking at her rather quizzically. She forced a smile and walked towards him, linked her arm through his,

“Because the least I can do is thank him for what he did for us, Joe.” she replied and looked at him thoughtfully, “Don’t punish yourself about what happened last night, Joe. It doesn’t help.”

“It makes me feel better, Ma. I can’t believe I could have been so selfish and stupid. You were right, I wasn’t thinking sensibly. It was true too, I did kinda have this crazy idea that the first place I walked into I’d find him there.”

“And what would you have done if you had, my dear? Invite him home for dinner, mm?” she spoke to him teasingly, hoping to bring back some humour to bring him out of the introspective mood he had slipped into, but it didn’t work, Joe merely shook his head and shrugged,.

“I’ll go and sit with him, Ma.” he said quietly and slipped his arm free from hers, and made his way to Adam’s room.

The labyrinth seemed to be breathing. He could hear the gasps of breath and the walls seemed to be moving in and out with each breath, like gigantic lungs. He could barely raise his feet high enough to clear the undergrowth that clutched at his feet. He had to press on and get to the end except that he couldn’t find where to turn in order to find the end. There were turnings everywhere. Left and right and onwards. He couldn’t stop moving now. He called out again,

“Pa? Where are you?”

A hand clutched at his, and held it tightly between their own. He struggled to release himself from the grasp, struggled hard.

“Let me go, let me go. I have to get to Pa.”

The words were whispered hoarsely from a parched throat. Perspiration pooled at his throat, and spiked his hair.

“Adam? It’s me. Joe.”

Adam stopped running through the labyrinth, and paused a moment. A voice floated through the darkness and echoed… Joe. Joe. Joe… it said. He waited to hear more but nothing was said. He frowned,

“Joe? Is that you?”

“Sure, Adam, it’s me. I – I just wanted to say how sorry I am for what happened last night. I was stupid. I didn’t think far enough ahead and the consequences of what I’d do. Adam, I was about to throw away everything I love, hurt you and Mom and Hoss for someone, a stranger, for nothing. I am – I’m sorry.”

Too many words that got jumbled up in Adam’s mind. The echoes whirled round and round in his head and made little if any sense at all.

“Adam? Did you hear me?” Joe whispered, leaning forward, closer to Adam’s face.

“Is Pa there?” Adam said softly, barely a breath that brushed across Joe’s face.

“No, Adam. He isn’t here.” Joe replied, taking hold of the cold hands of the sick man and holding them tightly in his own.


In her room Marie smoothed out the poster and stared at the picture of the man sketched there. Wanted for murder it said, and with a $500 reward. She tried to see if she would have recognised him had he passed her by in the street, but it was amateurishly drawn and bore little resemblance to whatever it was that she had imagined Clayton to look like in her mind. The written description seemed more familiar … 6 ft tall, slim build, dark brown hair, hazel or brown eyes. Wanted for murder in Texas.

She traced the outline of his face with her finger. The baby had grown into a man. And the man was close by. Her son. She closed her eyes and shook her head. It was bad timing. Another son needed her now. If Clay were to ride out of town now he would never ever know that his mother and brother were so close by. Well, if that were to happen, then so be it. Adam’s life was hanging in the balance and he was her son, because he was one of Ben’s sons, and she loved him for that, and for being the man he was now.

She slowly rolled up the posters and slipped them into a drawer. Then she picked up the small picture of Ben that she had by her bedside. She stared at it longingly, as though by doing so she could imbue it with life once again, this man, this wonderful testament to flesh and blood.

“Oh Ben, I need you here so much.” she whispered and kissed the picture longingly.

Chapter 62

He was running now. His feet felt light and the undergrowth had vanished. He could see a faint light at the end of the labyrinth and ran towards it. He could feel his heart pounding in his ears and the pain in his back took on tendrils within his body so that every step he took was agony. He groaned through clenched teeth, and gripped hold of the hope that once he reached the light the pain would vanish.

There were whisperings all around him. The walls of the labyrinth opened and closed around him like a living sentient being. He was faltering now, finding it harder to breathe.

“Come on, son, you’ll be late,” Ben said and extended a hand towards him, with a smile on his face. A smile Adam remembered so well and seeing it he felt renewed vigour flow through his veins.

“Where’ve you been, Pa?” Adam whispered, and those beside his bed leaned forward to catch the words and looked at one another meaningfully. Marie sighed and shook her head, and wiped the young man’s face gently with a cool wet cloth.

“I’ve been waiting for you, that’s all. How did you enjoy college?” Ben replied, walking beside Adam now, who had, gratefully, dropped to a walking pace.

“I didn’t get to college, Pa.” Adam replied, “Can’t you remember how those men came and shot you?”

“Shot me?” Ben looked surprised and shook his head, “I didn’t realise that had happened. How’s Marie and the boys?”

“Marie?” Adam whispered in reply, and the woman at his bedside thought he had called to her and leaned forward,

“What is it, darling?” she asked him gently.

In his delirium Adam could see Ben as clearly as though he were actually walking by his side. He could smell him, the familiar smell that he had grown up with as a child, as a youth.

“It was my fault,” he whispered, “My fault. I should never have persuaded you to take me out that day. I’m sorry, Pa. I’m sorry.”

“What did he say?” Joe asked his mother, his brow furrowed in concern. Had he heard right? Was Adam admitting to having made a mistake, a costly one, an error in which Ben had died?

“Hush now, don’t take seriously what a person says in a fever, Joe.” Marie replied, and leaned back in her chair, holding the listless hand of the sick young man gently in her own.

They were reaching the light now and it’s brightness was stunning. Involuntarily Adam raised his arm to shield his eyes from the dazzling whiteness of it all.

“Pa? Did you see it?” he cried aloud, “Did you?”

But there was no answer. Nothing. He was just floating in the brightest light he had ever known.


“What do you think he meant, Ma?” Joe asked as they sat by Adam’s bedside, listening to the fevered words that came amidst the groans and sighs.

“He seems at peace now, doesn’t he?” Marie replied, and leaned closer to Adam, to make sure that she could feel his breath against her cheek. She placed a hand upon his heart to check that there was still a heart beat. She wiped away a tear from her face and shook her head,

“For a moment I thought he had – left us,” she tried to stifle a sob, but it still came to her throat. She looked at her own son and shook her head, “What was it you were saying?”

“I just wondered what he meant when he said it was his fault. It seemed as though he were talking to Pa, didn’t it?” Joe replied, taking hold of his mother’s hand and wishing that she hadn’t to go through all this anxiety all over again, and feeling, deep inside of himself, that it was all his fault.

It was Hoss who answered. He stood up from the chair on the other side of the bed and walked over to the window and stared out at the mountains.

“It was the day Pa died,” he said quietly, “I overheard them talking, just bits and pieces you understand? Adam wanted to go and see a herd of horses to the north, but Pa said not that day because he wanted to do the ledgers. He said, Pa that is, he said that he had to make sure that everything was in order because of something they were planning for the future.”

“That’s right, we wanted to make sure we could finance Adam’s college fees.” Marie sighed, straightening the sheets around the still body, and looking into Adam’s face and thinking how young he looked as he slept there.

“Well, Adam kept right on insisting. Saying the horses wouldn’t be there much longer. He said that if Pa didn’t come then he’d go on his own. I said that I’d go with him if Pa was too busy but he said I couldn’t go, so I got on with my breakfast. Pa was a bit tetchy with him but finally agreed to go. Adam was sure pleased, he gave me a great big grin. I didn’t see ‘em then until they came back later.”

Marie walked to Hoss’ side and put her arm around his waist (she couldn’t comfortably reach his shoulders as she could Joe or Adams), and put her head on his shoulder,

“I guess that’s why Adam has had such an obsession about Ben, and has pushed himself so hard. He’s still trying to make up for what he thinks he caused to happen to Ben. He’s punishing himself, isn’t he?” she said quietly.

“Do you think so, Ma?” Hoss asked, looking down at her, and seeing the look on her face he bowed his head, “Shucks, I sure wish I could’ve got them to change their minds back then. Or gone with them.”

“Then you would have been killed as well,” Marie replied, “What would we have done without you, Hoss?”

They stood by the window and stared out at the mountains, both deep in thought. Hoss was recalling the events of that day over 12 years ago now. He had been happy, he recalled, fussing over a new foal, playing with his little brother. Then Adam had returned home with Pa, and Hoss had carried a small knot of misery inside his heart ever since.

Marie was thinking of her other son, the one she had never met since he had been taken from her. She was wondering what would happen when they met, what would they say, would they like each other? How would he feel about Joe, would Joe like him?

Joe sat in his chair and though of the complexities of his brother, Adam. He remembered Paul saying that the mind was a strange thing, and that something deep down was locked in Adam’s mind, they just needed to find the key. Perhaps Adam had provided them with it now? The problem was how to get the right lock for the key to fit into and restore Adam to them? He bowed his head, and realised, not for the first time, that life without his big brother would be unbearable.

Chapter 63

Lil sat down at the table and pulled off her shoes. She leaned down to massage her feet, one foot at a time. A job in a saloon was hard on the feet, walking around the tables, standing behind the men and just generally parading around. She sighed with contentment when Joy came and joined her, placing a large glass of cold lemonade in front of her.

“Drink up, Lil. This will keep you going for the evening shift.” Joy smiled and began to drink her own glass of lemonade, “Pappy sure knows how to make a good jug of lemonade. My mom taught him to make it years back in Georgia.”

Lil nodded and smiled, it was refreshing, the cold lemonade hit her throat and eased the ache in it. She looked around as the saloon doors opened, and sighed with annoyance when several cowboys strolled in and looked over at them.

“Isn’t that just typical, the one chance a gal gets to rest up and in they troop.” she grumbled.

“It’s the weather. Pappy says they always keep coming in when it’s raining.”

They stopped talking as a tall young man approached them. He was smiling pleasantly, and asked them very politely if they would mind if he could join them. The girls looked at one another and Lil hurriedly shuffled her shoes back on, which was a little more difficult than taking them off, because her feet had become a little bit swollen.

“I just wanted to talk. If you don’t mind.” the young man said.

“Well, that depends on what you want to talk about, handsome.” Lil replied, looking at her lemonade now and wondering if Charley would mind if she continued to drink it rather than encourage the cowboy to buy them a whiskey.

“You know the Cartwrights, don’t you?” he asked cautiously, glancing from one to the other of them, and he frowned when he rightly interpreted their body language as, to say the least, wary. “It’s not that I’m prying -.”

“No? Then what else do you call it then?” Joy asked, her flaming copper hair seeming to suddenly take on a life of its own around her face and stand on end, like the Gorgons writhing hair.

“My father was an old friend of Mr Cartwrights, and I wanted to look them up, to thank them for what they did for him. I didn’t want to go in ignorant of any latest history, it could be awkward for them, as well as me.” he ran his tongue over his teeth, and then smiled, “I’m sorry, I should introduce myself, the name’s Clay Stafford. Can I get you ladies a drink, or are you happy with lemonade?”

Joy and Lil looked at one another, and both thanked him nicely and said a whiskey would be fine by them.

“Well, ,don’t go away then,” he said with a smile and walked from the table to the counter.

“He’s a good looking boy,” Lil whispered and winked.

“But do you believe him, about what he said ?” Joy raised her eyebrows, and looked anxious, “I don’t want to annoy Little Joe by saying the wrong thing.”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake, you haven’t even seen Little Joe in ages, so what’s the difference.” Lil replied rather too snappily for Joy’s liking

“That’s because his brother’s ill,” Clay told them as he pulled out his chair and settled back down again.

“Adam do you mean?” Lil asked, and when Clay nodded, she shook her head, “That’s too bad. He is just one handsome gorgeous man. You don’t get many of his kind around nowadays, you know.”

Clay smiled and said nothing, having always thought himself a rather handsome gorgeous man he did feel rather slighted, as though they hadn’t even noticed.

“So? What do you want to know? A potted history or answers to your particular questions?” Joy asked in a very business like tone. She took the whiskey and sipped it. It really didn’t taste so good after the lemonade, but she knew she would be expected to drink it. “Ask away.”

“Give me the potted history first.” Clay smiled, thinking she was such a pretty girl and wasted in a job in the saloon.

“Then you must rely on Lil, she’s been here for years and known them just as long. I’ve only been here a few weeks.”

Clay turned to Lil and nodded, “Well, if you don’t mind then, Miss Lil.”

They both giggled at that, girlish giggles that meant nothing in particular but gave Lil time to think about what to say. She nodded her dark head obligingly, and the dark red feather in her hair bobbed along with it.

“So then, Mr – Stafford, did you say?”

“You can call me Clay.” he smiled and his dark eyes twinkled. Lil smiled back, he had hint of danger to him that made him very attractive to her.

“Well, first thing everyone gets to know is that Mr Ben Cartwright was married to three different women, not all at the same time I hasten to add,” she giggled and Clay smiled and Joy sighed, “Each of them had a son. Adam, he’s the eldest, and his Ma died when he was born. Then Hoss was born on the prairie west of Missourri, and his Ma died during an Indian attack. He was just a few weeks old then, so Adam and Mr Ben had to rear him. They arrived here on the Washoe when there was hardly any mines about at all, just prospectors panning for gold, and hoping to see ‘the elephant’”

“The what?” Joy asked, with a startled look on her face.

“The elephant. See, only a few folk ever saw an elephant for real so if anyone of them actually made a strike they would say they had seen the elephant. I guess it made a change from yelling Eureka all the time.” Lil fluttered her eyelashes, pleased at having made an intelligent impression on them both.

“So he built his ranch here thinking he’d be able to live in splendid isolation, did he?” Joy leaned her elbow on the table and looked thoughtfully at Lil, “So when did Little Joe arrive?”

“Ah, well, Mr Cartwright had to go away to New Orleans on business so it’s said, but he came back with his wife, Marie Cartwright. She was a real fancy lady by all accounts. Eagle Station was established by then but it was still pretty rough compared to the places she had been to and seen. Mrs Hawkins said that Mrs Cartwright had even lived in Paris, France for a little while.”

Clay said nothing, but stared thoughtfully down at his glass, while his mind travelled through time, picking up little memories of things he had overheard the servants whispering about in the corridors.

“You’re mighty quiet all of a sudden, Clay, am I boring you?” Lil said, leaning in towards him and peeking up into his face. He mustered a smile and shook his head,

“I was just thinking it was a bit of a co-incidence, that was all. I’m New Orleans born and bred, you see.”

“Yes, but you’re a whole lot younger than Mrs Cartwright. You’d not have known her.” Lil replied, emptying her glass and pushing it towards him with a smile.

Clay took the hint and left the table to go to the counter and order two more whiskies. Lil leaned over to Joy

“Doesn’t he remind you of someone?” she whispered but Joy just shook her head, and wondered how she was going to get through the night with another whiskey inside her. She just hoped her father would remember how much she hated the stuff and would just give her cold tea instead.

“Do you want to know anything else now, Clay?” Lil asked as she took the whisky from him.

“I heard that Mr Cartwright died a few years ago, is that right?”

“Oh yes, he was shot in an ambush, and his son Adam was nearly killed as well. Mrs Cartwright and Adam run the ranch between them, with Hoss and Joe’s help of course.”

“What kind of man was he? Did you ever meet him, Lil?” he leaned forward, resting his chin between his cupped hands, elbows on the table and his hazel eyes dreamily looking into her face.

“Yes, I did meet him.” Lil said quietly, “I had just moved here into town. I was not more than fifteen years old then and came with my Pa. He was one of those who wanted to strike it rich. But he got tuberculosis and died, and I ended up working in the saloons. Mr Cartwright was always kind to us girls. He raised his boys to treat us with respect too, not like some. Oh, he was a handsome man alright despite being so much older than me. I think -” she paused and raised her glass, then set it down again, untouched, “I think he was the most respected man in the whole territory. He had carved out a name for himself if you like. I wish he were still alive. You’d have liked him, Joy.”

“I’ve heard talk about him in town,” Clay remarked calmly, “Some say he was ruthless, arrogant even. But you don’t seem to agree.”

“He was both those things when he had to be, and to be honest, Clay, he would have had to be to have survived. You don’t get a place like the Ponderosa up and running without having a backbone like steel.” she sighed and leaned forward again, “He had the deepest voice of any man I have ever known. The blackest eyes as well. Yes, he had a strong, powerful face and a voice to go with it. I’m not surprised he had three wives. A man like him would never have stayed widowed for long.”

“You sound like you were in love with him, Lil,” Joy laughed a little at her friend who had a tender expression in her eyes and who now looked at Joy with amazement,

“I think most women in town fell in love with him, Joy. Just a little perhaps.” she laughed then herself and picked up her glass and drank it down quickly, “Anyway, they caught the men who killed him and strung’ em up.”

“What’s Mrs Cartwright like?”

“Oh she’s lovely. Very pretty and dresses well. She brought the three boys up all by herself, and with the help of that Hop Sing. He’s very sweet you know, is Hop Sing.” she bit her bottom lip, wondering if she were already getting a little tipsy, “Anyway, she nearly got married again a little while back. A man from New Orleans. He was an old friend of the family it seems. Turned out though that he was a wrong ‘un. Tried to kill Adam off, and they say he murdered young Evie. That was so sad, she had so much to live for, poor girl.”

“So what happened to him?” Joy leaned forwards, having been there for such a short time she still had not picked up on all the relevant gossip.

“He shot his brains out right in front of Mrs Cartwright. I heard that his brains were splattered all over her dress and up the wall.” she leaned forward, “He nearly killed Adam too. That was why he was so ill before.”

“So what was the name of this man she was going to marry? If he came from New Orleans, it’s possible I may know him.” Clay smiled at them both and gulped down the dregs of his beer.

“David Carter.” Lil replied, “But that wasn’t his real name. He had another name.”

“What was it?”

“I don’t know,” she said with a delicate shrug of the shoulders, “Something like a French name. It’ll be on his tombstone, if they’ve got one for him that is…”

Clay nodded, and leaned back in his chair, a perplexed frown furrowing his brow. After a little while he made his excuses and left the building. It took him half an hour to find the cemetery and to locate the grave. There was no tombstone, only a wooden marker with the name “Remy David Cartier” burnt into it. A crude reminder of the man who was buried there. Clay Stafford stared at the name and felt his heart hammer beneath his ribs. It was a name known to him and mentioned often in the past by his grandmother. She had always told him that had it not been for their good friend Remy Cartier life would never have been so good for any of them. He was the one who had saved Clay’s life, but how, Clay did not know.

Chapter 64

Dr Martin felt the thready pulse and frowned, then glanced over at Marie who stood on the opposite side of the bed with her hands clasped in her skirts. He pulled the sheets back to cover the sick man and moved away, “I don’t really know what to say, Marie. I can’t even tell you whether or not he’s fighting this, he just seems to be hanging on in there but little else.”

“He talks, about Ben, to Ben … it’s almost as though he wants to be with Ben now. Do you think that’s a sign that he’s giving up, Paul?”

Paul shook his head, took her elbow and steered her away from the bed, “Marie, I don’t know. I don’t know what to tell you. Are you giving him the medication as instructed?”

“Yes, of course we are,” Marie looked startled to think that he would have assumed any negligence on their part.

“Are you resting?” he asked quietly, looking into her face and seeing the dark shadows under her eyes, the hollows of her cheeks that made her skin look less youthful that usual. He had always admired the way Marie had never looked her age. Somehow she had maintained that image of eternal youth but now, she looked exhausted and the last vestige of youth had flown.

“As best I can. I have a lot to think about, Paul, as I’m sure you must realise.” she turned away from him, remembering that doctors see more than most people. She opened the door and together they left the room.

Adam heard the click of the door and opened his eyes. He wondered why he was back in this room and then could not remember what room it was. He had expected to see hickory hoops and tarpaulin stretched over them creating the canopy effect under which he and Hoss slept every night in the wagon.

“Hoss? Hoss, where are you?”

There was no reply. The room was spinning around and around. He closed his eyes and drifted into a giggle as a small boy sat in the corner of the wagon and laughed at him. Merry blue eyes and rosebud mouth, curly golden hair.

“Hoss, you do that again and I’ll tan your backside.”

Hoss only laughed again. He was a happy child, the result of a happy union. He held out his hand to his brother who reached down and picked him up,

“Hoss, have you seen Pa?” he asked and the child said nothing, but looked away from his brother as though other things were more important.

Adam sighed. He pushed against the bed covers and shivered. One moment too hot and the next too cold. Where was he and why was he here? David Carter’s face drifted into vision, and a gun, aimed at him. He heard the explosion and watched himself as he fell down the stairs.

Joe Cartwright brushed Cochise’s coat with firm strokes of the brush. He had been in the stable for so long that Hoss had come out to see if he was alright, only to have his questions answered by grunts, so he had walked away. Joe put the brush down and stroked Cochise’s neck,

“Good boy, Cooch, good boy.” he whispered, and the horse twitched his ears as though he knew he was a good boy, and was pleased that someone had realised that fact at last.

Joe left the stable with his shoulders drooped, his head bowed. He looked the picture of dejection and was surprised to hear Hoss’ voice close by. He looked up and saw his brother leaning against the corral fence.

“Have you been waiting for me?” he asked cautiously, he narrowed his eyes suspiciously, “What’s going on?”

“Nuthin’, “ Hoss replied, “Ma’s with Paul at the moment so I thought I’d get some air.”

“Who’s with Adam?”

“No one, except the doc and Ma.”

Joe frowned and fidgeted with the bit and bridle in his hands. Like his brother he leaned against the corral fence and watched the horses moving restlessly around. Both of them tried to find something to say but their minds could only travel in one direction, eventually Hoss spoke,

“Do you think Adam will pull through this time?”

“He’s got to, Hoss.” Joe replied, his fingers tightening on the leather straps. The action seemed to stop Hoss from speaking as he watched the nervous fingers moving until finally Joe said in a rather breathless voice, “Hoss, do you remember when Adam came home with Pa?”

“Sure. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.”

“I didn’t know what was happening. I think Hop Sing took me indoors and kept me in his room for a while. Then -,” he paused and looked up, staring thoughtfully into the sky, “I can remember seeing him in the coffin. I remember Ma holding me tightly and saying I didn’t have to go and see Pa, but you said you were and Adam was already in the room. He had his arm in a sling. Was he hurt then, Hoss?”

“Yeah, he was hurt. Don’t you remember?”

“No. It isn’t something we talk about much, is it?”

“No, it isn’t something I want to talk about,” Hoss admitted honestly.

“So, Adam brought Pa home and he was hurt himself. All this time he never said that he thought he was to blame for what happened.”

“Why should he? He was hurting enough inside as it was, no point in letting the whole world in on it. Shucks, Joe, I’d have thought you’d have known him well enough by now.”

Joe said nothing but thought back to that strange horrible time. He had wanted to see Pa, and had expected him to be sitting in the chair like always. He had been told Pa was dead, but a five year old has strange ideas, fanciful hopes, and the idea they have of death is not always the standard one. So he had gone into the room to see Pa, and realised after a few faltering steps into the room that perhaps he had made an unwise decision.

“You don’t have to look, Joe.” Adam had said with a long drawn out sigh, and Joe had decided that if everyone else had peeked why shouldn’t he, so he had nodded and Hoss had come and lifted him up so that he could see inside the coffin. It was odd how he could never remember actually seeing inside, perhaps he had instinctively closed his eyes at that moment so that he would not know, would not see, nor have to acknowledge that Pa was dead.

“If Adam dies, it’ll be my fault, won’t it?” he suddenly said, breaking into Hoss’ thoughts so that his brother had to disentangle his thoughts into some kind of order,

“Look, Joe, like I said before, Adam chose to go with us. Just like Pa chose to go with Adam. Neither one of ‘em was a kid, they could both have said no, couldn’t they?”

“It won’t change how I feel though, I’ll just know inside that I’m to blame.” Joe bowed his head and shivered, “I guess that’s how Adam’s been feeling all this time. About Pa, I mean.”

Hoss didn’t say anything to that, if Adam blamed himself then that was Adam’s business. He knew that he didn’t blame his brother for Pa’s death, and certainly Marie didn’t blame him.

“I think I’ll go in and see if he’s alright,” Hoss said, “Are you coming in?”

“I guess so.” came the sullen reply accompanied by the clink of the bit hitting against the metal of the bridle.

Paul and Marie were standing side by side as the brothers entered the room and heard Paul saying “I’ve not seen the young man since yesterday, but I haven’t forgotten the message to give him when I do.” he turned to the two brothers and nodded over to them, “I’ve brought some more medicine for your brother, boys.”

“How is he?” Joe asked.

“Holding his own,” came the somewhat cyptic reply. Paul smiled and picked up his hat, and turned to Marie, “Try and rest, my dear. I don’t want to be visiting here after Adam’s recovery to treat you.”

Marie smiled and walked to the door with him. “Thank you, Paul.” she said quietly, and her eyes looked at him with such sadness in them that Paul wondered how on earth she was going to find any happiness in life again should Adam Cartwright die.

Chapter 63

Clay returned to the saloon later that evening. There had been such a conflict of feelings, such a confusion of memories going round and round in his head that he had taken his horse and ridden out to the Ponderosa boundaries. In the rain and with glowering dark skies overhead he had sat and stared at the views about him and wondered at the strength of a man and his family to carve out such a kingdom. A thousand square miles of land, timber, gold and silver, cattle, horses. This Ben Cartwright had been some kind of visionary to have achieved so much.

And this Marie Cartwright from New Orleans, who had nearly married Remy Cartier. What was the real story behind that arrangement? He returned to town no nearer to solving the mysteries that surrounded him. He knew that perhaps some would never be resolved now, they went too far back into the family history and with his grand-parents, and parents, dead, there was no way he could put some of the riddles together.

It was a strange co-incidence thought that Joseph Cartwrights mother came from New Orleans and her name was Marie. He had never seen a picture of his mother, never been shown one. He had known her name was Marie but that was all, that was the limit of his knowledge about her.

Of course, he realised now that had he not been in such a great hurry to leave New Orleans he could have gone to the Town Hall and checked through the records kept there. Perhaps then he could have discovered just where his mother’s origins had been conceived.

Lil and Joy were too busy to join him at the table but acknowledged him with a brief smile and nod. It suited him better to be left alone. He had a lot to think about now.


Adam had sunk into that comatose state in which there was no sound, no sensation, only a warm black womb like existence. He could either fight it, or sink deeper into it. As his breathing became more shallow, and the colour of his flesh faded more and more, so Marie sat, watched and prayed. His brothers sat in, or paced about the room. Life seemed to have been on hold for so long that all their nerves were strained to screaming pitch.

“I’m going to get Paul,” Joe cried suddenly, “I can’t stand here and just watch him slip away like this. He has to fight harder than this. It’s almost as though he’s given up on life and we’re letting him.”

“There isn’t anything Paul can do for him now, Joseph,” Marie said quietly, “Adam has to do this bit on his own.”

“We must be able to do something for him, Ma? We can’t just let him go without a fight, surely.” Hoss exclaimed, coming now to stand at the bed and looking across at his brother, who had barely moved in the past 12 hours.

“I don’t know what to suggest, Hoss. I’ve talked until I’m hoarse, but there’s never any reaction.” she raised a hand to her brow, covered her eyes and tried to stem back the pains that throbbed at her temple.

“Ma, let Joe go and get Paul.” Hoss said quietly, coming to stand close by her side now, as he always did when he noticed she was anxious, afraid or just needing some support. She looked up at him, and he gave her a little nod as though assuring her it was alright, the right thing to do, the best thing.

Joe didn’t need to be told twice, once Marie had nodded in approval he was down the stairs and grabbing at his coat, hat and gunbelt. Remembering it was raining he pulled out the slicker he usually wore, and then vanished into the night.

“He needed to go, Ma.” Hoss said softly, “He needs to feel he’s doing something positive, something that would help Adam. Staying here, like this, would only make him feel worse should Adam – you know what I mean, don’t ya, Ma?”

“Yes, son, I understand,” Marie whispered, and took hold of his hand. It was a big, strong hand, but gentle in the way he held hers within it. Just like Ben’s, and she closed her eyes and tried to recapture moments when she was with Ben, holding his hand like this, hearing him talk, laughing together. Oh my God, she thought, Ben I miss you so much, why can’t you be here now to help us through this misery.

Adam stirred and his eyelashes fluttered. A slight smile touched his lips, and his breathing became more rapid. Deep in the faraway place to which his mind had slipped, Adam stood in a field of corn. It reached his waist, and when he lowered his hand his fingers brushed against the heavy heads that drooped from the weight of their seeds. Poppies and buttercups coloured the landscape until it merged with the bluest of skies. He looked up to watch a hawk hover, a call out its keening cry. His eyes followed the hawks flight and then he found himself standing opposite his father.

“Well, son, so here you are,” Ben said, and smiled softly, that gentle smile a father gives to the sons that he sired and loved.

“Yes, Pa, here I am,” Adam replied.

“I didn’t expect you to come this far,” Ben frowned, “I thought you would stay with Marie and the boys.”

“They don’t really need me, Pa.” Adam plucked at a poppy, scarlet coloured and fragile, he sighed, above his head the hawk swooped down and a faint whisper of a cry was a testimony to its accuracy in hunting.

“Of course they need you. Whatever gave you that idea?” Ben sounded angry now, and came closer, to place his hand upon Adam’s arm.

“I’m sorry about what happened to you, Pa. It was my fault. My fault entirely. Now I feel that I should go and leave them to get on with life, without me. They’d be able to handle things pretty well. You’d be proud of them, Pa. Hoss is such a grand fellow, and Joe is smart as paint.”

“Aren’t you proud of them, son?”

“Yes, I am.” Adam replied solemnly.

“And what about Marie? Don’t you love her enough to stay and help her through these coming years. They are going to be hard ones, son. There’s a war brewing that’s going to rend our nation apart. You need to be there for them all.”

Adam dropped the frail flower and turned to his father, his eyes searched the man’s face, every line of which he knew by heart and loved.

“Pa? Is this heaven?”

“No. It’s just me talking to you in your mind, that’s all. You need to get things sorted out, son. But you can’t do much in the state you are in now. It’s time you fought back.”

“I haven’t the strength this time,” Adam sighed and those sitting by his bed, hearing the words that came from his lips in a hoarse whisper, looked at one another and gripped each others hands more tightly.

“Adam,” the deep voice spoke the name firmly, gently, “You must fight now otherwise you’ll lose this battle, son. You have to get back.”

“Get back?” Adam groaned, “But how?”

“You have to use every ounce of will power you have, Adam. For Marie, for your brothers, for the future of the Ponderosa.”

Marie leaned over to catch the words that were spoken , but now there was just silence, a groan, long and agonising and then a sigh.


Clay had eventually found himself involved in a game of poker. The four men involved seemed to know one another well enough, and didn’t seem to mind his joining them. It was better than sitting alone nursing a glass of beer and meditating on things that no longer made any sense. He was on a winning streak, and there was a bit of fidgeting going on around the table when it came to be his turn to deal.

Paul Martin walked into the saloon while the game was being played and recognising Clay as the young man who had helped the Cartwrights the previous day, he raised a glass in acknowledgement. Clay nodded but concentrated on his game. It was a tense round. Eventually Clay won and pocketed the money rather begrudgingly put down on the table. As the other men dispersed, grumbling rather loudly, Paul approached and asked if he could have a chair. Clay smiled and nodded,

“Mrs Cartwright asked me to deliver you a message, if I were to see you again,” Paul said, “She wanted to know if you could call by the house so that she could personally thank you for your good Samaritan act yesterday.”

“That’s kind of her, but I’ll leave it for a while. I doubt if it would be considered fair to visit just yet. I’m sure they have a lot on their minds just now.”

“That’s true enough. It was bad enough the last time, I thought young Adam had got over his injuries, but he’s such a hard headed stubborn young man that he pushed himself back to work far too soon and has had a major relapse.” he drank a long drought of the beer, and sighed, “You’re from New Orleans, aren’t you?”

“Word gets around,” Clay replied, raising his eyebrows and glancing quickly over at Lil.

“It does.” Paul smiled, “Mrs Cartwright’s from New Orleans as well. So was the man she nearly married a few months ago.”

“So I heard.” Clay grinned, “Word gets around,” he repeated with a wry twist to his lips.

“Tell me, though, Doc, if you don’t mind my asking something so personal, but what is she like, this Mrs Cartwright?”

“Marie? Oh, well -,” Paul frowned in thought, “Well, I guess she’s the kind of woman that makes a man envy the man she’s married to. Ben had three lovely wives, good women too. Marie’s from New Orleans, as I said earlier, I believe she’s of French Creole descent. I recall Ben telling me that she was a marvellous fence women, she has her swords in the house, epee’s she calls them. No, she’s a lovely woman all right, and intelligent too. She’s been a good mother to those boys of hers.”

“Hers? I thought she only had the one son?”

“She treats them all the same, you’d never know the distinction, although, perhaps there may be one. Joe’s her son. I had only been here a few months when they called me out to deliver him. They were good friends of mine; good friends,” he added slowly, and raised his glass to finish his drink.

“How did they meet? Mr Cartwright and Marie. Do you know?”

“Before my time, young man. I think he had some business to attend to in New Orleans and met her there.”

He was about to say more when the saloon doors were thrown open and Joe Cartwright rushed inside, glancing wildly from left to right, when he saw Paul he rushed up to the table, and grabbed at his arm,

“Paul, you’ve got to come quick. I think Adam’s dying,” his voice broke, he struggled not to reveal his emotion but that was something always difficult for Joe to conceal, “You have to come with me, now, please.”

Paul and Clay both rose to their feet, but whereas Paul followed on after Joe, Clay remained standing and watching the doors close behind them, he sat down, slowly.

Chapter 51

A subdued silence fell over the men and women crowded into the saloon. Even before the doors had closed the atmosphere had changed from a highly charged babble of noise to one of melancholy silence. Clay looked around him. An air of impending doom had fallen like a blanket over them all and he was about to speak when a man stood up, a miner by his clothing, bristling with hair and a beard down to his chest,

“Looks like Adam Cartwright ain’t gonna make it, folks. I reckon a drink to Mr Adam’s good health,” and he headed for the counter and slammed down more money than Clay had seen in a long time, “Drinks for everyone. Here’s to Mr Adam. God bless him.”

A rumble of noise broke out around them, as there were sounds of agreement from men and women alike, and someone else shouted “A round on me as well. Here’s to Mr Adam and the little lady up there,” someone shouted “Here’s to Joe, Hoss and the Missus. Here’s hoping the man pulls through.”

Lil came and slammed down a glass of whiskey for herself, and a beer for Clay. She sat down rather heavily into a chair and blinked back tears,

“They’re well thought of here, the Cartwrights,” Clay murmured.

“Well, Ben wasn’t one who trampled on others to get what he wanted, Mr Stafford. He cared about folks, and so do the other Cartwrights. We owe them a lot, one way or another. You ever met Adam?”

“No, I’ve not met any of them, oh, Hoss, just briefly.”

“Well, you just met another, briefly.” Lil smiled, “Little Joe. Quite a heart breaker is Joe. One flash of those hazel green eyes and a girl can lose control, y’know.” she smiled, a rather bleak and wobbly smile, and stared fixedly at her glass, “Adam’s like his father in lots of ways, not surprising really, seeing as he had no mother and it was just him and his Pa travelling west together. Can you imagine that?” she gave a small mirthless laugh, and drank some more.

“You seem to care a lot about Adam Cartwright, if you don’t mind my saying so.” Clay said quietly.

“I guess I do. I guess it was those brown eyes that did it ..” she laughed again, and then shook her head, “Not that he would look twice at me. He’s kind, and remembers my name. That’s about all though.”

“For some, that’s enough.” Clay picked up his glass and glanced about him. Even now the throng of people were subdued, drinking deep and saying little.

“Are you related to them?” Lil asked suddenly, leaning across to view him more closely, “When Joe came in here I couldn’t help noticing how alike you were to him.”

Clay stared at her, and swallowed hard, then picked up his beer, but he said nothing in reply.

Later, in his room at the boarding house, he leaned towards the mirror and stared at the face he had looked at most of his life and mentally superimposed the image of Joe Cartwright over it. The same shock of thick brown hair, the same shaped eyes and resolute chin. He stepped back and shook his head. Perhaps cousins? Brothers though? No, that couldn’t be possible, could it?

In her room Marie took out the posters and looked at the rough sketch of the man wanted for murder. How hard it was to stop from thinking about him. Even now, with Adam possibly on his death bed, she found her mind wandering back to the fact that she knew Clay was in Virginia City.

She heard voices from downstairs and knew that Joe had returned with Paul. She took a deep breath and steeled herself for the news that was to come. Overhead the thunder rattled across the sky making the windows shudder in their frames.

Adam wanted to hold onto the picture of Ben in his mind, to talk and talk, but something was dragging him away. Ben was smiling at him, and had raised his hand as though in farewell. Then there was a flurry of darkness and light and he was back to when they were riding together, and there were gunshots and Ben was falling, blood streaked his clothing, and there was pain in his own body. The worse pain of all was in his heart as he saw his beloved father fall from his horse, fall and hit the ground.

“No, Pa, No, Pa.”

Hardly a cry, hardly a scream but it brought Marie running into the room, and Hoss shot up from his chair to reach his bedside. Adam sat up, his eyes wide and staring, his face chalk white. Then he collapsed into Hoss’ arms, and his brother heard him whisper “Pa, Don’t go. Don’t go.”


Esmond Scott was a wealthy man. He lived in a very large colonial house with not a neighbour in sight. He had a wife (of whom he was quite fond as she caused him no problems like some men’s wives ) and three daughters. Sometimes his wife would exclaim about the number of newspapers that arrived at their home. Newspapers and tabloids that came from all over the country. But Esmond Scott liked to have the newspapers arriving because he could then read the obituaries. He was very fond of reading obituaries especially when he had been busy doing some ’tidying up’ for a client.

There had only been disappointing news in the tabloid from Virginia City. Not only had his ’bit of business’ recovered from his injuries, but his client had killed himself. Esmond was very disappointed about that, because he had some principles. One of them was that it took some courage to decide to ’tidy away’ someone, and if a person then goes and shoots himself, then he obviously lacked any courage at all. He was a failure. Esmond Scott did not like failures.

He felt rather morose about all this business. He was especially disappointed about the way his victim had been found and taken care of, and had moped about the house rather out of sorts with himself and everyone. So much so that his wife had suggested that he take a little holiday. He declined her kind consideration on his behalf and continued to mope for a few more days.

The letter arrived about breakfast time. He was seated at the table surveying his wife and the three girls. He was quite fond of them in a way a lot of people are fond of their dogs. He had trained both his children and his dogs to sit, be still, be quiet and to eat with their mouths shut. A difficult thing for a dog but somehow they had managed.

He was wondering at what age he could begin finding an eligible suitor for his eldest daughter. She was 15 years old, reasonably attractive, but inclined to chatter. He didn’t like chattering. He had a lot on his mind most of the time and chatter was distracting.

He opened the letter with a bit of sigh, wondering if perhaps he should take up his wife’s suggestion and go away for a while. He was really seriously disappointed in Remy Cartier, and it weighed on his mind about having taken the money without the job having been completed to satisfaction.

He read the letter through twice before replacing it in an envelope. His wife watched him carefully. She had always wondered where Esmond got the money to support them all so lavishly. He did not appear to have a job as such, although, due to his wealth, he was on several different Boards of Directors. She assumed they paid him for doing whatever he did there.

After they had eaten and the girls had stood up politely so that Papa could walk down the line and drop a kiss on their brow and tell them to behave themselves, Esmond excused himself and went to his study. He then re-read the letter.

It was going to be quite a lucrative assignment. A wealthy personage wanted to hire someone to tidy away a young man, description as provided in enclosed Wanted poster. This person had shot dead the only son of the under-signed. It was during a card game and the son had accused the other party of cheating. There had been talk of a duel, something that did not appeal to the son, who had drawn out a gun, but the other man had drawn as well. The outcome had been death for the under-signeds son. Now he wanted his son’s killer disposed of immediately. He had reasons to believe that the killer had travelled to Nevada, to a town called Virginia City.

Esmond Scott paced the floor several times and re-read the letter. He had heard of the writer, most of America would have done for he was not only very wealthy, but also a Senator and his family had come over on the Mayflower (so it was claimed). He had contacts in high places who had recommended him (Scott). He did not want to meet. But all communication was to be done via another contact, name enclosed.

Esmond flung himself into his chair and bit his finger nails. The amount of money offered was excellent, he couldn’t have wished for better. The person involved was vulnerable, for when the time came for Esmond to be unable to travel to do these little tidy up jobs, he could always turn his hand to a little blackmail. Everything was good except for the location. Esmond Scott did not like to return to the scene of action. Particularly one where the job had gone wrong.

He looked over the details of the killer in the Wanted poster. Surely being so well advertised would mean every bounty hunter worth his salt would be out looking for him as well? He was suddenly unsure of what to do.

During the course of the day his mind returned constantly to this request for help. He began to think of it as a challenge, as a dare. He sat at his desk making plans, scheming about how to carry out the job. The extra element of danger only made it more exciting, after all, life could be pretty dull at times.

He picked up a pen and began to write his acceptance, agreed the sum of money but stressed that expenses incurred would be extra. He explained that time would be needed for him to locate the person concerned should they have moved on, but that he would keep in touch with the ‘contact’ to keep Mr X informed of what was going on.

He sealed the envelope and put it to one side. It would be interesting, he thought, to visit the Ponderosa, and perhaps finish off the job he had been paid for so lavishly. It was only fair after all. He hated loose ends!

Chapter 68

The storm had finally subsided, leaving the air feeling clean and fresh. Hoss had put some fresh logs on the fire for the room had become cold. The flames cast shadows over the walls and made them dance. He pulled up a chair closer to the bed and sat down. He was tired, doggone it, as he would have said, he was plumb worn out. Joe and Marie had agreed to rest. Over an hour ago Paul had finally left the house, threatening blue murder if Marie did not get some sleep. He had warned them all that the fever would break within the next few hours. If they had thought they had seen the worse then they were wrong. If they thought Adam had survived, and would live, then they were going to have to wait and find out.

Hoss hated this waiting. He had eaten his nails down to the quick, and had tried to read some of the books that Adam had in his room,but to no avail. He just wanted really to sit by the bed, and wait. He was sure that Adam would open his eyes and be alright. Hoss could not imagine life on the Ponderosa without Adam there.

He sighed heavily, and looked at his brother carefully. Had there been a change since he had moved away to see to the fire? Surely he was not imagining it? He leaned towards the bed,

“Adam? Can you hear me?” he asked hopefully.

The man in the bed stirred, his eyelids fluttered, and he turned his face towards the sound of Hoss’ voice. He opened his eyes and tried to focus on his brother, but the room was too many different shades and shadows. He closed his eyes again.

“Hoss? Is that you?”

“Sure is, brother.” Hoss could barely contain the glee in his voice. Hadn’t he just known for sure that Adam was going to be alright, well, hadn’t he?

“Hoss? What happened to me?” Adam asked softly, with his eyes still closed and barely able to enunciate the words clearly through such a dry mouth.

“You fell off your horse, that’s what you did.” Hoss couldn’t stop the smile from coming through in his voice, and Adam’s lips twitched into a parody of the same

“I fell off my horse? How come I hurt so much then?”

“You kinda fell awkward,” Hoss explained, “And you’ve not been so well either.”

“I don’t feel so good,” Adam replied after a moment’s silence. “Hoss?”


“Is Pa here?”

Hoss felt his mouth go dry, and he licked his lips, and shook his head, even though Adam had his eyes shut,

“No, Adam, he ain’t here. Pa’s been gone for a long time now.”

Adam said nothing. He scrunched up his eyes a little, and his lips tightened. For a while the two brothers were quiet, while the shadows danced about them. The fire warmed the room, but Hoss was aware of a chill settling all about him.

“I’m tired, Hoss. Can I have some water?”

“Sure,” Hoss replied and poured out water from the carafe into a glass, and then raised Adam up, and held the glass to his lips. After a few sips Adam nodded, and opened his eyes, and looked at his brother, he smiled,“Thanks, Hoss.” he said quietly, and with a sigh, closed his eyes again.

Hoss lowered him back onto the pillows, and listened to his even breathing. It was shallow and rapid, but steadier than it had been. He quickly left the room and knocked on Joe’s door, and peered into the room. Joe had decided to sleep with the light on,

“Joe? Wake up,” Hoss cried as he shook Joe by the shoulder, “Get Ma, Adam’s woken up and he’s going to be alright. Didn’t I tell ya?”

“I’ll get Ma.” Joe said, and rubbed his eyes, “Did he say anything? Was he talking to you?”

“Yeah, well, he asked what had happened, and -” Hoss paused, and wondered whether to say anything else, “He asked if Pa were here.”

“Well, that hardly means anything really,” Joe said hastily. “I’ll get Ma.”

Hoss nodded and happily went to back to Adams room, where he found his brother asleep with one arm flung across his face as though shielding it from the light, and the other arm flung over the side of the bed. He gently arranged both arms back under the sheets and sat down again.

Joe tapped on his mother’s bedroom door and gently pushed it open. It had occurred to him that had his mother not woken up right away he would not disturb her as she had slept little of late and if there was really no bad news to tell her then it would no doubt be better for her to sleep on.

He approached her bed, a lamp in his hand casting a golden glow in the room. Looking down at her he could see that she was sleeping soundly. He set the lamp down on the table in order to pull the coverlet further over her and to protect her from the chill of the night. As he did so his eye fell upon the rolled up paper that had fallen upon the floor. The drawer of her bedside cabinet had been pulled open and he realised that she must have been looking at the paper before falling asleep. He smiled gently, and picked it up.

There were two pages, rolled together. Always curious, Joe slowly unfolded them and found himself looking at a rather rough sketch of a young man. What concerned him most were several things, one was the fact the young man was wanted for murder, and the other was the name … Clayton de Marigney.

Chapter 69

For some moments Joe stared down at the rough rather crude sketch of the young man in the poster. He looked vaguely familiar, but it was the name that rang through his head. He read through the details, twice over, and felt his heart hammering beneath his ribs. Marie stirred on the bed and sighed. Afraid that he would be seen with the papers in his hands, Joe hastily stuffed them back into a drawer and closed it quietly. Marie remained sleeping. Without disturbing his mother, Joe hurried from the room and made his way to his brothers.

So many questions went round and round in his head. Was Clay here, in Virginia City? Did his mother know that? If she did for how long? Who else knew? Did Adam? Did Hoss? Was he, in fact, the only person not to have been told that Clay was here, if he were, indeed, in town? He felt his emotions stirring round and round in his head, so much so that when he stepped into Adam’s room, Hoss immediately asked him if he were alright,

“Sure, I’m just worried about Adam, that’s all.” Joe replied curtly, which made Hoss look at him rather warily again.”How is he, Hoss?” and he stepped quickly closer to the bed and looked down at the man sleeping there.

“He looks a whole lot better, Joe. Don’t you think so?”

Joe turned up the lamp and looked down at his brother’s face, then he looked at Hoss and smiled, nodded,

“He looks like he’s just sleeping natural, don’t he?” he whispered quietly, and he placed a gentle hand on Adams chest and felt the heart beat, steadier now than it had been for some time. He sat down on the chair that Hoss had just vacated and slumped down, his shoulders sagged and he allowed a long sigh to slip from his lips, then he rubbed his brow, as though to remove the worry that was buzzing about his brain, “I thought he was going to die this time, Hoss. I was scared that he was going to leave us, like Pa.”

“I was scared about the same thing, little brother. Do you reckon Adam went through this crisis thing without us even knowing? That Paul got it wrong?”

“He must have done, Hoss. Adam sure looks a lot better now than he did a couple of hours ago, doesn’t he?”

They both leaned over the sick man and stared down at the pale face, the closed eyes and slightly smiling lips.

“Did you tell Ma?” Hoss whispered.

“No,” Joe said abruptly, “She was sleeping. I didn’t want to disturb her, Hoss. She’s pretty tired. She’s got a lot on her mind, you know.” and he gave his brother a sharp look, as though trying to discover any sign that Hoss would know about the posters. But dear honest Hoss had been far too concerned about his brother to worry about some posters concerning a man he never knew. He only nodded in agreement rather vaguely, abstractedly, and left Joe wondering just who did know, and was he the only one who did not.

In the bed Adam stirred and opened his eyes. There were the shadows all around him still, but there was also the welcome sight of his brothers standing beside the bed. He looked at them clearly for the first time in too long. Hoss and Joe. He needed them as much as they needed him, of that he was certain, more certain now that he had ever been in his life.

They were standing close together, one so big and broad and the other so slight and slim. He smiled, closed his eyes, and drifted contentedly into sleep. Everything, he told himself, would be just fine now, just fine.


Marie slept until late that next morning. Joe gave Hop Sing instructions not to disturb her but to allow her to wake up naturally. He had, however, slipped into the bedroom and very carefully opened the drawer to look once again at the posters. To fix into his head the rough sketch of this ‘other’ brother. Then he had put them away, looked down at his sleeping mother, and then hurried out of the room.

Paul came just after the two men had eaten their breakfast. He accepted a cup of hot strong coffee and then went up to see his patient. He put his bag down on the table by the bed and surveyed Adam critically. His patient opened his eyes and frowned,

“Paul? What are you doing here?”

“Now, arn’t you full of surprises, young man. Here I am, thinking to find myself with a dead man on my hands, and there you are, full of sass.”

“Hardly that,” Adam said quietly, “I feel like a wet rag. How’re the boys?”

“They are fine. Can you sit up without help?” Paul stood by the bed, watched the man struggle and then assisted to get him the rest of the way up, “You’re very weak, Adam. I wish you would take some notice of me at times. You needed far more bed rest than you gave yourself, you know.”

“A ranch this size doesn’t run itself, you know.” Adam said, sounding so like Ben that Paul smiled, and nodded in agreement.

He ran a few tests while he was there, which his patient bore with remarkable tolerance. Then he closed his bag and surveyed Adam thoughtfully,

“I have to say, Adam I am surprised at how well, and how quickly, you have recovered from this fever. Perhaps this time you will take notice of me, and rest up.”

“Paul, I -”

“I know, there’s work to be done. Well, let Joe and Hoss get on and do it for you. They’re capable young men. They can manage.”

Adam said nothing to that, but leaned back against the pillows. Paul smiled,

“Any pain anywhere?”

“A little, where I got shot. It’s not much, not like it was before.”

“How’s your back?”

“Painful. But not as bad as it was, “ Adam answered but with his mind already elsewhere. He closed his eyes, he was suddenly very tired, and could barely hear what it was that Paul said, presumably something about resting as usual. Before Paul had reached the door Adam was asleep.

“How is he, Doc?” Hoss asked as soon as Paul reached the half landing, and Paul smiled and came down the stairs to tell them that their brother had made a remarkable recovery.

“I’m surprised, I have to admit that, I didn’t expect to see him like this, but then, you Cartwrights are always full of surprises.” he picked up his cup of coffee, nearly cold, and drank it, “How’s your mother, Joe?”

“She’s sleeping, sir. I thought it better not to disturb her.” Joe replied quickly and smiled, but the doctor noticed that his eyes were distant, wary.

“And, how are you, young man? Are you alright?” he asked kindly.

“I’m fine, sir, just fine.” Joe replied, looking puzzled. How come people always seemed to know how he was feeling, he was feeling anything but fine to be honest. His mind was a morass of doubts and confusion, his heart was tumbling over with mixed emotions, and he felt anything but happy. Relieved about Adam, certainly, but now that the worry was over, that he was assured that Adam was going to be well, all the other anxieties just flooded in and took over.

Paul seemed content to leave things at that, he picked up his hat and walked to the door, followed by Hoss and Joe. It was then that he turned,

“I forgot to mention it to your mother last night, Joe, but would you tell her that I gave the young man her message.”

“What young man?” Joe asked, narrowing his eyes and surveying Paul sharply.

“The young man I was sitting with when you came into the saloon for me last night.” he smiled, slipped his hat onto his head, and left them.

“What was all that about, Joe?” Hoss asked, a slight frown on his brow.

“How’d do I know?” Joe replied angrily, and without another word he hurried up to Adam’s room.

Chapter 7-

Adam woke up to find Little Joe sitting in the chair beside his bed. For some moments he watched his brother who was totally immersed in thoughts so deep that he had not even noticed the pair of brown eyes that regarded him so earnestly from the bed.

Joe looked the image of dejection. His head bowed, his chin resting on his chest, and his eyes focused on the floor. He had one leg crossed over the other, and his arms folded in front of him. His breathing was deep, and his brow was lined by faint furrows. Every so often he would shake his head as though his thoughts were too troublesome and had to be shaken away.


He jumped, startled at the sound of his brother’s voice, but when he turned to look at him there was a smile on his face and his eyes were bright,

“Adam? Aw, you gave me a fright.” he laughed then, a laugh that contained a mixture of relief and pleasure in it. “Do you want anything? Something to drink or eat?”

“Water?” Adam replied “And help me sit up, I seem to be a bit – you know?”

Joe grinned, typical of Adam, couldn’t even use the word weak in relation to himself, even now. He passed the glass of water to him, and noticed how his brother’s hand shook slightly.

“Adam , don’t you ever do this to us again, do you hear?” he frowned, “You scared ten bells out of me.”

“Huh, that’s not an expression you hear everyday,” Adam said softly, and leaned back against the pillows and closed his eyes, “So? What’s been happening in the world while I was out of it? You can tell me, you know, Joseph.”

“What do you mean, Adam?” Joe sat down and pulled the chair closer. He put his elbows on the covers and steepled his fingers together, tapping his chin lightly with the forefinger of both hands, “What’s on your mind, huh?”

“I take it then, that your gloomy appearance was merely concern over my condition, huh? Or is it the latest lady in your life giving you trouble? Just send her up here and I’ll soon get things sorted out for you,” and he gave a low mirthless laugh.

“No, thanks, I remember the last time I did that,” Joe scowled. He sighed then and leaned back against the chair, “Adam, do you remember David Carter telling us about how Ma had a little boy before she married Pa?”

“That doesn’t sound good, Joseph, it needs rephrasing.” Adam frowned now, and wondered what his little brother was going to spring on him. “Alright, so Ma had a child by her first husband, Jean. So?”

“What was his name?”

“Clayton de Marigney.” Adam replied, and opened his eyes to look thoughtfully at his brother, and tried to remember something that seemed important but was lost in the back of his mind. Something that had happened just before he was ill. Was it this time or last? “Why do you ask?”

“I just wondered if you know what had happened to him,” Joe said over casually, staring at the dying embers of the fire.

“Joseph, not so long ago you were determined to ride the length and breadth of the county to find him, remember? He’s in Texas if I recall.”

“You were going to send a cable to Judge Warden to find out more, if you recall.”

“Ah, that’s the point, I don’t remember if I did or not.” Adam took a deep breath and closed his eyes again, “Did I go into town?”


“Mmm, was I alone?”

“Yes, you were alone. You went early if I remember rightly.” Joe smiled, and looked at his brother fondly. He wondered how long it would be before those dark shadows under the eyes would fade, and the hollows in his face were filled. He could remember looking at Adam with adoration when a child, his big brother was always the big, strong, handsome hero to the little boy. Perhaps some of the feeling still existed now. He leaned forward, “Hoss rode in later on though, you may have met up in town.”

“That’s right, we did. Did we go for a drink?”

“I wasn’t there,” Joe chuckled, and wondered if Adam were teasing him. Adam had a skittish sense of humour at times and loved to see just how far he could push Joe until his little brother lost his temper.

Adam sighed, he was really tired and mind games were not just what he wanted to indulge in right now. He looked at Joe, and saw the earnest expression on his face. Something was obviously troubling the lad, and it had to do with Clayton. Clayton? Now that sounded familiar. He sat upright and pointed to the chair in the far corner

“Joe, in my coat pocket. There was something about Clayton .. I remember putting it in my coat pocket. It might be the letter from the Judge.”

Joe got up and walked over to the coat and picked it up. He searched in all the pockets and then looked at Adam and shook his head,

“Ain’t nothing here, Adam.”

Adam looked surprised, and then shook his head slowly,

“I’m sure there was something that happened while we were in town. Hoss and I were together. No, we weren’t. I was in Roy’s office.” he pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes, “Look, Joe, I swear there was something. I put -,” he paused and then nodded as though to himself, but he reached out and clutched hold of Joe’s arm, “Wanted posters. I saw two wanted poster for Clayton.”

“And put them in your pocket?”

“I guess I did, but I can’t remember. Maybe I lost them.”

“Maybe someone else found them.” Joe said quietly, and now he sighed, and folded his arms behind his head and surveyed the ceiling, “My guess is, Adam, that Clayton is in Virginia City. I aim to find out.”

“No, I don’t think so,” Adam replied rather more sharply than Joe had expected, “I don’t think that would be wise at all. For one, you don’t know what he did exactly to warrant a murder accusation to be levelled at him, and two, he may not want you to find him.”

“But he’s Ma’s son, Adam. He’s my brother.” Joe replied, standing up and staring thoughtfully out of the window, “It may be a good idea to see him, before he gets round to seeing Ma. I don’t want her hurt, Adam.”

“Well, there’s no reason why she should be, is there? She doesn’t know about him,” he narrowed his eyes again “Does she?”

“Adam, she found the posters in your pocket. She knows about Clayton, but she may not know about Clay.”

Adam shook his head and bit down on his bottom lip, then he looked once more at Joe and recognised the determined stubborn look on the youths face,

“Joe, I think it may be better if you talked this over with Ma. See what she has to say first and act rationally on whatever she says.”

“Is that your advice?” Joe replied coolly, as though expecting his brother to say something more original that that.

“Yes, it is.”

They looked at one another for a long instant, and then Joe turned, and shook his head,

“I prefer it my way,” he said as he headed for the door, “With all due respect, Adam, I think I know what I’m doing now.”

Adam Cartwright watched his brother leave the room and the door close upon him. More than once he cursed the fact that he had brought the posters home, that he was too weak to even get out of bed, that he couldn’t prevent trouble. And, with Joe, there was sure to be trouble.

Chapter 71

Marie was horrified when she realised how long she had slept. A wave of panic swept over her at the thought that something terrible had happened to Adam and they had been too anxious to come in and tell her. She hurried from the bed, and ran to Adam’s room, trying to tuck coils of loose hair into place with pins as she went but loosing most on the floor and arriving in the room looking quite dishevelled.

Adam was slipping back into sleep when she approached his bed, but opened his eyes and looked up at her rather blankly, before realisation dawned and awareness came to mind. He smiled rather sleepily and took hold of the hand she held out to him,

“’Morning, Ma.”

“Good morning, my darling, how are you feeling?” she leaned down and kissed his brow, and a wave of thankfulness swept over her. She sunk down onto the chair by his bed, still holding his hand tightly, and letting her eyes roam over his face, “You look so much better. I woke up just now and had the most awful fear come over me. Thank God you are alright, thank God.”

“I had -” Adam paused and licked his lips, he was so tired, and longed to slip back into sleep, perhaps hopeful that sleep would bring him the dreams that meant brief moments with Ben, “I had dreams, about Pa.”

“We thought you did, Adam, we heard you call out to him at times.” she replied softly, and felt the tears prick her eyelashes.

“I always felt that it was my fault, you know?” he glanced at her, then looked away as though ashamed that he was speaking this way, “I wanted to see the horses, and Pa wanted to stay home to work on the ledgers because he wanted to send me to college. Ma, I always thought I was to blame for what happened to Pa.”

“Do you still think so?”

“I – I don’t know. I don’t feel so guilty now, but I still have to accept my responsibility for what happened.” he darted another quick glance in her direction, “I’m sorry, Ma, I’m sorry.”

“Adam,” she folded her other hand over his, and leaned in towards him, a tendril of hair slipped across her face, giving her a quite girlish look in the shadows, “I don’t want you to blame yourself anymore. You have driven yourself to the brink of exhaustion trying to prove that you are so sorry for what happened. I could almost say, being Catholic raised, that you were doing penance, an expiation for your sins, but, my dear, there is no point in doing this anymore. You are a wonderful person, Adam, a man of whom your father would be so proud. Don’t, please don’t, punish yourself anymore in this way. Do you promise?”

“Pa would still be here if it weren’t for me, Ma,” Adam exclaimed, “And he put himself in the line of fire to save me.”

“Just as you would now if you were in the same situation with Hoss or Joe. Would you not, Adam?”

“Yes,” he frowned, and struggled to remember something important. What had happened to his mind, everything seemed so fogged. Of course, he was tired, very tired. “Joe. Where is Joe?”

“I think he and Hoss have left for work.” she smiled and squeezed his hand, “I never got to see them before they left. They let me sleep on.”

“You took some papers from my coat pocket?” he looked at her anxiously, scanning her face with his eyes, seeing the fear, the doubt and the momentary confusion fall across her face.

“Yes, your coat was wet and …”

“Ma, you saw the posters?”

“Yes, I saw them.” Marie’s face went several shades paler, “I saw what they said about Clayton. I suppose that is why he has changed his name to Clay Stafford.”


“And what?” she looked surprised, and then shook her head at him, “What’s on your mind, Adam?”

“I don’t know, my mind seems clogged up with fog just now. There was something I thought you may know about Clay. His whereabouts for instance?”

“I don’t know where he is,” Marie said quickly.

“Joe thinks he knows.” Adam replied, his lips thinning, “Hasn’t he seen you? Hasn’t he spoken to you about it?”

“No,” Marie’s voice trailed away, and she looked at him fearfully, “He must have seen the papers, they were in my room. But, I didn’t say anything about Clay being in town.”

“Do you think he could be there?” Adam asked, looking at her intensely now, and seeing from her face that yes, she did indeed think her son was there. “In which case, you had better send Hoss into town to get Joe back.”

He sunk back into the pillows. How hard it was to talk now, difficult to be rational, difficult to be logical. He wanted, needed, to sleep. He felt her hands release his own, her lips on his brow, and then he was drifting back into sleep, thankfully, like returning to the womb from whence he was born.

Chapter 72

“Hop Sing, have you seen Joe and Hoss?” Marie enquired as she hurried through the dining room into the kitchen, buttoning up her sleeves as she did so, she looked up at him with anxious eyes and got the usual big smile of welcome that she received from him every morning,

“Good morning, Missy Catlight,” Hops Sing replied, taking his attention from peeling some vegetables, “Mistuh Hoss go to west field, he say fencing to be checked befoah wintah get too bad. Mistuh Joe he say he go into town on business. Mighty urgent business I think.”

“Why do you think that, Hop Sing?” Marie stopped buttoning her sleeves to pour herself some coffee. She still felt groggy from sleeping too long, and missing breakfast.

“He go out of house like skylocket. Pshew – up and gone. Take hoss and ride fast out of heah. Mistuh Hoss not happy and say he take too many chance. More wain today so not good.”

Marie nodded slowly, and drank the coffee gratefully. It was strong and dark and bitter. She drank standing up, almost afraid to sit in case she got too comfortable. Perhaps she should eat something, perhaps she should not, but just go.

“Hop Sing, make sure that Adam gets his medicine and also some food. He’s really needing to eat now and build himself up. To get strong again.” she picked up a bread roll absent mindedly, and hurried out of the room.

“Wheah Missy go? What I say to Mistuh Adam?”

“Tell him that I’ve gone into town, he’ll know what I mean. Thank you, Hop Sing.”

Hop Sing smiled and bobbed his head as though he also understood what it was all about, and returned to preparing the food. He decided to make Adam some chicken noodle soup.

Marie left the house and made her way to the stable, where she saddled her horse as quickly as possible. A light drizzle was beginning to fall that was annoying, but not too heavy. She had made up her mind now anyway, and a little rain was not going to stop her going into town. What she was going to do when she got there, however, she did not know. She had decided that she would have to wait and see how far things had gone between Joe and Clay and act on that. At the thought of seeing Clay her heart did a somersault and her stomach tightened into knots.


In his room Adam heard the sound of a horse galloping out of the yard. He half stirred, opened his eyes and then, with a sigh, closed them again before dropping off back to sleep.


“’Morning, Joe, how’s Adam ?” Roy Coffee stood on the sidewalk and smiled over at the young man who dismounted and tethered Cochise at the hitching rail by the sheriff’s office.

“He’s come through the worse, Roy, thanks. Er – how are things here in town? Quiet, are they?”

“As can be,” Roy grinned, and his eyes twinkled, “I’m real pleased to hear that news about young Adam. We were all a mite worried here, you know.”

“Yes. Well, I think we all were, Roy.” Joe glanced around nervously. The drizzle had stopped and a miserable sun was struggling to warm the day up and dry the puddles. It was not succeeding very well.

“So, Joseph, what are you doing in town to-day? I thought you’d be staying up at the ranch house to make sure Adam didn’t start getting up and into mischief again too soon.”

“Oh, I doubt if he’ll be doing that for a while yet, Roy.” he cast another look around and seeing Roy looking at him with some suspicion, he nodded and grinned at him, touched the brim of his hat and bade him goodbye, assuring the sheriff that he had some important errands to see to that could not wait.

Roy watched the young man with a slight frown on his face. He wondered if Joe ever would realise how transparent he was to folk. It was obvious that he was up to something.

Joe stopped first at the Telegraph Depot and was rewarded with a reply from Judge Warden, addressed to Adam Cartwright with an Urgent marked on top.

“I would have brought it to the Ponderosa, Joe, but when I heard how sick Adam was I thought it better to wait and see how things fell, you know how it is?” the clerk muttered as Joe slipped the envelope into his pocket.

Charley was sweeping the sidewalk out side the saloon. Rain caused mud, and mud traipsed into the saloon created mess. Charley was not a great one for mess about the place. It liked it neat and tidy, which was a bit of shame because most of his clientele didn’t even notice.

Seeing Charley brought the picture of a pretty girl with flaming copper hair to Joe’s mind. He strolled over and nodded to Charley who nodded back, glanced at the young mans boots and frowned. Ignoring him, Joe entered the saloon, and looked about him.

Lil was the first to see him, and her face beamed with pleasure as she rushed up to him and threw her arms about his neck,

“Joe, I was so pleased to hear about Adam. How is he? Is he really going to be alright now?”

“Yeah,” Joe replied, disentangling himself from her arms. It was like being hugged by a giant squid. “He’s going to be fine. Paul thought he wasn’t going to last the night out, but he recovered pretty well. You know what my big brothers like, Lil, full of surprises. I think he even surprises himself sometimes.”

“I said a really big prayer to the Man Upstairs for him last night. You looked so scared when you came in for the doc.” Lil cried, almost breathless from her relief and being able to talk to Joe about it. She frowned, “You don’t look very happy, Joe. Is anything worrying you? Are you sure that Adam’s going to be alright? You aren’t lying to me, are you?”

“As if I’d lie to you, Lil.” Joe said, gentling his voice now for he knew only too well how much Lil thought about his brother, “Is Miss Joy hereabouts, Lil?”

“Miss Joy?” Lil laughed a soft sultry chuckle deep in her throat, “Oh, you sound just like that new feller that’s been hanging about lately. She’s with him now, as a matter of fact. I think he took her out someplace. Best ask Charley, he’d know where his little girl has gone.”

“What new feller is this, Lil?”

“Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you,” she teased.

“To early for that, unless it’s a coffee,” Joe replied, forcing himself to smile at her while all the time he was itching to get out and find Joy.

“Have it your own way, then. Remember when you came in to get the Doc for Adam? He was talking to a guy at the table. It was him, he was the new feller.”

Joe frowned, he only had a hazy memory of who was around at the time, as his focus was on Paul. He shook his head,

“So, what’s this guys’ name?”

“Oh, it’s Clay.” Lil smiled brightly, “Clay Stafford.”

Chapter 74

Joy Marsden lifted her skirts clear of the mud as she crossed the street and smiled gratefully at Clay as he took her elbow and steered her away from some of the deeper ruts in the road that had collected the rain water. She was, Clay thought, quite a charming girl as well as being one of the prettiest he had seen in a long time. He had always preferred blondes, but Joy’s hair was so stunning that any man would have been a fool not to notice it.

“Here we are,” Joy said, shaking her head and allowing several corkscrew curls to tumble across her brow, “They have really pleasant coffee here.”

Clay smiled and nodded, and pushed open the door for her to enter. The warmth of the room gushed around them, and in silence they made their way over to a corner far from the window. She sat down, smiled at him, and waited for him to take his seat.

He was a handsome man, there was no denying that fact. The slim moustache he had grown gave him an older air, and defined his mouth charmingly. He had an elegance about him too, in the way he moved, that was uncommon in most cowboys. That is, if he were a cowboy.

“Mr Stafford?”

“Yes, Miss Joy?”

“What exactly do you do for a living?” she smiled, and fluttered her eyelashes, “I’m asking because I find you rather a curious being, you know.”

Clay laughed, he had fine shaped teeth, and threw his head back when he laughed. She liked that,

“You are a strange girl, Miss Joy. I don’t know of any woman who would call me a curious being, but you.” he beckoned the waitress and ordered two coffees.

“That’s because I’m not the common kind of woman, you know.” she replied without any coyness, “My father may not appear much to your eyes, but let me assure you, Mr Stafford, I have had an education second to none. Thanks to my fathers father, he being Irish you know, and my dear mother.”

“So, your grandfather being Irish, enabled you to get a good education? Well, my grandfather was not Irish but I consider myself well educated.” Clay smiled, and paid the waitress some money as she set down the coffees.

“I knew you were,” she replied, “Breeding tells. That is why I thought you could not possibly be just an ordinary cowboy. Are you a cowboy?”

“Not at all. I know one end from the other, but that is just about all. I have no desire to ride a horse and chase cows all day long.”

“So, are you a professional gambler? You did very well at the cards last night I noticed.”

“You did?” Clay smiled slowly, and looked at Joy who appeared so naïve and innocent, “Well, I would prefer to be such than to be a cowboy. How does that suit you?”

“Do you consider it a gentleman’s profession?”

“I really don’t know what a gentleman’s profession is,” he drawled, and then leaned forward, “Tell me, how was it that an Irish grandfather and your mother managed to get you to school?”

“Oh, because my grandfather was wealthy and he loved my mother. She married my father, God bless her, and grandfather said he would keep his money in the bank for the child. That was me. Then when I was old enough the money paid for my education. I’ve only been here a short while you know.”

“I think you did mention it,” Clay drawled and leaned back in his chair. He felt restless. The kind of feeling a person can get before a storm when the hairs on their arms stand on end and there are butterflies in the stomach.

They slipped into a relaxed banter, pleasant and unassuming. After a little while Joy felt she was quite in love with this handsome stranger and Clay felt he just had to get away, as soon as possible. He pulled out his watch and opened it, checked the time, put on a worried frown, and snapped the lid shut.

“I am sorry, I’m late for an appointment,” he said hurriedly, “Please excuse me.”

She smiled, thanked him prettily and watched as he left the coffee house. She sighed deeply, and felt her stomach turn over. This was definitely love.

“I wouldn’t bother if I were you, dear,” the waitress muttered as she came to collect the cups, “His kind aren’t the settling down sort.”

Joy said nothing, she was young and naïve. Finishing school had not taught her lessons about love and broken hearts. Those lessons one learns from experience only.


Joe walked along the sidewalk with his heart pounding with every step. Charley had told him that his girl, Joy, and the man referred to as Clay, had gone out for a walk. A walk? Joe felt a turmoil of emotions, chiefly amongst them the stirring of a deep seated insecurity that revealed itself as a possessive jealousy. Those he loved he did so deeply, and having lost the perfect father so young in his life, he could not bear the thought of losing anyone else.

When he was small he would often go into his mother’s room and ask her in his childish way, “Ma, why did Pa leave me?” “Was I naughty, Ma?” “Didn’t Pa love me, was I a bad boy?” and Marie would cuddle him, and tell him stories about his Pa to prove to him that he was a most loved little boy, the most precious little boy, and that sometimes life can be so cruel in taking away those we love the most. “But you won‘t ever leave me, will you, Momma?” and she assured him she would not, because she loved him best of all.

Now he thought back to the night of the storm, when he had felt this surge of emotion for his brother, this mysterious person who had suddenly intruded upon their lives and was now so close to hand. A brother, son of Marie, someone to love and someone else who would love him. He had ridden out there without thought of anyone else but Clay, and himself.

So much had happened since David Carter had told them about Clayton. Now here he was stomping down the street wanting to thump him because he had gone for a walk with the girl Joe was interested in getting to know better. Not only that, there was a bigger threat, one that had to be faced, because whether Clay was his brother or not, he was a wanted man, a murderer. How could he share his Momma with a man like that?


He jumped and turned to see Joy Marsden tip toeing her way through the mud towards him. She was smiling at him as though only too happy to see him on such a dismal day,

“Good morning, Joy. I thought you were already busy,” he said with a hint of cynicism in his voice.

“Not at all, Joe. I was having a drink of coffee with a friend of mine, that was all. You look a regular cross patch today, what’s upset you?” she frowned and surveyed him in a comical way, and then she smiled, which brought a smile to his face, “See, Joe, you really are so handsome when you smile. We were pleased to know that Adam was well again.”

“He isn’t well again, he’s on the way to becoming well again.” Joe said, but with a smile and a little teasing tone to his voice which made her laugh. Her world was a simple one, and her theory on life an innocent one … just accept people as they are and they’ll like you. It was important to Joy to be liked by everyone she knew.

“Joe, you should meet my new friend. He’s very handsome, like you, you know. He comes from New Orleans and is really very charming.” and prattling on in such a manner she slipped her arm through Joe’s and strolled along through town quite merrily.

As she chattered Joe thought about Clay, and about his mother, their mother. He needed to know what Clay had done to warrant a Wanted poster to be put out on his head. He had to know in order to protect Marie.

Chpater 75

Marie was bitterly regretting not having taken the time to fix up the buggy instead of saddling her horse. Although the rain had stopped there was a chill in the air, and the ground underfoot was slippery. It meant that there was no point in trying to get the horse to go too fast because of the possible danger of him loosing his footing.

She was a skilled horsewoman and knew how to handle her animal. The horse could read her strengths as well as her weaknesses from her hold on the reins, the firm grip of her fingers and ability with a flexible wrist sent him messages that kept him in good control even over the ground that he disliked and distrusted.

She kept her head down against the cool breeze, and urged the horse to go at a steady canter. She noticed as she rode along that the rain must have been more heavy than she had realised for little trickles of water ran down the sides of the hills onto the road, forming wide puddles across it.

Her thoughts were of Joe, her little boy, her child grown to manhood too quickly. How fast the time had flown. Perhaps she had not realised how quickly until David had come courting, making her aware of her own loss of youth. Her desire to be loved was strong, and she knew with hindsight that David had sensed that more strongly that he could sense her love for him. Perhaps it was because she had loved one weak man who had left her and died far from her, and then she had married a very strong man who had been all and everything to her, but had also left her.

Joe was her world. Now she wondered whether it was because of Clay that she had loved Joe so much, had exclaimed and praised aloud his first steps, his first words. Had been tolerant when he was naughty, had laughed at his mischief, had chided Ben for scolding him when he was bad. Because of Clay, the child she had thought to be dead, everything about Joe was doubly precious. But could that now all change?


Lil was a good hearted woman, old in the ways of the world, young in years and heart. When Joe and Joy entered the saloon together she smiled, and shook her head. The youth of today, she sighed, walks out with one fine gentleman and walks back in with another. She was fond of Joe, fond of Hoss too come to that, but she loved Adam. The thought of the man in black brought a cloud of despondency over her, and when she heard Joy laughing at something Joe had said, she had to fight to suppress the jealousy that touched her heart.

“A glass of something, Charley,” she asked with a drawn out sigh, and stared at herself in the mirror while she waited for him to pour it out.

She didn’t think she was that bad looking, not really. She wasn’t a classy girl, lacked education, but that wasn’t everything in life, or was it? She looked at Joy through the mirror and saw how she playfully tapped Joe on the cheek and laughed, and Lil could not help but release another long drawn out sigh.

“Not happy, my dear?” Charley asked, handing out a glass of sweet sherry.

“Oh, it isn’t that, Charley. I just feel – “ she shrugged, she didn’t really know how she felt, but glanced up at the mirror to see Joy and Joe again, “How long is your daughter going to be here, Charley?”

“Not long, dearie. She’s finished her schooling now as you know, and will be going to work in San Francisco as a Governess to a lady in Nobs Hill in a few weeks time.”

“A Governess, Charley? But I thought she had gone to finishing school to be a lady?”

Charley laughed, not unkindly. He was a bluff, good hearted man from solid Irish stock. He picked up a cloth and began to polish a glass,

“My old dad came from Ireland in his youth. Now, he’d often tell me he had kissed the Blarney Stone and I reckon, seeing how he got on in life, that he had practically swallowed the thing! My Ma was an Irish gal too, from County Cork, and I was their only child. When I married my Eileen my mother, God bless her, had died long since, and there was something about Eileen my old Da loved. Now, I’ve had to work hard all my life, and I’ve no airs and graces to my name, as you know, but my Eileen and my Da they wanted our girl to have the best chance in life possible.”

“So she’s had an education, and works in a saloon, and will soon be a Governess.” Lil frowned, and shrugged, “I’ve had no education, Charley, and work in a saloon , but I guess I’ll never be good enough to be a Governess.”

“My dear, look at my lovely girl? Pretty as a picture, and where she gets it from I don’t know. However, she’s a simple hearted girl, and the finishing school she went to catered for girls like her, not for young ladies who go to Europe to be educated later on. Oh no, my Joy has an education, but sufficient for her needs. She’s here to be with me awhile, that’s all. She doesn’t need to work, has my Da’s allowance to keep her going at the moment.”

“What if she marries ? She could marry Joe, you know, and become another Mrs Cartwright.”

“My dear, Joe Cartwright is as sharp as a needle and as bright as a button. He’s young and likes a pretty face, and he likes someone who can make him laugh, just like that Mr Stafford. But when it gets to marriage ..” Charley shook his head, “No, Joy will make a fine Governess, the children will love her, the Missus will hate her, and God help the husband.”

Lil smiled and sipped at her sherry. Suddenly her day had brightened, and when she heard Joe’s chuckle she found herself laughing along with him.


Clay Stafford was an able horseman. He had ridden horses since an infant and enjoyed it. Leaving Joy to return home alone, he found his horse, ,saddled it and decided to ride out of town towards the borders of the Ponderosa. There were beautiful views there and he loved to look down at the lake and over at the mountains beyond it with the pine trees clinging to their side.

The well worn road was slushy from the recent rains. His horse, a powerful roan, stretched out long legs and enjoyed the clean air with a zest that Clay found invigorating. He pulled down his hat and lowered it down to his eyes, bowed his head, and urged the horse onwards.

Neither rider noticed the other approaching them. The hoof beats were deadened by the dampness of the soil, and the wind in their ears deafened them to the sound. With their heads lowered against the wind they saw nothing but their horse and the immediate section of road beyond its nose. It was left to the horses to take evasive action. Both reared up to avoid a collision. Clays horse pawed the air, danced on it’s back legs a little and then landed on all fours with his rider still in the saddle.

Marie’s horse did a neat piroutte, then reared up, tossing his head back in alarm and his eyes rolling in their sockets. Marie gave a cry, felt the reins jerked from her hands, and slid from the saddle, falling with a thud onto the ground.

For a moment she remained on her back, dazed and stunned. A strong arm circled beneath her shoulders and gently raised her into a sitting position, and a deep voice was asking her, repeatedly, if she were alright.

She swallowed, coughed, and shook her head. Then she blinked, and looked up into the face of her rescuer. She looked up into the face of her son.

Chapter 76

Chapter 58

How to hold this moment in time. Like a bubble one dare not burst held in the palm of one’s hand. What to say? What to do?

Marie remained seated staring up at him while her mind reeled back and forth. How like Jean he was, enough for her to have recognised him anywhere. How like Joe, enough to know that they were blood kin. Oh this most precious moment, what was she to do now?

“I’m so sorry, Madam, so very sorry,” Clay was saying, his eyes looking earnestly, anxiously into her face, “I wasn’t looking where I was going. I didn’t see you. I can’t apologise enough. Please say you aren’t hurt? Can I get you some water?”

“No, it’s – it’s alright.” Marie raised her hand to her mouth, she felt physically sick. Was it the fall or seeing him. “Water, yes, please.”

He left her and hurried to the horse and pulled away the canteen, hoping that there was water still in it. She accepted it gratefully, smiled at him and raised it to her lips.

“I had other things on my mind,” Clay was saying, “and with the way the weather has been I didn’t look ahead as I should have done. You aren’t hurt, are you?”

“Only my pride,” she replied and passed him back the canteen with a smile, “Could you help me up?”

His hand in hers was firm and strong, but gentle. His arm came beneath her shoulders and was likewise firm and strong. He had about him an air of authority and self confidence. It was something that Jean had lacked in many ways, but then, this young man was already older than Jean had been when he had gone from her life.

She brushed herself down and grimaced at the sight of the mud on her gloves. What the rest of her looked like she dreaded to think and there was obviously little point now in continuing on into town. She looked at Clay and put out her hand,

“I’m Marie Cartwright from the Ponderosa,” she said and looked him straight in the eyes.

“I’m Clay Stafford,” he replied and smiled, and shook her hand in his.

Marie was the one to look away and cast her head down in order that the tears in her eyes could not be seen by the young man, She made a little more fuss about the state of her riding habit, in order to try and put together some coherent thought. This was such an important moment in her life, in their lives, that she was terrified that she would say the wrong thing and destroy the magic forever.

For indeed, it was like magic, this son of hers so long lost and now suddenly thrust back into her life. She glanced over at him as he busied himself putting the stopper on the canteen and walking over to his horse. He was certainly grown into a charmingly handsome man, and he walked with confidence and manliness. He was everything she would have wanted her son to be, and she felt her heart swell with pride, and then tighten with fear once again. She could lose him again, as easily as that, and so how could she keep him? Should she just say “Clay, I’m your mother,” and see what he would do? How would he react to that statement? She opened her mouth, and tried to say the words but nothing happened apart from a rather impolite croak.

Clay Stafford took his time putting the canteen away and made a pretence of calming his horse down and checking to make sure he was sound of wind and limb. So, this was Marie Cartwright, the woman he had thought about so much over the past day or so. Was it possible that she was really his mother? How old could she be now? He did a quick tally up of his age and her age at the time of birth and then cast a sidelong glance at her again. For a woman of that maturity she was quite lovely.

Should he ask her outright. “Er, excuse me, Madam, but are you my mother?” He bit his bottom lip and shook his head slightly, that would never do, not in a million years. She may not have an inkling of an idea that they were related. What kind of shock would that be, and if she were, indeed, his mother he wanted them to get along well. She was, indeed, a lovely looking woman and if she were all the things people in town claimed her to be, then she was a woman worthy of respect, and even, perhaps, his love.

They turned towards each other, and smiled. Marie cleared her throat,

“Well, there’s little point in my riding into town now, Mr Stafford ..”

“Please, call me Clay. After what has happened, I don’t think we need be so formal, do you?” he smiled, charmingly, and his eyes lit up, just as Joe’s would have done in just this situation.

“That’s kind of you, Clay.” she replied, and felt an intense desire to rush into his arms and hug him close. “Where you going anywhere in particular?”

“To tell you the truth, Mrs Cartwright, I was riding to the border of your land. There’s some lovely views there, and on a day like this, I would have liked to have seen them .”

“That’s interesting, Mr .. Clay, most people don’t think of views on a day of drizzle and cloud. Look, why not come home with me. It would be the least I can do in the circumstances.”

He looked at her and then looked away. He didn’t want to appear too eager, he frowned, “But, I understood that your son was gravely ill. I wouldn’t like to intrude at a time like this.”

Marie cast down her eyes and nodded, realising that she had, perhaps, appeared too anxious, too earnest in her invitation, and it must have appeared callous to have been so forthcoming to a stranger, when Adam was known to have been so ill.

“Yes, Adam has been very ill, very ill indeed. Thankfully he looks set to recover now.”

“Then you must all be very relieved,” Clay smiled and looked as though he were about to vault back into the saddle and return to town.

“I know he would be pleased to have some company apart from ours,” she stepped towards him, as though to physically prevent his leaving her, “Hoss and Joe are both out for the day, and Adam would enjoy talking to you.”

“Really? Well, I don’t know about that, after all, if he’s been so ill, would he really appreciate my company? I’m not the most interesting of persons to have around.”

Marie felt her heart drop and she thought he was making excuses not to come back to the house with her. Why? Had she sounded like one of those desperately lonely women who seize on strangers for their company? And he was right, Adam would no doubt be far from interested in talking to a complete stranger. She looked at him as he smiled at her, but had yet to get into the saddle,

“Hop Sing makes an excellent cup of coffee,” she heard herself say, with a smile.

Clay Stafford thought that she was one of the most attractive women he had ever met. If this really were his mother, what was the truth behind all the stories his grandmother de Marigney had told him about her. So little information had been given him about his mother that it was hard to know what was true and what was false. He bowed his head and glanced over his shoulder, then he smiled as he looked back at her,

“Well, now I am partial to a good cup of coffee.” he laughed then, as though he hadn’t realised just how much he had wanted this opportunity to be with her, and how anxious he had been in case it had not come about after all.

They rode together towards the Ponderosa, following the track above the lake. At one point Marie drew her horse to a halt, and Clay paused, to glance down to where she was pointing,

“This was one of my husband’s favourite views. He used to say it was like a view of heaven itself. On a sunny day it is beautiful, truly beautiful. On a day like today it looks mystical, shrouded in cloud, don’t you think so?”

“I think your husband was right, Mrs Cartwright,” Clay replied, as his eyes swept along the wide vista of hills, pine trees and lake. “It is beautiful. He must have been quite a man to have realised such an empire as this, it could not have been much of an easy task to have created it.”

“Indeed not, and once created, it has to be kept safe, protected. The Ponderosa has its enemies.” she frowned slightly, and turned her horse’s head away, back towards the ranch house.

They rode in silence for a while, at a steady and comfortable trot. The sun was still struggling to peek out from grey clouds. Both riders were searching for the things to say that would keep everything safe from falling apart. Both felt vulnerable, searching for what they were afraid to admit to the other. Marie cleared her throat again,

“Adam and Hoss were Ben’s sons. He was married twice before me, you see?” she glanced over at him and saw his nod, and noticed the keen interest in his eyes, “I had two sons of my own. One, my first by my first husband, died when only a few weeks old. Joseph is my second son, Ben’s son.”

There, she had thrown the ball into his court. She had remembered Hop Sing telling them about the young man who had made enquiries about a certain grave on their land. Perhaps he would put two and two together, maybe he would ponder on what she had said and say, ‘Mother, I am that son you thought dead…” she closed her eyes and when she opened them again was too frightened to look at him.

Clay said nothing. This was a statement given so voluntarily and honestly, that it caught him by surprise. Yet she was so sure her child had died. Why would she say that? Had she forgotten how she had abandoned him all that time ago, left him and walked away. Robbed him of her love, and the love of his father? He looked away from her, and instead looked at the ranch house that was looming ahead of them .

Chapter 78

Clay dismounted slowly, while his eyes took in his surroundings. He tethered the horse beside Marie’s and all the time his eyes were absorbing the details of the house and barns and stables. The whole setting of the house was perfect. He smiled, if one had to build a log cabin anywhere, this was the perfect place.

“Did your husband build this?” he asked Marie, who was walking slightly ahead of him, and she turned and smiled,

“Yes, with the help of his sons and Hop Sing, his friend, our friend.”

“Oh yes,” Clay frowned, and remembered the man who had given him directions to Jean’s grave. He bowed his head and took off his hat, the following few moments, he felt, were going to be very interesting.

Hop Sing came to the door as Marie pushed it open and gave her his customary wide smile. His affection for all in the house was always heartwarming, and since Ben’s death, he had been a stalwart companion and ally.

“Mister Adam sleeping. He take medicine and eat well. Soon be much bettuh” he turned his beaming smile to Marie’s companion, “Ah, you I see othah day? You find grave all okay, I hope?”

Clay swallowed involuntarily, and nodded, and twisted his hat round and round between his fingers,

“Yes, I did, thank you.” he said in a slightly deeper voice.

“Oh, yes,” Marie said quietly, and looked at him full in the face, “Hop Sing said someone had gone to visit Jean’s grave. Jean was my first husband.”

Clay gave her a quizzical frown, the kind of look Joe gave her when he had done something wrong and was trying to get out of being punished. The ‘oh did I really do that, do I really need a tanning?’

“Clay, let us be honest with one another right from the start, shall we?” Marie took a deep breath and could feel the colour rising to her cheeks, she drew herself erect and squared her shoulders, “Did you know that Jean was my husband? Why did you visit the grave?”

“Don’t you already know, Mrs Cartwright?” he asked, and dropped his eyelids, fumbled again with his hat, then looked at her straight, “He was my father. One of the few things I was told about him by my grandparents, was that he was buried here.”

“And did your grand parents not tell you that I was also here?” Marie asked in a slightly wavering voice.

“No, Ma’am, they did not. You were – not really mentioned.”

Marie bowed her head. She hadn’t realised until then that she was crying.

“No, of course not, I don’t suppose they would ..” she mumbled.

Clay dithered, he looked at Hop Sing who had stepped forward to put a kindly hand on Marie’s arm, Hop Sing in turn gave the young man an appraising look before turning to Marie,

“Come,” he said as tenderly as a father talking to his child, “Mother and son, must talk now together.”

Clay stepped forward, and put the hat down on the bureau, then took hold of Marie’s hands, and enclosed them in both of his own.

“I never knew,” he said softly, “that I had such a lovely mother.”

Through her tears Marie managed a smile, looked up into his face and saw the warmth in the dark eyes,

“I never knew, I never knew, Clay, that you were alive. They told me … they told me …” and she struggled to breathe, to get the words out, and it was only when he folded her in his arms and held her close, and she could put her arms around him, that the words burst out in sobs against his chest, “Oh Clay, I thought you were dead.”

In the kitchen Hop Sing began to make coffee, he was smiling to himself, happy for the moment, but at the back of his mind he knew there were dark clouds gathering as there would always be when changes are made in a family. Wisdom came from within a warm loving heart, and Hop Sing knew that this family were going to be riding through stormy waters before they reached the conclusion of this particular matter.

Chapter 79

“It’s no good,” Joy pursed her lips and carefully smudged some red colouring over them,“this morning I thought I was in love with that nice Mr Stafford.”

“And now?” Lil smiled and passed her young friend a bright scarlet feather on a diamante clasp, which rather clashed with Joy’s hair, but looked rather fetching none the less.

“Now, I find myself thinking that Little Joe is wonderful. I love his eyes, and his smile. He is just about the best package a girl could have – do you think this goes with my hair?”

“You look lovely,” Lil assured her, “Apart from anything else, Joe is rich.” and she laughed, seeing from Joy’s face that yes, this did weigh well in Joe’s favour.

“There now, you have to admit, Lil, considering how much you feel about Adam, that if he were poor would you feel the same way about him?”

Lil looked at her own reflection in the mirror and then lowered her eyes. Oh yes, she thought, if Adam Cartwright were dirt poor I’d love him more than ever, because then, perhaps he would see me for who I really am, and perhaps, he would love me too.

Joe was whistling under his breath as he galloped his way home. Joy was just about the sweetest girl he had met in a long time. He had, he thought, wiped out any feelings she may have been harbouring for ‘that nice Mr Stafford’ and replaced them once again with feelings solely for himself. He felt happy and relaxed. He had the letter for Adam in his pocket from the Judge, and he had decided that meeting Clay could wait, he had much preferred his meeting with Joy.

Hoss rubbed his hands together, and then wiped them down the back of his pants. It had been hard going getting the calf out of the morass of weed and muck it had found itself in. Good thing he had decided to give the herd a check over, otherwise old mother cow would have been fretting over a dead calf for sure. He tugged down the brim of his hat, and returned to Chubb who was waiting for him on the slope of the hill.

“Hey, Chubb, my bones are cold. Let’s go home and check on Adam. I didn’t feel right leaving him thar by hisself.” he mounted into the saddle, and turned the horse towards the Ponderosa, “Guess he’ll be right glad to hear how well things are doing here, huh?”

Adam stirred and sighed. No one looking down on him would think he was currently being pursued by two bears and a wolf. He was running as fast as he could but not getting anywhere and all the time the creatures were getting closer and closer. Drool was dripping from their fangs and their eyes were blood red. He could hear Hoss yelling out something about not being anybody’s dinner but he was too breathless to speak.

Hop Sing looked down at him, and smiled, how peaceful he looked, just as he would have looked years back when a child. He leaned down and shook the sleeping man by the shoulder. Adam turned onto his back, and squinted up at him, and blinked

“Any bears about, Hop Sing?” he asked in a the midst of a stifled yawn.

“No, only a man, Clay Stafford.” came the soft reply.

Marie and Clay sat on the settee, the coffee utensils were laid out all before them. He held one of her hands in his own, and was staring down at the coffee pot as though he hated it. Marie had asked him to tell her about his life, and he was now trying to work out just how to begin. He took a deep breath, probably more honest to start right at the beginning…and so, he did.

Chapter 80

“You should know,” Clay began, “that from as far back as I can remember I have been told that you abandoned my father and myself for … for someone else.” his dark brows knitted together at the sharp intake of breath from Marie, and he shook his head slowly, as though even now he couldn’t understand how she could have done something so cruel, “My Grandmother would seldom, very seldom mention you to me. When I was old enough to start asking questions I was told that you were …” he glanced at her sharply, and looked away, “not the kind of woman the de Maringneys would want to know, that you – well, anyway, I guess looking back now I know my Grandmother more now than I did then, because she was good to me, kind and generous. I had a pleasant childhood, and a good education. My father I can dimly recall, but he disappeared out of my life and Grandmother said he had died, and blamed you for his early death. It was very clear to me that she hated you, and because she was so good and kind to me, I hated you as well.”

Marie said nothing but a shiver went down her spine at the vitriol the old woman would have transfused into the heart of her son over the years. The hatred Madame de Marigney had for her had never been concealed, so it was no surprise really, to know that it had not faded with the years. It still hurt though, deeply, that a child could be poisoned so subtly against his natural parent as a result.

“I used to hear the servants talking about you though. Little snippets whispered in the corridors and suddenly stopping when I came near. That’s how I learned your name was Marie. Grandmother used to refer to you as That Woman or The Creole. I asked the servants at times like those about you but they would not talk to me about it. Sometimes it must have been mentioned to Grandmother and she would threaten me with punishment if I were to mention it again. As I grew older, I did get punished.” Clay smiled, a twisted smile of bitter resentment, “but it didn’t stop me from becoming curious.”

Clay cleared his throat, and twitched his shoulders back. It was an uneasy feeling, sitting there with his real mother, holding her hand, telling her things that he had not thought about for some while now. Memories of those happier years in his childhood that were tinged with a streak of poison.

“I loved my Grandparents, in many ways they did everything they could to make me happy. I recall a time when I was learning to ride and I overheard Grandmother saying ‘Jean could never ride so well,’ and she said it with such pride that I realised then that she loved me, but that she had been, perhaps, disappointed in my father. I began to look out for such things as that, indications of what had happened in the times before my birth. To the time when things went wrong.”

“I think, “ Marie said gently, “that your Grandmother would say things went wrong at the time Jean and I met and fell in love.”

“No,” Clay shook his head and smiled at her in a charming way, “No, I think it happened when they realised Jean, my father, was not a very strong character, not in the mould a de Marigney should have been cast.” he shrugged, “It doesn’t matter now, anyway. They are all dead.”

They were quiet for a while, then he resumed his narrative,

“I heard whispers about you being married, and asked Grandmother about it. She boxed my ears and told me not to mention you again, you were dead, and that was all there was to it. I heard that father was dead and wondered why there was no big funeral as there had been when Grandfather had died. I wanted to know where father had been buried. I often asked but no one told me.” he stretched out his legs and released her hand to reach out for the coffee, after several sips he returned to the story.

“I went to the Town Hall to look up the registry of births, marriages and deaths. I was young, about fourteen if I recall correctly. It was all there … your marriage to father, my birth. Then there was the record of father’s death, and of your marriage to Ben Cartwright. It was – “ he paused, and shook his head again, and a confused look fell across his face, “It was all so strange. It just didn’t fit into the way I had been told and I stood there, foolish and stupid, just staring at the records. A clerk came and asked me if I needed help, and I explained that I needed to know where my father was buried so that I could visit his grave. He wouldn’t or couldn’t help me. I asked my Grandmother and she told me that he had died a long way from home. She cried. I recall sitting by her side putting my arms around her and thinking that she was just a poor old woman who had lost her son, and all she had left was me. I felt so sorry for her.” he sighed, and leaned forwards to place the cup back onto the table, “Years ticked away. Then one day I read an article all about the gold fields in San Francisco and there was a feature article within it all about the people who had travelled there, and it mentioned the Cartwright family, The Ponderosa. There was no name, and I was not sure whether it was the same place that had been on the register recording your marriage but it brought you back into my mind. You see,” he said with a sigh, “how easy it is to totally ignore a person you hate, to allow oneself to forget all about them. I went to Grandmother and asked her to tell me all about you, because now I felt I was of an age to know all the facts. For some reason, deep inside myself, I wanted to know the truth.”

“Did she tell you the truth?”

“No. I learned only that my father was buried on Ponderosa land. Cartwright land. I asked her if that was where you were, to explain to me about you and this second marriage. She just said that there was nothing to explain. You were dead and that was all there was to say about the matter.” Clay cleared his throat and shook his head, “I called her a liar, and accused her of holding back the truth from me all these years. She lost her temper and struck me. I lost my temper and just managed to prevent myself my striking back. I left. I never returned.”

“Was that when you started to call yourself Clay Stafford?”

“No, although I knew now where the name Stafford originated, I did not use it until some years ago when …”

“When what?”

“I did something stupid. I was selfish enough to continue to accept the allowance that Grandmother made me. I was, so I have been told, feckless and irresponsible. I also gambled a lot. Too much probably. Anyway, one day I got into a big game. I mean, seriously a big game. It was ticking away for two whole days, can you imagine?”

“Yes, I remember such games when I was in New Orleans. It was quite common to have a big game going on for days. I remember your father being involved in one such as that, but go on, Clay, what happened?”

“One of the players was the son of a very wealthy and prominent man. A senator, no less. He and I were pretty evenly matched. To cut a long story short, he accused me of cheating, I accused him of cheating. He demanded satisfaction and I demanded a duel in order to get satisfaction. He drew a gun on me and I grabbed hold of a gun from somewhere, his bullet passed me, but my bullet got him fair and square. He died several hours later. Of course, being such an influential family his dying version of events were believed. I had to make a hurried exit from New Orleans as a result.”

“Did you got to your grandmother for help at all?”

“No. Not at all. She and I remained estranged and she died leaving everything to a cousin. Not that I cared, except that my allowance came to an end and I had to shift for myself. No bad thing really, it was about time, I guess, that I woke up to myself.”

Marie sighed now, and leaned back against the cushions. He was, she realised, so much like Jean, and so much like Joe, that it was very easy to care for him, to feel the most natural love for him. She waited for him to speak but he said nothing.

“Did you know that there were wanted posters out for you, on the charge of murder?”

“For me?” Clay looked astounded, and then shook his head, “I didn’t realise that, how did you know?”

“Clay, let me tell you my story now. Because I want you to know the truth, of how it really was right at the beginning.”

Clay nodded thoughtfully, his mind went over the facts he had presented to her, and he wondered whether or not he was going to find it possible to believe what she was going to tell him.


Joe Cartwright had stopped whistling and feeling good about things now. As he crouched in the saddle his thoughts had trickled back to the reason he had gone into town. He had enjoyed being with Joy, and he had looked for Clay, although with less enthusiasm that he had began, but now the rain had recommenced and he was feeling irritated once more. Cochise stretched out his legs, eager to return to the comforts of his stall. In the saddle, Joe began to fret about what to tell his mother, and what her reaction would be when he told her the reason for going into town in the first place. Then he remembered the letter for Adam, and felt some ressurance that some good excuse could be offered other than the truth of the matter.

Hoss was feeling annoyed. He had an empty feeling in the pit of his stomach that meant it was past his meal time. Rain always made him feel irritated as well. It just made a mess of everything. He shrugged inside his jacket as rain drops dribbled down the back of his neck. Usually he thought about the meal Hop Sing would have prepared, but this particular day he just felt that everything was against him. The mud on his clothes from the encounter with the calf earlier was seeping more into him, which meant he would need a bath. His stomach grumbled and rumbled. Daddumit, a bath would mean putting off dinner for another hour. He wondered if he would manage to hold out for that much longer.

Adam stared at the ceiling and willed himself to remain calm. He had asked Hop Sing to help him out of bed so that he could get downstairs to meet Clay and to give Marie any support she would require, but Hop Sing had scolded him severely for even thinking such a thing. Now all he could do was listen to the hum of voices from downstairs that drifted meaninglessly up towards him. It seemed to him that Clay had done most of the talking up to now. He struggled to sit up, to get his legs from the covers, but there was no point to the exercise. Exhausted, he fell back upon the pillows and in frustration, balled his fists, closed his eyes and emitted a groan of despair. Then, he heard the soft tones of Marie’s voice drifting up from the big room.

Chapter 81

After looking earnestly into her son’s eyes, Marie began to speak. She told him about her childhood in New Orleans, and about her parents and family. She explained how she had met Jean and how they had fallen in love. Yes, his family thought he was a weak man, but they were wrong. He was gentle, kind and loving and when he had needed to be strong in defence of the woman he loved, then he was strong. They married despite his mother’s objections and hatred for the woman who became Marie de Marigney.

A year later, to add to their joy, Clayton was born. It had been a difficult birth and after a few weeks she had become ill. When she recovered, she was told her son had died of an illness and that Jean was gravely ill. That he had died before she had been able to see him because Madame had forbidden her entry to the house.

Life had been tolerable with good friends but she had grieved the loss of son and husband. She grew to hate Madame as much as she had been hated. It was not until Ben Cartwright had arrived that she realised just how much reason she had to hate Clays Grandmother.

“Do you believe me?” she asked him, simply. Once again she looked into his face and saw the anxiety in his eyes, and she knew that he was wanting to believe her, but there was some way yet to go.

“Ben came to tell me that Jean had died on his land, far away on the Ponderosa. I had no idea where that was, of course. He told me that Jean had loved me right to the day he had died, but that he had been unable to …” she bit her lip and turned away, shivered as though a blast of cold air had blown upon her. “He had been told I had abandoned them for another man. Betrayed him and my son. He had been ill, with grief, because of the lies she had told him. Then he had left, travelled, roamed here and there, searching for peace of mind, perhaps. By the time he reached the Ponderosa he was already dying I suppose, worn out, exhausted. But Ben told me that he constantly spoke about me, told him how much he loved me and how, one day, he would find me.”

“Why didn’t he write to you? Why didn’t you write to him and try and explain?” Clay cried, exasperated by the web of lies that seemed to have been spun by the woman he had loved, hoping that somehow he could find a flaw in this new truth he was being told by a woman he had hated for years.

“Because I had believed her when she told me Jean had died. I believed the friends I had who confirmed that he had been ill, that he had died. I believed everything because you were dead, and if you were dead, Jean had to be dead too. You can’t understand what it is like to grieve for a child, for a mother to know her baby was gone forever. I grieved every day for you.”

“But you married and had another son.”

“Yes, I married Ben. We came here and I had another son. But Joseph was not a replacement for you. Even though, when I saw him first of all, he looked so like you. Ben knew I had a child by Jean, that you were dead. You can’t replace one child with another.”

“And so, you lived happily here thinking I was dead?”

“Yes. Just over twelve years ago, Ben was killed. Life was no longer so happy, not for any of us. Ben was too big a man, too – oh, just too alive, too vibrant a man not to be missed. His death brought changes. Life goes on, only differently.” she looked at him and saw the withdrawn look of a confused man, and, uncertain of what to do or say next, she became silent.

“I heard about Remy Cartier.” he said suddenly, “He used to come to the house to visit my Grandmother. He used to talk a lot about my father, as though they were great friends. Did you know him?”

“I don’t think so. He came into our lives just over a year ago. He called himself David Carter and became the Bank Manager here. He claimed to have been Jean’s friend but now I know that was just to inveigle his way into my life. If you are the friend of a good honest man, the assumption is that you are also a good and honest man. It was through David, Remy as you remember him, that I discovered you were, in fact, still alive.”

“He told you that? But why?”

“Why not? Reveal a lie told by someone else, and gain more trust. He concealed the fact that he had been the one to steal you from my room while I sick with fever in bed only a few feet from your crib. And for what? Money, and being accepted in Madame’s circle of friends. He was no friend of Jeans, and certainly, no friend of mine.”

Clay looked at her in surprise. She had been so calm and placid during his narrative, and so precise and detached in her own that the sudden fire in her voice, the flash of passion in her eyes, the anger, caught him by surprise. For the first time since she had began to speak he found himself actually realising how much he believed her. For the first time in his life, he realised how duped he had been for most of it.

“What happened to him?” he asked, unconsciously drawing closer to her.

“He wanted to marry me. But events caught up with him, and revealed him to us, showed us what he really was, a thief, a murderer, a liar. Rather than face justice he shot himself.” she shivered, and her voice lost its passion, and grew cold.

“Did you – did you believe him, when he told you I was alive?” Clay asked after a few moments had elapsed.

“Yes. It was the one good thing that came out of the situation. I had confirmation from someone else, a witness to what had happened when he had taken you from me. Adam contacted a friend of Bens in New Orleans and asked him for information of your whereabouts, and we learned you were in Texas.” she looked at him thoughtfully, and then glanced away, “Joe was so excited at the thought of you being there that he wanted to ride out and find you right away. It was the night of the big storm.”

“I was already in Virginia City.” Clay said quietly.

“Then Adam went into town,” she continued, as though he had never spoken, “and he saw the Wanted posters on the sheriffs desk. He took them and brought them here. That was how we knew you were wanted for murder.”

“So the law here, they don’t know about Clayton de Marigney?”

“No.” she looked at him thoughtfully and frowned, “Was that when you changed your name?”

“I thought it better to do so. The Senator is a very powerful man. Even if it just bought me enough time, I don’t know, to prove my innocence, perhaps. I came here because I wanted to see my father’s grave. To actually find something substantial and real from the whole mess of lies I had been told for so long. I thought if I could prove one thing true, then perhaps other things would fall into place and be true. People back in town talked about the Cartwrights, about you, but -.”

“But?” she prompted.

“I kept wondering about it all, I mean, I had seen your name and I knew you had married Ben Cartwright, and here I was in Virginia City, next door to the Ponderosa, close to my father’s grave, and just perhaps you were my mother. I saw the facts, saw them crystal clear, but I couldn’t believe them. I couldn’t believe it possible that my mother was here, really alive. I kept telling myself that what I had read in those records was not real, the things my Grandmother had told me, they had to be real because I had believed them to be so since I had been a child.”

“Do you believe me now?” she said quietly

The door opened abruptly and slammed shut. They both turned with a start and stared at the big man standing, dripping wet, flinging a soggy hat to the floor in disgust.

“Hi, Ma,” Hoss said heartily, “What’s for dinner? I’m doggone famished.”

Chapter 82

Marie and Clay rose to their feet and faced the newcomer. Hoss, looked at one and then the other, and frowned. He then nodded,

“Er, I kinda thought we had a visitor. I put the horses in the stable out of the rain. Hope that was alright by you?” he looked at Clay and raised his eyebrows.

“Is it raining again?” Marie said, in a rather bewildered, detached way.

“No, Ma, I just swam home.” Hoss teased, but there was an underlying anxiety in the way he kept his eyes on Clay.

“Hoss, you’ll need to clean up before dinner is ready.” Marie said, and then turned to Clay, “Clay, this is Ben’s second son, Eric. We call him Hoss.” and she smiled gently, before turning to Hoss, “My dear, this is my son, Jean’s son, Clayton.”

“Just call me Clay.” the young man smiled, and offered his hand, which Hoss shook, glancing at Marie with question marks in his eyes,

“Just call me Hoss,” he replied, and then he smiled, “Everyone knows me as Hoss. If’n I started calling myself Eric now no one would know who they was talking about, including me.”

Clay obliged by laughing politely at this comment, and then turned to Marie,

“Perhaps I should be getting back to town now, I’ve taken up enough of your time.”

“You can’t go home in this weather,” Marie protested, “The rain’s heavy and anyway, now that I have found you again, you don’t seriously think that I could turn you out? There’s a room here that could be yours for as long as you wish to stay with us. Please do stay.” and she placed a hand on his arm and looked up into his face with such an earnest appeal that Clay could only nod and smile before placing his hand over hers.

“Thank you, and yes, after all this time I don’t want to lose you either. I want to get to know you well, and – and catch up on things.”

Marie looked away, not wanting either him or Hoss to see the tears that had sprung into her eyes. For the first time in so many years, the emptiness in her heart had been filled.

“How’s Adam, Ma?” Hoss asked, heading towards the stairs, “I’ll just stick my head in and check on him, if that’s alright?”

“He’ll be pleased to see you,” Marie replied in a muffled voice and then turned to Clay, “It may be a good idea if you were to meet Adam. He’s Ben’s first born, and I know that he would want to know all about you.”

“I’m sure he would,” Clay replied, and smiled, but there was anxiety in his eyes which his mother failed to notice, “What illness is he suffering from, may I ask?”

“Oh, a little something courtesy of David Carter,” Hoss muttered as he passed them by the stairs, “He arranged for some friend of his to ambush Adam. Thankfully we found him in time.”

“David Carter – that’s who I know as Remy?” Clay frowned, “And he arranged for a gun man to kill Adam?”

“Yeah, like I said.” Hoss said quietly, “Nearly succeeded too, especially when he came to finish off the job himself.”

“Did the gun man get caught?” Clay asked quietly, following Hoss up the stairs to the half landing, “I mean, it could be dangerous if he was still around.”

“Huh, he high tailed it outa here with his pay off as soon as he thought he had done the job. “ Hoss remarked, leading the way along the landing to Adam’s room.

“If he knows he didn’t do it right, he may come back.” Clay’s voice was steady, but the warning was clear.

Hoss grimaced and shrugged, then he turned to Clay and faced him squarely,

“I hope he does come back. I sure would like to get hold of him and pay him back for what he did to my brother. Still, the person who paid for him to shoot Adam is dead himself, so I doubt if he’ll bother.”

He pushed open the door now and stepped into the room. Clay followed close behind him, and found himself in a large room. Facing him was a wide and high window with drapes that fell heavily to the carpeted floor. A desk had been positioned close to the window, with a large globe on one corner and an oil lamp on the other. In between were rolls of paper, parchments, pens and inks. A heavy book case stood on one side of the room, full of books. Clay was impressed as the majority of homes out west seldom managed about three at the most. It was a reminder yet again that in this territory things were far less primitive than many were led to believe.

There was a leather arm chair in one corner of the room, and a table with a sextant upon it, also maps. Some were rolled, some spread out for viewing. Laid across them was a leather encased telescope.

Obviously in a bedroom the main feature was the bed, a good sized bed with the same heavy wood as the rest of the furniture in the house. A small bedside cabinet stood beside the bed with a lamp upon it, and several silver framed pictures. Clay wondered whether they were pictures of Adams’ sweethearts, but it was only later that he would discover that one was a picture of his mother, another of the boy Adam with his father, and one of a family, obviously taken not long before Ben Cartwright had been killed.

It was the man in the bed, however, who dominated the room. Propped up by pillows Adam Cartwright’s dark eyes looked at Hoss, then Clay and then at Marie. There was no doubt about it, not only was the man handsome, but Clay discerned immediately that the man was also intelligent and the true master of the Ponderosa.

Chapter 83

Adam realised immediately that he had to say something. The three of them were looking at him in a way that indicated they were feeling awkward and unsure of what to say themselves. Marie opened her mouth and closed it again, before giving him a rather watery smile which was obviously her way of indicating something. He wasn’t really sure what it was exactly. Hoss was looking perturbed, wet and rather bedraggled. He kept pushing his fingers through his hair which was a clear sign of discomfiture. The young man standing between them was looking at him challengingly, but with a degree of reticence.

“Everything alright, Hoss?” he said, finally, looking at his brother with a fond expression on his face, “You look like you’ve had a fight with a herd of buffalo.”

“Yeah, well, one calf in fact, Adam. Got herself stuck in some reeds in the river. Her old Ma wouldn’t let me near her, didn’t seem to realise I was there to help. Dang her hide.”

“But she was alright in the end, huh?”

“Sure was, Adam, ‘cept I fell in the mud several times. Thought I’d come back and get a bath. The rains so heavy now there ain’t nothing I can do out thar now.”

Adam smiled briefly, closed his eyes, and then when he opened them he looked at Clay. Had he imagined it or had Marie stepped closer to her son, as though in protective mode. He thought of Hoss’ experience with the calf and the mother at the river and smiled, it seemed the maternal instinct in all species was always alert on behalf of their young.

“Hello, Clay. Or is it Clayton?” he smiled pleasantly, and extended his hand which forced the other man to approach the bed and take hold of it, firmly, in his own.

“I’d prefer to be known here as Clay, if that’s alright with you all?” Clay replied, narrowing his eyes slightly, as though to intimate to Adam Cartwright that he was his own man, and wanted to keep it that way, no matter how long he stayed at the Ponderosa.

Adam looked at Marie who approached him and placed a hand on his shoulder, but there was not kiss on the brow as there were other days, instead she smiled at him, and then at Clay,

“Adam, Clay and I literally bumped into each other on the road. He was coming here and I was going into town.” she kept her hand on his shoulder, as though the pressure of it there would reassure him somehow, and at the same time, let him know that she needed him to reassure her that all was well, all was acceptable.

“It’s good to meet you at last, Clay.” Adam responded, and he leaned back a little more into the pillows, “How long do you intend staying with us?”

“I don’t know. I hadn’t thought about it. This was a chance meeting with Marie, and there’s a lot to talk about and catch up on.” Clay replied and looked at his mother, and smiled, “I don’t want to lose her as soon as I’ve found her.”

“Of course not,” Adam sighed, and looked at Hoss with a slight frown, “Wasn’t Joe with you this morning?”

“No, Adam. He went into town on an errand.” Hoss replied, and glanced over at Clay, “I had best get a bath and outa these wet clothes.”

He left quickly, closing the door behind him. Adam looked at Marie, her hand was still on his shoulder, and he raised his arm, to place his hand upon hers.

“Feeling happy, Ma?” he said softly.

“Yes, for the first time in my life I feel almost complete. If Ben were here, it would be perfect.”

Adam nodded, and closed his eyes. He was probably the only one in the room who had noticed Clay’s expression when Marie had spoken. Perhaps he was wondering, Adam mused, why Marie had not mentioned Jean as making her world perfect. He forced himself to open his eyes and to look at the young man again.

Clay was looking out of the window, distracted by the arrival of a young man on a paint horse riding into the stable.

Chapter 84

Joe shivered as he led Cochise into the stable. The rain had penetrated through his clothes and the warmth of the stable made him realise just how cold he had become during his ride from town. He led Cochise to his stall and unsaddled him, whistling a tune beneath his breath as he did so.

It was as he turned to leave his horse’s stall that he saw the other horse, the roan. He paused for a moment, and then went over to check it out. Whereas Hoss accepted things as they appeared on the surface, Joseph F. Cartwright was a creature of curiosity. Adam often asked him ‘What did the cat die of, Joseph?” and Joe would reply in a bored voice, ‘Curiosity, of course.’ and then would come the lecture on being more careful in future.

But it was true, because Joe was always curious. That was why, as a child, he would insist on climbing higher up a tree than anyone else, because he wanted to see what was up there. That was the reason he arrived home one day covered in bee stings because he wanted to know if bees really did make honey (he discovered they did, but suffered the consequences).

Now he inspected the roan. It was a good horse, no older than four years old, and with a good chest on it. It’s head was neat and well formed, and it obviously was intelligent by the way it pricked its ears back and forth, as though inspecting the inspector just as carefully as it was being inspected. Joe ran his hand along the animals back, and down past its flanks. There was a brand mark on its rear, one that looked vaguely familiar. He looked at it more closely. It was certainly none from town, or any of the neighbours.

He checked over the tackle next. Not that he found out much from that except that the saddle blanket had the brand mark sewn into one corner. A monogram would be the proper name for it, Joe mused, as he flipped the blanket aside.

So, they had a visitor. A stranger too because Joe knew all the brands in the area. He shrugged slightly, and left the stable, bowing his head down and holding onto his hat in an attempt to ward off the rain from his face. He was halfway to the house when he remembered where he had seen the monogram before, and why that word had slipped into his mind.

The thought made him falter in his stride and he glanced up at the house. Rain fell upon the unturned face but he took no notice as he remembered that time, when a child, and he had been playing with a book from his mother’s book shelves.

“What’s this?” he has asked, pointing to an embroidered emblem on the cover, “What does it mean?”

Marie had taken it from him, and looked at it thoughtfully before putting it away in a drawer and locking it. This had brought forth vocal protest from Joe, who insisted on having the book back.

“It isn’t a book for little boys to play with,” Marie had said, “It belonged to my other husband, Jean. It’s his diary and I don’t want you to play with it, do you understand?”

“I weren’t gonna play with it, Momma, I was just gonna read it is all.”

“It isn’t a book for a little boy to read.”

“What was the brand on the cover then, Momma?”

“It wasn’t a brand, Joe, it’s a monogram. It was Jean’s family crest, the deMarigney crest. Do you understand what I mean?”

“Like a brand then?” the child had replied simply, and wondered why adults always had to make things so much more difficult than they really were.

The de Marigney brand. Joe could barely swallow his spit and had to cough to get himself walking back to the house. He slammed the door shut and threw his hat to one side, glancing wildly around the room. When Hop Sing appeared, wondering who had entered with such a racket, he had asked abruptly if everyone were home and Hop Sing had nodded and said they were in Adam’s room.

“And who’s with them?” Joe asked, knowing the answer already but wanting it confirmed, as he hurried across the floor to the stairs.

“Clay Stafford.” Hop Sing replied and stood watching the boy take two stairs at a time.

Joe’s heart was pounding by the time he reached the door of Adam’s room. He bowed his head and took a deep breath, then gripped the handle and pushed it open.

Hoss was not there, and for a moment Joe wondered why his brother was missing. He saw Marie, and the look on her face. He registered it as a look he had never seen before, something new, something wonderful, seemed to be shining from her face and eyes. Then he turned and saw Clay Stafford.

“Hello, Joe,” Clay said in his pleasant easy going voice, and he smiled.

It was a crooked smile, a slightly take it or leave it kind of smile. Perhaps his heart was pounding too as he turned to meet this young man, this newly found brother of his, but his eyes were warm, and twinkled.

“Hello, Clay,” Joe replied, surprised that he could actually get the words pass his lips. Then he had stepped forward and taken hold of the hand that was held out to him, and gripped it firmly.

“So you’re my little brother that everyone in town talks so much about, huh?” and Clay brought his other hand around to give the younger man a hug.

“I didn’t realise you’d be here,” Joe babbled, “I thought you were in town. I went to see you, you know, but couldn’t find you.”

It was excitement welling up inside him, all the thinking and planning of what he would say, and how he would say it, were all forgotten. He could only stand and stare at this other man, and think, ‘this is my brother’.

“Your mother and I bumped into each other on the way here. Well, I was on my way here and Marie was on the way to town.” Clay laughed, a happy, relaxed shout of laughter that came from the heart.

If Clay had any reservations about his relationship with Marie, he had none at all with this boy. There was a kinship here that was so obvious, that it excited him, and he felt pure pleasure running through his veins as he smiled down at the younger man. Joe was happy too, that was obvious to all in the room, for his face was beaming and his eyes were bright, almost fever bright.

“Oh boy,” he said rather oddly, “You’re here.”

Clay laughed again, and nodded,

“Yes, I guess you could say so, yes, I’m here.”

Adam sighed and half closed his eyes beneath heavy lids. It was going to be interesting, he thought, to see where all this leads to, and if anyone were going to be hurt along the way. Perhaps he was a cynic, perhaps he was unkind, but he could not help but wonder, the way life had a habit of kicking people in the teeth when least expected.

Marie looked down at him and smiled, a luminous smile of sheer joy. Adam could do nothing else but smile back, and watch as she walked towards her sons. He raised his eyebrows, and pondered on that … two men and they were HER sons.

Chapter 85

Their voices receded gradually from the room. Adam watched as the door closed behind them, and then he closed his eyes and let the exhaustion wash over him. He was too tired too think, too tired to even want to think, and gradually he felt himself drifting into sleep much like gentle waves of the sea slowly drawing one from the shore.

Hoss pulled his clothes on quickly. He had heard Joe’s laughter and knowing that little brother was now home and had, no doubt, met Clay, gave him a sense of urgency to get down and be amongst them there. He wondered how Adam would be feeling about the stranger who had walked into their lives and home. He wrinkled his brow in thought, as he pondered on the fact that this particular stranger could have more impact on their lives than even David Carter had managed to create.

Hop Sing busied himself in the kitchen preparing spare ribs and roast pork with plenty of creamed potatoes and various vegetables. He burnt himself on the stove and shook his head. That was not good. All these years cooking for the family and no burn. Now to-day, with this new family member arrived, he had burned himself. A sure sign of stress. He would have to make himself some herbal teas to calm himself down, and then meditate on why he was feeling this way when Mrs Cartwright was so very happy now.

Happy wasn’t really the word to describe Marie. As she sat down at the head of the table she looked around her and felt exhileration. She wanted to cry and laugh all at the same time. Joe and Clay sitting side by side, and Hoss beside her. She would never be able to tell anyone who asked what they had eaten during that meal, for her eyes and mind were solely on the fact that Clay was there, sharing the meal with them. She devoured them with her eyes, laughed along with them, tried to pay attention to the things they were saying but unable to keep her mind settled on any one topic. It were as though she were drunk.

Clay had lived a different live to them all. He had been educated, and raised in a wealthy and socially prominent class in a city that paid strict adherence to the rules of such society. He was therefore, relaxed and charming. The more excited Joe became the more charming Clay became, and he would recline back in the chair, listen with a smile to his younger brother’s chattering and nod as though everything was perfectly in order.

Perhaps it was now. He looked at Marie and smiled at her, and received a dazzling smile in return. He had a beautiful mother, no wonder a de Maringney had fallen in love with her.

His eyes strayed to look at the portrait of the man who had been Marie’s second husband. For a while he could not take his eyes from the face, the dark eyes seemed to bore into his soul. He could well understand why Marie would have loved this man, he had a magnetism that even the picture had succeeded in capturing.

Joe was fairly bouncing off his chair as he described to his new brother the delights of a horse round up. The ways to cut off a good looking horse from the herd and to draw it in with the others that had been picked off. Then later breaking them in, just enough to tame them but never enough to break their spirit.

“I’m glad about that,” Clay remarked, taking his eyes from the portrait of Ben at last, and smiling at Joe, “No creature should have its spirit broken.”

Joe nodded, and looked at Marie. He saw the flash of a smile on her face, the colour in her cheeks. It made him realise that even when she professed to have been in love with David Carter, she had never looked so young or so lovely as she did now. That, he thought, was what real happiness can do, it restores the spirit. He smiled at the thought and looked at Hoss.

“Are you alright, Hoss? You’re mighty quiet?” he said, flashing his brother a bright smile and a wink.

“Yeah, well, I ain’t really got that much to say,” Hoss replied, opening his eyes wide and looking at Joe as though surprised that his little brother had even noticed.

“We oughta take Clay out on a horse round up soon, huh?”

“Yeah, if he wants to come and the weather lets up,” Hoss sighed, and stabbed at a slice of pork just at the time Clay had decided to do the same.

The two men looked at one another, their forks stuck in the same slice of meat, and Clay laughed. Hoss dithered, then, because he considered Clay the guest, he removed his fork.

It was just a little, rather silly thing, but to Hoss, it was significant. He didn’t know for sure why.

A crack of thunder scudded across the roof tops, and Marie jumped. Then she smiled, picked up a decanter of wine and poured herself some more, before handing it to Clay. Hoss wondered if she would still have done that had Adam been there, he, being the oldest, had always been handed the decanter of wine first, it had been a kind of ritual. He bowed his head and continued to eat, telling himself not to keep looking for fault when there was none.

Adam tossed about in the bed as he felt himself being sucked down a long dark vacuum where faces from the past drifted in and out, here and there, as though haunting him. Hands reached out to pluck at him and he felt cold, bitterly cold. A man’s face suddenly loomed over him, and then turned away and as he did so, Adam felt blinding pain surge through his body. He cried out into the silence, but even as he did so thunder crashed above his room and made the walls shake.

Far away in a different state, Esmond Scott bade his wife and daughters goodbye. He assured them he would be home soon. He got into his carriage, and waited for the coachman to drive him to the railway station. Everything was perfectly in order. This t

‘tidying up task’. was now on it’s way.

Chapter 83

Hoss pushed the door open slowly, peeked into the room and glanced over to the bed,

“Hey, Adam, whar are ya?”

“Here,” came the reply, rather disembodied in the gloom of the room.

Hoss turned to wards the voice and raised his eyebrows, then looked back to the bed,

“Ain’t’cha supposed to be resting?”

“Hoss, if I stay there any longer I’m afraid that I’ll never get out. I just thought I’d see if I could get from the bed to the chair without falling down.” he leaned forward and turned the flame higher in the lamp, giving more illumination to the room. He looked at Hoss who was now seated on the edge of the bed, “What’s on your mind, brother?”

“Nuthin’ much, I jest thought I’d come and spend a while with you.” Hoss leaned forward, clasped his hands together between his knees and twiddled his thumbs.

“You don’t look like you really feel comfortable spending time in here with me, Hoss. Why not just say what you came in here to say, and be done with it.” Adam sighed, and leaned back in the chair.

It had been exhausting getting from the bed to the chair. He had not realised just how weak he had become, and now this new determination to get up and active was not going to be achieved due to such extremes of physical limitations. He observed Hoss thoughtfully and could tell the man was inwardly struggling about something. He cleared his throat,

“Do you want me to make a guess at what it is?” he asked kindly.

“Nope, there ain’t nothing” Hoss replied and frowned, “Wal, just a little bit of a niggle perhaps.”

“Clay being here getting under your skin, huh?”

“Shucks, he’s only been here a few hours. I didn’t think Joe would be so taken up with the guy. He’s planning all kinds of things to do with Clay all ready.”

“Which doesn’t include you?”

“I’ve got chores to do anyhow,” Hoss said defensively, and he sighed, “Did he say how long he was going to be here fer?”

“No, I should imagine that will be arranged between Marie and himself.”

They were quiet for a little while and then Hoss sighed and stood up, he walked over to the window and stared out. After the storm everything was fresh and clean smelling. The night sky was a mass of stars and the moon slid through the clouds.

“I guess things won’t really change much, just because Clay’s here,” Hoss mused, “Once Joe gets used to him being around things will settle down a mite.”

“Sure they will, Hoss.” Adam smiled, “You know what Joe’s like, he changes his mind about things, people, every five minutes.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Hoss leaned forward, and looked down, “Ma’s real happy.”

“Yes, of course she is, she deserves to be after all these years.”

“Can you remember much about her first husband, Adam? I can’t rightly recall him at all.”

Adam frowned now, and bowed his head as he tried to recapture any memory he had about Jean, he shook his head slowly,

“Clays’ got some ways about him that remind me of Jean. He was a pleasant man, always trying to impress us, he spent a lot of time playing with you, Hoss. He would often read stories to you, and tell you that he had a little boy at home just like you.”

“Except that he was dead,” Hoss muttered.

“No, that was what they told Marie. That was what was really so cruel about it all really.” Adam sighed and picked up a book, “Anything else?”

“Oh yeah, Joe gave me this. It’s the letter from Judge Warden. He said he would have brought it in himself but he was going to town with Clay.” Hoss sighed, “I’d best get down and do those ledgers. Hope you get back to health soon, Adam, I hate doing them things.”

“I know,” Adam smiled in a kindly manner and put the book down to open the envelope. It was still rather soggy, evidence of Joe’s ride from town in the rain.

Hoss watched his brother reading the letter and tried to guess what it contained from the expressions on his face, but Adam, apart from a tightening of the lips and a slight furrow of the brow, gave little away. He sighed at the end and then passed it over to Hoss,

“Tell me what you think about that,” he said quietly.

Hoss took the letter and smoothed it out a little more, some of the words were smudged from the soaking it had received but he could make out most of it.

“Dadgumit, these legal folk sure talk a different language, don’t they?” he muttered.

Adam said nothing but stared out of the window and tapped his chin thoughtfully with his forefinger, before looking towards his brother who was re-reading the letter,

“We ought to let Marie know,” he said “But I don’t know how she’ll take it.”

“Shucks, Adam, she’s like walking on clouds jest now. I ain’t never known her to be this happy since before Pa died.”

“She should know sooner rather than later, Hoss.” Adam replied, his dark eyes lingered on his brother’s face, “Did you say Clay and Joe had gone into town together?”

“Yeah, that’s right,” Hoss emitted a long drawn out sigh, “the weather was too bad for work, so they went off a few hours ago.”

“A few hours ago?” Adam frowned, that was about the time he was fighting demons in his sleep. “After the storm?”

“Wasn’t much of a storm, just a few bangs an’ such.” Hoss chewed his bottom lip, “They said they’d be back for supper.”

“What’s Ma doing now?”

Hoss looked at Adam and opened his eyes wide,

“Shucks, Adam, she’s making a chocolate cake.” he replied.

“Uh-huh!” Adam nodded, “I did wonder …” he looked at the envelope and slipped it between the pages of the book, “We’ll discuss this tomorrow with her, Hoss, otherwise we’ll be eating cake for the rest of the week.”


Lil pushed her way through the throng of smelling sweating bodies, and beamed a smile at the two men as they elbowed their way through the melee,

“Joe. Clay. How are you both? How’s Adam?”

“Doing well. He’s sleeping and Hop Sing is stuffing him full of Chinese herbal teas and such. I reckon he’ll be up and about before you can say have a drink on me,” Joe laughed.

“It’s good to see you again, Joe. How’s things with you, handsome?” she smiled at Clay, and gave him a the benefit of a saucy wink, which just added to the hilarity of the little party which was now joined by Joy, who, upon seeing them had pushed her way through and flung herself into their arms.

“Oh Joe, Clay, you both look good enough to eat.” she laughed, “Come on, there’s a free table over here.” and she pulled them along towards a table where a fat miner had just began to lower his posterior into one of the chairs which she pulled quickly away from him, “Sorry, Jed, this table and all chairs are taken for the moment,” she laughed and bestowed a kiss from her ruby red lips on the man’s balding head. It went someway to placating him despite being teased and laughed at for having the red imprint on his head for all to see.

“I’ll get us a round of drinks,” Clay said, and pulled out his wallet, looked into it and sighed, “Well, I would if I had some money. Joe, could you lend me enough to get these ladies a drink?”

Joe laughed and flipped his wallet over to Clay without a second thought. As Clay threaded his way to the counter he counted the amount of money Joe had in his wallet and frowned. There was enough money to stake a good game of poker. As he reached the counter and called out an order for two beers and whatever the ladies would like, he watched the mirror, searching for the gaming tables.

Roy Coffee strolled into the saloon, and glanced around to keep a check on how things were, then he saw Joe and walked over to him,

“Well, Joe, how’s Adam doing?”

“I think he’s going to be alright, Roy, thanks.” Joe leaned back in his chair, and grinned like a Cheshire cat, “Guess what, Roy.”

“Can’t, too busy for guessing, you’ll have to tell me.” Roy smiled, pleased at seeing the lad so happy.

“I discovered a long lost brother today. My Ma’s first born all the way from New Orleans.”

“New Orleans?” Joy exclaimed.

“You mean, Mr Stafford is your real long lost kinda brother?” Lil’s eyes opened wide enough to almost pop out of their sockets.

“Well, that’s sure some surprise. No one knew Marie had another son tucked away someplace.” Roy replied quietly, and he nodded his pleasure, “Well, I’m sure everyone is more than pleased for you all.”

“We sure are,” Joe cried, and then made a wide sweeping gesture as Clay joined them at the table, “Clay, this is our friend and sheriff, Roy Coffee. Roy, meet my brother, Clay Stafford.”

Clay put down the drinks onto the table and extended his hand. The two men shook hands cordially. Then as Roy left, Clay slipped into the empty chair and put an arm around Lil’s waist.

“There’s a game of poker going on at the table towards the back of the room, Joe, how about if we join it?” he suggested, “You’ve enough money to stake us both.”

“Nah, I don’t feel lucky today.” Joe said with a smile, looking at Joy with puppy dog eyes.

“You should be feeling more than lucky, Joe,” Joy laughed, “Seeing how you’ve found a long lost brother.”

Joe said nothing to that, but picked up his beer and tasted it. He looked around at the crowd and asked Joy why the place was so packed, and she laughed,

“Oh someone made a strike, a real bonanza today. They wanted to stand everyone drinks. This party has been going on since two o’clock this afternoon.”

“And the game?” Clay asked, “How long has that been going?”

“About the same.” Lil said, “The stakes are pretty high, but whoever wins will be going home with a bonanza of their own.”

Clay leaned back in the chair and nodded. He looked over at his brother and smiled, raised his beer to his lips and took a long long drink.

Chapter 84

“You don’t want to play poker with Joe, Mr Stafford,” Joy said, leaning over towards him and showing off rather more frontage than she intended, “Everyone knows that if you want to win money, you play against Joe. If you want to lose money, you play with Joe as your partner. You just have to ask Hoss to know that,” and she laughed innocently and leaned back against Joe’s shoulder.

“Is that right, brother?” Clay smiled over at Joe, who grinned sheepishly and rolled his large hazel eyes at him. “You need to be taught how to play the game properly, it seems.”

“Pa never liked gambling much,” Joe said, lifting his glass to his lips, “Adam’s worse than Pa in some ways, he reckons it’s a fools game.”

“But he always wins when he does play,” Lil said with a sigh in her voice which didn’t go unnoticed by either men there.

“Does he forbid you to play cards, then, Joe?” Clay asked with a slight edge to his voice.

“Nope,” Joe shook his head and wiped beer from his upper lip with the back of his hand, “He just says things like a fool and his money are soon parted, things like that, and then he plays a hand and proves it. In that he always wins money off’n me.” he laughed as though he thought it funny.

“But he does play cards himself at times?”

“Oh sure, but not often. Usually if he’s short of cash or bored.” Joe looked at Joy, and smiled fondly at her, receiving a look of adoration in return.

“What if I show you how to win money from him, huh?” Clay leaned forwards, and looked Joe squarely in the eyes, “All you have to do is watch me, closely.”

“Why?” Joe asked, a slight frown on his brow.

“Well, wouldn’t you like to beat your big brother once in a while,” Clay laughed and leaned back, “I know I would…”

“Yeah, but -” Joe looked thoughtfully at Joy, who gave a slight shrug and raised her eyebrows.

“Hey, c’mon, Joe, I’ll show you how to clean up.” and Clay pushed Lil gently to one side and stood up from the table to make his way over to the gaming tables.

The four men already playing looked up at them, saw Joe, flashed him a smile and looked at one another knowingly, they nodded at Clay and waited for the introductions. Clay looked at the pot, and then nudged Joe, and nodded with such confidence that Joe pulled out a chair and without thinking heard himself say, “Deal us in.”


Adam sat in the chair looking out of the window into the night. He could see the vague outline of himself reflected back in the glass. Once or twice he had dozed off to sleep and when he had awoken he was annoyed with himself. Hop Sing came and scolded him, then gave him some concoction that tasted foul. The clock ticked away the minutes into hours. It was so frustrating to sit there incapable to doing anything but wait.

Marie came in, a smile on her face, coffee in one hand and chocolate cake in the other. She set them down on the side table and pulled up a chair,

“I feel I’ve neglected you a little today, Adam, I’m sorry.”

“It’s been an unusual day, Ma, a happy one too, mm?” he smiled at her, reached out for her hand and was pleased when she placed her hand in his with a smile.

“Adam, I’m so full of feelings, emotions, that I can’t even describe which one it is. Joy, pride, happiness … everything is just so wonderful. If your father were here, it would be just perfect.”

“Clay would rather his father were here, don’t you think?” he said softly, and looked at her face and saw it soften a little more. She looked so young and carefree for once, and it was with a heavy heart that he thought of the letter in the book.

“Adam, Clay must come to terms with life as it is here. I was a young girl when I married Jean, and I loved him. But I was a woman when I married your father, and there is a big difference in the way a woman loves a man.”

He nodded, and said nothing but turned to look back at the window, and saw their reflections gazing back at him.

“So why did you make a chocolate cake then?” he said suddenly, and his eyes twinkled as he said it so that she thought he were teasing her and laughed,

“Oh, maybe because I was worried about being so happy. When things go so well -,” she paused and gave a slight shrug of her shoulders, “Drink your coffee, dear.”

They sat together in silence for a little while, he drank the coffee and ate a little of her cake, telling her it was one of her better ones which made her laugh again.

“Did anything get mentioned about the posters,” he suddenly said, not looking at her but watching the reflection in the mirrored window.

“With Clay do you mean?” she asked and nodded, “Yes, I asked about them, and he told me that there had been an incident in New Orleans. A man challenged him to a duel, they had both accused the other of cheating, but it never got to that, because guns were drawn and shots fired.” she gave another delicate little shrug of the shoulders, “Clay’s shot killed him.”

“But what about eye-witnesses? Was there no-one there to corroborate his story?”

“No, they wouldn’t do that, the man who was killed was the son of a very wealthy man, and a very powerful man, a Senator of all things.”

“That could be – is – rather unfortunate,” Adam sighed and looked at the book with the slip of paper in it, he looked at her, “Did he say anything else about that incident in Texas?”

“What incident?” she frowned slightly and looked at him with narrowed eyes, “What do you mean, Adam?”

“Don’t you recall that the posters referred to an incident in Texas, not New Orleans. $500 dollar reward, wanted for murder … remember?”

She looked away from him and shook her head, then she bowed her head as though suddenly she had a heavy load placed upon her shoulders that she had not anticipated ever being there again.

“I had forgotten,” she said simply, “When I mentioned the posters to him, he quite openly explained about the situation in New Orleans. Let me think,” she put a hand to her brow, “Hoss came in just then, and our conversation came to an end. I’m sure he would have explained about it had we not been interrupted.”

Adam nodded, and leaned back into the chair. He felt suddenly heavy hearted at seeing her joy tarnished by the anxiety of doubt. He squeezed her fingers gently,

“I’m sure he’ll have a good explanation,” he said softly.

She smiled and nodded, then let his fingers slip away from her hand as she stood up, and picked up the tray, turned to go,

“So long as it’s the honest one,” she replied.

“Why do you say that?” Adam exclaimed, “Do you have any doubt about his honesty?”

She paused then, and looked at him, the excitement had gone from her posture now, it were as though some light from within her had been extinguished.

“Adam,” she replied quietly, “Clay is a lot like his father. And, although he is my son, I have to remember that he is also a stranger. I didn’t want to acknowledge that fact so soon, but perhaps that is what has been at the back of my mind all the time.”

Looking at the window he could see her reflection as she walked to the door, and passed through the doorway. Then he was alone, and once more he pulled the slip of paper from the book and read its contents, most of which were now known to her anyway.


Clay Stafford put his arm around his brother’s shoulders and laughed. It was a good humoured casual laugh, and Joe could not but help laugh along with him. As they stood beside their horses, Clay handed back Joe’s wallet to him, significantly fuller and heavier than it had been earlier.

“There you are, Joseph Cartwright, your share of the winnings and don’t spend it all at once,” and he laughed again, showing off a set of perfect white teeth. He really was a very handsome young man.

“I still can’t work out how you did it, Clay, I thought we were losing.”

“That’s what I wanted them to think too,” Clay mounted easily into the saddle and turned his horse round, “I knew they had you ringed as a loser, and that worked in our favour, brother.”

“Was it a – kind of – trick?” Joe asked cautiously, too unsure of this newly known brother to ask outright if he had actually cheated.

Clay narrowed his eyes and turned his face towards home, his lips tightened slightly but then he flashed his brother one of his winning smiles,

“It was kinda,” he replied with a twinkle in his eyes, “I’ll show you how it’s done one of these days, Joe. It’s a skill.” he began to whistle a tune beneath his breath, softly, and then he smiled “It isn’t cheating, so no worries. You won’t have to burden big brother with tales of cheating, believe me.”

Joe smiled, and nodded. Well, that was a relief. The last thing he needed, wanted, was a lecture from a sick big brother about cheating and the sin of gambling. He felt more relaxed again, happy to have a brother who wasn’t afraid to push things just that bit further. Life was an adventure, Clay was an adventurer, and Joe felt enormous pleasure from just knowing that fact alone.

Chapter 85

Confinement was slowly driving Adam Cartwright stir crazy. By the end of the week he was able to move around his room with reasonable ease, but Paul Martin still insisted on his patient remaining in his room so that he could get to his bed and rest when, as he put it, his bones wanted to give up on him. Irritatingly Adam found that still happened with too much regularity and the last thing he wanted was for his legs to give way in front of Clay.

A week, and several cakes and still Marie had not ventured to ask Clay any further information than that he had already provided. The question of the killing in Texas remained unanswered and the euphoric feeling she had first experienced was slowly ebbing away.

In the mornings Clay rode out with Joe and Hoss on whatever tasks there were that had to be done on the ranch. Adam would watch them ride out of the yard and growl to himself. He felt like a caged animal. It didn’t really help that he had little company during the few hours after supper that the family could share with him before bed. A family used to being out of the house between 5 and 6 a.m. could not afford to burn the candle at both ends so he would often be just before they were going to get to their beds that they would peer into his room and come in for a brief while to talk about the events of the day, and the work that had to be carried out the next day.

Whenever he asked about Clay both Hoss and Joe assured him that Clay was pulling his weight and seemed to know exactly what he was doing. Hoss seemed more relieved than anything whereas Joe would go into detail about how Clay did this, and Clay did that until Adam was quite glad to bid his little brother good night. Clay seldom joined them but would call out a good night as he passed the door.

Friday evening rolled round and Adam heard Joe whistling as he passed his door. He heard Joe’s door close with a sharp bang. Minutes later Clay passed, humming a tune beneath his breath, just audible. His door closed with a soft click.

“Hi, Adam,” Hoss pushed the door open and closed it behind him, then sunk gratefully into the chair beside the bed upon which Adam was reclining. “You look about as happy as a bear who jest seen someone run off with his best salmon.”

“I guess that about fits,” Adam replied with a sigh, “Do you know what would be worse than this, Hoss? It would be getting locked up in one of Roy’s cells for a crime I didn’t commit.” He stretched his arms ceiling wards and then looked at Hoss speculatively, “So what’s happening this evening? Everyone out on the town, huh?”

“Joe and Clay have plans.” Hoss agreed, and he stretched out his long legs, “I thought I’d spend the evening here with you.”

“Mighty kind of you,” Adam said quietly, and closed his eyes.

“You ain’t gonna go to sleep on me, are ya?”

“No.” Adam replied, “I was just thinking.”

“What about?”

“Joe and Clay. They sure seem to have hit it off well enough, haven’t they?”

“Yeah, I guess they have, Joe follows Clay about which Clay seems to enjoy. He’s been teaching Joe card tricks.”

“How do you mean? What kind of card tricks?” Adam raised himself on one elbow and looked into Hoss’ face anxiously.

“Just – card tricks,” Hoss said hesitantly, “You know how bad Joe is at playing cards, he ain’t got any idea of how to remember who has laid down what, and he’s as open as a book when he needs to bluff anyone, you can read him a mile off.”

“So, you mean, Clay’s been teaching him how to win at cards?”

“Yeah, kinda.” Hoss agreed.


Lil glanced around at the throng of men jostling and elbowing one another out of the way to get to the counter. It was going to be a busy night again, and she looked over in Joy’s direction to see how she was getting on with young Mark Colley. All kinds of men passed through those open doors. Rich and poor, old and young. Some left on their own two feet, some were carried out. Some were carried out and never got to walk back in anywhere, ever again.

She was an attractive woman, not the flamboyant figure that Joy cut with her luxurious mane of hair, but she could hold her own in the majority of cases and men usually looked at her more than twice over. She took the last three steps down the staircase and smiled, not at anyone in particular, but a miner came up and asked her if she would like a drink with him.

He was a big broad shouldered man with a full beard and dark curling hair, with a bald patch right on top. It made her think of a monk and how they tonsure their heads. The idea of a monk elbowing his way to the counter made her smile, as she pulled out a chair to sit upon.

The miner returned and pulled out the chair opposite, giving her a glass of whiskey but keeping hold of the bottle for himself. His clothes, a red plaid shirt and dirty jeans, were stained with sweat and dirt. Hardly the most conducive customer. She smiled at him and thanked him for the drink

“Have you been here long?” she asked, hoping she didn’t sound bored by asking the same questions that she asked every new comer.

“About two days. I got a stake in a mine east of town. Looks promising.”

“Most do, at first,” she sighed, and looked at him again. “Have you been in Virginia City before?”

“No, this is my first time. Been to ‘Frisco, been to Fort Sumter time back …” he glugged at the bottle before setting it down with a frown, “Good whiskey.”

“Charley likes to give good service,” she replied and looked towards the door, but the men who came in were not the ones she sought.

“Better than the rot gut I’ve been served in some other places,” he replied, and he smiled, “My name’s Jack Hannah.” he extended his hand which she shook.

“Folk call me Lil,” she replied and finished her drink, “Thanks for the drink, Mr Hannah. I had best go now.”

“You mean, you’re going?”

“Yes, that’s what I said. I have other people to see and Charley’s short staffed this evening. I’ll no doubt see you again, Mr Hannah.” she smiled again, and swirled away, her scarlet feather bobbing against the dark curls and her black and red skirts swishing silkily as she left the table.

Joy approached her and glanced over to where Mr Hannah sat alone, drinking his whiskey from the bottle, and scowling at the far off wall.

“I hope he isn’t going to cause trouble,” she whispered, “Charley can’t afford any more damage being done to the place.”

“He’s an odd one,” Lil replied, keeping her back turned so that she didn’t happen to catch the man’s eye and be forced to acknowledge him, “I keep thinking I’ve seen him someplace before, you know. Except that I couldn’t have as he has only been here a few days.”

“Perhaps he’s passed through some time,” Joy commented, and smiled over at Mark, “He’s all hands, you know.”

“Who? Mark? Oh yeah, he’s young. Just give him a slap.”

They laughed together, hugging their sides and giggling like girls do. But when Lil raised her eyes and looked in the mirror she saw the miner’s reflection, and somewhere deep in her memory, she recalled where she had seen him before, or, if it were not him, then his double for a certainty.

Chapter 86

Lil spent a restless night, tossing and turning in her bed, as she tried to make sense of various snatches of conversation she had overheard, or shared in over the past few months. In her profession she met a lot of people, saw a lot of faces and got to know many different voices and now, when she needed some clarity of thought, they were all getting muddled in her head.

She eventually fell asleep just before dawn. She slept a dreamless heavy sleep so that when she eventually crawled out of bed she felt clumsy and uncoordinated. Her mind went immediately back to her anxieties of the previous evening and in desperation, she decided to leave the matter alone. After all,, she had no proof to her suspicions, a conversation with Joe months ago, something she overheard Roy discussing with Hoss, and a face of a man in a stagecoach were not grounds for her to pass judgement. What if she were grossly wrong and an innocent man was arrested? But then, what if she were right, and the man she loved came to harm as a result.

Adam Cartwright was sitting in his customary chair at the breakfast table before his family. He waited for them to join him, one by one. Marie gave him a warm welcome, a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Hoss’ greeting was worth more than a bar of gold. Clay came downstairs jauntily, and then paused on the bottom step, looked at Adam and raised his eyebrows, then he gave him a charming smile,

“Good to see you with us this morning, Adam. This must mean you’re on the way to recovery,” and he his mother a kiss on the cheek, before pulling out a chair to sit down.

“Did you enjoy your evening in town?” Hoss asked, spearing some bacon onto his plate, and looking at Clay for a response.

“Mmm, it was alright. Joe had rather a skinful though, no doubt he’ll be down in a moment, but I reckon he’ll be looking the worse for wear as a result.” Clay took some eggs from the dish, and smiled disarmingly.

“I thought I heard a bit of a ruckus when you two came home,” Adam said slowly, and looked over at Marie, who showed her disapproval by lowering her eyelids and looking down at her plate.

“Sorry about that,, Adam. I must say our little brother certainly does know how to charm the ladies in town, doesn’t he?”

“Oh yeah, doesn’t he just,” Hoss muttered, and turned to look at the stairs as Joe finally made his appearance.

He was still rubbing his eyes, puffy though they were, but for someone who had ‘had a skinful’ he looked in good enough condition. He smiled rather absent mindedly at them all, and took his seat, giving his mother a special smile that she chose to dismiss.

“Sorry if I was a bit noisy last night when I got back,” he said to them all, and then he noticed Adam and a smile of genuine pleasure beamed across his handsome face, “Adam, hey, you’re up. Does this mean you’re better?”

“Feeling much better, thanks, Joe.” Adam smiled, pleased at the response from his brother and knowing that it was totally genuine gave him a considerable amount of pleasure.

“Well, you know that gal I was telling you about? Charley’s daughter, Joy? She’s leaving town soon. Going to work as a Governess. Ma, you’d like her. She’s educated , you know? I kinda got to consoling myself. Then Lil got a bit maudlin, and started drinking some, so I guess that’s how I got to be a bit noisy.”

“You had better have some black coffee, Joe.” Marie said, and passed him the coffee pot.

“That Joy is a lovely looking girl, all right.” Clay admitted, taking bread from the platter, “She’ll make a good governess.” and he smiled as though he rather doubted the truth of what he had just said.

“And what did you do while Joe was consoling himself, Clay?” Adam asked slowly, and looked at the young with dark eyes that gave greater emphasis to the question.

“Oh, there was a game of Blackjack in the back room, so I went in and joined it. Didn’t do too well, but at least I didn’t lose my shirt.”

No one spoke now. A slight discomfort had settled over the room. It was Adam who spoke first,

“What’s the plan for to-day? Have you boys anything specific to do?”

“There’s a few horses that need breaking in, Adam.” Joe put down his cup and frowned, “I know it’s late in the season, and I don’t like riding in these kind of conditions, but they are prime horses. I’d hate to have to let them go without a try at them.”

“I remember them, are you sure you can handle them in your condition?” Adam smiled and Joe laughed, and nodded. “Clay, before you go, can we have a word with you, in private?”

Clay frowned, glanced from Marie and Adam, and then shrugged,

“Sure, certainly.” he replied and poured himself another cup of coffee.

Lil opened the door to the sheriff’s office and looked around. Deputy Drewitt frowned and looked over at her, nodded a greeting, and asked if he could be of any help,

“Is Sheriff Coffee going to be long? I need to talk to him about something.” she replied, pulling her coat more tightly to her body for the wind outside was quite cold now.

“He won’t be back from Placerville until this evening, Miss Lily.” Deputy Drewitt replied, “Is there anything I can help with at all?”

“No, it’s all right, thank you.” she turned back to the door, paused and looked over at him, “Oh, my name’s Lil, by the way, not Lily.”

“Oh, sorry, Miss Lily – Lil ..”

She closed the door sharply and shook her head. After walking several paces down the sidewalk she stopped to think, and then, resolution made she headed for the livery stable. There was one person she could talk the matter over with, and she was sure he would listen to her very patiently, and give her the advice she required.

Mr Hannah watched her go with his head to one side and a frown on his face. He was a man of high morals, was Mr Hannah. He detested killing for killing’s sake. To his mind people had too casual an attitude to life, and no where was this more obvious than in these kind of rough, gold boom towns. When he had to do a spot of tidying up, it was a business transaction, pure and simple. He didn’t always accept an assignment. If he felt it clashed with his moral principles then he would not accept it.

He watched her go and sighed. She was a pretty girl, and had never harmed a soul in her life, of that he was sure. But it really annoyed him the way she had kept looking over at him during the evening in the saloon. It made him feel uneasy. He hated feeling uneasy as much as he hated loose ends.

Chapter 87

The horse shot into the corral like a bullet from a gun. As though sensing that he was going to be involved in a life or death struggle for survival the animal bucked and reared in a fury. Joe clung on desperately tightly, clutching reins and mane in one hand, using his thighs and feet to both control the animal and keep his seat.

“Look at him go!” Hoss whooped clambering up onto the top rung of the fence to watch “COME ON, JOE” he boomed.

It was a good day weatherwise. The sun was being kind to them, although the breeze was cool. Although not the best time for breaking in horses, it was something Joe excelled in and loved. This particular horse he had been wanting to try out for some time now, and this, he felt was the perfect opportunity.

Clay watched his little brother thoughtfully, as Joe clung to the saddle of the bucking, rearing, snorting, biting beast. At times it looked as though man and creature had blurred into one mass of shadow and dust, both blending together as though fused.

“He’s good,” Clay observed to his mother, by whose side he was standing, and he slipped her arm through his, so that they stood together, linked arm in arm.

She smiled at him and turned to watch Joe. How she hated this horse breaking business. She had often asked Adam to cancel the business of supplying horses to the towns nearby, and when he showed her the lucrative contract he had made with the Army she groaned inwardly. Joe had loved horses since he was knee high to a grasshopper, and there was no doubt about how well he could ride them. Ben said he was a centaur, half boy half horse, when he took the child riding for the first time.

“He’s a natural horseman,” he declared, carrying the boy aloft on his shoulder, and pride written all over his face, “Something he must have inherited from your side of the family, my love, because all I had was a love of the sea and salt water in my veins.”

She watched without the interest of her sons, while her mind drifted back to the conversation she and Adam had, not exactly enjoyed, with Clay.

As soon as Hoss and Joe had left the room Clay had stood up, looked at them and smiled,

“Is this to do with Joe’s getting drunk last night?” he asked, “Only don’t blame me, because I was nowhere around at the time.”

“No, it isn’t about that, although it touches on it a little,” Adam replied, a slight frown wrinkling his brow, “Marie, Ma and I, we wanted to talk to you about your past and how it’s going to affect your future, here with us.”

“Oh? So, I do have a future here with you then?” he gave a smile, rather mockingly, one eyebrow raised in a cynical sneer.

“That’s if you wish to have one,” Marie stepped towards him, and put a hand on his arm, hoping that by doing so she would succeed in softening him into a less defensive mode.

“Well then? What is this all about? You know I feel rather like an errant school boy being sent in to see the Principal and Matron for a disciplinary meeting.” and he shrugged, as though it hardly mattered at all really.

“You can see it in which ever light you wish,” Adam’s terse reply did little to mollify him, and he raised his head defiantly, so that Marie wondered whether or not this had been a wise move after all, and perhaps it would have been better if she had talked to her son on his own. For whatever reason there was some sense of antagonism between the two men, and this worried her.

“Clay, you told me that you had shot a man, in self defence, in New Orleans, isn’t that right?” she said quietly

“That’s right. Beauregard Buchanan was his name, his father is a Senator and not a man to be trifled with, that’s for sure.” Clay frowned, slightly annoyed that she had shared this information with Adam. He saw it as putting him at a disadvantage.

“But the Wanted posters that we got from Roy’s office mentioned some event in Texas. You were still using your given name at that time, because the posters are looking for Clayton de Marigney. You couldn’t have felt that worried about the situation in New Orleans if you didn’t change your name until after the Texas event.” Adam pointed out quietly.

Clay looked at him challengingly, and frowned,

“Are you acting as Judge and Jury on this matter, Adam?”

“Not at all, we just need to know the facts and then know what to do about it.”

“That’s right,” Marie nodded and smiled at him, “If any other posters are sent to Roy, we’ll need to know how to defend you.”

“Defend me?” Clay looked at them both and then smiled, relaxed a little, “Well, true enough. It could well come down to that I suppose.”

“So? What happened?” Adam prompted, leaning forward to concentrate,

“Nothing really, just the usual.” he looked at their blank expressions, and shrugged contritely, “Alright, a man got killed. We were playing poker, quite an intense game, and he accused me of drawing from the bottom. I don’t cheat. I swear it. I know some tricks of the trade, but I don’t cheat.”

“Go on,” Marie sat down, with a sigh, “So he accused you of cheating and you shot him, is that it?”

“More or less. It was in self defence. I was only going to disarm him, if possible, but his bullet hit me in the shoulder, changed my aim, obviously, and he was the one got killed. There were eyewitnesses, as well as the doctor’s report on my injury. Seems no one wanted to listen to what they said though, so I just hightailed it outa there as soon as I could.”

“Why do that? Why not just stick around and face it out?” Adam asked, and got a wide eyed hazel gaze right back at him,

“You forgetting Senator Buchanan? He’s got a long arm, Adam. He’s also got a lot of money to flash around to get people to change their stories as and when it suits him.” he sighed, “I don’t blame him for it, I guess I would want to avenge myself if my only child were killed in a game of cards by -,” he paused and glanced at Marie, “ some stranger.”

He looked at them both again, “You do believe me, don’t you?”

“Yes, of course we do,” Marie replied immediately and she looked at Adam, but he said nothing, preferring to look away instead.

“Listen, Clay, people always need heroes in their lives,” Marie said, taking hold of his hand in hers, “For a long time Ben was Joe’s biggest hero, but now you’re here. He looks up to you, Clay, admires you and respects you -”

“As he does his other brothers, I’m sure,” Clay said quickly, unable to withstand the dark brown gaze of Adam Cartwright from behind her,

“Yes, true enough. But you’re new here, you’re the brother he never knew, and you’re different. You take risks, and you’re comfortable doing things that we’ve always cautioned him not to do. Do you understand what I mean?”

“Not really. I must be particular dense today, but perhaps you could spell it out for me.”

“We mean that we would rather you didn’t teach Joe your little card tricks, and didn’t take him along to your gambling joints. He’s very fond of you, as Ma rightly said, and he’s always loyal, to those he’s fond of, so we’d rather you didn’t abuse that trust he has in you, is that clear enough?”

Clay took a deep breath, and nodded, but he kept his eyes fixed on Adam’s for some seconds before he looked at Marie,

“It’s alright, I wouldn’t want to hurt Joe in anyway at all.” he replied, and then he smiled, “May I go now, please, sir?”

Adam shrugged, and looked at Marie who nodded, and said that she would walk out with him, as she wanted to make sure Joe as alright. As they left the room together Adam watched them, anxiety gnawing at the back of his mind as he wondered just how effective their little talk had actually been with him.

Now, Marie looked up at her son, and looking at his profile reminded her of Jean. She was remembering how much she had loved him, but how easily he seemed to get into trouble, leaving her to find the means of getting out of them.


“Yes, Clay?” she looked up at him again, blinked, and there he was, Clay Stafford,with his hazel eyes looking large and dreamy, and his lips parted in the smile she loved,

“Don’t you think you should slacken the reins a bit on Joe?”

“How do you mean, Clay?” she looked puzzled and glanced from one to the other, Joe, still battling it out with the horse.

“Well, seems to me that you and Adam, Hoss as well, tend to watch the kid like a shadow. He’s 17, ain’t he? Folk get married at that age, make decisions of life and death, yet it seems to me that you won’t let Joe grow up. I mean, telling me just now not to take him to the gaming tables! Surely it’s up to him to decide that? I’ll look out for him, sure enough, but ain’t he old enough to make decisions like that for himself?”

She sighed, and turned her attention back to Joe, who was struggling to prevent the horse from biting his leg off.

“You think we’re over protective?” she queried, and then continued, before he had time to talk, “I suppose we are in a way. When Adam was 17 years old …”

“That’s another thing, you keep comparing Joe with Adam. They are two different beings, Ma. Adam at 17 lived in a different world to Joe entirely.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, that Adam’s life was different. From what I hear he only ever knew his father closely, travelled through the wilds of Indian territory, in a wagon, until they hit this place. Then you came along when he was about eleven, wasn’t it? What I mean is, Adam’s main focus, his hero if I could quote from our earlier conversation, was his Pa. When Ben died, at 17, Adam took over as the one looking after this family. That’s what basically Joe has been raised by … you and Adam.”

“You made that sound something other than a compliment.” Marie said shortly, and turned her head away to observe the young man who was now dismounting, stiff legged, covered in dust, but triumphant. “I don’t think Joe has come out of it badly.”

“He hasn’t, Ma. He’s a great kid, he’s going to become a great man. But you’ve got to let him make his own mistakes, Ma.”

“Like you have?” she turned to look at him, and he could see the anxiety on her face, and smiled and kissed her brow tenderly,

“Like I have, possibly, in a way. I’ve had a good life, Ma. Grandmother provided well for me, but after we quarrelled, I had to make my own way in life. It’s a risky business at times. I guess I could have married and settled down and made Grandma happy, but I wanted to get out in the world and explore. Stretch the boundaries, so to speak. Joe may want to do that one day too, you know.”

“With you?”

“May be,” he replied, “Would that matter?”

She felt her throat tighten. To lose Joe from the Ponderosa was an unbearable thought, he had been her whole world, especially since Ben had died. She watched him walking towards her now, his mane of hair glowing as the sun shone upon it, and his hazel eyes twinkling at her. It made her heart ache with pride, the sight of him like that, so lanky and lean, and that big grin on his face.

“How’d I do, Ma?” he laughed, and she could hear the echo of Clay’s easy laughter in the sound of his voice,

“You did good, son, really good.” she said, and for some reason her eyes filled with tears and she had to turn away.

Chapter 87

Lil slowed the horse and looked about her. This was the first time she had actually plucked up the courage to travel all the way to the Ponderosa and she felt awed by having done so. Now she was here she wondered what she was going to say without sounding an alarmist. She clambered down from the buggy and led the horse to the hitching rail, and secured the reins there.

Adam Cartwright had not joined his family at the corral to watch Joe. He knew there was every possibility that his legs would give way, and although he didn’t mind leaning rather manfully against things, he didn’t want to appear as though he were being propped up by them.

He was sitting in the blue chair when the knock came to the door and he called out ‘enter’ without looking up. He was engrossed in studying a contract that had come through from Reno, and was already trying to work out the math involved in accomplishing the deal to the Ponderosa’s benefit. It was when the door closed and a quiet ‘Ahem’ was audible in the room that he looked up, saw Lil, and put the contract papers down on the hearth.

“Lil? What are you doing here? I mean, sorry, that sounded rude. Come on in, sit down. Do you want some coffee?”

“I’d love some, thank you.” she replied, slipping her cloak off and putting it across a chair back, “How are you feeling now, Adam?”

“Pretty much better, but I do have a problem with my legs still. Do you think you could call out to Hop Sing and ask him to get some coffee organised.”

She smiled, looked at him as though she had never imagined she could ever be in such a position as sitting here, having coffee with him. He watched as she walked quickly to the kitchen, heard the murmur of their voices, and then smiled as she returned, and took a seat in the chair opposite.

“It’s good to see you, Lil.” he said sincerely, “How’re things in town?”

“Oh, just much as usual. You know, nothing out of the ordinary.” she smiled again, and looked at him thoughtfully, “You look thinner.”

“I’ve not eaten much,” he replied, feeling rather trapped, a pretty girl, obviously in thrall of him, watching his every move. Very nice in dreams but in reality, rather claustrophobic. “You’ll enjoy the coffee,” he said as Hop Sing bustled in and set the things down on the table, giving Adam a wink as he turned to go back to the kitchen, “Would you like to do the pouring?”

She did so willingly, and passed him a cup and saucer with a smile. Then she sat down with her own and sipped it, said how good it was, and then fell into silence.

“So what’s the problem?” Adam asked after a short time had elapsed, “Or have you really driven all this way from town just to see me?”

“No, I mean, yes.” she blushed prettily and buried her face into the steam from the coffee, before lifting her eyes and seeing his brown eyes twinkling over at her, she smiled, “I did want to see you, Adam, I mean, Mr Cartwright.”

“Adam will do fine, Lil.” Adam leaned forward narrowing his eyes and looking into her face, “Why not just tell it as it is, you may find it a lot easier just to start at the beginning.”

“Well, I don’t really know when the beginning started, to tell you the truth.” she frowned and a little pucker appeared between her neatly plucked eyebrows, “Did you see the man who shot you? The man they say David Carter paid to get you killed?”

“No, I didn’t.” he looked at her thoughtfully, and leaned back in his chair, just the thought, the memory, of that time made his back ache, “Why’d you ask?”

“He was called Harry Chambers, wasn’t he?”


“He used to come into the saloon and just sit around. He never did do much, except sit and talk. Friendly, you know?” she sipped her coffee, and looked over the rim at him, “Of course when we heard he was the man Carter paid to get you shot, we all got to talking about him one evening. Hoss told me how he’d seen him at the buggy and thought he was a preacher, and I’d seen him riding out of town in the stage. Hoss said he did too, and the man, Harry, was real friendly. He didn’t seem the type of man to kill someone in cold blood.”

“Well, perhaps the man you’re thinking of, isn’t the man that shot me.” Adam sighed, and looked at her thoughtfully, “Is there a reason why you’re telling me all this?”

“It’s just that I think he’s back, in town, but not as a preacher this time.”

“Harry Chambers is back in town? Have you told Roy?” Adam would have jumped to his feet if he’d been confident that his legs would have taken the weight, and Lil shook her head,

“No, Roy isn’t in town. He’s in Placerville. And anyway, I wasn’t sure whether it was him or not, so I thought I would come here to find out if you had seen him, and could describe him to me.”

“You’d have to ask Hoss, he was the one who saw the man.” Adam raised a hand to his head, and rubbed his temple with his fingers, as though to smooth out the frown, “Sometimes, I have this dream where I see a face, or part of a face, and I wake up feeling panic stricken, my hearts racing, and I feel terrible pain. After I’ve woken up I get to thinking about what happened and how he just threw me down through those rocks. I’ve got to wondering if, perhaps, while he was carrying me up, slung over his back .. But no, I guess I must be wrong.”

“He would have had to move you about, you know, adjust to the weight, to work out how to put you down that hole. Don’t you think? Perhaps you saw him then, just enough to make out his face should you see him again.” she looked at him anxiously, “Do you remember anything about him now?”

Adam shook his head, and looked down at the rug, as though concentrating on the colours and pattern would help him to remember,

“No, it’s only when I dream,” he sighed, “But what makes you think he’s back? How sure can you be that it is him? Why on earth would he come back here?”

“Oh, Mr Cartwright, I just don’t know.” she cried, alarmed now, “It just seemed so clear last night. His voice was different, rougher like you’d expect, but -,” she paused and wrinkled her nose a little “he’d shaved his head to make it look as though he were bald, but he isn’t really. You’d not notice really, it was just that it made me think of a Monk and how they shave their heads. And then there were his ears.”

“His ears?”

“Yes. You see, it doesn’t matter how good a disguise is, you can’t change the shape of your ears, can you?”

Adam looked at her in startled amazement and shook his head, slowly, from side to side,

“No, no, I don’t suppose you can.” he said in a soft voice, “Lil, what on earth made you think …” he sighed, “You’re a very strange girl, you know. I doubt if anyone on earth would be bothered about looking at people’s ears.”

“I wasn’t intending to, but I’ve never seen anyone with ear lobes like his before, except the once when I was talking to Harry Chambers. When I was talking to this man last night, I noticed his ear lobes again and I thought, where have I seen them before, and it got me to watching him and noticing other things. Like his hair being shaved for example, and gestures. Mr Cartwright, I’m not making this up, I’m sure it’s him back again. If it is him, I think he’s back to finish off the job.”

“Finish off the job?” Adam repeated and he narrowed his eyes, “You mean, he’s here to kill me?”

“Yes, sir, that’s exactly what I mean.” she put the cup down and stood up, “I’ll watch him closely from now on, and let you know if I get to hear anything. You will be careful, won’t you?”

“Yes, of course.” Adam stood up, and walked slowly by her side to the door, “Lil, thank you for coming here and telling me this, but look, my dear, I think it is you who must be careful. Don’t go near the man. Don’t let him know you suspect him, don‘t even speak to him. If possible, take a holiday and leave Virginia City for a while.”

“Oh I couldn’t do that,” she said and smiled, “It’s kind of you to be worried about me, but I’m sure he wouldn’t hurt me at all. Anyway, why should he, he doesn’t even know I exist.”

“Don’t be too sure of that,” Adam replied, taking hold of her hand, “He’s ruthless and cruel. Please, Lil, be careful.”

Chapter 87

Lil left the buggy and horse at the livery stable and made her way back to the boarding house. She looked thoughtfully at the buildings as she passed them by, and remembered the families that had settled there, perhaps died, perhaps moved on. She remembered Mr Cass’ son getting shot by that Ed, and how Mr Cass changed so much as a result, getting all bad tempered and morose. She could recall the day Widow Hawkins arrived, stepping from the stagecoach with a great big beautiful parrot on her shoulder.

She stopped for a moment to look at the people passing by and turned to watch as cowboys rode along the street. Roy Coffee came out to watch as well, his eyes moving along with the cowboys, making sure they were not going to cause trouble for this burgeoning town.

It was on a day similar to this that she had first seen Adam Cartwright. A freckle faced lanky boy, with his wrists and ankles sticking out of his sleeves and pants, and his curly black hair too long. She would never be able to tell anyone exactly when she realised she loved him. Perhaps it was that time at the Fete when they were paddling in the stream and she cut her foot on a stone. The water had been so cold that she had not noticed, but he saw the blood spiralling up to the surface and lifted her off her feet and hurried her over to the doctors. Lil sighed, that had been a long time ago now, and today was probably the only other time he had ever physically touched her.

She saw Joy on the other side of the street, her hair neatly coiled under a smart new bonnet. Perhaps if she were as pretty as Joy then things would have been better, Adam Cartwright would not have forgotten her so quickly or for so long.

“Hello, little lady, a penny for your thoughts,” a voice boomed behind her and she jumped, so deeply engrossed in her thoughts that now she could feel her heart pounding so hard that she could barely breathe.

What if it was him? With wide frightened eyes she turned and blinked, and Paul Martin smiled at her, and took hold of her by the elbow,

“Are you all right, my dear? You look as though you had seen a ghost.”

“Oh, Dr Martin, I was day dreaming.”

“Is that what you call it?” he said, and shook his head and smiled, “Take care, Lily.” and then he was gone and Lil groaned inwardly, and wondered why men kept calling her Lily instead of just accepting that her name was pure and simple Lil.

Then she saw him, walking along the side of the road with a mule on a rein. He looked shabby and dirty, and the mule looked tired and hungry. He didn’t look at her as he passed, but she watched him toil along the road and wondered, once again, if she had made an error of judgement.

Mustering up boldness she picked up her skirts and ran after Paul, puffing a little by the time she reached him, and she plucked at his sleeve to get his attention while she was still breathless,

“Why, Lily, are you alright?”

“I just wanted to ask you for a medical opinion. I know this may sound very stupid but do ear lobes change? I mean, I know it’s silly, but can a person change the shape of their ears?”

Paul looked at her with shock on his face. It was probably the most ludicrous question he had ever been asked, and it was only the earnest look on her face that prevented him from laughing at her right there and then. He pursed his lips thoughtfully,

“Er – on a strictly medical basis, I would say it was impossible, unless there was surgery performed. Why do you ask?”

“It was something Adam Cartwright and I were discussing earlier today,” she said simply, not sure whether his answer totally assured her or not.

“Ah Adam. Well, I’m not surprised at anything he’d bring out in a conversation. How did you find him? Was he well?”

“He said he was, but he can’t walk very well. He said his legs keep bending – or something.”

“That’s just weakness, quite natural. He’s made a great improvement now, Lily, and should be able to get out and about in a week or even less, knowing him. Stubborn as a mule that one, although, having said that, Joe comes pretty close.” he smiled and pinched her cheek, just as if she were a small child again, “Take care of yourself, my dear.”

She watched him go into his office and close the door behind him. Then, slowly, she turned and crossed the road towards where she lodged.

Jack Hannah had kept his eyes on the road ahead, pulling the mule close behind him. He had chosen this personna because there were so many miners spilling about all over town, who would be able to pin point just the one. He wore what seemed to be a standard uniform for them all, red and black plaid shirt, tatty black cap, worn and torn pants. He could melt in amongst the crowd and never be noticed.

He sighed. Since the previous evening he had felt anxious, and that never really presupposed a good result on an assignment. He thought it over carefully as he trudged through the dirt of Virginia City’s streets, and knew that returning to a previous location was really too dangerous. He had never done it before, and now he knew for sure that he would never do it again. Far too risky.

But there was nothing he could do now, he had accepted the assignment. Senator Buchanan was not a man to be trifle with either, and both men knew that they had something on the other now. If he, Jack Hannah, changed his mind on carrying out this job, then Buchanan would just hire someone else, with Hannah on the top of the list. He knew too much and was disposable.

Jack changed direction now, he had left town and was heading towards the mining fields. His claim was not far out of town, and he had a small little camp site perfect for panning gold, for thinking things out.

People like him were a rarity, that was true enough but he could foresee a time when they would be more in demand. It was alright having these hired gunmen out west, but what good did they really accomplish? They’d ride into town, make a big show of themselves and their gangs, terrorise people …what good was that anyway? Not worth the money nor the risk. Before too long they got shot as well. Ten a penny they were, just mere upstarts.

Discipline and principle were the qualities that Jack Hannah lived his life by, and he didn’t have a high regard for anyone who didn’t have them in their lives. He pulled the mule along, thinking once again of the girl in the saloon. Why had she looked at him so often, so earnestly during the evening? It made no sense to him at all. He had checked and rechecked himself in the mirror and knew that his disguise was perfect. Jack Hannah and Harry Chambers were totally unalike. He had even walked past the Sheriff’s office and been there when the sheriff had arrived back from Placerville. Roy had not even looked at him twice.

He was getting paranoid about the girl. That meant only one thing and that was to get this job over and done with as soon as possible.

“Well done, Joe,” Adam slapped his brother on the back, “I heard all about it from Hoss. Sounds like you pulled off a good ride there.”

“Yeah, it was great. He fought me back though, a real tough one. I wish you’d seen it, Adam.” Joe pushed his fingers through his hair and laughed. He ached in every bone, but it was worth it. Clay had been lavish in praise and mightily impressed. It had been worth it for that alone.

Adam smiled and looked over at Hoss, raised his eyebrows and indicated that he’d like a private word with him. With some little assistance he made his way out side, to sit on the chair on the porch, with Hoss opposite him.

“What’s wrong, Adam? You painin’ or summat?”

“No, nothing like that, it’s just that I had a visitor while you were watching Joe at the corral. Lil from the saloon.”

“What? Little Lil … why?” Hoss’ face crumpled into a question mark, as his blue eyes gazed at his brother “Hey, she likes you a lot you know that, don’t’cha?”

“It wasn’t anything like that, Hoss. She’s worried that the man Carter hired to kill me, is back in town.”

“Seriously?” Hoss looked shocked, “Are you sure?”

“Hmm, that’s the trouble, she’s not 100 % sure. Tell me, Hoss, can you remember what he looked like, the man you saw?”

Adam looked at the younger man’s face as it blanked, then took on a fierce determined look of concentration. Then Hoss sighed and shook his head,

“No, can’t recall exactly. He was a big man, broad shouldered. I can’t even recall what colour eyes he had…”

“What about his ears?”

“His WHAT?” Hoss looked at Adam in amusement, then shook his head and chuckled, “Wal, I guess he had two of ’em, one of each side of his head like most of us, and they were kinda normal looking. You are jokin’ me, ain’t’cha?”

“Lil had a theory. That’s all.” Adam sighed, and sat with his hands clasped between his knees, looking down at the ground, “If he is here, he could be out to cause more trouble.”

“If he is here, then trouble, brother, is what he’s gonna git!” Hoss growled.

Chapter 88.

A week trickled by which saw a vast improvement in Adam’s physical condition. So much so that he was able to walk quite easily from the house to the stables, but after one attempt to ride out on Sport it was realised that more patience was yet to be exercised. However, he was able to get to the stable each day and groom his horse, and do various physical chores that had been considered too difficult.

Marie watched him one morning as he left the house, whistling under his breath. She twisted her wedding ring round and round her finger nervously, so that eventually Hoss approached her and put his arms around her and gave her what he called one of his bear hugs, which mean he lifted her right off her feet and swung her around.

“Hoss, put me down this instant,” she laughed and pretended to beat his chest in protest.

“That’s better, Ma. I didn’t like that worried look on your face. You seem to look worried a lot lately and it’s good to see you laugh and smile.” he put her down and looked at her, a big smile on his face which always brought a corresponding one from her.

“Adam told you about the man being here again, didn’t he?”

“Oh, the man with the ears?” Hoss replied simply,

“What?” she looked at him a little confused and then shook her head, “Lil told him she thought the man David had hired to kill Adam was back in town. I c an’t help but worry, Hoss. What if he’s out there, prowling around, stalking us and waiting for a chance to get Adam again. I worry every time he goes outside in case that man’s there. I keep finding myself waiting for a gun to go off.” she shivered, “Hoss, why is it that whenever it looks as though life has sorted itself out something comes along and messes it up again?”

Hoss shook his head and put his arm around her shoulders and drew her closed,

“I dunno, Ma, it just happens. I guess it stops us getting too comfortable, huh?”

“Well, just for once, Hoss, I would like to get really comfortable. Wouldn’t you?”

Hoss hugged her close and planted a kiss on her forehead,

“Even we may have different ideas on what is really comfortable, Ma.” he laughed, and walked to the door, leaving her standing by the table, “I’ve wood to cut down and prepare, Ma, so if Joe and Clay want to help me out, tell ‘em I’ll be in Blackbottom Creek.”


Joe and Clay were always comfortable together. Over the past weeks their kinship had grown closer, and Joe found himself wondering if Clay would stay on the Ponderosa for ever. He had mentioned it to Clay as they rode along, and was waiting for his reply when they saw the man ahead of them. He was tall with broad shoulders, hauling a mule behind him.

“Who’s he?” Clay asked Joe, a slight crease in his brow.

“I don’t know, but whoever he is, he’s trespassing on Ponderosa land.”

“So what do you do when you find someone trespassing?” Clay asked.

“Tell them, then warn them to get off.” Joe replied, and drew his gun from the holster as he rode towards the stranger.

“Hey, Mister, you’re trespassing on Ponderosa land.” and he pulled back the trigger as the man looked up with a piercing glare. He looked at both Clay and Joe, raking them over from head to foot,

“And just who are you?” he asked gruffly, yanking the mule towards him.

“I’m Joseph Cartwright and this is my brother, Clay Stafford. You’d best turn yourself and your donkey around and get back to where you should be.”

Jack Hannah nodded, and stared hard at them both again.

“I’m new around these here parts, Mr Cartwright. Just lost my bearings that’s all.” and he yanked once again on the mule’s reins and pulled it around as he retraced his steps .

“Do you need a hand to direct you on your way from the main road?” Joe asked considerately, putting the pistol back in its holster.

“No need, I’ll find it. Sorry if I caused you inconvenience, sir.” and Hannah touched the peak of his cap politely, bowed his head and trudged onwards.

“He was mighty civil about it,” Clay said, glancing back over his shoulder at the miner trudging along the track behind them now, “I don’t think I’d like to have a gun waved under my nose after admitting to an innocent mistake.”

“Can’t take risks,” Joe replied, “Too kind a treatment makes ‘em think they can track back and set up camp. We’ve had a lot of trouble with squatters in the past. They burn woodland, they even raid our cattle. They seem to think because we own this land we can afford to be generous to anyone who thinks they deserve a few acres of it. They have to know that they need a quick adjustment to their thinking.”

Clay said nothing. He looked back over his shoulder, but now there was no sign of the miner and his mule.

Jack Hannah was satisfied. He now knew exactly who was the man Buchanan wanted to have tidied up. He was quite happy to walk the extra few miles out of his way that morning to have found out that bit of information so effortlessly. Thanks, Joe.

Chapter 89

“You are joking, aren’t you?”

Joe Cartwright looked at his brother, Clay, with horror in his eyes. Then he glanced hurriedly over his shoulder, and grabbed at Clay’s sleeve, pulling him away from the edge of the sidewalk and into the shelter of shadow from the building. He took a deep breath, as it was obvious from the grin on his brother’s face and the bemused expression in the hazel eyes that Clay, if he was joking, was enjoying Joe’s discomfiture.

“Look, Clay, do you realise how much money we have here?” he spoke metaphorically as any money they could have had in their possession was still in the bank vaults.

“Do you realise how much money we would have if we invested it?” Clay replied, and raised his eyebrows.

“No, I don’t want to think about that, Clay. If Adam even suspected …”

“Leave Adam out of this, Joe. Look, think for yourself for once, huh?” Clay frowned, narrowed his eyes and grabbed at Joe’s arm, his fingers gently squeezing into Joe’s flesh.

“I am thinking for myself, Clay.” Joe replied and pushed Clay’s hand away, “You don’t seem to realise that I do things when and how I want to do them, and if they seem to follow through on what Adam and Ma say, it’s because I like to do it that way too. Just forget any idea of investing the payroll, Clay, because I don’t like the idea, not one bit.”

“Have it your way, Joe.” Clay laughed, his casual couldn’t care less laugh that usually got Joe laughing, but not this time. “Look, Joe, it was just a suggestion. You said yourself that you needed some money to get Joy a present for when she left town, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, but I’ll get it out of my allowance, thanks.” Joe turned and began to stride out towards the bank. Clay’s suggestion had caught him unawares and even now the whole idea of using the monthly payroll as the stake in a card game caused his heart to hammer twice as fast as usual beneath his ribs. He took a deep breath and pushed the bank doors open, and smiled over at the cashier,

“Hi, Joe, what can I do fer yer?”

“I just came to collect the monthly payroll, Seth” Joe replied, and put down the relevant withdrawal slip, casting an anxious glance over at Clay who was lounging against the counter.

“It’s all right, Joe, I won’t touch the stuff,” Clay chuckled, and turned to face the window and watch people walking by while Joe collected up the money.

“Hi, Mr Stafford, how’re you doin’?” Seth asked as he counted out the money for the Ponderosa pay roll, “I hear there’s a big game on over at the Sazarac today.”

“Is there?” Clay’s eyes lit up, then he shrugged, “Well, sorry, I won’t be there I’m afraid, I have to escort my little brother home with the payroll. Perhaps another time.”

“Sure thing, Mr Stafford. Is that right then, you and Joe are brothers?”

“Half-brothers,” Joe snapped, and grabbed the bag with the money in it.

“Half-brothers,” Clay reiterated with a smile and wink at Seth, “No relation to Hoss and Adam though.” and chuckling to himself he strolled out of the bank behind Joe.

“Why’d you say that about not being related to Hoss and Adam? You’re step-brothers ain’t’cha?” Joe muttered as they walked through the town and back to the horses, for some reason it had pained him to hear Clay so casually dismiss Hoss and Adam from any relationship with him, almost as though he had not real feelings for them or something.

“Oh, well, step-brothers, half-brothers – what’s the difference?” Clay sighed and glanced around, “Look, I’m dry after that ride into town. How about a drink, huh? My round?”

“Your round? That has to be a first,” Joe gave a slight smile, and then nodded, “Don’t see why not, there’s plenty of time. I’ll get the mail later.”

“That’s my boy,” Clay replied, and slapped his brother fondly on the back.

Roy Coffee watched from his office window as the two men passed on the opposite side of the street. He narrowed his eyes and pursed his lips, and then with an anxious look on his face returned to his chair behind the desk.

“No denying they’re kin,” his deputy observed, “Sure have a similar look, don’t they?”

“I suppose they do,” Roy sighed, and pulled out a big brown envelope from the desk drawer. He emptied it’s contents upon the desk and slowly looked through them. Wanted posters … he seldom posted them all, kept most in the drawer for filing and observing. There was only so much room on a notice board, and the saloons and other public places often refused to have them on the premises, said they were too upsetting to the public. Roy thought that was stupid talk, but when they dug their heels in he had little choice but to do as they said. “I had some posters come through the other day. I swear there was one …” he shuffled them about, peering at one, putting it down, picking up another, until he ended up with them all back in a neat pile. “Mmm, very odd.”

“What’s that?”

“Seems I’m missing some posters.” Roy muttered, pulling the drawer wider and scrabbling around with his hand to see if groping around in the dark narrow confines would reveal the lost posters more successfully than having them all laid out in the open on top of the desk would have done.

“I don’t think so, Roy,” the other man yawned, stretched and walked over to the stove, “you’re the only one who ever looks at the things.”

Roy scratched his chest through the layers of clothing he wore, and wondered why seeing Joe with his ‘new’ brother had sent him checking wanted posters in the first place!

Clay was obviously restless. He drank his beer and made little conversation which was unusual for him. Joy and Lil were both absent and there were few customers present. Charley mentioned about the ‘big game’ being held at the Sazarac as the enticement for his clientele. Clay sighed and turned his glass round and round in his hands, and then looked over at Joe,

“It wouldn’t hurt to watch,” he said mournfully.

“I think it would be best if we just collected the mail and got out of town,” Joe replied, clutching at the bag of money anxiously.

“You go get the mail, I’ll see you later.” Clay stood up, waved to Charley, “Look, don’t be so worried, you’ve got the payroll all neat and tidy in the bag, if I do join in it’ll be with my own money, that’s if it meets the stakes, alright?” he put a reassuring hand on Joe’s shoulder and smiled down at him, and then, before Joe could open his mouth, he had walked away.

Joe felt restless now. He finished his drink, looked around for some sighting of Joy, and upon seeing nothing of her, he bade farewell to Charley and left the saloon. There was very little mail waiting for the Ponderosa, so after he had put it safely in his saddlebags, he walked over to the Sazarac to see what was going on for himself.

Perhaps he had expected it, so was not too alarmed at the sight of seeing Clay firmly ensconced at the gaming table. His brother had his hat pushed to the back of his head and was casually thumbing through the hand he had been dealt. He said nothing as Joe pushed his way to the front of the crowd. The tension was high. Not as high as the stake which Joe noticed was far more than Clay had available. Joe realised that his brother must have put in an I.O.U and felt his heart sink.

He walked behind his brother and looked at the cards that he had been dealt. He hadn’t thought his heart could sink any lower, but it did!

“Clay, quit now, d’you hear?” he hissed in Clay’s ear.

“Are you crazy?” Clay snapped back in a low voice, “One thing you have to understand about me, Joe, is that I never quit.”

Joe glanced around at the other players, all of them looking at their cards but listening to every word they were saying and checking out to gauge how it would affect Clay’s standard of play. Joe backed away and took a deep breath. He could feel sweat breaking out on his brow at the thought of Clay losing and he instinctively clutched more tightly to the bag of money. He had not thought it safe to leave in the saddlebags, but now he wondered if he had possibly made an error in that assumption.

Several hands later, and half the payroll money was in the pot. Every man there had hopes of pocketing Ponderosa money and the amount of adrenalin that was flowing, along with the beer, created an atmosphere that was nothing less than electrifying. Silence permeated the room. Every eye was on the table where the cards were being shuffled, dealt out, scanned, and played out.

There was no doubt about Clay’s aptitude at play. He was cool, and seemed totally unbothered by the state of his, or rather, the Ponderosa’s finances. He leaned back in his chair and surveyed the men seated there and then laid down his hand. There was a gasp, he had put down a Royal Flush.

“Doggone it, I didn’t see that coming.” Will Hansard muttered, as he set down his cards, way short of a full hand.

“No one did,” Zedekiah Murphy growled as he watched Clay scooping up the winnings, which included all the money that was to pay for his months mortgage to the bank, and the hardware bill that was outstanding by six months. “How come you won that hand, Stafford?”

“By playing with you nincompoops,” came the cool but incautious reply, and Clay grinned, “Here, Joe, lend me a hand will you?”

“No,” Zedekiah cried, “No, just leave that money be, until you prove you didn’t cheat.”

Clay paused, his hands immediately stopped moving over the money, but stayed still. He narrowed his eyes, and looked at everyone of them as though suddenly he had stepped into the middle of a pitful of vipers and needed to know the way out.

“I didn’t cheat, Mister.”

“Well, I say you did. So do the rest of us…ain’t that right, boys?”

“Calm down,” Hansard said, he was the oldest man there and a member of the Town Council. With things turning ugly he was more concerned about what his wife would say if there were trouble than whether anyone was about to get hurt. He stood up and reached out a hand towards Zedekiah, “Calm down, Zed.”

“Get out of here, Hansard,” Murphy replied, his eyes fastened onto Clay’s “I say you cheated, Mister, and I meant every word. I reckon you’ve cheated every game you ever played here.”

“That’s stupid talk, boy,” Clay drawled.

Zedekiah’s hand moved towards his gun, but his fingers only slapped the leather of his holster, in dismay he looked down, then up, and found himself looking into the barrel of his opponents gun. Clay clicked back the trigger,

“You’d best apologise.” Clay hissed.

“No, I ain’t,” Zedekiah cried out of desperation as he looked at the money which meant the loss of his home, farm equipment, everything he held dear.

“Clay, leave it be,” Joe said loudly, “Leave it, just take the money for the payroll and leave the rest.”

“Are you crazy, Joe?” Clay looked over at his little brother and his mouth dropped open as he saw Joe standing behind Zedekiah, with a gun in his hand, but his own gun still in its holster. He glanced from Zedekiah, to the money, to Joe. Then with a shrug he scooped up as much of the money as he could manage, and with a sneer at Murphy left the table.

As they reached the door Joe put Zedekiah’s gun on the counter. He had got behind him as soon as he realised there was going to be trouble, and without Zedekiah noticing, he had slipped the gun from the holster. It was easy, Zedekiah had been too angry mouthing off to have noticed.

“Thanks, Joe,” Clay said quietly as they mounted their horses, “You did well in there.”

Joe said nothing, if Clay had expected any commendation from his little brother, he was disappointed. As for Joe, he felt that his hero had suddenly become the stuff mere mortals are made from and felt – cheated.

Chapter 90

“Ma,” Clay smiled over at her and winked, “Did I ever tell you that you make great cake?”

Marie laughed, Clay had been with them only a matter of weeks and already he seemed comfortable at calling her Ma. She watched as he stuffed cake into his mouth and with the remainder of it in his hand he ran up the stairs, two at a time, to Adam’s room. She frowned then, remembering the account Joe had given to them of what had taken place in town, and knew that there was going to be an altercation between the two men as result. She was still too unsure of Clay’s feelings for them to feel confident about the outcome and the thought of his leaving them made her heart sink.

Adam turned from the window as the door opened, and looked over at Clay who bounded into the room and closed the door much the same as Joe. He wiped his mouth and nodded, before flopping into the chair and regarding Adam with a serious look on his face, and a twinkle in his eye.

“Well? I guess this is time for my knuckles to be rapped, huh?” he grinned then, and folded his arms across his chest, watching the expressions on Adam‘s face with scant regard.

Adam shrugged and leaned against the window frame, folded his arms across his chest and viewed Clay with a rather quizzical expression on his face,

“Tell me something, Clay, why did it take you so long to come here?”

“What?” Clay raised his eyes in surprise, “Hey, I only stopped by to get some of Ma’s cake, I -.”

“No, I meant, why did it take you so long to come to the Ponderosa on the excuse of visiting your father’s grave? After all, you knew about Ma being here when you were 14 years old and saw all the details of her marriage to Pa in the Town Hall registry. You knew she was here then, so why did you leave it until now to get here?”

“Shucks, is that what has been bothering you all these weeks?” Clay laughed, “I guess I kinda slipped up letting that little detail out,” he scratched his head and then stretched out his legs, “Well, you see, Adam, it was like this – the de Marigney family, particularly my Grandmother, didn’t like my mother. To be honest, they hated her. She was not in their class, and she had a bad reputation. I shan’t go into details but it obviously didn’t bother your father too much, which was very commendable of him,” he noticed the colour mounting around Adam’s neck, and took a deep breath, “Look, you asked for the truth, so I’m giving you it, so don’t get heated up as a result, huh?”

“Go on,” Adam sighed, and bowed his head, “I’m listening.”

“I couldn’t ask people about Marie, so I went to the Registry to check on whether or not it was true that she was dead, and to find out about my father. Yes, I knew she had married your father and was now living here on the Ponderosa. Yes, I didn’t explain that in detail to her when I came, but what was the point? Women want to hear, what they want to hear, which means that sometimes it’s best not to tell them every little detail. You know how they cling on to details and fling them at you whenever there’s a falling out? I just kept the information secret, what’s wrong with that? When my grandmother and I parted company, I had to fend for myself to a certain extent. She was pretty generous though in that she still forwarded me an allowance every month on which I could live, perhaps she hoped I would go back home, but I was enjoying life away from them all.”

He looked at Adam and frowned, wondering why the inquisition, why the need to go into all this now. He stroked his moustache and waited for some comment, but none came.

“I got caught up with living my own life. That’s all really. For the first time ever I was not accountable to anyone, I could do what I wanted, when I wanted. It was only when she died and my allowance stopped that reality set in so I began to travel. It didn’t even occur to me to come here until after the incident in Texas.”

“So in a way you wanted a cover?”

“Oh, is that what it’s called nowadays? Well, I wanted to see if she were still alive, and how things would work out, and I wanted to meet my brother, my own flesh and blood. I just wanted to belong, to someone, somewhere. Is that so wrong?”

“No, of course not.” Adam frowned, he couldn’t really in all honesty accept that to be the truth because Clay was not a ‘belonging’ kind of person. In Adam’s opinion the man was restless, the type of person who would find any attachment claustrophobic after a while, and would want to shrug it away as soon as possible. But, he sighed, he had to accept the fact that he couldn’t read hearts, and there were times when he would just have to accept what he was told. If Clay believed what he was saying to be true, then it would have to be accepted as such.

“It was changing my name that made me think of finding Marie. All I had ever been told about her was negative, yet in a way it was tantalising to know that I had a mother out there somewhere who was – different. Clay Stafford, I thought of her. A bit like a moth to a flame I guess.” he smiled, a flashing easy come, easy go kind of smile that made Adam wonder which of them was the flame, Marie or Clay, in which case, which of them was the one to be burnt in the future.

Again silence, Adam remained with his head downcast, leaning against the window frame, his legs stretched out and his feet crossed at the ankles. Clay looked at him thoughtfully, wondering what he was thinking, and when the lecture would set in about being more responsible, living up to his obligations as a brother. He glanced around the room, and saw the sextant and telescope on the side table, and got up to take a look at them. He had never seen a sextant before and picked it up carefully.

“Your Pa was a sailor, I believe?”

“Yes, that’s right. When he married my mother though, he gave up the sea and started a business as a Chandler.”

“And your Ma died when you were born? That must have been tough for him.” he picked up the telescope and put it to his eye, then weighed it between his fingers.

“Yes, I guess it was,” Adam agreed, picking up a pencil and subconsciously testing the point against his finger.

“You’ve had a rather adventurous life one way or another, Adam. Guess that’s why you feel so responsible now, huh? For your family and everything.”

“Maybe so,” Adam sighed, and was now the one wondering what Clay was up to, and why the questions. It occurred to him that this was a typical playing for time gambit and shrugged, he had the time, and perhaps it would serve some useful purpose.

“Joe told me how your Pa died, how responsible you felt about it all.” Clay looked down at the maps, tracing the outline of the African coast with his forefinger. He could sense the tension in Adam now, but did not look back, “Odd how life turns out though. You knew my father longer than I did, and you’ve been son to my mother for years, something I never was. Takes some thinking about, the irony of it all, doesn’t it?” he looked at Adam now, “What was my father like?”

“What do you remember of him?”

“Not much. He was just a shadowy figure, flitting in and out of my life, for maybe two years of it. Then he disappeared, and one day Grandmother said he was dead, and buried a long way from home.”

Adam looked thoughtfully at Clay, and then nodded, he pushed himself away from the window frame and walked to his desk, pulled out the chair and sat down,

“You’re a lot like your father. Some mannerisms, inflection in your voice, casual attitude to life.” he caught Clay’s eye at that comment, and Clay bowed his head, “He was a sick man when he got here, but he was a man with ideas, and he helped with the building of this house. He told us stories of New Orleans, his life there, and about his beautiful wife whom he adored, and his son whom he loved. I recall him telling me stories about his family, how they were gamblers, it was in the blood like sea water was in my fathers. He chose the spot where he wanted to be buried, he used to go there a lot to write in his diary, and when he was really weak, Pa would take him there to rest, read or just meditate.” Adam looked down at the floor as he tried to put together what memories he had of Jean de Marigney, “It was the way he spoke about Marie that compelled Pa to leave us here and go to New Orleans to tell her about Jean’s death.”

“Your father was a good man, Adam, to have gone to such lengths for a man such as my father.” Clay spoke softly, and the other man in the room barely caught the words.

“Jean was good to Hoss, told him stories, kept him amused. He was my father’s friend at a time when my father needed one. It was good for them both, and it brought Marie into our lives.”

Clay nodded, a slight frown on his brow, and he put down the telescope back upon the maps and turned to look at Adam Cartwright, as though seeing him for the first time,

“I don’t know how long I’ll be here for, Adam, but I hope we can be friends too,” he said walking towards him with his hand outstretched, “I’m sorry about the payroll money, as well, it caused Joe concern, and I’m right sorry for it.”

“That’s alright, Clay,” Adam said, shaking the proffered hand, “Just don’t do it again.”

Clay smiled, his eyes twinkled, “No, sir, I won’t.” he replied.

Adam watched Clay stroll out of the room and turned back to the window. Joe was coming out of the stable, and looked over at Clay, raised a hand in greeting, but he didn’t rush up to him like an overexcited puppy as he had done previously. Clay glanced over his shoulder at his brother as though wondering why the change, and perhaps he realised because he bowed his head and continued on towards his horse. Adam followed him with his eyes, and watched the younger man take his horse into the stable, by which time Joe was indoors.

He was about to leave the room and go down stairs to the big room when a rider came into the yard. Roy Coffee looked around the empty yard and pushed back his hat, then dismounted and tethered his horse to the hitching rail. He walked to the house, taking his hat off now, as he expected the door to be opened by Marie.

“Is Adam here?” he asked Marie once the preliminary greetings had been accomplished and he was walking into the room.

“Here, Roy,” Adam said, as he came down the stairs and confronted the sheriff who looked at him with a vague expression on his face, “What can I do for you?”

“First off, I’d like to saw how good it is to see you up on your feet again, Adam. I guess you’ll be back in town before too long?”

“I will.” Adam smiled, and indicated a chair upon which Roy could sit.

Joe glanced up from his chair and nodded a greeting and smile at Roy, while Marie disappeared to organise a cup of Roy’s favourite coffee – and cake, of course.

“What’s the problem, Roy?” Adam asked, leaning forward in his chair towards the sheriff who seemed to now be deep in thought and unsure how to get started.

“I’ve been to Placerville,” Roy took the plunge and dived right into the conversation, “The sheriff there has a bigger office than I do” Adam and Joe exchanged glances, Joe raised an eyebrow as though doubting the sheriff’s sanity, Roy continued regardless, “He has more wall space is what I’m meaning.”

“Wall space?” Adam intoned, and nodded, as though this was obviously something to consider of serious concern, “Do you want a bigger office, Roy?”

“No, doggone it, I don’t want a bigger office. I’m just saying that he had bigger walls space and could put up more posters than I can. The result is that I saw faces on his walls that I have not seen on mine.”

“I’m sorry about that, Roy” Adam nodded his head again, at the back of his mind a memory stirred and he felt he knew where this conversation was heading.

“Roy? Have some cake with your coffee? I made it fresh this afternoon.” Marie coo’d and smiled at him endearingly.

“Why, thank you, m’dear.” Roy took some cake and put it on a plate which he somehow balanced on the arm of the settee. “There was one particular poster that made me wonder where had I seen a face like that before!”

“It wasn’t Joe, was it?” Adam quipped, and they all laughed as though the whole idea was preposterous.

“No, but it did rather remind me of the young man who claims to be Joe’s brother.” Roy said, suddenly straight faced and looking at them with cool appraisal.

“You mean Clay? On a wanted poster?” Marie exclaimed, “Why, Roy, how could you think such a thing?”

Roy looked at her fondly, and smiled. Marie had no practise at dissembling. She was honest and as easy to read as an open book. She turned her head away and looked at Adam, as though whatever had gone wrong was obviously his fault. He raised his eyebrows and shrugged slightly, then turned to Roy

“You saw a poster with Clay’s name on it?” he said blandly.

“What’s this all about?” Joe asked now, sitting up erect and looking at Roy in a more aggressive mode, “Are you accusing Clay of some kind of crime ?”

“Murder,” Roy said with his face showing no emotion whatsoever.

“Murder?” Joe repeated, and slumped back in his seat.

“Murder,” Marie sighed, and shook her head before standing up, once again she looked at Adam before she turned again to face Roy “It’s not true, Roy, Clay never murdered anyone.”

“Clay Stafford, wanted for murder, is that it?” Adam asked coolly, looking directly at Roy.

“Clayton de Marigney in fact,” Roy said, and he looked from one to another of them, and received blank expressions from each one of them. “Now, look, I’m not stupid, and I know I wasn’t here years back, but if I recall rightly you weren’t called Stafford when you married Ben, were you?”

“What has that got to do with anything?” Joe blurted out, and jumped up to join his mother who was still standing, motionless, by her chair.

“Look, Joe, I have a job to do, and if there’s a murderer running around loose, then I need to know who and where he is and arrest him, for Pete’s sake. That’s what the county’s paying me for, isn’t it?”

“Has Lil seen you lately?” Adam suddenly said, which caught Roy wrong footed for he turned to Adam in amazement.

“Lil? You mean Lil from the saloon?”

“That’s the one.” Adam nodded, “It’s just you saying you needed to arrest murderer’s who are running loose in town reminded me of a conversation I had with Lil recently. She believes that the man who tried to kill me -”

“Harry Chambers?” Roy narrowed his eyes.

“That’s right, only he calls himself something different now,” he frowned and then shook his head in disbelief, “Either I’ve forgotten what it is or else she didn’t tell me. I was still pretty ill at the time.”

“Forgotten what?” Roy asked.

“His name. His incognito, alias, whatever.” Adam shrugged impatiently, “If he’s in town, Roy, you should be doing all you can before I end up dead next time.”

Roy narrowed his eyes suspiciously, and once again looked from one to the other of them, then he shook his head,

“Are you kiddin’ me, Adam? It’s just that I’m a bit short of good humour just now and if you’re giving me the runaround to get out of telling me more about this Clayton feller, I’m not going to be very happy.”

“Roy, have you ever known us to break the law?” Marie asked, her voice brittle and her back straight as if she had just been insulted in the most indecent manner possible, “Have you? Do you seriously think I would harbour a murderer in my house?”

“Not any murderer, Marie. I’m talking about a man who claims to be your son.” Roy stood up and picked up his hat, he looked at them all in a very serious manner, as befitted an officer of the law, “Look, you know it’s an offence to harbour a criminal, and if I find that this Clayton is here, it will mean serious consequences for you all, you realise that, don’t you?”

“If my son were proven to be a criminal, for whatever crime, then I would turn him in, Roy. If any of my sons were proven, by law, to be a criminal, you know I would do the same, so please, don’t insult me with threats.” Marie replied stiffly.

“Perhaps you should check into these allegations, Roy, and make sure of them before you go any further.” Adam said quietly, standing up and walking slowly to the door beside the sheriff, “And, talk to Lil, as soon as possible, would you?”

“I will, Adam. Thanks for the cake, Marie,” he called over his shoulder as he stepped out of the house. “Adam?”

“Yes, Roy?”

“Who is Clay Stafford?”

“Clay? He’s Marie’s son.” Adam smiled, but his eyes were blank.

“So, then, who’s Clayton de Marigney?” and Roy gave Adam a very stern look, but Adam just shrugged,

“Guess you’ll have to ask him, when you get him.” Adam looked straight ahead, he didn’t like to play word games with Roy, he had too much respect for him, and inwardly, it irritated him that Clay had put them in such a position as this one.

He raised a hand in farewell as Roy mounted his horse and rode out of the yard. As he did so, Clay came out of the stables, and, rubbing his hands together, he walked over to Adam, glanced over his shoulder at the retreating sheriff and asked Adam what he had come for,

“To arrest you,” Adam said quietly, his eyes still fixed on the cloud of dust slowly settling back to the ground.

“Arrest me? What for?”

“Murder.” Adam replied, and turned, gave Clay an appraising look, before turning back into the house.

Chapter 91

Roy wasted no time in looking for Lil, and found her cleaning the tables at the saloon. There were several customers there, solitary men who liked a drink and as little communication with others as possible. The new Bank Manager was one of them and nodded over at Roy with a look on his face that signified that he would have preferred it if Roy had not found him there.

Lil looked up and gave Roy a warm smile. Roy always thought that when Lil smiled her whole face lit up and her eyes glowed. He’d known Lil a long time, since before her father had died years back.

“Do you want a drink, Roy? It’ll be on the house for you,” she said, standing up straight and holding her duster in her hands like a bride would hold a bouquet of flowers.

“No, thank you, my dear. I wanted to ask you something about a man who you think could be the person who shot Adam. He was called Harry Chambers then.”

Lil nodded and looked anxiously at the few men in the saloon, then smiled again at Roy,

“Was it Adam who told you? I suppose you thought it odd about the ears?”

“The ears?” Roy frowned and shook his head, “He didn’t say anything about any ears, but he did say you knew the man’s name.”

“Jack Hannah. He’s working a claim with Clem Connolly.” she rubbed a corner of the table a little distractedly, “He’s a broad shouldered man, dark haired, balding but I think it’s been shaved, Roy.”

“Shaved?” Roy looked at her and narrowed his eyes, “Shaved you said?”

“Yes, to make it look as though he were bald. And he has odd ears,” she nodded emphatically.

“Odd ears?” Roy repeated after her, “How do you mean, odd? Odd in that one is different from the other? Or what ?”

“He hasn’t any ear lobes, they just go straight into his jaw line.” she narrowed her eyes herself now and looked at him, “I know you may think it strange, Roy, but Harry Chambers had ears like that, it was one of the first things I noticed about him. He was a regular customer the few days he was here in town, and used to always treat me to a drink. I would never have thought him to be a murderer. But then, we didn’t think David Carter could be either, and look what happened to Evie.”

Roy nodded, and looked at the young woman with admiration, then he put out a hand and placed it gently on her shoulder,

“Lil, I want you to make me a promise now,” he addressed her kindly, gently, as though talking to a child, “As soon as you see this man again, come straight to my office and get me, do you understand? I don’t want you to talk to him at all. In fact, I’d advise you to have nothing to do with him at all. He’s a man who can vanish without trace after he’s killed and been paid for it. He isn’t your regular gunman, but a hired killer who doesn’t like to draw attention to himself. If he thinks you could identify him as Harry Chambers I would be very worried.”

“I’ll do that, Roy. Thank you.” she said simply and then returned to her dusting.

No one would have imagined how much turbulence there was going on in that girl’s heart now. Fear and apprehension made her heart pound so hard that she felt dizzy and made less of a good job cleaning the tables than usual. She had a sudden desire to rush to her room and lock the door behind her and stay there, until it was all over.

She had not seen the man Jack Hannah since that time she had returned from the Ponderosa. She was not even sure that Jack Hannah was still working along with Clem. She went to the counter and asked Charley if she could go home early, as she felt ill.


Sport was excited, his legs trembled with the anticipation of a ride with his master at last. He turned his head and teasingly nabbed Adam’s sleeve, pulling at it affectionately. Adam in turn stroked his nose and then vaulted into the saddle.

It was good to be there again, in the saddle. He turned Sport around and was instantly trotting out of the yard, following the rest of the family from the ranch house towards town.

Joe threw him a wink and grin, and sat relaxed in his saddle. He drew back to ride by his brother’s side, in pleasant companionship, without the need to speak. Hoss rode beside the buggy, which Marie was driving as expertly as ever. Clay rode slightly ahead of them, as though unsure with which party he should ride.

“You didn’t say anything to Clay about his gambling with the payroll, Adam?” Joe asked, looking at him with a smile, and his eyes twinkling.

“I didn’t really feel there was any need to do so,” Adam replied, looking straight ahead, “Clay expected me to say something about it, but I thought there was little point. Just sometimes it’s better to know and say nothing. How do you feel now?”

He looked at Joe thoughtfully, knowing that Joe had returned from that trip to town feeling disillusioned and confused by Clay’s arrant irresponsibility. He shrugged now, and grimaced,

“I guess I learned something, that perhaps my hero was just another brother, and tended to do stupid things, like brothers do.” and he laughed at his quip and urged Cochise onwards, pulling up on the other side of the buggy and leaning down to talk to his mother.

Sport did a few little fancy steps, remembering what it was like to be young again, pretending to be a colt when he was all gangly legs and little else. He tossed his head and broke into a gallop, then stopped and did a few steps as though he were dancing on the spot. Adam leaned forwards and stroked the animals neck, and with a smile dug his heels in and urged him into a run.

He leaned close to the horse’s neck feeling the wind against his face and the horses mane whip against him. It was just so good to be free of that bed, that room, that all pervading illness. He gave a yell and a whoop and Sport thrust his head forwards and strode out as though echoing his master’s gleeful cry of rejoicing. Free at last they both appeared to be saying, free at last.


Jack Hannah entered the saloon and headed for the counter. He looked around him and saw several girls milling around, but not Lil. Nor was her friend, Joy, there either. He made his way to the counter and leaned against it.

He looked at his reflection in the mirror and smiled at himself. He looked entirely different to the man that had walked into the establishment several weeks earlier. His dark hair was matted, coarse and bushy. His beard was longer, dirtier and bushier and he looked and smelt like a real miner, not like a man trying to appear as one. He pulled a small leather pouch from his pocket and weighed it in his hand, a dirty grimy hand with broken blackened nails. There was little to recognise as Harry Chambers here now.

“What can I do for you, Mister?” Charley asked, polishing a glass carefully and wondering why he bothered when men as filthy as this would walk in and drink from it.

“Beer.” came the answer and Charley watched as Hannah poured a trickled of gold flake into his hand, “Where’s the little girl to-day? The dark haired one with the scarlet dress?”

“Unwell.” Charley replied, and he poured the beer and passed it along to the miner, who grabbed it thirstily, raised it to his lips and drank deep.

Jack Hannah put the glass down and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Who would have thought Esmond Scott would have enjoyed such freedoms as these that Hannah could enjoy. Sleeping under the stars, standing in freezing water, panning for gold and feeling, really feeling, intense excitement as his hoard of gold dust, nuggets and flakes mounted. Clem was a good partner too, asked few questions, didn’t try to filch from Hannah’s share, cooked good grub. He was also intelligent, so that at the end of the day, as the day draw to its close they were able to eat, drink and converse. Jack Hannah nodded to himself contentedly, and cradled the glass close to his chest.

If he had known the pleasure of such freedom … freedom to be dirty, smelly, to curse and swear if he wanted to do so, to eat and drink when he wished, and to spend hours panning for gold with a fishing line further along so that he could catch his own supper, his and Clems. If he had only known sooner that being born into wealth did not mean freedom, being married into money, didn’t mean pleasure, if he had but known then he would have headed out for the gold fields sooner and never put his hand to a gun, never taken a life.

He sighed and looked up at his reflection again. It was at that moment that four men walked into the saloon. He recognised the man in black, although he was wearing a yellow coat, and had a slight limp. He also recognised the boy, and the man that youth had identified as Clay Stafford. It took him a moment to realise who the other man was, the giant who had helped Harry Chambers put a wheel to the buggy months earlier. He turned away from looking at them, and wondered if his natural look, would fool Hoss Cartwright.

Chapter 91

Adam walked to the counter and leaned against it. He had thrown his hat on the table and stood there, right beside Jack Hannah, patiently waiting for Charley to come to his end of the counter and take his order. Hannah looked at him, a long hard look, before turning away. It never paid to take too much interest in a man who was about to get himself tidied away. Esmond Scott’s policy was that the more notice and attention one paid to such details then the more human they became, and the harder it was to become impartial. It could even make a man question the reasons why he was doing the job.

“Good to see you in town, Adam,” Charley exclaimed and even went to the lengths of shaking his hand across the counter, jogging Hannah’s elbow as a result so that beer slopped over,

“Sorry about that,” Adam said immediately to Hannah, “Let me get you a fresh glass. Make that five beers, Charley, one for the gentleman here.”

Gentleman! Hannah raised his eyebrows and then scowled, he hardly looked like a gentleman. He turned towards Adam and met the full force of two dark brown eyes, and although the smile on Adam’s face was friendly and warm, the eyes were forceful, cold and Hannah backed off. In a town like Virginia City a man could get shot for just knocking into someone else, spilling his beer would guarantee trouble.

“Thanks, Mister,” he muttered gruffly, and took the beer, watching as Adam returned to the table, followed by Charley who had insisted on bringing the other drinks to their table.

Jack Hannah watched them through the mirror. A relaxed happy group of men, four brothers, in some way or another. The big man was telling some tale, from his gestures something about a bear, and the three other men were listening with the occasional laughter. It was Clay Stafford who broke up the group, by standing up and excusing himself.

Hannah watched the young man as he picked up his glass of beer, and ambled over to the gaming table where two men had started a game of poker. His eyes flicked back to the three others, who were now exhibiting a less relaxed feeling between them. He noticed how the youngest kept glancing over to Stafford, obviously concerned, and then leaned in towards the other two, talking hurriedly to them. He noticed how Adam Cartwright reached out a hand, placed it on the youngsters arm, and said something that must have appeased the youth for he nodded, and leaned back in his chair, the glass of beer in his hands, but his eyes constantly turning towards his brother at the far table.

A lot happened, it seemed, all mixed up in a few bizarre moments. The doors of the saloon opened to admit Lil and Joy, who were laughing together, and walked quickly to the table where the Cartwright boys were seated.

A tall, middle aged man approached Clay Staffords table, and as he did so Adam Cartwright stood up, left his own group and walked up behind the other man. Hannah saw it all unfold before his eyes, he heard the screams, the gun shots …

Clay was pleased to sit in on the game, and the two men, who had not played against him before, shook hands with him,

“Pete Morgan,” one said, and produced a pack of cards, which he began to shuffle with an expert ease.

“Clay Stafford,” and he extended a hand, which both men shook, the other man introduced himself as Martin Ogden. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, gentlemen,” Clay smiled, and eased himself into the chair and watched as Morgan dealt the cards.

“Been here long?” Ogden asked, spitting tobacco juice into a spittoon and making it rattle against the floorboards.

“About a month or so,” Clay replied, “How about yourselves?”

“A year,” Ogden said, “We’re panning up at the Washoe.”

Clay glanced up as the doors opened and the girls entered, Lil and Joy, laughing and happy to see the Cartwright boys to whom they immediately approached. He was smiling at the sight of them when he realised that Ogden had stopped talking, and Morgan was not dealing out the cards. He turned to see Zedekiah Murphy standing over them. Clay swallowed back bile that had risen at the sight of the man for it was obvious that no talking was going to stop this man from doing whatever it was he had any intentions of doing, he was breathing abnormally fast, and his eyes were burning with hatred,

“Do you know what you’ve done to me, you cheating coward, you filthy stinking liar? Do you know? You ruined me, that’s what you done to me. You ruined me. You took the roof from over our heads, and the land from under our feet. How am I going to feed my kids? What do I tell my wife now?” he swung his arms out wide, encompassing the whole assembly there, “Come to cheat some more fools out of their money, have you? Well, it’ll be the last time you do.”

The gun appeared from nowhere, but it was levelled at Clay and fired. Hoss Cartwright had moved not long after he had realised where Adam was heading, and had seized hold of Murphy’s gun arm, wrestling hard with the frenzied man to wrench the weapon from him, while Adam had his own gun out, but had now stepped back to give Hoss room to manouvre.

Lil and Joy had screamed, as had two other saloon girls, who had ducked under a table. Morgan and Ogden had dived out of the way, Ogden bellowing like a bull when he saw blood on his shirt and realised that a bullet had passed through his arm spewing out copious amounts of blood.

It was Joe who had reached Clay’s side first. Yelled for a doctor, for the sheriff. Then held his brother’s body in his arms. Zedekiah suddenly lost any fight in him and dropped the gun, which Adam retrieved.

“Is he alright, Joe?” Adam asked his brother, his eyes quickly scanning the two young men, and unable to see any sign of blood on either of them.

“I hope he’s dead.” Zedekiah spat, although his body was shaking now with the shock of what he had done, and his breath coming in heavy gasps, “I hope he’s dead for what he’s done to me and my family.”

“That’s enough, Mister,” Hoss growled, “That’s enough.”

“Joe?” Adam stepped towards them, “Let me look at him, Joe?”

Jack Hannah put down his glass of beer, and quietly slipped out of the way, out of the saloon, closed the doors behind him. He walked briskly down the street towards where he had left the mule. He wondered how many families had been left torn apart and heart broken by the killings he had accomplished. How much mess he had created when he had done some ‘tidying up’. He suddenly realised he wanted to get back to those ice cold waters, pan for some more gold, catch some more fish.

Charley had gone running for Roy, while someone had gone running for Paul. A cold blast of air blew down the main street of Virginia City reminding everyone there that winter was on it’s way.

“Is he going to die, Adam?” Joe whispered, kneeling beside his brothers, one of whom was a crumpled heap on the floor, and the other carefully, gently, feeling for a pulse.

Chapter 92

Clay could hear a lot of cursing in a very deep voice and another voice muttering something, so out of curiosity he opened his eyes again.

He was in a room he had not seen before but from the medical tomes lining the shelves, and various other clues he realised he was in some kind of surgery. When he turned his head he saw a half naked man being held down by another man, while the doctor, Paul Martin, cleaned and stitched up a bullet hole. Clay could hear Paul saying

“There’s no need to make such a fuss, Ogden, the bullet went right through the fleshy piece of your arm so there’s no harm done.”

“No harm done, a hole in my arm is not harm done? What kind of doctor are you for Pete’s sake?”

Marie leaned forward and smiled at him, her eyes looking relieved and the smile appearing to be warm and sweet,

“Clay? Are you alright?” she said in a soft voice that could barely be heard above Ogden’s racket.

“I’ve got a head ache,” Clay muttered, “There’s ringing in my ears. What happened to me? I thought it was Adam someone was trying to shoot?”

“Zedekiah Murphy shot at you,” Joe said calmly from the foot of the couch upon which Clay had been left after examination, “You won all his money from him the other day, remember? He’s about to be sent packing off his land and his wife and kids have nowhere to go, and nothing to eat. He decided to shoot you, but one bullet scraped across your thick skull and the other went through Ogden’s arm.”

“Who’s Ogden?” Clay moaned, feeling his head tentatively, and his fingers coming into contact with the rough surface of bandaging.

“Him?” Joe jerked his thumb in Oden’s direction, silent now as he had passed out.

“Do I know him?” Clay enquired, squinting in an attempt to discern the man’s features.

“You were playing cards with him and another man called Morgan,” Marie replied now, rather frostily. She sighed and looked at him again, and shook her head, “Well, I think you’ll survive, Clay, so we may as well head for home.”

“Where’s Hoss and Adam?” was the next enquiry, as Clay swung himself from the couch and set his feet on solid ground. He swayed a little, regained his balance, but grabbed at Joe’s arm to ensure that he would not fall flat on his face.

“At Roys.” Joe handed over Clay’s hat and jacket, and watched his brother struggle into the latter, and then very carefully place the former on his head.

“Why?” Clay asked, rather suspiciously as he recalled the reason for Roy’s visit to the Ponderosa a few days earlier.

“To see what could be done for Zedekiah, and also to see about this Harry Chambers who seems to have returned to town to finish off the job on Adam,” Joe replied casually, “Do you think you’ll manage to get out of the door without falling over, Clay?”

“What will they do about Zedekiah, he tried to kill me,” Clay growled, releasing his grip on Joe’s arm and walking to the door.

“Perhaps he thought he had good reason,” Marie replied quietly and walked through the open door without giving Clay a second glance.

She stood for a moment on the sidewalk and took a deep breath to regain her equilibrium and to hold back the tears. She had been frightened at the thought of her son being shot, and then, seeing him on the couch with the blood trickling from the scalp she had felt the sick fear only a mother can feel at the thought of their loved one suffering, perhaps dying. It had been bad enough with Adam going through so much recently, but when she had seen Clay, blood called out to blood, this was her first born, only recently found as though resurrected from the dead, and now, possibly dying again, and being taken from her.

But he was not seriously hurt and as she relived her fear, she felt anger churn over and over inside of her. Jean had caused her this same fear and anger, with his gambling. She had never known whether one day he would have gambled their home and belongings from over their heads. Now here was Clay , prepared to gamble away the Ponderosa’s payroll, and happy to take money from a man who had been stupid enough to put it down on the table as a stake, and, as a result, lost everything. She hated gambling for all manner of reasons, and now, her own son had proven to her, once again, the total folly of it all.

She shook her head, straightened her shoulders and proceeded to walk towards the buggy. Her purchases had already been placed carefully inside by Sally Cass, and she stepped aboard the vehicle and took up the reins, then looked down at the two young men who now stood on the sidewalk, looking up at her,

“I’ll see you both at home,” she said quietly, and with a “Walk on,” command to the horses, left them standing there.

Roy Coffee read through the written statement that Zedekiah had made and showed it to Adam and Hoss. Zedekiah had signed it, expressed his apologies through clenched teeth, and been ushered into a cell. His wife and children were now grouped around the cell, and their crying and grumbling was reaching a crescendo of noise that was making normal conversation nigh on impossible.

“There it is, in black and white, Adam” Roy said sadly, “Another fool not learned his lesson and about to lose everything he possesses. He’s never caused a days trouble all his life long, worked those fields for ten long years, and then this happens. Whatever next!” he exclaimed and looked over his shoulder at the area from which the noise was beginning to ebb away. Only the woman’s sobs could be heard now.

“It’s unfortunate, Roy, but he only made a bad situation worse by taking a gun to Clay.” Adam replied, “I may be able to persuade Clay not to press charges against him, but I don’t know about Ogden, the man was squealing like a stuck pig, and doesn’t appear to me to be the forgiving kind.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of, but it doesn’t alter the fact that the Murphys will soon be evicted from their home.” Roy sighed heavily, and once again glanced in the direction of the little family group crowded around the bars of the cell, in which Zedekiah sat slumped on the truckle bed with his head held in between his hands.

“I’ll deal with that, Roy,” Adam said very quietly, “There’s no reason for a woman and her children to suffer because of the greed and stupidity of some men.” he perched himself on the corner of the desk, and picked up Zedekiah’s statement which he began to re-read in more detail.

“What else did you want to see us fer, Roy?” Hoss asked, looking away from the family to Roy who now picked up a pencil, stared at Hoss as though he had no idea what he was talking about, and then pulled off his spectacles as though to aid him to remember more clearly, “You said it had something to do with Harry Chambers?” Hoss prompted.

“Harry Chambers. Yes, that’s right,” Roy nodded, “Hoss, you saw the man, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, I did. Twice in fact.”

“Would you be able to identify him?”

“If it’s Harry Chambers, sure, I don’t usually forget a face, especially seeing as how he shot my brother.”

Roy nodded and stood up, carefully put his spectacles back on, and looked at them both, Adam got off the desk and stood up,

“What is it, Roy? Have you seen Lil, spoken to her?” he asked, and Roy nodded, and smiled,

“I know where he is, and I just need Hoss to come with me for a short ride so’s he can be identified and arrested. How about it, Hoss?” he grinned, his moustache bristling as he did so and his eyes twinkling behind the glass, nothing pleased him more than his own brand of tidying up.

“I sure will, Roy. Right now?” Hoss rubbed his hands together in glee.

“Right now, Hoss, if it’s alright with you,” Roy replied. “Do you want to come along too, Adam? The more the merrier.”

“I’ve something to do first, Roy. I think I’d prefer to see Harry Chambers behind bars later on.” Adam smiled, and glanced over at the Murphy family with a thoughtful expression on his face. He knew only too well the stress and heartache of struggling to make ends meet, to make a success of a homestead, farm or ranch. There had been times when Ben was in despair of the Ponderosa making its way, times when they had been a hairsbreadth from losing everything. But something would always turn up, some ‘good angel’, as Inger would express it, would deliver them from hardship. He looked down as though reading the statement again, but he was actually calling to mind some of the kind hearted ‘angels’ who had come to their aid in the past, and for whom Ben had prayed a grateful thanks for the rest of his life.

Hoss and Roy called out their farewells and closed the door behind them. Hoss pulled his coat closer, as the wind felt sharp and keen.

“So where’s he hiding, Roy?” he asked, striding out towards where Chubb was chewing on his bit, pushing and shoving against it with his tongue. His eyes rolled when he saw his master and he nodded his head in welcome. Hoss ran a loving hand along the sleek neck line before untethering the reins.

“Not hiding, Hoss. He’s got himself another alias, and he’s mining up on a claim with Clem Connolly. It’s just a case of riding in there, you identifying him and me arresting him. I’ll enjoy that very much. I don’t like these killers who sneak in and out like rats outa a sewer.”

Hoss said nothing to that, but could sense the strong feeling Roy had about the man, a feeling that he felt coursing through his own veins at the thought of a man who could slip into a town, deliberately attempt to kill Adam, and then ride out as calm as you like, with a whole load of money to boot.

Jack Hannah sat by the river with his mining equipment close to hand, but he didn’t touch it. He just sat and watched as the current sent spirals and swirls eddying against one another in the fast flowing waters.

“Are you alright, Jack?” Clem called over to him, and received a nod in answer, which seemed to satisfy him for he entered his own tent without another word.

Confused. That was the only word Jack Hannah could find that actually summed up the way he felt now. These past weeks had been so different from any he had ever experienced before. It had been as though someone had turned a key in a lock and he had taken his first steps out into the real world, and found something worth living for in it. Yet he couldn’t have explained what that something really was, because it was nothing tangible.

He took a deep breath and closed his eyes against the sights around him. He was certainly between the devil (and Buchanan certainly deserved such a title) and the deep blue sea. A rock and a hard place. As he had reasoned to himself before, if he didn’t honour the agreement, for which he had already taken an ample sum of money as a down payment, he knew without doubt that Buchanan would find another such as he, and have him hunted down and shot like a dog. If he went to the sheriff here, he would be jailed for attempted murder, and then the whole list of others who had actually been murdered would be dragged out. That would mean ruination for Buchanan, and misery for Esmond Scott’s wife and daughters.

There was nothing he could do but honour the agreement. He was a man of his word, and a man of principle. He would never renege on a deal. Once he had done the job he had come to do, he would leave this place which was softening him up. He would return to what he knew, and become what he had – yes – he would return to what he had become – a paid assassin. After all, it was his trade.

Chapter 93

Clem Connolly came out of his tent and waited for the two men to dismount before he approached them. He had a rifle in the crook of his arm, a precaution in the event of the newcomers being claim jumpers. Roy nodded and shook his hand,

“Howdy, Roy, you two comin’ on in for a hot brew?” Clem asked, a smile of welcome on his face.

“No, thanks, Clem, no time for that,” Roy replied, looking around at the campsite, “I just came to see if your partner were here, Jack Hannah I think he calls himself.”

“Jack? No, you missed him. He was here, sat awhile thinking a mite, and then got up and said he was leaving. Didn’t say how long he’d be gone fer.”

“What’s he like?” Roy asked, as Hoss began to walk towards the other tent, the entrance of which was flapping in the breeze.

“Who? Jack? Oh, he’s a good worker, keeps himself to himself, but likes to talk in the evenings. Intelligent talk and he ain’t a drinker.”

“What was he like when he came back from town today?” Roy asked, looking over at the other tent and just about managing to make out Hoss’ figure moving about inside it.

“Seemed a bit down, didn’t want to talk, just went over and sat on his own for a while.” he stopped when Hoss came back out, shaking his head, “Has he done anything wrong?”

“If he comes back, Clem, just tell him that I want to see him about an incident in town today, there was a shooting in the saloon and he was an eyewitness. I’d like to just get his account of the matter.”

“I’ll do that, Sheriff.” Clem said and stood back to let them pass in order to remount their horses.

They rode a while up the slopes and through the wood in silence, back onto the main track to town, Hoss then looked over at Roy with a slight frown on his face,

“How’d you know he was in the saloon? I didn’t see no one there looked anything like Harry Chambers.”

“Well, he’d be a fool if he came back looking like Chambers, wouldn’t he?” and Roy laughed, one of the few joys in life was getting one over on the Cartwright boys, and this was one very satisfying opportunity to enjoy a laugh, “Lil came and told me, didn’t recognise him at first because he looked so much like most of the other miners, it was just the way he walked out of the saloon so soon after the shooting that drew her attention to him. Then she asked Charley who it was and Charley told her it was Jack Hannah, who works along with Connolly now. Poor Lil. She nearly threw a fit when she realised how close Adam was to his would be killer.”

“That Lil, sure had sharp eyes on her. I would never have known that Chambers was in that saloon, and here you are, expecting me to identify him as the man who shot Adam. How can I do that when I don’t even recognise him when I see him?” Hoss scowled, and looked at Roy anxiously, “Where’d you reckon he’s gone now?”

“You tell me? The man’s a wily bird, that’s for sure. Could be he’s gone for a number of reasons. Could’ve been spooked when he saw the shooting, and was afraid someone would recognise him. Could be that he hadn’t expected to see Adam like he did there, that could have made him think. Hoss, if I could get into this man’s mind I’d be a happy man.” and Roy stroked his chin and looked down at the track “Ain’t no sign of his mule backtracking it to town, although we would have passed him had he done so.”

“Mebbe he’s decided to leave town altogether.” Hoss said rather doubtfully, but he saw the look Roy gave him and shook his head, “Yeah, well, just a thought.”

“Well, I’m heading back into town now, you keep your eyes out for any clue that he’s hanging around the Ponderosa, Hoss. I wouldn’t be surprised that with winter coming on, that this man wants the job finished soon so he can get back to his home comforts.”

Hoss nodded thoughtfully, and raised a hand in farewell as Roy turned his horse around to take the fork in the track that led to town. For some moments Hoss sat in his saddle deep in thought, before remembering that Ma, Joe and Clay were returning together, but Adam had stayed back in town .. Alone. He turned Chubb around and with a yell at Roy to hang on for him, rode back to Virginia City.

Chapter 94

“You should tell him how you feel about him, you know,” Joy whispered to Lil, as the two girls peered through the rather dirty window and watched as Adam Cartwright walked from the bank with Mrs Murphy and her children trailing along around him.

“What do you mean?” Lil whispered back, unable to take her eyes from the sight of the tall dark clad man who had the baby in the crook of one arm, and was tickling it under the chin. She watched as the baby gurgled laughter and Adam Cartwright smiled so that the dimples appeared in his cheeks and he seemed so relaxed and at ease with them all. Another one of the children was tugging at his jacket and holding up a finger that had obviously been hurt at some time and needed his attention.

“Oh, Lil, it’s obvious that you’re just crazy about the man,” Joy replied, standing away from the window now to walk to the counter and fluff up her hair. She turned this way and that, to make sure she was still looking her best, and smiled at her reflection.

“Well, it doesn’t really matter what I feel about him, does it? He won’t notice me, he never does.” and she sighed, still keeping her eyes fixed on the group standing just across the street. Mrs Murphy was dabbing at her cheeks with a handkerchief and nodding, and smiling, and Adam was talking to her, and now looking quite serious. Lil sighed and shook her head, “I bet you a dollar to a dime that he’s paid off the mortgage so that they can stay put there. I bet you anything you like that …”

“I know, I know.” Joy protested, a little frown of irritation on her brow, “I think you’re being very silly not telling him though, Lil. You say he doesn’t take any notice of you, huh? Well, how many men call you Lily?” and she smiled at her friend who looked at her thoughtfully and shook her head, “Alright, how many times has he called you Lily?”

“Oh, I see what you mean,” Lil blushed, and lowered her eyes coyly, then she shook her head and left the window to walk over to the counter and watch her friend preening herself. “I wish I looked more like you, Joy. Everyone notices you. Joe Cartwright has, and even Mr Stafford.”

“What do you mean, ‘even Mr Stafford’?” Joy laughed and flounced up her skirts so that she could lift her leg up to put her dainty foot on a stool and tighten up the laces of her boot. “Mr Stafford is a mighty handsome man, hadn’t you noticed?”

“Handsome is as handsome does,” Lil said without the faintest idea what the expression actually meant, but she had heard Mrs Hawkins say it so often when someone was given a compliment that this seemed an appropriate opportunity to do likewise.

“I like him, and he’s more of a man than Joe,” Joy wrinkled her nose a little in contemplation of the two men, “Joe’s still just a boy after all.”

“You’re not exactly an old woman,” Lil laughed and nudged Joy to get herself straightened up, as several miners entered the saloon.

“Lil, if I were you, I’d get myself over there right now, and tell that handsome Mr Adam Cartwright how the man who is out to kill him was standing right here in this saloon. It might do you some good to be a little more -” she frowned as she sought to find the right word, “a bit more assertive.”

Lil blinked, assertive seemed about right, she thought, perhaps she should put some of it to the test. She said nothing, but turned immediately around and quickly left the saloon.

Mrs Murphy and her brood had finally departed and Adam watched them clambering aboard their wagon with a sad feeling in his heart. Life was going to be difficult for Hetty Murphy, now that winter was coming on. He had done what he could to help them financially, but in a pratical way they needed a man to help them through the winter. There was no real hope of Zed escaping a jail sentence now that Ogden had made out a statement against him. Adam shook his head and wondered again at the way men took such risks with everything the future held out to them, just on the flip of a coin, or the turn of a card.

He was about to start walking towards Sport when he heard his name being called out from behind him, and upon turning he saw Lil, the saloon girl, running towards him. He stopped, turned and smiled. She was a pretty enough girl, unassuming, not really cut out for the job she had, she was too – he searched for the word and the only thing that came to mind was ‘nice’.

“Oh, Mr Cartwright, I’m so glad I caught up with you,” she gasped, “I wanted to tell you something.”

“I thought we had agreed that you would call me Adam in future,” he smiled, remembering the time she had visited the Ponderosa and told him about the miner with the odd ears and how she thought it was the man who had tried to kill him.

“Yes, but -” she lowered her eyes and shook her head, then raised them again and smiled at him, “It doesn’t seem right somehow.”

“Well, Lil, it sounds alright to me,” he laughed and put his hand out to draw her closer into the sidewalk, so that no passing vehicle or cowboy could splash mud on her as they passed by.

“Adam, did you realise that the man, Harry Chambers, was in the saloon today? He was there, at the counter, drinking beer when Mr Stafford got shot.” she looked at his face, and saw the dark eyes darken and his mouth tighten, then go blank, as though the fact had been noted and that was that, so she put out her hand and touched his arm, “I mean it, Mr Cartwright.”

“I know you do, Lil, and Roy does too, which is why he and Hoss have gone out to get him. Hoss can identify him -,”

“How? If he was standing just feet away from you in the saloon, how will Hoss recognise him?” she asked, and her eyes widened as she looked earnestly at him.

“I thought -,” Adam paused, and grimaced, and then he shrugged, “Well, Roy believed what you had to tell him, and he’s gone out to wherever he is to arrest him. So, you see, there’s nothing more to worry about now. Once he’s behind bars we’ll be able to find out who he really is …Harry Chambers, Jack Hannah and all the other aliases won’t be of much use to him then.” he smiled at her, pleased to see that she looked less tense now, “We’re all very grateful you know, Lil. You’re a very intelligent woman the way you notice things and make sense of them, not many – er – not many could do that,” and he turned his head as he heard his name being called by a familiar voice.

Hoss and Roy dismounted outside the Sheriff’s office, and both Lil and Adam exchanged glances before walking over to join them. Roy shook his head as he looked at Lil,

“We lost him,” he said in a regretful tone of voice, “By the time we got to Connolly’s he had gone. Hadn’t left a clue as to who he really was or anything.”

“Did you really expect he would?” Adam said quietly.

“To tell you the truth, Adam, I wasn’t sure what I was expecting. I’m sorry, Miss Lil, we were too late.”

“Do you think he suspects we’re on to him?” Lil asked, looking from one face to the other, and realising from their silence that they really didn’t know the answer to give her.

“Don’t worry, my dear,” Roy said gently, “We know who we’re looking for now, which makes it a whole lot easier.”

Lil frowned, shook her head slightly, and then with a sigh excused herself and hurried back to the saloon.

“Well, is that right, Roy?” Adam said, watching the young woman disappear into the saloon and the doors close behind her, “Do we know who we’re looking for now?”

“I don’t,” Hoss said with brutal honesty, “I didn’t know he was there in the saloon today, and if he walked down the street now, I still wouldn’t know.”

Roy sighed and scratched the back of his head,

“One thing’s for sure, he wants this thing over and done with as soon as possible. So, young man, just watch your back.”

Chapter 95

There was no need to hide who he was now. The time had arrived to put away Jack Hannah, Harry Chambers and a host of other aliases. Esmond Scott settled himself into the undergrowth much like a badger in its sett, a big cumbersome body hiding itself in nature’s own camoulflage. He had not just been panning for gold these weeks in the pines surrounding the ranch house. That would have been such a waste of precious time. He had brought with him everything he needed to keep warm and dry, fed and watered, for as long as it would take him.

He sidled down flat onto his stomach and brought his telescope to his eye. He now knew the routine of the ranch house fairly well. Just as he knew how many occupied the house, how many remained in the bunk house. He knew the times Hop Sing left the ranch, and when he returned. Without even realising it, each individual living on the Ponderosa environs had their personal routine, and each of them Scott had catalogued and noted carefully. Now he watched as Marie, Clay and Joe arrived home. He smiled to himself and scanned her face for longer than really necessary.

No wonder David Carter wanted to marry her. She was like a delicate piece of porcelain set in gold in this wilderness of wild people all clawing for the passport to fame and riches. He calculated her age to be in the late 40’s, but she looked younger, and held herself proudly, as though she knew she were something special.

He licked his lips and frowned. There was little point in getting side tracked by a pretty face now. He watched as Joe and Clay led the horses to the stable, then Clay returned to remove the buggy and horse from the yard. He reached for his rifle, then withdrew his hand. Not yet. It would reveal his hiding place too soon. There was still Adam Cartwright to deal with yet.

The young men finally emerged from the stables laden with the packages and parcels that Sally had carefully arranged in the buggy for Marie. Scott noticed the bandage around Clay’s head and smiled slowly. A pity that Zedekiah had been such a bad shot, it would have spared him the trouble of finding the time to rid the world of Clay Stafford. He watched them until the door of the ranch house finally closed behind them. Scott put the telescope down. Time for something to eat, and time to read another chapter of the latest Dickens novel.


Marie de Marigney Cartwright. She peeled off her gloves slowly and then unbuttoned her jacket. In deep thought she turned and looked up at the picture of her husband, walked towards it so that she could feel as though she were walking into it, into those black eyes.

He had always made her feel special. Always. Sometimes she would waken and find him looking down at her, and she would say ‘Why are you looking at me like that?’ and he would reply ‘Because, woman, I love you more than you’ll ever know.’ and for nearly 13 years she had not heard him say those words and realised how much she longed to now. Never a day passed when he wouldn’t hold her, touch her and kiss her, tell her how much he loved her, how he never wanted to lose her.

She had known that was his primary fear, even when Joe was born, especially when Joe was born, he lived in the dread of her dying, leaving him, going away from them all. Sometimes he had spoken to hear about Elizabeth and how he had loved her, and how she had died so soon after Adam had been born. Then there had been Inger, sweet and gentle, strong and brave Inger. How many men could not have suffered as a result of such losses?

As she looked up at him and thought over the past empty years without him, Marie realised why she had wanted to marry David Carter. She needed someone to tell her they loved her. A man who would wrap his arms around her and whisper words that a wife loved to hear, that made her feel safe, special. She was a woman of passion, who had needed the fires to be aroused again, and for a short while David Carter had almost succeeded. But there would never be another Ben Cartwright.

With a sigh she turned away, picked up her jacket and gloves and mounted the stairs to her room.


Scott was ready with his telescope when Adam and Hoss had returned home. He watched them as they rode their horses directly into the stable. He frowned, lowered the telescope a fraction and then raised it to his eye again. He counted the moments it would take them to remove the saddles and harnesses, to take the horses into their stalls, to put feed into the troughs and water into the buckets. He counted the moments until they emerged. Then he groped for his rifle and lined Adam up in his sights, and followed him across the yard into the house.

He smiled and put the rifle down. He knew they would never find him in his covert, and would not think of looking for him right on their doorstep. It would take as long as it needed to take, but finally, in the end, Marie Cartwright would be wearing black once again.

Chapter 96

Regularly once a month Marie would ride to the graves of her husbands. She would go either on horseback or in the buggy, depending on the weather or just on the mood she was in at the time. This particular morning she chose to go on her horse and wore her bottle green riding outfit with the dark green velvet lapels. She put on her little green hat with the netting that came over her face and was tied at the nape of the neck. It was no longer ‘en mode’, but Marie was past caring about such trivialities as fashion. She wore what she knew she looked good in, and for her own satisfaction. Of course, she would say to herself, who else was there to please anyway?

Clay looked at his mother as she came down the stairs and opened his eyes wide, and blinked. There was no doubt about it, the soft early morning light was certainly kind in that it took years off of her looks, and having an excellent figure anyway, the close fitting jacket of her outfit, showed it off to perfection. She looked breathtakingly lovely, and Clay gulped in appreciation.

“Wow, Ma, you look beautiful,” he exclaimed, even standing up and pushing his chair away from the table to get an even better look at her.

“Now you can see what good taste Pa had,” Adam said with a smile and a wink over at Marie, “Where are you going, Ma?”

“To the graves,” she replied simply, she had never believed in pretending and emotionalising any situation. To have said “To visit my husbands” would have been stupidly sentimental; to have said “To see Jean and Ben” a trivialising of what the visits actually meant to her. Some women may have said such, but Marie was too pragmatic to be sentimental.

Adam nodded, and poured himself another cup of coffee. He glanced up at Clay and raised his eyebrows, as though questioning him as to whether or not he should go, at least to Jean’s grave.

“Would you like to come with me, Clay, to your father’s grave?” Marie asked, pulling on her gloves and smiling at him.

“No, thank you, Ma.” Clay replied quickly, “I would rather not, if you don’t mind.”

She only nodded. Whatever reason he had for not riding out with her were his along, she did not feel the necessity to press him for any further explanation, but smiled again at them both and bade them goodbye.

“You should have gone too, you know,” Adam said quietly, nursing his coffee thoughtfully.

“I didn’t want to go,” Clay said in reply, “I don’t like graves at the best of times, they make me realise my own mortality.”

Adam looked up at him then, and nodded, he could see the sense of that, and with a sigh he drained the cup dry, replaced it on the saucer and stood up.

“Well, time to get on,” he said simply, “Are you coming along with me to the west side of Miller’s Creek? There’s a whole mess of wood there that needs clearing for winter fuel.”

Clay nodded thoughtfully. He would much rather have gone into town for a game of blackjack at the Sazarac. He had money in his wallet and had a longing to spend it. Clay was not one of the ‘save it for a rainy day’ kind of men.


Scott had been observing the movements of the Ponderosa since early morning. He had seen Hoss and Joe ride out just after dawn, when the sky was still beautifully painted with pink and orange streaks. He saw them ride off together and mentally noted that that left Clay, Adam and Marie in the house, alone with the cook, Hop Sing.

He made himself some food and a drink. Then nestled down futher into his den, and waited for further action. An hour passed before Marie left the house. He trained the telescope on her and followed her to the stable, and waited, until she rode out into the yard. He sighed deeply, no doubt about it, she was one woman in a thousand alright.

It was only a matter of ten minutes when Clay and Adam walked out of the house together. Adam Cartwright was wearing his yellow coat and Clay wore a heavy brown corded jacket. Scott reached for the rifle, his fingers touched the stock, and then he withdrew them tentatively. Hop Sing was still in the house, and he could see a big man, Hank Myers as it happened, stepping out of the bunk house. He did not want attention drawn to himself so kept the telescope trained upon the two men. Like a big fat spider aware of the slightest vibration of its web …he smiled, and nodded to himself, and then began to hum a little tune beneath his breath.

Chapter 97

The two young men did not say much as they rode along towards Miller’s Creek. This was no indication that there was any latent hostility in their relationship now, but rather the more complimentary one of being sufficiently relaxed in each other’s company as to respect the other’s silence.

Adam may have felt more relaxed in Clay’s company but he was far from relaxed with regard to the situation concerning Jack Hannah, or Harry Chambers. He was deep in thought wondering why a man would come back, like a hunting dog on the scent of a lost quarry. A man was supposed to be a superior reasoning creature than a hunting dog, surely? He rode with his eyes scanning the horizon constantly, although, riding through the trees as they were now, made such vigilence more difficult than when in open terrain.

Clay was also deep in thought. He had enjoyed seeing his mother and getting to know her. In many ways it had laid the ghosts from the past and filled the future with wonderful prospects. He had been both pleased and irritated by the presence of his own brother, Joseph. Pleased to have a real flesh and blood kinsman, but irritated by the fact as well. Clay had been raised by elderly people, who had made him their sun and moon and stars. Although Joe’s initial adoration had been wonderfully complimentary to such a man as Clay, it had become much like a man followed by an unwelcome puppy after a while. Selfish and vain, Clay admitted to an affection for his brother, and a respect for his step.brothers, but he was far too wrapped up in the vision of himself and his life to go beyond those emotions.

He was now thinking about Marie. How lovely she was this morning as she walked out of the house in that green riding outfit. How well he could understand his father loving her, and Ben Cartwright adoring her. He could also now comprehend why his grandmother had hated her for Marie. Madame de Marigney had been beautiful in her youth, her marriage had been a happy one, and she had adored her only child. As her looks had faded and youth waned, Marie had burst upon them like a new bright star exploding into the constellations. Jean moved his adoration of his mother to this wondrous person, and Madame had been consigned to the shadows. As she noticed more and more of those in her social circles fawning and flattering Marie, Madame had allowed the poison of jealousy to seep into her heart until it gave birth to a hatred so bitter that all she could think about was obliterating this new star entirely from the realms of her own orbit. When Clay was born Madame seized her chance.

What if she had been a plain dumpling of a woman, Clay pondered. Would he feel this way about her now? Would Madame have felt so threatened and cultivated such hatred not only in herself , but also in him, her grandson? Clay was deep in thought puzzling over these things when he realised that Adam was whistling softly to himself.

He glanced over at Adam and frowned. Here was a handsome young man, intelligent and studious who could have accomplished anything in his life. Why did he seem so content to stay here? Surely he didn’t want to stay on the Ponderosa chasing cows all his life? Clay nodded in acknowledgement of the smile Adam had cast him, and considered again, that this was a man capable to doing great things in his life, how could he moulder away here?


“Huh?” Adam smiled, and raised an eyebrow to indicate that he was paying attention.

“Do you intend to stay here all your life?” Clay asked, and smiled as though his answer was of paramount importance.

“Do you?” Adam laughed in reply, his brown eyes twinkling.

“Ah, I asked first,” Clay chuckled, feeling good inside himself, and enjoying the moment.

“Well, to be honest, I don’t know. Never given it much thought. I had wanted to go to college when I was younger, and then -” he paused, and glanced over Clay’s shoulder, wondering if he had seen something, someone, “but Pa died, and life changed here. I guess it’s easy to let life slip through one’s fingers, with each day passing.”

“There’s so much to do in life, isn’t there? So much to see and so little time to fit it all in.”

“You sound like a man desperate to leave here and move on.” Adam said quietly, a slight frown furrowing his brow, and his hand easing to his holster, slipping his gun loose, his hand on the handle.

“I guess that just about sums it up,” Clay replied, “I just can’t imagine myself being stuck in the house with you three and Hop Sing all through the winter.” and he laughed aloud, throwing back his head, his laughter the happy exclamation of youth and freedom.

Then the first shot rang out. Laughter died on his lips and Clay gave a gasp, looked at Adam in startled amazement, as he saw the gun in his hand. His eyes asked the question that his lips were too numb too ask, and then he fell, slipping sideways from the saddle, face down onto the ground.

Adam pulled Sport around, turning so that his horse was a shield to the man and he fired, directly at the spot where he had seen the movement of the gunman. It was at that point that the skies opened and rain fell like a deluge upon them.


Scott eased into the trees, faded out of sight. One of the bullets from Adam’s gun had brushed pass his face, and thudded into the bark of the tree behind him. He knew he had the advantage over the other man, for he had the cover of the trees and shrubs while Adam was out in the open, and would no doubt stay there in an attempt to offer some protection to the man on the ground. Scott smiled to himself, he knew that there was little chance of Clay Stafford getting to his feet, for he had got a true aim and only the most evil of chances (seeing it from his perspective of course) could have prevented that bullet from killing its victim.

Now he could enjoy himself at the other man’s expense. As the rain poured down and drenched the open ground Scott still had the shelter of the trees, and slowly, stealthily, he began to stalk his prey.


Marie was at the graveside of her second husband when the rain began to fall. She raised her face to the heavens and closed her eyes so that the raindrops mingled with the tears that trickled down her cheeks.

Chapter 98

With the rain falling so heavily Adam found it harder than usual to discern exactly where the gunman could have relocated himself. He kept his body close to Sports, hoping it would less discernible in the rain as a result. The track was already puddling, and the horse was beginning to churn it over into mud as he manoeuvred it in circles around Clay’s body.

As the seconds gradually eked into minutes, Adam wondered if the gunman had decided to leave the vicinity even though he had got the wrong man. Without the knowledge of Scott’s latest assignment, Adam was still under the misapprehension that he, and not Clay, was the assassin’s true target. He drew closer to Clay, his eyes travelling constantly all around him, only too well aware of how well hidden the other man was, compared to themselves. He could no longer waste time in the manner he felt he was, but with his gun in hand, he slid from the saddle, and keeping hold of the reins, and leading Sport along by his side, he hurried to where Clay had fallen.

He had just knelt by Clay’s side when there was a gunshot. Adam threw himself across Clay’s body, and fired immediately into the shrubs. Then, after releasing the reins and allowing Sport to run free, he twisted away from Clay, and crouching as low as he could, he scrabbled through the mud to the shelter of some trees. Another bullet winged its way towards him and spat bark from the tree close to his head. He fired off two shots immediately before ducking down for cover.

Still the rain fell, with raindrops so heavy and fast that the three men were sodden through to the skin. Clay was now in a puddle that widened around his body, with the mud reddening from blood mingling with the rain.

Adam licked his lips and ran his tongue around the inside of his mouth. It was so dry. The driest part of him. His eyes ached in his attempt to see through the rain and the undergrowth as to where his adversary was now hidden. His only consolation was the thought that Chambers, as he thought of him, was having to endure the same conditions.

Once again time ticked away, nerve stretching seconds. Scott, hidden well and protected by thick undergrowth kept his eyes fixed on the site Adam had fired from earlier. Once or twice his eyes flickered over to Clay, but there had been no change in the body’s position since Clay had fallen. He smiled at the thought that he would be able to justify Buchanan’s payment.

Adam wiped rain from his face, from his eyes. He realised he had to move away from this particular location which afforded him little protection from both gunman and rain. He crouched down, stepped back a few paces and began to move as carefully as possible away from the scene, but closer to where the gunshots had been fired. Keeping his gun steady, he inched along, eyes alert, nerves stretched to breaking point, and barely able to swallow. He saw a movement, from the corner of his eye and fired.

At the same time the ground, heavy from rain water, gave way beneath him, and he felt himself sliding through mud. His gun was knocked from his hand by a sapling halfway down the descent, he slid into a rock which was large enough to resist the weight of his body but in the process of resistance turned him onto his back. Mud, water, wet leaves, pine needles all sped by, stung his face, got into his mouth and eyes and hair, covered his body, until he landed in an undignified heap face down in a small narrow gully. The traces of his descent were as obvious as that of an elephant taking a mud bath.

Esmond Scott stood up and waited, his gun poised and ready. His eyes and ears alert to any sound, any movement. Clay still remained where he had fallen. From the direction of Adam’s fall – the sound of which had been like music to Scott’s ears – there was nothing. He was about to step forward when he heard a sound. A muffled footstep.

He turned his head slightly, a slight frown on his face. Then he saw the horse and rider emerge through the trees, pause as though frozen with shock, and then cry aloud her son’s name.

Chapter 99

Coming so unexpectedly upon the scene of such dire tragedy, Marie had felt herself reeling in the saddle and had maintained her senses only because of her own personal rigid self discipline. However her knees were weak and trembling as she slipped out of the saddle, and for a second clung to a stirrup to keep herself upright. All the time she could hear herself calling out his name, and unrestrained tears slipped down her face, along with the raindrops that continued to cascade down upon them all.

Esmond Scott felt his own heart thudding against his ribs as he watched the woman run to the side of her son and fall upon her knees by his side. He watched as she gently raised his head and then cradled his body in her arms and rocked back and forth, as though by doing so she could restore life into his body and give her the comfort that such fleshly contact could provide.

So this then, he could see, was the aftermath of his tidying up. Satisfaction for his client, an increase in his bank balance to enable him to continue in the lifestyle to which he had become so accustomed, and terrible grief for the family of the victim. Such a pretty woman. He frowned, such a pretty complication.

Marie felt as though her heart were breaking all over again. How many times, she prayed, how many times was she to go through this misery of loss. How many more times would she have to endure this heart break. Where would she ever get the courage and strength to endure this again.

It never even occurred to her that the gunman could still be close at hand. Could even be considering whether or not to kill her along with her son. Perhaps, if she did, she did not even care.

Scott sidled back into the undergrowth as quietly as a serpent returns to his hole. He inched pass along the way he had come, and bent over double, holding tightly to his rifle, he carefully and slowly made his way to his horse. Thankfully he had had the foresight to part company with the mule when he no longer felt the personna of Jack Hannah was needed. He had almost reached the animal when he heard a sound from near by and immediately he froze, and turned round.

It was a cough. A man’s cough. But there was no man nearby, not that Scott could see that was for sure. He bent down nearer to the ground to scan through the shrubs and then saw the swathe of broken foliage, brown wet mud, sweeping like a chute beneath him. By the most miserable of chances he had come upon the very site of Adam’s tumble down the slope.

Inch by inch Adam was struggling back up by clinging to wet mud, grabbing at overhanging boughs, feeling his feet sliding away, and the constant thud of raindrops beating down upon his upturned face and body. He saw his gun where it had fallen and reached out for it, his hand glistening against the wetness, his fingers scrabbling in the dirt to grab for it until his body weight was too much and he felt himself sliding back. Determinedly he grabbed a branch, closed his eyes as the wet leaves swung against his face, felt his fingers touch the handle of the revolver, curl around it and retrieve it. With a sense of some relief he replaced it in his holster and once again resumed his climb to the main track above him.

Scott watched the efforts of the man inching his way upwards to him. He held his rifle tightly, and wondered whether or not to use it. Then he remembered the woman close by, who would hear the gun shot. What would she do if she did so? Would she come to the aid of yet another of her sons, or stay where she was … she had a choice between the dead and the living.

He glanced down and watched as the struggling man paused in his efforts to gain his breath. The rain was beating down so heavily upon them now that it had the effect of halting Adam in his attempts to find handholds, while his feet were constantly slipping from the futile anchorage he could locate. He glanced upwards but the rain blinded him,. Exhausted he leaned his head upon his arm and tried to catch his breath, aware constantly now of the gnawing ache in his back from his previous injuries.

Scott waited. He knew exactly what he intended to do and there would be no sound. When Adam reached the top of the incline all it would need was a simple shove to send him hurtling back down. It was obvious the man was too weak to put up any form of resistance at all.

Adam remained where he was for some seconds, getting a second wind, and trying to make sense of some new sounds. He glanced upwards but again the rain dashed into his eyes obscuring his vision. He waited but the sound was not repeated. He was panting from his exertions now and knew that he had to move, but some sixth sense prevailed upon him to stop where he was for as long as he could. Then there it was again, and he could see just a small cascade of stones, loose gravel, slipping pass him. Then nothing. Of course, he told himself, the rain was loosening the bank above, if he was not careful the whole lot could erode and fall upon him. Then there was another thought, Chambers, realising he had shot the wrong man, was now waiting for him above. An impatient foot and eroding soil could possibly send such debris down by him.

Adam clamped his teeth together and began to move once more, but this time, instead of going up, he began to move sideways along, inch by precarious inch. Some overhanging obstinate shrub, growing from the side of the incline, shielded him from the watcher above, and enabled him to get a firm grip on something substantial at last. While Scott wondered where his quarry had gone, Adam made significant distance between them, and had began to work his way up towards the track once more.

It took the maximum effort to get his hands over the edge and haul himself up onto the solid hard packed but puddling track. He rolled onto his stomach, then looked for his assailant. The hunted had become, the hunter.

Chapter 100


Adam closed his eyes tight and waited for the drumming in his ears to subside. The effort of hauling himself up onto the track had not only exhausted him, but made him more aware of his previous weakness. He drew in a deep shuddering gulp of air and forced himself to focus on the situation on hand.

He withdrew his gun from the holster and quickly checked that the barrel had not filled with mud when it had dropped from his hand. Ben Cartwright had been in the army as well as at sea during his lifetime and been well disciplined on how to act under pressure and in extreme circumstances. It was a lesson he took great pains to teach his sons who would carry out such procedures as though it were second nature to them.

He wiped his face free from rain water and slowly inched his way forwards, crouched low and avoiding any low hanging boughs. It took only minutes to see the outline of the man who knelt on one knee scanning the land beneath him. The rifle in his hand, the tension in his body, all indicated that this was the man whom Adam sought. For a brief second Adam thought of Lil and her insistence that Harry Chambers had returned to town. Whether he had odd ears was hard to see for the straggled mass of hair was hanging in sodden strands around his face. It was as Adam thought these things that Scott turned, Adam could see the muscles in the man’s shoulders tense through the soaking wet clothes that clung to his body. Like an animal suddenly aware of danger, Scott swung around, his eyes searching for the one who threatened him, and his rifle ready, aimed … and then his eyes met those of Adam Cartwright.

Adam flung himself stomach down onto the ground, held his pistol in both hands and aimed it at Scott. They were at an impasse; Adam remained where he was, his gun following Scott as he moved stealthily away from the edge of the incline.

“Cartwright?” he asked, squinting through the foliage in an attempt to get a better view of his antagonist. “Is that you?”

“It is,” Adam replied, “Just put the rifle down, Chambers. If you want to live, put the rifle down.”

“If I want to live?” Scott gave a low rumble of laughter, “Don’t be foolish, Cartwright. I nearly killed you before, I could easily do so again now. Look, how about we make a deal?”

“No deals.” Adam replied, his eyes fixed on Scott’s face.

“Look, don’t be too hasty in saying that, Cartwright. Let me tell you something, you weren’t the reason I came out here this time. The person I was sent out here to get was Clayton de Maligney. Well, I got him. I don’t need to bother with you as the person who hired me is dead. How about you just let me get on with my life, forget you saw me here, and we’ll call it quits?”

“Are you mad?” Adam cried, weeks of pain and mounting anger rising like gall in his throat so that the words were almost screamed at Scott, “You can forget any deals, Mister. Just put the rifle down. D’you hear?” and he fired off a shot that spat dirt just inches from Scott’s foot.

“You must have a death wish, boy,” Scott replied, “I could kill you right here and now with one shot, don’t you realise it?”

“Then why haven’t you tried?” Adam said with sudden calm, “Why all the time wasted just talking. Shoot and get it over with if you must, but I can tell you this, you’ll only get the one chance and you won’t be alive to know if you failed,” Adam pulled back the hammer with his thumb, narrowed his eyes and fired.

The two weapons exploded instantaneously, each sending its harbinger of death winging towards the intended victim.

Marie heard the sound of the gun shots as she knelt by Clay’s side, holding her son close to her. She closed her eyes at the sounds, and sobs racked her body as she realised that out of sight, Adam was in danger. She had to help him, but it seemed as though she were locked in this solid embrace with Clay. She whispered Adam’s name and the tears fell hot down her face.

She jumped when a hand touched her shoulder, and would have screamed aloud had not Matt Fraser not knelt down by her side and nodded reassuringly at her,

“Stay with Clay. I’ll go and see what I can do to help Adam,” he whispered, and then he turned away from her and was gone.


Fraser reached the scene of the shoot out in time to see Scott crumple and fall. His rifle fell from a lifeless hand by his side into the mud. Without wasting much time on him, Matt ran towards where Adam was struggling to get to his feet, still holding the gun in both hands, and both hands shaking so much that Matt wondered if the young man were not suffering some kind of spasm prior to dropping down dead.

“Adam, it’s me, Matt.” he cried, and put out a hand towards him.

“Matt?” Adam whispered, “Is he dead?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Matt replied drily.

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure.”

Matt reached out and gently took the gun from Adam’s hands, and then put his arm around the young man’s shoulders to take his weight as Adam’s knees buckled beneath him, and he began the gradual slide into oblivion.

“It’s alright, son,” Matt said softly, “It’s alright, now, and it’s stopped raining.”

Chapter 101

When Adam opened his eyes he looked up into Matt Fraser’s face. The man smiled reassuringly, and helped the younger man into a sitting position,

“Bullet creased your temple,” Matt said quietly, and replaced the handkerchief he had been holding against the wound, “Looks like it may have eased off bleeding now. He probably didn’t expect you to shoot at him, but I reckon that doing so saved your life in more ways than one as the kick back from your gun moved you enough away from getting your head blown off.”

“You said he was dead?” Adam put his hand to his temple and held the handkerchief in place, letting Matt have full use of his hands, “He is dead, isn’t he?”

“Yes, Adam, he couldn’t be any more dead than he is now.”

“Thanks for your help, Matt.” Adam tentatively got to his feet, and closed his eyes. Once the swirling around stopped he opened them, and looked at the other man, “What are you doing here anyway?”

“Came to see Marie,” Matt replied as though it were nothing unusual, “Came to meet this new son of hers that everyone in town was speaking about nowadays.” he put his hand under Adam’s elbow to steady him on his feet, although it was strictly not necessary.

“Clay!” Adam’s eyes opened, “Matt, Chambers shot Clay. What am I going to tell Ma? I tried to keep him safe, but I didn’t see …”

“Your Ma’s with Clay now, if that is Clay I saw her hugging and fussing over and getting herself all muddied up in the process back thar,” Matt nodded his head in the direction they were walking, “It’s going to be alright, son, don’t fret.”

“How do you know it’s going to be alright?” Adam snapped angrily, “I have to get there, explain…”

“There’s nothing to explain,” Matt interrupted irritably, “Your Ma’s with Clay, just a little ways up there. From what I could see, I don’t think you’ll be saying goodbye to your step brother just yet.”

“But he was shot in the back, he fell and didn’t move.”

“Doesn’t necessarily mean he’s dead though, does it?” Matt smiled, and put his hands in his coat pockets, “He was just coming round when I left them, Adam, and once your mother releases that bear hug of hers she’ll realise the only danger he’s in is being smothered to death by her. Of course, he’ll need doctoring for that wound of his, but I doubt if he’ll mind a few days in bed.”

Adam said nothing, but looked rather doubtfully at Matt. When they got to the clearing where Marie had been left with Clay, it was to find them both together, Clay sitting with his back to a tree, while Marie was swabbing up blood from the exit wound. She turned as they approached, and then relaxed, her fears that the gunman had returned left her and she allowed a small smile to grace her lips.

“He’s going to be alright,” she said with a strange hiccough sound to her voice, “The bullet passed right through and the bleeding seems to be slowing down.” she stood up and came to Adam’s side, “Are you alright, Adam? “

Adam nodded, and looked at Clay,

“I’m sorry that I couldn’t have stopped him, Clay. He was just too fast for me, and his cover was good.”

Clay shrugged and then raised a hand although it was obvious he was weak and still slightly befuddled by what was going on,

“You shot me?” he asked, his eyes opened wider, “Why’d you do that?”

“For Pete’s sake, Man, Adam just saved your life, and you accuse him of shooting you?” Matt snapped, “The guy who shot you is over there,” he jerked his thumb in the direction of Scott’s body, “and thanks to Adam, he won’t be bothering anyone again.”

“He told me,” Adam said, squatting in front of Clay and looking him right in the eyes, “that he had been paid to kill you. Sounds like a revenge pay off. Who do you know would pay the price of a paid killer to get revenge on you?”

Clay swallowed, his Adam’s apple jerked convulsively, and he looked at Marie and then Matt, finally he looked back at Adam and nodded,

“Buchanan.” he said quietly.

“That’s what I figured,” Adam nodded in agreement and then stood up, “Ma, will you be okay waiting here with him, while I get back home and arrange the wagon to come for him?”

“I can ride home,” Clay protested, but when he attempted to get to his feet, he gave a groan of pain and fell back against the tree.

“I’ll wait here,” Marie said and placed her hand gently upon her son’s shoulder.


Paul Martin took the cup and saucer from Marie and nodded his thanks. He had checked Clay’s wounds and confirmed that after a few days of bed rest, plenty of sleep, and Hop Sings best chicken noodle soup, he would be well enough to join them again downstairs. It would be a few weeks, however, before he could do anything more strenuous. He also gave Adam an examination to ensure that the young man had not injured himself and put himself back in the situation he had been a few months earlier.

Now he was relaxing. There were no babies to be birthed, no sick and dying that he knew about needing attention. He sat in the big room with the Cartwright boys, Marie and Roy, and Matt Fraser. He wasn’t sure what Matt Fraser was doing there, but remember that he and Ben had been good friends and went a long way back.

“I’ll be checking on that Senator Buchanan,” Roy said, taking another slice of cake and transferring it to his own, “and perhaps then we’ll find out exactly who our mysterious gunman really is, I’ve fair run out of names for him.”

“It seems strange that he should have come back here,” Joe said, perched on the arm of the settee, and thinking back to the time they had found Adam near death from Chambers attempt on his life, “You’d have thought he would have wanted to keep well away from here after what happened to Adam.”

“Big fee, big risk.” Roy replied, “It’s a different breed of gunman back East, Joe. Buchanan, if he is a Senator, has a lot to lose. He has to make sure his money covers any kind of contingency that could arise, or lose his position, his reputation and who knows what else besides.”

“Well, you’ve both come through it well enough,” Paul said, “which is more than can be said for Mr Chambers,” he looked at Adam, “Your bullet got him right through the heart. He would have died instantly.”

Adam nodded, but said nothing. His head ached and he was exhausted. He just longed for everyone to go away so that he could crawl up the stairs and fall into bed.

“He must have had the place under observation for some time,” Matt suddenly said, “he knew exactly where you were headed, so must have followed you from close by.”

“He hasn’t been seen in town nor at Connolly’s for nigh on ten days.” Roy said, “whoever he was, he certainly knew his business.”

“Which reminds me that I should be getting back to mine,” Paul said, and he put down his cup and saucer, and got to his feet, “I’ll call by tomorrow morning.” he assured them, and bade his farewells.

“I’ll ride back with you, Paul.” Roy said and smiled at them all, “I’ll run my checks and give you any information as and when it comes through. Coming, Matt?” he looked at the rancher and kept an innocently blank look on his face.

“I’ll make my way home later,” Matt Fraser replied, staying firmly where he wanted to be, in the big leather chair by the fire.

Once the door was closed on the two men, Hoss took the vacated place on the settee, and leaned back against it,

“To-morrow I’ll go and take a look around, see if he left any clues as to his whereabouts behind,” he said, “You coming with me, Joe?”

“Sure, I don’t see why not,” Joe grinned, and looked at Matt. “Seems you came along just at the right time, Matt. Haven’t seen you in a while either.”

“Well, things have been busy. I had to go back East to attend my father’s funeral for one thing.” he frowned and saw from their faces that none of them even knew he had had a father alive, let alone recently deceased. It confirmed to him the fact that to them all he was just another person living nearby, seen and forgotten, that was Matt Fraser so far as the Cartwrights were concerned. The thought depressed him and he could not help but let a sigh escape him.

“I am sorry, Matt.” Marie said softly, “Have you any other family living back East?”

“No, he was the last. Never well enough to join me here, but pleased at what I’d accomplished.” he looked at them all and thought to himself how they were wanting him to go now, so that they could settle down and talk amongst themselves as family. He put his cup down and stood up, “Best be going then,” he glanced over at Adam, “Take care now, son.”

Adam nodded and smiled, and watched as Matt leaned forward to pick up his hat. He glanced up at Marie and raised his eyebrows and inclined his head slightly towards Matt, so that she promptly stood up, and walked beside the rancher to the door. She smiled at him as the door was opened and followed him out onto the porch.

“I’m sorry, Matt, about your father.” she said, and paused midway from the door to the yard, “I missed you.”

“You did?” Matt looked surprised, then pleased, he fumbled with his hat and smiled, “I didn’t think you would even have noticed I was gone, not after all that fuss over David Carter.”

“ I made a fool of myself there, Matt, with what could have been disastrous results. I still can’t believe that there was so much involved in that man’s life. Nor how much influence he had had over mine.” and very briefly she told him about Carter’s past and how he had been the man actually responsible for taking Clay from her so many years ago.

Matt listened with his eyes on her face, thinking how lovely she was, and what big eyes she had, and how dainty her gestures were. He smiled in all the right places, and nodded when he was meant to, but she could quite easily have been telling him about her latest shopping expedition on the moon for all the interest it really meant to him. He loved her, and all he wanted to do now was feast his eyes upon her and drink in every movement.


“Yes, Marie?”

“Have you heard a word I said.” she looked at him anxiously, “You look as though you were a million miles away.”

“Oh, I heard.” he replied hoping she wouldn’t ask him to repeat anything, “ I was just thinking that you must be really happy now that Clay is back with you. Guess that makes the family complete, huh?”

“Yes, I suppose it does,” she said quietly, and sighed, “If Ben were here life would be just about perfect.”

Matt nodded, and slipped his hat back onto his head. There it was in a nutshell. It always came back to Ben Cartwright. So long as she felt this way about her late husband Matt knew he had not a snowballs chance in hell of ever winning her heart.

“Yes, well, Ben was a mighty great man, alright,” he said lamely, “I doubt if you would ever find another quite like him.”

“I wouldn’t,” she replied honestly, little realising how bruised his heart was at the words, “I don’t know why I thought David Carter would be a fitting husband. Thankfully I came to my senses in time. You helped, Matt, so much. I never did get to thanking you for the night you came to take me to the dance.”

“It was my pleasure,” Matt replied, and placed his hat on his head “Goodnight, Marie.”

“Goodnight, Matt, and thank you.”

He only nodded and smiled his quiet secretive smile. His love would have to remain a secret. Perhaps, he sighed, forever.

Chapter 102

“Not much longer now,” Joy heaved a sigh and then leaned back in her chair so that it tilted onto the back legs, and her long copper gold hair tumbled down in loose coils to brush against the floorboards.

“Only four more days,” Lil replied, coveting the beautiful hair more than anyone could imagine, and wishing she had Joy’s figure and elegance, perhaps that was what finishing school, even if not for rich young ladies but for girls like Joy, could achieve. She sighed, but she had to admit, one had to have the right equipment to start of with, and what Joy possessed, Lil, in all honesty, did not.

“Pa’s going to put bunting up and flags and little lanterns,” Joy smiled and sat upright, jolting the table a little as the chair bounced back a little quicker than usual.

“I wish you weren’t going, Joy” Lil said generously, considering how much she envied the girl, “life won’t be the same without you here.”

Joy smiled sweetly. She loved being the centre of attraction without even trying. She picked up the remains of her cookie and nibbled at it delicately.

“I’m going to invite all the Cartwrights. Sally Cass has written out invitations, you know. I would have done it myself but never quite developed the skill,” she paused and shrugged, “It just didn’t appeal to me.” she added quickly, the inference being that had she been interested then it would have been another something for Lil to covet.

Lil was about to speak when the door opened, abruptly. Both girls squeaked and squealed a little in protest, after all, it was early morning and they were only wearing their underwear and negligee’s. Then they realised it was Charley and began to yell and protest at him until he shouted them down

“That’s enough now. Perhaps it is possible for a man to speak in his own house?” he glared at the both, and as soon as silence descended he looked at Lil, “Roy wants you over at his office, Lil. Seems there was a shooting over at the Ponderosa and a man has been killed. Roy feels you could be the best person to identify him.”

“Me? I don’t know anyone who would get killed on the Ponderosa.” Lil cried, standing up and dropping crumbs all over the floor.

“Roy reckons you would be, Lil. He shot Clay Stafford and -” he paused when Joy gave a little shriek and clapped her hands to her face, “tried to kill Adam Cartwright, but he got killed himself. Seems Adam Cartwright shot him. So, best hurry and get dressed.” he looked at them both and shook his head at his daughters disarray. “I hope you learn to dress a bit more modestly when you get to be a Governness, young lady.”

“Is he alright?” Lil asked, “Adam? Is he alright?”

“I presume so, and Clay Stafford should be well soon.” Charley turned to go, closing the door with a sharp snap as he did so.

“Oh Lil, that means he won’t be able to come to my party,” Joy sniffed, and then she wiped her eyes and smiled, “I guess Joe will though.”

“Oh Joy, you’re so fickle,” Lil sighed and moved away from the table to enter her own private room.

She dressed carefully and respectfully. Even if the dead man were the man she suspected him to be, he still deserved some respect. She watched herself in the mirror as she buttoned up the dark jacket, and then picked up her bonnet and fastened the bow neatly at the side, so that it showed up the colour of her eyes.

Roy Coffee welcomed her into his office and then grabbed his hat. Mumbling something about the weather, and hoping this errand had not inconvenienced her too much, he led the way to the Undertakers. Mr Hinckley opened the door to them both and led them into the outer room where the late Mr Scott, or Mr Chambers et al, reclined.

Lil recoiled slightly. She had seen dead bodies before, but only in the immediate status that is, after they had been shot due to some altercation in the saloon. At that stage they still looked like they could get up and walk away most times. Here however the odour of death was all pervading, and the colour and texture of the dead flesh made her shiver. She instinctively drew closer to Roy.

“We thought you would be the best one to ask to identify him, Miss Lily.” Roy whispered, taking off his hat respectfully, “You said you thought it was the man we knew as Harry Chambers because of – er – his ears.”

She nodded, and swallowed, and approached the bier. Hinckley moved back some hair from the side of the dead man’s face and exposed one ear. She looked at it and nodded.

“I don’t need to look at the other ear, do I?” she asked apprehensively, “Will one be enough?”

“More than enough. Do you believe this man to be Harry Chambers also known as Jack Hannah?” Roy asked quietly, taking her elbow in a fatherly manner so as to give her some reassurance.

“Yes, it’s him.” Lil nodded, and glanced at Mr Hinckley and wondered how he could do a job like this one. She turned away and shivered again.

In the bright light of the autumn morning Roy turned to her and smiled,

“Odd the little things that can give us away. I guarantee that man never even considered the possibility of his ears giving him away. Thank you, Lil. If there is a reward I’ll let you know.”

“But Mr Cartwright was the one to kill him. If there is a reward he should get it.” she said, although her mind was wondering how much the reward would be and what she could do with it.

“Adam’s already told me that if there is a reward he wants you to have it, after all, you were the one who warned us that Chambers was back in town.”

She smiled sweetly, and fluttered her eyelashes and tried to act as she imagined someone who went to finishing school would have acted (namely Joy), leaving Roy with the impression that the shock had affected her brain and she had something in her eyes.

They parted with a handshake. Lil went back to the boarding house humming a little tune under her breath, and Roy began to work out how to track down the anonymous Mr Chambers.


“Hey, Joe, come over here. I think I found summat,” Hoss cried, giving his brother a whistle and beckoning him towards where he was standing.

“I sure hope so, I’m getting mighty sick of rummaging around and not knowing exactly what it is I’m looking for,” Joe replied and kicked at a mound of leaf mould which shattered into pieces in the air.

Hoss smiled, and held up a blanket. There was all the evidence of a man’s having occupied the area for some days, and being prepared to stay a while longer from the canteens of water and stored food there was stashed away.

“Well, he sure had a great hiding place here,” Joe whistled in admiration, “Snug as the proverbial bug” , he stooped down and picked up a satchel, which he unbuckled, “Books.” he smiled, and pulled one of them out, “Charles Dickens – ,” he opened the flyleaf and frowned, “Hey, Hoss, look here? Seems our mystery gunman wasn’t quite as careful as he thought he was, huh?”

Hoss stepped over and looked to where Joe’s finger was pointing, and smiled ..

“Well, little brother, looks like you’re right there. Roy will be mighty pleased to see this. Mr Esmond Scott. Couldn’t be any clearer, could it?”

“Unless it’s another alias,” Joe frowned, and pulled out another book, and found the same name written down. He smiled, and put both books back into the satchel, then slapped Hoss on the chest, “Hoss, we got ourselves a name tag to put to the man. Didn’t I tell you this was a good idea?” and whistling happily, Joe strolled out of the den and made his way to where Cochise was waiting.

Chapter 103

Preparations for winter took on apace, for there was much to do in a short period of time. In his bed, looking out at the far distant mountains, clad with Ponderosa pine, Clay felt trapped. In his childhood he had gone to a boys boarding school which he had hated, and now he was beginning to get the same feelings of entrapment. Being ill and unable to do very little without the help of Hop Sing and Marie reminded him of the days he had measles and chickenpox and was forced to stay in the sick bay with Matron.

He had never enjoyed reading, preferring to be up and doing things, working things out for himself, and meeting people. Marie began to fret as she realised her son was becoming bored.

“Adam, do you think Clay will stay here?” she asked one evening, trying to appear nonchalant about the matter as she sat with head bowed over the sock she was darning.

Adam immediately thought back to the conversation he was having with Clay before Scott opened fire on him. He frowned and looked more closely at the book he was reading,

“You should ask him, Ma. I can’t speak for him.”

“Hasn’t he given you any indication as to what his future plans could be?” she asked, knotting the darning wool neatly and snipping it off with her scissors.

“You’d best ask Joe,” Adam replied, “Why? Would you prefer him to stay?”

“Oh, Adam!” she exclaimed, “For an intelligent man that really comes into the realms of a very stupid question. Of course I would prefer him to stay, after all, he has only just re-entered my life and I don’t want it to come to an end yet.”

“I should have said, would you -” he paused as the door opened and his brothers entered the house, blowing on their hands, and looking decidedly chilled.

“It’s blowing up colder now,” Hoss muttered, “Good thing we got a good supply of wood in stock.”

“How’s Clay, Ma? Has he managed to get himself out of that bed yet?” Joe grinned over at Marie, and peeled off his outer coat.

“He’s doing very well, and getting bored. Hurry and get washed up for supper.” she said and put down the socks, cast a dark look at Adam who smiled up at her innocently, and stood up, “Go and see how he is, Joe, he may like to join us this evening, if he is feeling strong enough.”

“What do I do first, Ma, wash up for supper or go and see Clay?” Joe said with a chuckle in his voice that made Marie smile at him, as she walked to the kitchen.

“Hey, Joe, here a moment,” Adam beckoned to his brother who approached willingly, and perched on the arm of the chair, “Has Clay said anything to you about leaving here?”

“No,” Joe said simply, “Why? Is he planning to ?”

“I don’t know, but your Ma’s getting anxious about him.” Adam frowned and sat back, closing the book and putting it on the arm of the settee, “How would you feel if he left here, Joe?”

“I don’t know,” Joe replied honestly, “It would be different from if you or Hoss left, I guess. But, I don’t think I’d like it, to be truthful. He is my brother, after all, and there’s lots of things I’d like to do with him, share with him, like I have with you two.”

“Wal, it’s nice to know you’d miss us, little brother,” Hoss said evenly, and managed a smile, which Joe returned with a smile of his own.

They watched as he got up and mounted the stairs, whistling a tune beneath his breath, and then they looked at one another. Hoss raised an eyebrow,

“How’d you feel if he left, Adam?” Hoss asked, “Personally,” he continued without waiting for his brother’s reply, “I get the feeling he’s just passing through, don’t you?”

“Mmm, could be.” Adam sighed, and glanced once more to the stairs. “Time will tell, brother.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” and Hoss left the room for the washroom and to clean up for supper, leaving Adam in no doubt that Hoss would not be shedding any tears were Clay to leave at any time.

“How are you feeling, Clay?” Joe asked, bouncing onto the bed with an enthusiasm not shared by his brother.

“Bored,” came the instant reply.

“Do you feel well enough to come downstairs and have supper with the rest of us this evening?” Joe looked at Clay and smiled, his hazel eyes twinkling.

“You look like you’re brewing mischief,” Clay said, narrowing his eyes, “What’s going on?”

“Nothing much,” Joe replied, and shrugged, “Joy’s leaving Virginia City to take up her position as Governess. There’s going to be a party for her in town. Do you think ..” he paused, “I guess you’ll still be too ill to attend, won’t you?”

“For Pete’s sake, Joe, I can hardly get downstairs as it is; when is this party anyway?”

“Tomorrow evening.” Joe replied, feeling a slight relief as Joy had not been exactly subtle in her comments about Clay. The youngest Cartwright felt hard done by enough with elder brother Adam getting so much attention from the few unattached females in town, but with Clay coming along as well, it left him with even less of a following than he would have liked. He smiled “I’ll miss Joy. She’s a really pretty girl.”

“Pretty as a picture,” Clay leaned back against the pillows and folded his arms behind his head, “Reminds me of a gal I used to spark back home. She was a red head too, with the greenest eyes you ever saw. Had a temper on her like a fire cracker. Boy, you jest never knew which way she was gonna jump from one day to the next. Kept a guy on his toes alright. Pretty as paint, and a figure like I guess Ma would have had when she was a gal.”

“Ma was a beauty alright. She still is,” Joe said quickly, “she could have her pick of men if she wanted, even now.”

“Who was the guy who helped bring me home when I was shot? He seemed to hang about some, didn’t he?” Clay looked at Joe suspiciously, “Do you think he has feelings for Ma?”

“You mean, Matt Fraser? I used to think he did. He was a good friend of Pa’s, and helped us out when Pa was killed. Ma didn’t want him though. She’s still carrying a torch for Pa, I guess.” Joe smiled, “Anyway, tell me some more about this red headed girl you knew, Clay.”

“Oh, there ain’t much point really, she up and married someone far more suitable for her than me. Guess that’s what will happen to your little red head too. She’ll go away and the next thing you know, she’ll marry the first man to propose to her. Unless you get there first, Joe.” and he winked.

“I hadn’t thought that far ahead,” Joe said, with a slight blush rouging his cheeks, “I reckon I’ve a lot of living and loving to do before I get myself hog tied to a gal.”

Clay laughed, and leaned forward to slap his brother on the back. He felt a surge of satisfaction every time he realised just how much he and Joe had in common. They’d get along just fine the two of them, here, or wherever …

Chapter 104

Roy Coffee dismounted outside the Ponderosa and tethered the horse to the hitching rail, while his eyes looked around the yard, noticed the stable doors were closed, and some horses were grazing in the corral. Smoke was coiling up from the bunkhouse chimney indicating that some of the men were still about, and no doubt brewing some coffee. The big house looked dark against the sullen sky and the windows looked like blank eyes staring out at him as though to accuse him of trespass.

He walked stiffly to the door, and rubbed his back. The cold weather was already getting to his joints and the ride from town was becoming less and less pleasant as a result.

“Roy, come on in,” Hoss gave the lawman a smile of welcome, “What you doin’ here? I thought you’d be getting yourself dandied up for the party tonight?”

“I shall be, don’t you fret. When you get to my age it takes less time to dandy up, as you call it.” Roy smiled. He had always been very fond of Hoss. What you see is what you get, when it came down to Hoss Cartwright. “Is the family here?”

“Sure are, Roy.”

Roy took off his hat and nodded, before walking into the big room. It was a luxurious room compared to many he walked into, but it was not overly opulent. Marie was not that kind of woman, to show off her wealth by being flamboyant in her style of home. Roy always felt at ease here and even now sunk down into the big leather chair, and waited.

Marie came out of the kitchen and greeted him with a smile and a bright hello, while at the same time Adam and Joe came down the stairs, both looking rather sombre, as though the arrival of the lawman indicated some bad news. They greeted him politely, and sat down opposite him

“What brings you here, Roy? We’ll be in town ourselves soon, couldn’t it have spared you the ride out to have waited?” Adam asked, pulling at his collar as though it were too tight.

“Seeing as how my back feels right now, young man, I daresay it would have made more sense. How’s Clay?” he turned to Marie, but there was no smile on his face when he asked and all of them there wondered if he had remembered the wanted posters and had done some ‘checking up’ of his own.

“Doing well,” Marie replied, “Why do you ask?”

“Well, why should I not ask?” Roy replied, raising his eyebrows. “Don’t fret none, I haven’t come about Clay. I came to tell you about something we found out when we were looking through Mr Scott’s belongings.” he looked over at Joe, “Remember the satchel with the books? When we looked through that we found an envelope that said to open in the event of his death, so we opened it and there was another letter addressed to a Mrs Scott in Raleigh, North Carolina.”

“Did you open it?” Joe asked, leaning forward eagerly.

“No, of course not.” Roy looked appalled as though such a question intimated a dereliction of duty on his behalf. “We took a note of the address and then sent the letter on to its addressee.”

Adam and Joe exchanged a look and a grin, addressee indeed. Roy had obviously been consulting Mr Rothwell, the County Lawyer, as to the legal position of such items, and whether or not he could legally be entitled to open the letter. Roy drew himself up straight backed, and looked around,

“Well, I guess I could ride in back to town with you boys.” he said, and looked over at Marie who smiled and touched him gently on the knee

“I’ll get you some coffee, Roy. After that trip you deserve one,” she said, and with a smile left the room.

“So, how is Clay?” Roy asked once again.

“He’s doing alright, Roy. Should be up and about on his feet before too long.” Joe replied, looking at the sheriff anxiously, “Is this to do with that Zedekiah shooting?”

“Zedekiah Murphy is no longer under custody. Martin Ogden and he came to some sort of agreement and there’s no charges being pursued against him. I thought I’d let you know he’s still steamin’ though. Mrs Murphy has told him he’s not welcome back home and that hasn’t sweetened his temper much either.”

“So what has this to do with Clay?” Joe asked evenly, although it knew the answer was staring him in the face.

“So far as Murphy is concerned all his problems are due to your brother coming into town and sitting in on that card game where he lost everything. Now, I’m just advising you boys, tell Clay to stay out of town. I don’t want trouble there, I don’t want him escaping a paid killer like Scott just to fall dead on my doorstep from an idiot like Murphy.” he stroked his moustache thoughtfully, “Now, I’ve told you I’d like you to tell me the truth about those wanted posters I saw in Placerville. What’s Clay done that I should know about?”

“Nothing,” Marie said from behind them, her chin tilted haughtily, “Clay has done nothing that should concern you, Roy.”

She came in and placed the tray on the table, then poured out the coffee while the four men sat there without saying a word. Adam cleared his throat, and once again pulled at his collar,

“Roy, whatever happened was long in the past -” he began and faltered when he got a piercing glare from Marie, “It doesn’t really concern you.”

“The fact that a paid killer like Scott comes into town and tried to kill him, that there are wanted posters out for his arrest, don’t concern me?” Roy’s eyes widened and his moustache bristled a sure sign that his temper was getting frayed, “Do I have to remind you that I’m the law around here? That I need to know some facts in order, not just to apprehend people, but to protect ‘em as well?”

He picked up his cup and saucer and sipped at the coffee, and nodded. He enjoyed coffee here at the Ponderosa, it was nothing like the stewed brew they made in the office back in town. He looked at them and Marie sighed as she sat down and picked up her cup and saucer,

“It was a situation similar to the one with Mr Murphy. The only difference is that the other man was killed.” she glanced over the rim of the cup at Roy, hoping he would see the appeal in her eyes.

“And where was this?” Roy put his cup down and it rattled against the saucer.

“In Texas.” Marie replied.

Roy nodded and frowned. He looked at them again and shook his head,

“BY rights I should arrest him and send him to face the charges,” he said quietly.

“There were witnesses who testified that he acted in self defence,” Adam glanced over at Joe, hoping the youth would have the sense to keep quiet, “Look, if it helps, I’ll stand as surety for Clay.”

“You do that,” Roy said, “And tell him to stay out of town, especially from the gambling joints. If he causes any trouble, Adam, I’ll have to arrest him.”

“He hasn’t done anything wrong here, Roy.” Joe said rather testily, jutting out his chin in the same haughty manner as his mother had only moments previously.

“He’s done enough,” Roy answered the boy gently, knowing how easily Joe could get steamed up and end up saying the wrong things, things that a lawman didn’t need to know and in this instance, didn’t want to know. “Just tell him, would you?”

Chapter 105

The Cartwrights arrived in town a little later than intended by which time the party was in full swing. Lanterns twinkled around the building like so many stars, and the music and babble of voices indicated that everyone was out to enjoy themselves.

Lil was pleased at being able to wear something other than the tawdry clothes designated to saloon girls. Her dress was a soft lilac colour with lace fringing the sleeves and neckline. She couldn’t help but wonder if she would appeal more to Mr Adam Cartwright in this style of clothing and smiled at herself in the mirror. After striking several poses by way of practice to see how effective the pose would be, she appeared satisfied. She left the boarding house in a happy frame of mind.

Joy was delirious with excitement. When Lil entered the saloon she was immediately pounced upon and forced to accompany her friend into her room and select which dress had to be worn for the occasion. Lil had been delighted at the change Charley had brought to the saloon, having cleared away the tables and covered the walls with bunting and flags. Trestle tables had been set up and were positively groaning under the weight of the food. He had put a sign “Private Party – Invitation Only” on the doors, and insisted that the loss of business for the sake of his little girls enjoyment meant nothing to him at all. The fact that he kept repeating how much he was going to lose out only proved the opposite.

The girls chattered and laughed an hour away. It was only when the music could be heard filtering through the doors and the chatter of guests sifted through the cracks in the walls that they finally emerged. Joy resplendent in blue.


Clay had listened to the last echo of the horses hoof beats as the family left the Ponderosa. He had felt well enough to move about now, and he had been able to get up and down the stairs with less difficulty than he had expected. He sat in the big leather chair and looked up at Ben Cartwright’s portrait.

“You know,” he said quietly in the silence of the big room, “I wonder if you and I would have gotten on well? Would we have met? Perhaps not … but I salute your excellent taste in whiskey, sir, and in women, and the fact that you sure must have had one great life.”

He smiled and closed his eyes. It was pleasant enough here, by the fire, with the whiskey decanter near at hand. He smiled more broadly as he wondered if his plan for the evenings entertainment would succeed. He could not but help give a little chuckle to himself at the thought of how well he had managed to get things rolling. Hank Myers had been a great ally, and Clay waited now for the knock on the door that would admit the big man. So long as Hank didn’t spoil things by bursting into song, all would go wonderfully well.

Sure enough the knock came to the door and Hank peered inside. With a grin as big as a Cheshire cat’s Hank closed the door behind him.

“Alright, Boss,” he said, “Let’s start the ball rolling …”


Adam leaned against the wall and watched as Hoss and Sue Ellen formed the arch under which the other dancers would pass under. Joe and Joy, all flushed and twinkling of eyes, hand in hand, were the first couple, swiftly followed by Marie and Paul. Adam smiled, and watched as they formed lines to turn to the left and to the right, pair up at the end, and then swirl down the centre.

“Don’t dancing this evening, Adam?” Matt Fraser asked, as he watched the couples dancing and whooping on the dance floor.

“Only the slow ones,” Adam laughed, and looked at Matt’s empty glass, “Hey, let me fill your glass, Matt.”

“Thanks, Adam,” Matt smiled and passed the glass over, “Your other brother isn’t here then?”

“Er – Clay? No, he isn’t well enough just yet,” Adam replied, handing the glass back now filled with punch, “I was thinking twice about it myself but I wanted to see Lil. She’s done us a lot of favours during the past weeks and it was the least I could do to come and thank her personally.”

“Huh huh, she’s a nice enough girl. So who brought your Ma this evening?” Matt raised the glass to his lips and tried to look nonchalant, but the question brought a smile to Adam’s lips which he tried to hide behind his own glass,

“Err, we did. Accompanied by Roy who, as you can see, has actually changed his shirt and tie for the occasion.”

Matt laughed, a pleasant deep throated chuckle. It reminded Adam of his father’s laugh, and for some reason made him wonder just how fond of Marie the man really was now. Had the incident with David Carter dampened the man’s ardour?

“Ma’s a good looking woman, isn’t she?” he said in a quiet slow drawl, while he watched Matt closely.

“She is,” Matt replied with the slightest red tinge showing beneath his collar, “And more besides. I’ve seen a lot of women over the years go through similar hardships to your Ma, Adam, and right battle axes they’ve ended up being too. Faces like hatchets and voices to match. Seems living out so far from the niceties of the East makes ’em curdle like sour milk. But not your Ma. She’s pure gold, through and through.”

“Well,” Adam sighed, and softened his voice, “Pa always said she was like a breath of springtime in the house.”

“Yes,” Matt said with a sigh of his own, “He often said that to me as well.”

They both fell silent, remembering the big man in their own individual way, and watching the woman who had stolen his heart dancing with Paul Martin.


Clay rubbed his hands and shook his head,

“Your loss, my friend,” he chuckled, as he placed an Ace of hearts down on the table.

The three men sharing the table with him groaned, slammed down their cards, and watched him pull the money over beside him. He beckoned to Hank, who came promptly to refill the glasses. Brian Manson gave a chuckle as he sipped the whiskey from the expensive cut crystal glass that Ben Cartwright had had shipped over years previously all the way from Boston.

“If Ben Cartwright could see us now, he’d turn in his grave,” he laughed.

“What was he like?” Clay asked, “I only get to hear about him as father and husband here, not as the man himself.” he shuffled the cards thoroughly and then began to deal them out.

“Ben was a hard nosed business man,” Manson said, putting down the glass and swiftly looking up a the portrait that now seemed to be glowering down at them, “He knew when to take risks, and he took plenty of them. He knew what it was all about, all right. I’d not want to cross him, he had a way with him that could whittle a man down to nothing just by looking at him.”

“He was honest, fair minded, and just,” Jim Logan muttered, picking up his cards and swearing softly under his breath. He picked up his cigar and puffed hard, “I always had the highest respect for him, although I never had personal dealings with him you understand.”

No one commented on that, Jim Logan was a ’mole’ when Ben was alive, ferreting down in the dirt of his claim and praying for the ’ big one’. He finally made it when Ben had been in the grave six years. Now Jim Logan was a rich man, unmarried, and enjoying losing his money steadily at the gaming tables.

“He could be ruthless. Could be arrogant, mean tempered. Adam, his eldest, well, he’s turning out just like his old man I guess.” the fourth man at the table volunteered. He was a homesteader called Andy Sutherland with borders on the Ponderosa. He had three children, and his wife had died in childbirth four years previously. “But he had a kindly heart. I can remember when we first came here twenty years back. Had nothing, owed everything. He kept us going with meat and stuff until we could stand on our two feet. Him and Will Cass were our life line. But, like Manson here says, I’d not want to cross him. No, sirree..”

Clay glanced over at Hank, who was sitting in on the game now, and checking his own hand. But the big man preferred to keep his own counsel, and concentrated on the cards he had been dealt rather than volunteer any information.

Money was laid down, drinks poured and cigars smoked. Time ticked away the hours. By mid-night the room was empty. Windows were opened to the night sky so that fresh air breezed into the room. Hank took his ’cut’ for having completed his errands so well and disappeared to the bunkhouse taking the evidence of empty bottles and cigar stubs away with him.

Clay took himself to bed. The money he had won was neatly rolled up and placed in a sock concealed in a drawer. He fell asleep looking as peacefully innocent as a child.


“And, are you still in any pain?” Lil looked at Adam with big eyes, one of her practised poses that had looked good in the mirror but now had the effect of reminding Adam of the first little heifer he had ever owned.

“Not so much, Lil. It just means I can’t do any wild dancing, for this evening anyway.” Adam took her empty glass and placed it on the table. “But here’s a waltz and I can manage that, with you. Shall we?”

“I can’t -” she stuttered and then blushed and nodded, so what if she trod on his toes, he was surely man enough to handle it.

Joe sat with Joy in the far corner of the room, holding hands, her head on his shoulder, and her copper curls scattered like thin golden threads of silk upon his best jacket,

“I’ll miss you so much, Joe,” she whispered and looked up at him, and sighed.

“Not half as much as I’ll miss you,” Joe whispered in return, and wished he could kiss those lips so willingly offered up to him.

“It’s a pity there’s so many people here,” she giggled,

“I was just thinking the same thing.” Joe replied, and squeezed her hand, “But my Ma would just about kill me if I left the room with you. Then Adam would tan my hide and nail it to the bunkhouse wall.”

“You are a tease,”she laughed and turned her head, and kissed him.

Matt Fraser touched Marie gently on the shoulder and smiled as she turned,

“Matt? You’ve been here all evening and not asked me to dance yet.” she scolded, with a little laugh in her voice.

“I was about to ask now,” he said, offering her his hand, “It’s a waltz.”

“I know,” she sighed, and took his hand.

They passed Adam and Lil, Hoss and who was it this time …Beth Anne? She saw Joe and Joy whispering together in the corner and was relieved that the girl was leaving town the next day. Then she looked at Matt and smiled,

“I didn’t thank you properly for the help you gave us when that Scott nearly killed Adam and Clay.”

“I thought you had.” he looked straight ahead, trying to remember the steps.

“When I first came here, I mean, the first dance Ben ever took me to,” Marie said softly, “I wondered what on earth was going on . Such a difference to the dances we had back home in New Orleans.”

“There must have been a lot of differences for you to accept, Marie, being married to Ben and coming out here to live.”

“Yes. Some were good and some, not so good.” she sighed, and looked around her, “All that whooping and tossing girls up in the air, I’d never seen dancing like that before, it all seemed very wild and abandoned to me. I had to change my views if I wanted to be accepted by the very few women that were here at the time. Most of the women were – well – not of the type I was used to back home. But, as you say, Matt, there are good and bad things, one has to adapt.”

“You adapted very well, Marie.” he said, and as her hair brushed against his cheek he sighed and held her just a little closer.

“Ben helped me to do so, and you did as well, Matt. Do you remember the evenings you used to come over to spend with us? Ben enjoyed them. I did too.”

He nodded, remembering them very well. Back in the past, back in the old days when life was good because they were young and had all their future ahead of them.

Chapter `106

“Lil, what do you want to do with your life?” Adam asked the young girl seated at his side watching the dancing couples whirl pass them.

“What do you mean?” she looked at him, surprised that he would ask her such a question on an occasion such as this, “I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it.”

“Come now, you must have done. You’ve proven yourself to be a very enterprising young woman. Intelligent and able to use your initiative. Surely you don’t want to stay here as a saloon girl?”

“There’s nothing wrong with being a saloon girl,” Lil said defensively, only too well aware of the reputation that went with the job. In most cases it was totally unfounded, but there had been enough instances to cast doubt on the most innocent. “Besides, I know I won’t be able to work here all the time, anyway.” her brow crinkled in thought, and she looked at him again wondering if he thought badly of her for being such as she was, but she saw the kindly expression in his eyes, and knew that he had not intended to cause her any hurt by the question, “I suppose, I’d like to get married and have children.”

“But before then?”

She swallowed a lump in her throat. Perhaps at the back of her mind she had thought it could be a prelude to his asking her to walk out with him, a form of courtship with a view to marriage, but this latter question rather put an end to that dream. She slumped down slightly in her chair and looked around the room at the swirling colours of the dresses the women were wearing, and they all seemed to merge as the tears welled up in her eyes.

“What’s the matter, Lil? Have I upset you?” he asked, leaning forwards and pushing a handkerchief into her hand, “I’m sorry, that was never my intention.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” she whispered huskily and dabbed at her eyes. “It’s just that – that I thought – perhaps you meant something else.”

“Something else?” he looked puzzled, and shook his head as though wondering what she was inferring, “No, Lil, I wasn’t inferring anything else at all. I’m just interested in your future, as a friend, that’s all.”

“Yes, of course,” she whispered still, “That’s all, of course it is.”

He looked at her again, realising perhaps now what it was that she was meaning, understanding more clearly the comments of his brothers about how she felt for him, and he sighed and reached out a hand to take hold of hers,

“Lil, why not go with Joy tomorrow. Get away from here and start afresh.”

“Just like that?” she looked at him incredulously, and wondered if he really understood how hurtful his words were to her, “With what may I ask? A saloon girl doesn’t earn much you know?” and she blinked, releasing two tears that coursed down her cheeks and dripped onto her lilac skirt.

“Lil,” he tightened his grip on her hand, knowing that he had hurt her feelings and that most girls instinctively tend to rather slap the offender or get up and run, causing a scene and sorting out nothing, “Lil, listen to me, would you, please?”

She bowed her head and nodded, waited for him to speak,

“You’re a bright clever girl and I owe you my life for the way you helped us with regard to Scott. I’m fond of you, Lil, and I want to do what I can to make you have a happier life.”

“How could I be happier anywhere else than here, near you?” she blurted out, and then turned her head away, feeling the heat of her blushes as they mantled her cheeks, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that, but it’s true.”

“How could you be happy here, Lil, if – if I can’t feel the same way,” he replied, keeping his voice low but loud enough for her to hear about the music and the whooping and hollering going on in the saloon as the dancing continued.

“Could you never feel the same for me, Adam?” she whispered, looking at him tearfully, and she looked into his brown eyes and saw the sadness there, “Do you love someone else?”

“No,” he replied honestly, “No, I don’t. Perhaps we will meet again one day and things will be different, but at the moment I just want you to make the most of your life. I want to help you achieve all that you are capable of, Lil. It’s more than working here, waiting for – for someone to marry you one day.”

That was it then, he had sounded the death knell on her hopes and dreams. She wiped her tears away and looked steadily ahead of her. Joy and Joe were holding hands and whispering together, looking happy. She wondered once again why it was that she could not be sharing that same kind of pleasure with Adam. She felt the warmth of his fingers curling around her hand, and closed her eyes again as the intensity of her longing for him made her shiver.



“I’m sorry.”

She nodded. She had handled losses in her life since a child. She would have to handle this loss too, and, after all, it was just a dream. Her heart was still beating within her breast, still thudding away beneath her ribs. She looked at him

“I don’t know anyone other than the people here. I have no friends, no family.”

“You have Joy. You have us. Look, I have written here the addresses of two of my friends who would be more than pleased to have you stay with them. If you feel you would like to try out this – this adventure – tell me, and I shall write a letter to them which you can deliver when you get there.”

“Apart from having no friends and no family,” Lil continued on doggedly, “I have no money except for this weeks salary, and I have to pay for my board out of that, and for this stupid dress.”

“It’s a very pretty dress, Lil, and you look lovely in it.”

“No, I don’t. I’m not a lovely kind of person.” she looked again at him, and then away from him, watching the dancing. “I – I don’t know what kind of work I could do, I couldn’t be a Governess like Joy, I never went to school like her.”

“My friends would know what kind of work you’d enjoy doing, Lil. As for money, you have the reward money from Scott, remember?” he smiled encouragingly.

“Was there a reward then?” she looked at him with widening eyes, “I didn’t think Mr Coffee knew for sure yet.”

“Well, there was, and quite a sizeable one at that.”

She said nothing. But looked at him and her eyes took in the depths of his own, the long lashes, the freckles that chased over his nose, the dark shadow of his jaw line and the black hair that curled by his ears. A handsome man. But not the man to love a girl like her.

“Are you sure I can do it, Mr Cartwright.” she said quietly, “Because if you are, then I shall.”


“Hurry up, Hoss.” Joe’s voice echoed through the big room, the clock chimed the hour, and Hoss thundered down the stairs, one boot on and one boot off, “Aren’t you even ready yet? The stage will be leaving before we even get half way to town. I promised Joy I’d be there to see her off.”

“Shucks, I overslept.” Hoss sat down on the third step up and pulled on his boot, ran his fingers through his unkempt hair, and stood up, “Right, I’m ready, little brother.”

“C’mon then, Adam’s ready and impatient, you know what he’s like if he’s kept waiting too long.”

“Yeah, sure, sure.”

“Here’s your hat.”

“Thanks, Joe. Have you seen – oh, there it is.” he pulled on his gunbelt and sniffed, then shook his head.

“Have you got a cold coming?” Joe demanded, pulling down his jacket and thrusting his arms into the sleeves, “Stop sniffing. Hurry up.”

“I can’t stop sniffing. I keep smelling summat that makes me sniff.”

“Have you got your coat?”

“I don’t need my coat. Shucks, Joe, will you stop fussin’, you’re worse’n an old woman.”

The brothers slammed the door behind them and hurried across the porch towards the yard where Adam, already mounted on Sport, was holding the reins of Chubb and Cochise. He gave them both a sombre glare,

“What kept you both?”

“It was him,” Joe jerked his head in Hoss’ direction, “Kept sniffing and holding things up.”

“Sniffing? Have you a cold coming on or something, Hoss?” Adam asked, looking at his big brother anxiously. Hoss was always such a mess when he had a cold.

“Nope, I ain’t got a cold. And if you must know there’s something smelly in the house that makes me sniff.”

Joe shook his head and cantered pass them both, eager to get to town in time to say goodbye to Joy, and to give her the little gift he had prepared for her. Adam glanced at Hoss quizzically and then followed on after Joe, soon joined by Hoss.

Marie heard them go and looked up at the clock. She smiled and thought of the dance, of the pretty girl who had danced all evening with Joe and every chance she had to speak to her, had quizzed her about Clay. Then she sighed at the thought of her son, Clay. He had not joined them for breakfast, complaining of feeling not so well. He had insisted that the drapes remained closed and the room stayed in darkness. He had been uncommunicative, and when she had threatened to draw back the drapes he had pulled the covers over his head and stayed put. She shook her head, and chided herself. Perhaps she was being overly harsh, and expecting too much from him. Just because Adam was so stubborn that he pushed himself regardless of his injuries, she had no right to expect the same from Clay. After all, she reminded herself, she barely knew him really.

She looked up at the sound of a polite cough. Her eyes met the sloe black eyes of Hop Sing who looked back at her with a worried look on his usually pleasantly placid face.

“What’s wrong, Hop Sing?” she asked and smiled.

“Big mystery,” Hop Sing replied, and nodded as though to emphasise the matter.


Joy took the little box with the pale blue ribbon and held it close to her heart. Then she threw her arms around Joe and hugged him tight, kissed him several times over, allowed him to kiss her back, and then promised to write copious letters.

Lil stood back and waited for Joy’s boxes and cases to be arranged on top of the stage. She was dressed smartly in a grey suit with black trimmings. She didn‘t like to say that it was a hand me down from Laura Dayton who had explained that since she had been pregnant with Peggy she could no longer fit into it. However, it was new to her, and she stood there with her valise in her hands, waiting for the driver to put it somewhere safe.

Adam gave her two letters, and then a packet which, when she peeked inside, contained more money than she had ever seen before, even more than Charley had in his till at night.

“I didn’t think the reward money would come through so quickly,” she had said when she saw it.

“It was sent special delivery,” Adam explained, taking her elbow and drawing her away from the crowd, “Lil, you aren’t angry with me, are you?”

“No, how could I be angry with you?” she replied softly, and her eyes grew large as she looked up at him, and she smiled, “Life would be too easy if everything worked out just right for us all, all the time.”

“I guess it would,” he smiled, took off his hat, and lowered his head, “Take care, won’t you? My friends will take good care of you, Lil.” and then he kissed her very sweetly on the mouth.

She knew then for sure that he didn’t love her. It was a tender, gentle kiss, but nothing more. She wanted to kiss him back with a passion, but there was no point. She closed her eyes, relished it for the seconds it lasted, and then drew away with a smile. Even though her heart was racing, it was not broken.

Chapter 107

Mrs Esmond Scott sat very still in her arm chair. She thought over what the two men had told her during their visit. She could hear their footsteps outside the room as they were being taken to the front door. There, now, the door slammed. It shut out the two men who had intruded into her orderly life to tell her that they had received news about her husband.

She thought back to the interview now as she sat in her big room with the gold gilt edged furniture and picture frames. She could see a reflection of herself in the huge mirror on the far side of the room, of course, she had to screw up her eyes a little to get it into focus. Mrs Scott was rather short sighted.

She looked down at her lap and looked at her hands. She wore five rings. Her wedding ring was the most insignificant. She sighed deeply and stood up, walked to the bell rope that would summon her maid, and then waited, standing very still.

Esmond Scott was dead. Shot dead while in Nevada. Where was Nevada? Virginia City, they had said. Where was Virginia City? How had he been shot dead and why? The men had said they were from the Police Station in Raleigh, but she had never been inside the place. Odd questions whirled around her head. What was Esmond doing in Virginia City?

The maid entered and looked at her mistress, and then bobbed a curtsey.

“Esme, get my black mourning dress ready.” Mrs Scott heard herself say the words, and wondered briefly what they meant. Of course, Esmond was dead. She was a widow. She wore black now. She straightened her back. The girls would need to be told. But she would change first, after she had written a note.

She walked to the writing bureau and took out pen, ink and paper. After scribbling a few words and putting them into an envelope, sealing it, she again pulled the bell rope. This time a manservant appeared, and bowed courteously.

“Deliver this to Mr Buchanan, would you, please?”

She could feel her heart thudding and wondered if people could see it beneath the silk of her dress. She left the room and slowly mounted the stairs to her bed chamber, to get changed into her widow’s weeds.

“We regret, Madam, to tell you that your husband was killed recently in Virginia City, Nevada.”

She sat in front of the mirror and looked at her reflection. “We regret…” they had said, but what had they to regret? They had not known Esmond. “Killed recently in Virginia City.” Ridiculous. Where was Virginia City anyway?

She dressed with the help of her maid, saying nothing, not answering her maid’s questions, because she did not really know what to say. How do you tell anyone, least of all a maid, that your husband had gone to an unknown town and got shot? Where was the sense of it all?

She looked good in black. It suited her, slimmed her down a little, and made her look statelier. She wore her diamond necklace and ear bobs. They suited the black dress wonderfully well.

Ten minutes after she had returned to her gilt chair in the big room the manservant returned, to announce the arrival of Mr Buchanan, who was stepping into the room even before the announcement was finished. He paused long enough for the man to close the door and then within several strides was across the floor, and had swept her up into his arms.

Their embrace was to say the least, passionate. She giggled and he guffawed. They kissed and held one another tightly.

“I can’t believe it.” she whispered, holding him close, “Esmond is dead. The police came and said he’d been shot. They said there was a letter on its way to me to explain, that Esmond had written to me in the event of his death. But I don’t understand how he came to be shot in Virginia City.”

Buchanan released her, and she sat down and smiled up at him. The affair had worked well for nearly two years. Clandestine as these things were doomed to be, but now, no longer secret. He walked to the table and poured out some wine, and gave her a glass. Then he seated himself and faced her, a glass in his own hand,

“Did you never read the story of David and Bathsheba, my dear?”

“No, was it a love story?” she asked, looking at him with a besotted look on her face.

“Yes, in a way. David fell in love with Bathsheba, a beautiful woman. He was King of Israel and Bathsheba was a married woman. Because he was powerful he arranged for his Commander in Chief to send Bathsheba’s husband into the head of the battle, so ensuring his death. And, then, when her husband was dead, he married his Bathsheba.”

She blinked, and then nodded and smiled. The immoral aspects of the story she dismissed entirely, the main point, to her, was that the husband was dead, leaving Bathsheba free to marry. She released her breath, of course, she was now a widow… but not for long.

Chapter 108

The ranch house stood taller than the Ponderosa, imposingly so. It was set amongst trees which shaded it during the heat of the summers and gave some protection when the snow and rain came. There were stables and corrals to the left, and a low bunk house to the right. Matt had an imposing entrance to the track that led to the house, a wide gateway with the name of the ranch engraved across the top … It was called Wingate. Not even Matt could explain why he chose that name, but he was happy with it.

He and his wife, Gloria, had arrived in at Eagle Station not long after Ben, Adam and Hoss. In some ways Gloria had been a surrogate mother to the little boys, and the friendship had been long and enduring. Ben had grieved, along with Matt, when Gloria had caught typhoid during the year it had ran wild through the township and had died. It had been a hard time for Matt and a lonely one, and when Ben had left after Jean de Maligney’s death Matt and Hop Sing had shared the responsibilities of care for Adam and Hoss.

He had admired and respected Marie as soon as he met her, and those feelings had eventually grown to a deep and abiding love for her. Had she but given him any indication that there could be a responsive feeling from her he would not have hesitated to pursue a courtship. But there had been none, and her brief liaison with David Carter had surprised him, and in many ways, had caused him severe hurt as well as having knocked his confidence.

The day he had found Clay injured and Marie at the man’s side he had returned home and vowed not to think of Marie Cartwright with feelings of love anymore. It was obvious that her love was bound up still with Ben, and that her newly discovered son, along with the Cartwright boys, were her world. He would have no share in it, except on its peripherals, as a friend.

George Watson pushed open the door of the ranch house and yelled out his boss’ name, and upon receiving a response, he turned and smiled at the visitor and pushed the door wider so that Marie could enter the room.

It was a large comfortable room. Similar in style to the Ponderosa although Matt and Gloria had less stonework showing, having covered it with solid planks of wood. Like the Ponderosa is was far more masculine in style, and the big stone chimney breast and hearth dominated the room. Years ago Ben and the boys had helped the Frasers build this chimney, just as they, in turn had assisted Ben to build the one in the Ponderosa. There was a lot of memories bonding the two families and this was one of them.

Marie stood in the centre of the room, waiting for Matt to realise she was there, for he was engrossed in checking figures and with George not actually telling him he had a visitor he had no idea of her presence. She smiled, untied her hat, and took it off. Then she looked around the room to see if there had been any changed since her last visit. She realised, guiltily, that she could not even remember when she had last made that visit.

The portrait of Gloria, painted in oils by an itinerant artist a year before she died, was still where it had always been and Marie picked it up and surveyed the face of the woman she had never met but knew so well. A happy pleasant face, with blue eyes and black hair testifying to her Irish heritage. She turned and realised that Matt was looking at her, they both shared a smile,

“I’m sorry, Marie, I hadn’t realised you were here.” he came from behind the desk and indicated the chair, “Sit down, I’ll get Chow to make some coffee. No cake, I’m afraid, Chow doesn’t make cakes, but his biscuits are very good.”

“I’ll just have coffee, Matt, thank you.”

She sat down and relaxed. The chair was old and comfortable. It was good to relax. She closed her eyes and allowed herself to sink into the chair, with the fire warming her. The room was squared off as there were doors dividing the dining area from the sitting area, which cut off the views to the rear of the house, until one opened up the doors and stepped into the other room where the big window overlooked the beautiful mountains beyond.

Matt came and leaned over to pick up some logs and throw them on the fire, scattering red embers onto the hearth. He stood there awhile looking at her, and then sat down,

“So, Marie, what brings you here? Is there a problem? It’s some time since you made a social call here?”

“I know. I was thinking the same thing, Matt. It’s been too long, and I apologise, but life has just been so busy,” and she smiled.

“Yes, of course” Matt nodded and leaned back. Life has been busy, but still left her with enough time to get a courtship going with that murderous scum David Carter. He looked away as Chow brought in the coffee on a tray and set it down on the table.

Like Hop Sing, Chow was cook, chuck wagon chef, general factotum, and friend. He was discretion himself and now retreated quietly back to the kitchen. Matt poured his guest coffee,

“What’s wrong then?” he asked, passing her a cup and saucer.

“It’s Clay.” she replied without hesitation. “I didn’t know who else to talk to, Matt. You’ve always been such a loyal good friend and you were the only person I could think of to come and talk to about Clay.”

“Is he ill? I mean, has his condition worsened?”

“No, his health is improving. He’s doing very well. It’s just that – “ she sipped her coffee, while she tried to remember how she was going to phrase the problem, she looked over at Matt. He was so like Ben in some ways, but there were ways in which they were so unalike. Ben could erupt like Mt Versuvius, whereas Matt was calm and slow, placid. She put the cup back into the saucer and set it down upon the table,

“Matt, Clay is – someone I don’t know.” she paused, frowned, “A stranger. A charming, happy go lucky young man whom I love because he is my son. I thought I would know him as well as I know Joe, but I don’t.”

“That’s not surprising. He is a stranger really, raised by his family, and just suddenly appearing in your life. What did you expect, Marie?”

“I guess I expected things to be more straightforward. Perhaps, Clay would be more like Joe, but then he has not had the influence of Ben and myself. He’s a de Maligney.”

“Of course, what else ? That proves he’s your husband’s son, if nothing else.” Matt smiled, he had met Jean and liked him, but he could see quite clearly the similarities between father and son.

“I meant, he has the traits of the de Maligney’s. They are – what can I say ? Look, Matt, Jean’s grandfather once lost all the family property at the toss of a dice. His wife came home from visiting friends and found a wagonload of personal goods that the new owners allowed them to take to a house that they had to rent from a friend of theirs. He was such a charmer that he befriended the new owners so that they could visit the family home as often as they could, it was his son, Jean’s father, who won some of the place back.” she sighed, “Did you hear about what happened in town the other week, before Clay was injured? He was prepared to gamble with the Ponderosa payroll.”

“Yes, I heard about that, and about Zedekiah Murphy.”

“It’s in the blood. Jean was almost as bad, but thankfully, it was somewhat more restrained. But Clay! The other evening when we were at the party, he had some men at the Ponderosa, gambling and drinking. He won a lot of money, Matt. He always wins.” she frowned, “I know that is what gamblers hope to do, I mean, had a steady streak of winning, but I worry, Matt. It’s bad enough that he gambles so much, but -” she paused and wondered how far to go, how much to tell him, about Texas and Buchanan’s son, both the result of Clay’s gambling habits, or rather, his manner of gambling.

“Are you worried about Joe?”

“How do you mean?” again she frowned, her eyes wary.

“About the influence Clay has on him.”

“Yes, I am rather,” she replied, quietly. “Joe is very impressionable, as you know. He always looked upon Adam as the father figure, when Ben died, you understand? He now has Clay and -” again she paused, chewed on her bottom lip, “Well, Clay and Adam get along alright, but Clay’s influence over Joe is stronger than Adams, and it isn’t for the best. I don’t want Joe to grow up with the de Maligney curse. He’s good and honest and hard working. Clay just wants to cruise through life, going from one adventure to another. I don’t know what to do, Matt.”

“I don’t think I’m the best person to come to, Marie.” Matt said quietly, “It’s a situation that only time will resolve. You may have to prepare yourself for disappointments, and hurt, because the whole matter really is in the hands of the young people, isn’t it?”

“I was hoping, that perhaps, you would talk to Clay. Just advise him to not influence Joe so much.” she looked at him plaintively, and Matt felt his heart flip over. That was it with Marie, he had loved her for so long now, she was like fire, promising warmth and comfort, but sometimes, it could burn

“I’ll do what I can, Marie. But don’t expect too much. Clay is your son, and he’s stubborn and obstinate.”

“Thank you,” she laughed, a rich warm laugh, “My main attributes, stubbornness and obstinacy.”

“Well, you’ve needed them.” he said softly, “Now, how about more coffee?”

“No,” she shook her head and stood up, picking up her bonnet as she did so, “Thank you, Matt, you’re such a dear friend.”

For a moment it seemed as though she were going to lean forward and kiss him, Matt waited and held his breath, but it did not happen. He followed her to the door, and opened it,

“Don’t be a stranger, Marie.” he said quietly, and his fingers just brushed against hers as she walked away.

Chapter 109

“How are you feeling today?” Adam looked up from his plate and into the face of the young man sitting opposite to him, “Feel like riding out and checking up on some strays today?”

“No.” Clay replied and then flashed a shy, charming smile, “I don’t think I could sit a horse for more than an hour. But thank you for asking.”

Hoss raised his eyebrows and nodded, as though he had expected such a reply as the one they had received. Adam looked down at his plate once more and began to mop up the remainder of his breakfast.

“You shouldn’t even have to think about coming out with us just yet,” Joe said, giving Clay a smile as wide as a barn door, “Shucks, you’ve only just got out of your sick bed.”

Clay gave his brother a smile of patient endurance, and nodded,

“I’m getting better and quicker than I thought I would have done, thanks to Hop Sing and his – stuff,” he couldn’t suppress a shudder as he said the word, some of the ‘stuff’ Hop Sing insisted he drank, or had rubbed into him, tasted or smelt disgusting. But he knew it was doing him some good, even if he could not explain why, or how.

“Well,” Adam got up and away from the table, “Perhaps another day. See you later, Clay. See you later, Ma.” and he smiled as he dropped a kiss on Marie’s forehead.

“See you later, Ma.” Joe gave his mother a hurried kiss on the cheek and was rewarded with a bright smile, which was inclusive of Hoss who also kissed her in passing.

“Sure, Adam. See you boys later.” Clay smiled and watched the three of them as they went through the ritual of buckling on their gunbelts, pulling on their coats and grabbing at their hats and gloves. He leaned back in the chair and poured himself another cup of coffee.

“Do you think you will like it enough to stay here, Clay? Rounding up strays I mean. Do you see yourself doing that kind of thing?” Marie asked, looking at her son fondly, and affording him a smile that any son would treasure in his heart.

“I don’t know.” Clay replied slowly, and looked at her thoughtfully, as though her simple question carried with it something more significant, “I don’t know if I could spend my life chasing cows around, or chopping down wood.”

“Are you prepared to give it a try?”

He frowned slightly, and then took a long drink from his cup before setting it down carefully on the saucer,

“Ma, have you ever thought of going back to New Orleans?” he leaned forward towards her, and looked earnestly into her face, “Back to the life you grew up in, amongst people you used to know and care about?”

“The people I know and care about are here, Clay. What are you talking about anyway? Do you really think I could leave the Ponderosa and Joe, and the boys, here?”

“Joe could come too. He said he’d never been to New Orleans except once when he was about 12 years old. He liked it, in fact, I think he liked it a lot more than you realise, Ma.”

“We went back to visit some friends there,” Marie said thinking back to that time when, for the first time since her marriage, she had left the Ponderosa. She had felt such pride in Joe, and such pride in taking him back to the city where she had been born and raised, she leaned now towards Clay, and reached out to take hold of his hand, “Do you realise that had I known you were alive, we could have met then? All these years wasted, both of us thinking the other dead. Your whole life would have been so different, Clay. You’ve had a hard time these past few years, being on your own, and with the Buchanan boy’s death on your mind, as well as the death in Texas. It’s been hard, Clay, but if you stayed here, you would get to see life as we see it, and you’d be happy here, Clay.”

“Wouldn’t you be happy back in New Orleans, with me and Joe?” he asked, his clear eyes looking at her with a tenderness he did not often show to anyone, “It’s obvious Adam and Hoss would never leave here. This is where there roots are, what their father would want for them. But I don’t know if I could live here, Ma, not for good.”

“Then why not try it, just for the winter. See how you feel when Spring comes.” she sat back, withdrew her hand from his, and smiled, “You know, as my son, Joe’s brother, that you are accepted here as a member of the family. You do feel that, don’t you? That you are family?”

“Yes,” Clay smiled and nodded, and poured out more coffee, “ I know that, Ma.”

“Did Joe mention to you then, about going to New Orleans?”

“It was his suggestion,” Clay added some milk, and stirred it into the coffee, then watched as the liquid went round and round in his cup, “I thought it was a sensible idea.”

“He would have thought it was what you would have wanted, Clay. It was your influence that made him think that way.” Marie sighed, and thought of Joe with an anxious feeling deep in her heart. Then she stood up and left the table, and placed a hand on his shoulder as she passed him “He’s impressionable, so make sure you use your influence for good, Clay.”

He said nothing, but watched her walk away and into the kitchen. He bowed his head, to think about what she had said, and the inference behind the words. Then he finished his coffee and returned the cup to the saucer before getting to his feet and without a word, going to his room.

Chapter 109

Roy Coffee saw the Cartwright boys ride into town and waved a hand in greeting. It was good to see the three of them in town again. Adam seemed no worse the wear for the incident with Scott, and Joe and Hoss were looking cheerful enough.

“Everything going well, boys?” he cried across from the street, and they nodded and raised a hand.

Roy pursed his lips and frowned. It still bugged him that he had got no real lead on that Edmund Scott fellow. He had sent off the letter with all his personal belongings to the address written on the envelope, but he had not heard from the recipient, nor from the Police in Raleigh. It concerned him that Scott had been hired to kill not only Adam, but also Stafford. There just didn’t seem to be a really logical link.

He was pleased to see that Clay had stayed away from town. Zedekiah Murphy was still breathing fire and brimstone over the loss of his money. Mrs Murphy had taken pity on him now and he was back in the family fold but only if he stopped gambling himself. He had promised her he would, but he had not stretched the promise to cover refraining from shooting Clay on sight.

Adam, followed by his brothers, strolled into the Sazarac and while they found a table – not difficult as there was only one other person there – he ordered the drinks.

“You know,” Joe said profoundly, “the only good thing about winter is that we see less cows. I don’t want to see another stray until spring.”

“You and me both,” Hoss exclaimed and he grinned up at Adam and took his glass, “I’ve been looking forward to this all morning.” he sighed gratefully.

Adam had just sat down when the doors were flung open and Murphy walked in. He looked around, glared at the Cartwright brothers, and then stalked over to them

“So? Where is he? Skulking away someplace is he?”

“Who exactly are we talking about here?” Adam asked, although he already knew the answer.

“That thieving cheat of a brother of yours,” Zedekiah replied, “And don’t you try fancy talkin’ to me, Adam Cartwright, I’ve a score to settle with you as well.”

“With me?” Adam frowned, “How do you mean?”

“You gave my wife money. A man ain’t that generous without reason. I want to know what you’ve been doing hanging around my wife.”

“I’d like to know what gives you the right to make such filthy insinuations, Murhpy.” Adam growled, pushing back his chair and standing up so abruptly that the chair toppled over with a crash.

“Calm down, the pair of you,” Hoss cried, putting out a restraining hand across Adam’s chest, “Murphy, you should be ashamed of yourself thinking things like that about your wife and Adam.”

“Yeah? And just what do you know about it, Hoss?” Murphy spat, “You tell me how come a man pays off another man’s debts and then his wife don’t let him into the house. Tell me that, huh?”

“Perhaps because some folk are decent enough to want to help you and your family out, perhaps that could be the reason,” Hoss said, his voice higher than usual and his nose just inches away from Zedekiah’s.

“Yeah, you should be thanking my brother, not accusing him of being too friendly with your wife,” Joe said, nodding his head by way of emphasise.

“It was your brother that caused all this trouble,” the other man said, giving the three of them a dark glare, “You tell him from me, if I see him in town again I’ll make sure he don‘t walk out of here on two legs. And as for you,” he jabbed his finger at Adam, “don’t expect me to give you back any money. You might as well wait till hell freezes over.”

Adam raised his eyebrows, and said nothing, but righted his chair and sat down. They watched as Murphy stomped out of the saloon, crashing the door shut behind him.

“There goes a bitter man,” Hoss sighed, “Makes you wonder what turns a man so angry.”

“Yeah, and I rather think he’s serious when he comes to that threat against Clay.” Adam said quietly.

“He’s just a load of wind,” Joe muttered, and shrugged, “Clay’ll handle him easily enough.”

“Just remember, Joe, Roy warned Clay not to come into town. If there is any trouble then Roy has every right to arrest Clay along with Murphy. Don’t forget that now…” Adam sighed, “Seems there’s nothing but trouble lately,”

“Are you blaming Clay for that?” Joe said quickly, giving Adam a sharp look beneath his scowling brow.

“No, I don’t believe I mentioned Clay. I just said …”

“I heard what you said. Seems to me everyone’s blaming Clay for something. It’s not fair.”

“Don’t be so childish, Joe,” Adam said picking up his glass, “You can’t say it isn’t fair when it is. Clay took a lot of money off of Zedekiah, and gave the man the shock of his life. Don’t forget what happened in New Orleans and in Texas. You don’t want Clay adding Murphy to the list, do you?”

“Yeah, and trust you to remember about New Orleans and Texas. You’ve had a downer on Clay ever since he arrived here. I reckon you’re jealous because we get on so well.”

“Now you are being childish,” Adam scoffed, giving his little brother a smug smile.

Joe was off his seat quicker than the town drunk when a free round is called out. His fist struck Adam full on the jaw, sending the heavier man reeling back in the chair and almost out of it. As it was Adam was on his feet with his fist holding onto a handful of Joe’s shirt and giving it a good shake,

“If you do that to me again, little brother, you’ll get a belting you’ve been long overdue.”

“Yeah, well, go ahead, Adam, I’m waiting.” Joe yelled back.

Hoss now got up, and yanked Joe away from Adam’s clutches, he gave his youngest brother a good shake, and Adam a glare out of his blue eyes that made Adam step back

“What’s got into the two of you?” he snapped, “If Ma were to hear of this she’d been real upset. Joe, you quit behaving like a two year old, and finish your drink. We’ve business in town, and it’s time to get on with it.”

“Sorry, Adam,” Joe mumbled, “I just didn’t think you were being fair to Clay.”

Adam opened his mouth, then shut it, and shook his head as though it just wasn’t worth bothering about; he finished his drink and got up from the table,

“I’ve things to do here in town, so I’ll meet you back home, if not before.” he said quietly.

Hoss nodded, knowing his brother well enough to realise that Adam needed time away from Joe to cool down. He looked at Joe who only shrugged and looked innocently at the far wall.

Chapter 110

“What was all that about, Joe? Have you been at Charley’s rot gut whiskey?” Hoss demanded as soon as Adam had closed the saloon doors behind him.

“No.” Joe replied sharply, and looked at Hoss as though surprised that he could be speaking in this manner to him, “I’m just sick of the way Adam keeps on about Clay.”

“Excuse me, Little Brother, but I don’t recall hearing Adam going on some about Clay. He just happened to remind you that Clay needed to keep outa trouble, and for very good reason considering he’s wanted for killing two people in two different states.” Hoss lowered his voice, and darted a sharp look about him as he spoke. Walls were known to have the proverbial ears at times.

“Look, Hoss, we all know how easy it is for people to get themselves killed over nothing hereabouts, and I doubt if Texas is any different. Clay fired in self defence.”

“That’s what he told us,” Hoss whispered “And there’s no need for you to start gitting riled up again, but it’s a fact, Joe. There’s always two sides of a story, and somewhere back in Texas there could be a widow and kids for all we know, like there could have been here, if’n we hadn’t been able to step in and prevent it.”

“Clay could have died the other week, it seems to me that neither one of you two could have cared less.” Joe hissed, his eyes darkening with anger again.

“If we hadn’t been so anxious about Clay why do you think Adam promised Roy to go surety for him?” came Hoss’ swift response.

Joe’s eyes widened, then he lowered his head and shook it in bewilderment,

“I didn’t know that, no one told me.” he said quietly.

“Then you’d best think before you open that mouth of yours in future, Joe.” Hoss picked up his glass and drained it, then moved away from the table, “C’mon, we’ve work to do.”

Chastened by the discovery of the risk Adam was prepared to take for Clay, Joe said nothing, but finished his drink, and followed his brother out of the saloon.


Roy poured out the coffee and pushed the cup over to Adam, who accepted it gratefully. It was cold outside, and it was always pleasant to share some time with Roy in his snug and rather over warm office.

“Any news, Roy?” he asked, tilting the chair back onto its rear legs and stretching out his own legs.

“Nope, nothing. I’m mighty vexed I can tell you, Adam. I jest can’t figure out for the life of me why that Scott fellow would want to kill your brother.”

“Firstly, Roy, Clay is not my brother, he’s Joe’s half brother. Secondly,” he paused and swallowed some coffee, then looked thoughtfully at the sheriff, “all that bother with different names, different aliases. He lived in North Carolina and travelled all this way, twice?” he shook his head, “The only thing I keep coming up with is that there was money involved. Big money.”

“David Carter certainly paid him a handsome sum to get rid of you.” Roy smiled, and copied Adam’s style of sitting, pushing the chair back and stretching out his legs.

“Mmm, I still can’t figure out why he wanted to get rid of me, except to make it easier to marry Marie.” he lowered his head and stared into his mug, as though the brown liquid would inspire him, “North Carolina is a real long way to come just to kill someone. I mean, as bad as it is, but life is cheap hereabouts. Men get killed over spilling someone’s beer, or jumping their claim. Why go to the expense of hiring a man to kill another?”

“Carter was from New Orleans. Perhaps that’s what rich people do down south.”

“In which case a rich person, down south, hired him again to get rid of Clay. I can think of two scenario’s.”

“Good, run them pass me would you, my brain’s aching from trying to work it out.” Roy pushed his spectacles higher up his forehead, and began to drink his coffee while he prepared himself to listen to Adam’s theories.

“The family of the man killed in Texas for one, and this Buchanan for another. My monies on Buchanan”


“Because Clay said he had eyewitnesses to prove the killing in Texas was for self defence. But Buchanan got involved somehow, and suddenly the eyewitnesses disappeared or changed their stories. He changed his name hoping to avoid getting within Buchanan’s reach again. Somehow or other, Scott managed to work that out and arrived here anyway. Yes, I’d certainly say it was Buchanan.”

“But he’s the man with most to lose, Adam. A senator, rich, prominent.”

“He’s a man who had his son killed. Clay said the man had vowed to see him dead.” Adam finished his drink, “Have you heard anything at all from the law department in Raleigh?”

“Nothing at all. I’ll send another wire this afternoon. Don’t worry, I’ll keep you informed.”

“Another thing, Roy, how serious do you think we should take Murphy’s threats against Clay?” he looked at the sheriff, respectfully, and decided to refrain from mentioning the accusations Murphy had made about him earlier.

“Murphy is mad against everything and everybody just now, Adam. Seems he wants to pick a fight with the world and his wife just now. I’d take it pretty seriously if I were you, Adam. Keep Clay out of town, and out of trouble, for Marie’s sake if not for his own.”

Adam nodded, and with a sigh got to his feet,

“Thanks for the coffee, Roy.”

Roy nodded, smiled and waved his young friend good-bye. He finished his drink in a leisurely manner before he righted the chair, drew it up to the desk, and began to write out the message he was going to send to the law department in Raleigh.

Chapter 111

The knock on the door came just as Adam was about to disrobe and get into bed. He paused, frowned, and then walked to the door knowing only too well who it was he would find standing on the other side. He was not wrong. Years of hearing that tentative knock on the door followed by Joe’s puppy dog eyes had trained him well. Joe was there, a lamp in his hand, and puppy dog eyes at the ready.

“Can I come in, Adam?” he asked, looking plaintively at his brother.

Adam stepped aside and swept his arm wide, a theatrical gesture to mark the occasion and to sweep his brother into the room, metaphorically speaking of course.

“Adam I’m sorry I lost my temper this afternoon, and hit you like I did.” Joe blinked, and looked down at the floor, then up at his brother, “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

Adam frowned more deeply, and shook his head. Then he sat down on the edge of the bed and waited for the explanation. There was always an explanation with Joe. Long and drawn out. Adam wondered whether it had something to do with Marie’s upbringing as a Catholic and all that confession they had to do, perhaps it had passed on to Joe in some way.

He sat and listened as Joe explained why he had lost his temper, his feelings for Clay, his confusion about Clay’s behaviour. He listened as he had listened over the years.

“Adam, I gotta ‘fess up. It was me, not Hoss, who put salt in your coffee becoz I thought you wuz kinda unfair.”

“How was that, Joe? How was I unfair?”

“You said I had to write my own essay and wouldn’t help.”

“That’s right, Joe. Now why do you think I did that?”

“Because you wuzn’t bein’ fair.”


“I’m sorry, Adam, I wanted you to know that, I’m really sorry.”

“What about this time, Joe?”

“Well, you know you said I couldn’t go to the box social yesterday, and I did…”

“So you did.”

“Well, I know you said I couldn’t go because I was too young, but Susy invited me special like and I didn’t want to disappoint her.”

“And when did she invite you, Joe?”

“After church on Sunday.”

“I’d already told you that you couldn’t go.”

“I know, Adam, and I’m sorry that I didn’t do as you said, but when Susy invited me I kinda thought it would be rude not to accept. You ain’t mad at me, are you, Adam?”

He switched off memories from the past and turned to look at the earnest young man standing in the middle of the rug, and realised that he had stopped talking and was looking at him earnestly. He frowned, and Joe raised his eyebrows,

“So, you ain’t mad at me, are you, Adam?”

“No, I’m not mad at you, Joe. Now clear outa here, I need some sleep.”

“G’night then, Adam.”

“Good night, Joe.”

The youth smiled his bright ‘everything’s fine and dandy’ smile, and left the room, and closed it behind him. Adam sat for a moment, deep in thought, then, with a sigh he got to his feet and disrobed, then slipped naked into bed.

He thought of Joe, and of Clay. He thumped the pillows and snuffed out the wick in the lamp. He could smell the acid whiff from the burnt wick, and then it faded. Outside the wind was mournful and he realised he had not drawn the drapes across the window. He was too tired to get out of bed now. Instead he folded his arms beneath his head and stared up into the shadows of the ceiling.

Joe and Clay. Clay and Joe. Marie’s sons. As close in blood as he, Joe and Hoss were through Ben’s parent hood. It seemed to him that Joe wanted the same bonds with Clay right here and now, that had grown over the years between the three of them. He was young and vulnerable, and Clay, only two years younger than himself, was an experienced man of the world, charming and manipulative. He closed his eyes and wondered what he could do to protect his little brother from getting very hurt indeed.

Joe closed the door behind him and looked about his room. It was as familiar to him as his face in the mirror. Indian artefacts hung on the walls, and on the chimney breast was a portrait of his father. He walked up to it and looked earnestly into the dark eyes. He often liked to do that, because one of the abiding memories he had of Ben were those dark eyes and the deep voice that could make his body vibrate when Ben held him and told him stories. He had loved that, and nestled in close to his Pa, his head on Ben’s shoulder, listening.

“Pa? I wish you were still home. I wish you were here to meet Clay. I know you would be real pleased to know him, and you’d tell him to stay here with us, and be part of the family. I know he’d listen to you, Pa, because everyone listened to you when you told them to do anything. I miss you, Pa.”

He put the lamp down beside his bed, and slipped between the sheets. Then he extinguished the flame and tried to get comfortable. He shouldn’t have hit Adam. Even now he couldn’t really understand why he had, nor why he had felt so defensive about Clay. What would happen to Adam if Clay and he did go to New Orleans or even some other place, together.

He frowned, he had forgotten to ask Clay whether or not he had mentioned going back to New Orleans to Marie. He felt his eyelids growing heavier. It would be fun going away from here with Clay. Clay was fun. He took chances and risks. He was unfettered by responsibilities and obligations. The Ponderosa was one big responsibility. He wondered what it was like to live the way Clay was able to , just roaming, free to go wherever he wished. He was glad he had suggested going to New Orleans with him, and more than pleased that Clay had seemed not just surprised but even pleased and flattered by the suggestion.

Now he was about to drift off to sleep. He felt his body growing heavier, and the darkness enveloping him like a blanket.

“See this, son, it will be yours one day,” Ben said, and the child sitting in the saddle in front of him, with his head against his chest nodded. Below him the waters of the lake shimmered beneath a perfect sun and the sky was so blue with hardly a cloud in it. It was a beautiful scene. One that he had never forgotten. He could recall his fathers voice coming from deep within the cavern of the man’s broad chest, and he could remember the way his own hair stirred beneath Ben’s breath. How safe he had felt then, how secure and how loved.

In his sleep now he stirred, smiled, his lips parted as he whispered “Pa?”

Chapter 112

The wagon rattled out of the yard, the wheels slipping into ruts and making the vehicle bounce along. Hop Sing was not concerned. He was happy at heart. The sun was shining and although it was cold it was also bright and cheerful. He was going away for several days to visit his cousin in town. His cousin owned the best laundry in Virginia City so Hop Sing was taking along the Ponderosa bed linen, towels – everything that really needed a good wash and airing before the winter really set in. He was so cheerful he began to sing beneath his breath. His cousin also had a pretty daughter who always made a great deal of fuss over their visitor from the Ponderosa. It was going to be a most enjoyable visit.

Clay leaned against the window frame and watched as the wagon disappeared from sight. He had his arms folded across his chest, and a dreamy expression on his face. Hoss looked at him thoughtfully for a moment and wondered what it was Clay was thinking about so deeply.

“Penny for your thoughts, Clay?” he asked, prompting Adam and Joe to look up and survey the other man, who now moved away from the window with a sigh.

“Oh, I was just watching Hop Sing going off into town, and wishing I could have gone on in with him.”

“You can come on in with us if – oh,” Joe stopped abruptly, and looked at his mother who was giving him a rather sterner look than usual, “I’d forgotten. Sorry, Clay.”

“Not to worry,” Clay smiled with great fortitude at them all, “No doubt it will soon get sorted out, and Roy will eventually allow me to go into town again. In the meantime it does no harm to stay home and convalesce properly.”

“Will you be feeling well enough to come to the Box Social at the Lazy C to night, Clay?” Hoss smiled, “I know there are a lot of our neighbours still wanting to get to know you.”

“No, thanks anyway. I’ve not been personally invited and would not feel it proper to arrive per se.” he looked at Joe, “Will you be going?”

“Sure, we all will. The Lazy C has the best Box Socials in the territory.” Joe said enthusiastically, “I sure wish you could come, Clay. What if I ride over there this morning and ask them if it will be all right for you to come as well.” he smiled at the thought of doing this errand for his brother, and of his riding in with them all that evening.

“No, it’s fine.” Clay sat down at the table, “And you, Ma? Are you going?”

“Yes, I always go. Sandy is a good friend of mine, and we always enjoy these opportunities to get together. Joe’s right, though, Clay, he could ride over and ask if you could attend. The Nicholls are always very welcoming.”

“No, it’s alright. I’d rather stay at home. If it’s all the same to you, I’ll ask Hank Myers in for a chat, if I get bored.”

“I’m sure you won’t -” Adam muttered, stirring sugar into his coffee.

“Won’t what? Ask Hank in for the evening?” Clay asked, rather sharply.

“Get bored, I meant.” Adam turned on a charming smile, and then picked up his cup, his eyes turning to Joe, “What are you intending on doing this morning, Joe? Hoss and I sure could do with some help up at the creek. There’s loose wood gathering there that we could use here. If we leave it as it is, come the bad winds it’ll blow into the river and could create a build up there as effective as a dam. I wouldn’t like to be responsible for the damage that would cause thereabouts.”

“Sure, I’ll come along and give a hand. How about it, Clay? Do you feel like joining us?”

Clay shook his head, and poured coffee into his cup while smiling over at his brother,

“A case of the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, brother.”

He ignored the glance that passed between Adam and Hoss. If Joe noticed he had the sense to refrain from making any mention of it. He sighed and muttered that that was too bad, and then settled down to his breakfast. He ate slowly, every now and again he would glance up and over at Clay, who seemed oblivious of the interest his brother was showing in him.

Marie remained silent. She had, over the weeks, had so many opportunities to compare the boys with Clay. This stranger with the bond of blood between them, and whom she loved but did not know. How different he was from Adam who had always pushed himself to get on with work despite illness, wounds, weakness. How different from Joe who even though they shared a volatile temper was a hardworking and honest youth. Marie had a nagging doubt about her first born’s attitude to honesty. This made her think of Hoss who was the epitome of honesty and loyalty. It seemed to her that Clay would be loyal only to the degree it suited him, because ultimately, his main concern was himself.

She did not blame him for that, for she knew that anyone living on their own and by their wits, had only themselves to be responsible for, and the longer the life style lasted , the more deeply entrenched the attitude becomes. She sighed, and found herself wishing that things could be reversed, time could travel backwards, and that Clay, the stupid bungling attempt to kill him, everything concerning him, had never happened.

The house became silent when the three brothers left the house. Marie went to the small room where she carried out her own personal tasks, such as needlework, darning or writing letters. She liked to withdraw into this private room at times. It contained most of the little possessions she had brought with her from New Orleans. The views from the window were of the garden that she enjoyed working in during the spring and summer months.

Sometimes she just liked to sit in the sun and read. There was little work to do just now, and she was tired. It had been an anxious time for them all, but as a mother her heart had been stretched to the full limit as she had first worried and fretted over Adam, and then the excitement of Clay’s arrival, and near death. It just seemed to her that Clay brought along with him so many extra problems. Being her son, his problems were also hers, and she wondered how many other things there were for her to worry about of which she knew nothing.


She glanced up and smiled as Clay stood at the doorway, looking in upon her. She beckoned to a chair by the window, and he came and sat upon it with a slight smile on his face,

“What’s wrong, Clay?” she asked, putting down her pen, for her intention today had been to write to an old friend in New Orleans.

“Nothing at all, Ma. I’m feeling much stronger now, although I’m sorry I couldn’t get out to help the boys.”

“I’m sure you know best how you feel, dear.”

“I was wondering, Ma, if you had thought any more about going back to New Orleans with me. I’d sure like it, Ma. You and Joe and me. We would have a lot of time together, getting to know one another better and catching up on old friends.”

“I told you before, Clay, I have dear friends here now.” she smiled slowly, and sighed, “I don’t think I want Joe to go with you, Clay. I’d rather he stayed here, at the Ponderosa.”

“Why? He should get to know where he comes from, Ma.” he frowned, and leaned forwards, his hands clasped together between his knees, “Look, Ma, you know there’s talk about a civil war, don’t you?”

She frowned, and lowered her eyes. Then she gave a slight shrug of the shoulders,

“Its just talk, Clay.”

“I know. But friends of the de Maligneys keep in touch with me, you know. They feel that there’s a lot of unrest down south. It just needs a match to set the fuse burning and the whole thing will blow up like a powder keg.”

“All the more reason for Joe to stay here with us, then.” she shook her head determinedly. “There will be no talk about civil war here, on the Ponderosa. Should it happen, it will stop at the borders.”

“If it happens, Ma, you won’t be able to stop it from coming right here. It’ll tear your family apart as much as anyone else’s.”

“Why? How?”

He looked at her challengingly, and then remembered that this was his mother, his flesh and blood. She was New Orleans born, and seemed to be willingly turning her back upon the fact.

“You belong to the South, Ma. So does Joe.” he replied very gently, and reached out to take her hand, “Joe has every right to get to know his origins, Ma. You should take him back.”

She tightened her lips into what Ben would call her battening down the hatches mode. Clay frowned, and began to chew on his bottom lip. He sat back, resting upon the cushions on the chair,

“Adam’s Boston born, isn’t he?”

“Yes.” she looked at him and sighed, “The Stoddards were sea faring people. His grandfather, Abel Stoddard, was the last one of them to captain a ship. Elizabeth was very young when she married Ben. Frail too, which was the reason he left the sea himself and set up as a Ships Chandler.”

“In Boston.”

“Yes. Ben had been at sea since he was 14 years of age. He ran away once, at the age of 12, but thankfully the captain sent him back home.” she looked at him, and a slight frown furrowed her brow, “Why do you ask? Is it to confirm your thoughts on the fact that Adam is a Yankee?”

“Well, the thought had crossed my mind. That was why I said you won’t be able to draw a line and say the war stops here, on that side of the border. Not when you have a Yankee and a southern born boy in the house.”

“Clay, I don’t want to continue this conversation with you. I don’t want to hear that it has been mentioned to Joe, either. Do you understand me?” she looked at her son with such a stern look that Clay faltered, and nodded in agreement.

He stroked his moustache thoughtfully. It was true, all that he had said. There was talk of war, but it was just talk. If there was to be a Civil War however, it would mean brother fighting brother. He looked at her again, and frowned. Joe should know where he was from, after all, the last thing Clay de Maligney wanted in life, was to find himself fighting against his own, newly found, flesh and blood.

“What time will you be back tonight, Ma?” he asked casually, when the sternness had appeared to have seeped out of her.

“We usually stay overnight at the Nicholls.” she replied, picking up her pen again, and arranging the ink pot neatly by her right hand, “It’s a happy, noisy, somewhat rowdy evening, and we like to help out in the morning. It’s best to stay over too, as the drink tends to flow a little too freely.” and she smiled at the memory of past Box Socials at the Nicholls.

“Huh, seems I’ll be in for a long and lonely night then.”

“You could still come, Clay. They would love to meet you. Susanne, their daughter, is a dear girl, you’d like her.” she smiled again.

“Oh,” he laughed, a happy relaxed merry laugh, it reminded her of Jean so much that she laughed too, “Match making are we, dear mother?”

“As if I would,” she laughed, “But Suzanne is a sweetheart, Clay, really she is.”

Clay only laughed again, shook his head and after making his excuses to leave the room, left his mother to her writing.

Chapter 113
“You’re very quiet this evening, Ma?” Joe said as they were driving towards the Nicholls place that evening, “Are you feeling all right?”

“Yes, Joe, I’m fine. A little tired, perhaps.” Marie smiled at him, and leaned towards him, enjoying the feel of his shoulder. He was growing into a man and it had happened so quickly.

“You aren’t worried about anything, are you, Ma?” he asked in a quieter tone of voice, not wanting either Adam or Hoss, who were riding alongside them, to overhear their conversation.

“No.” she whispered back, but stared straight ahead of her, looking at the road as it stretched ahead of them.

She could have said she was worried about what Clay would be doing with so many hours to spend on his own. Would he indulge in the same kind of evening that he had previously, despite the stern talking to she had given him. What if he disobeyed her and went ahead anyway? What could she do about it? She had managed to persuade Adam not to get involved last time, but what would be his reaction this time!

She tried to convince herself that there would be nothing wrong and that Clay would not go against her wishes. But then her mind reeled back the years to when his father had been caught up with the gambling and drink. It was having the baby that had stopped him, the love and the responsibility had hit Jean like a brick wall stopping him before he had stepped over the edge of the chasm to disaster.

Perhaps it would have helped if she knew who the other men were who had been involved in the evenings activity and then she could have asked them not to visit the Ponderosa again. But could she have done that? It would have humiliated Clay and wounded his pride. A woman had no right to do that to a man, any man. She had asked Hank Myers to keep a look out and to let her know if any visitors came to the Ponderosa. He had always been a reliable man, and she felt she could trust him.

It was so inconvenient that Hop Sing had chosen to leave for his few days with his cousin. She sighed again as her mind caught up with the present and she remembered the conversation she had had with Clay. Once again she turned her gaze to look upon Joe, who, sensing her looking at him turned to smile at her,

“You are all right, aren’t you, Ma?” he asked again, “I can always turn back home if you’d prefer.”

“No, no, that would be a waste of the food Hop Sing has prepared for Sandy and Malc. I’m just a little concerned about something Clay said today.”

She noticed the tension that came immediately to his features, the jaw line tautened, and his eyes narrowed.

“What did he say?”

“He said there was talk about Civil War. South against the North. Do you think it will come to that, Joe?”

“You’d best ask Adam, he’d know better than me, Ma.” he smiled slowly, “Is that all that’s worrying you? It’s hardly likely to happen. Do you really think free born Americans will actually kill one another? I don’t think so, Ma.” he continued to smile for a while, then looked down at her again, “Ma, it wouldn’t affect us on the Ponderosa, anyway. Pa would have hated us getting involved in a thing like that. He’d never believe that it would come down to brother against brother, and he would certainly not expect any of us to turn one against the other. Now, would he?”

“No.” Marie replied firmly, “No, he wouldn’t. But, Joe, your father isn’t here anymore. What if there were a civil war. It would mean that you and Adam -.”

“Don’t spoil the evening thinking about something that won’t happen, Ma.” his voice was firmer, a man’s voice, not the jovial cheery voice of a teenager wanting to prove himself a man. Once again Marie realised that Joe was changing, undergoing that metamorphosis of manhood. She slipped her arm through his, and thought back to the time when, as a child, he would have slipped his arm through hers and for good measure, grabbed her hand.

“Joe, Clay said you wanted to go back to New Orleans, to see where you had your origins. Is that true?”

“Is that what is really worrying you, Ma?” Joe said quietly, and a slight frown furrowed his brow, “Well, I was born on the Ponderosa, so my roots are here, aren’t they? If you would like to go back south with us both, then that would be good. Wouldn’t you like that, Ma? To go back to New Orleans?”

“No. I wouldn’t like to go back, not now, not after all I found out about Remy, and Clay’s grandmother.”

“But they’re dead now, Ma.”

“Yes, Joe, I know. But the dead can haunt the living, and I don’t want to go back.”

He nodded as though he could understand exactly how she felt. He liked the feel of her head on his shoulder, it made him feel responsible and manly. Protective of his Ma. It was a good thing to be.

……. Hank Myers closed the door behind him and looked around anxiously, he scratched his chest and then his head, and was about to go back to the bunk house when Clay’s door opened.

“Shucks, Mr Stafford, I was wondering whether or not you were cancelling tonight.”

“Cancelling?” Clay laughed, “Why on earth would I do that?”

“On account of what the Missus said, that’s why. She’s worried about you having another one of them get togethers here.”

“Well, I’m not, am I?” Clay frowned, “Did she talk to you about it?”

“Yes, sir, she did. I promised to keep an eye on you and make sure you were going to be all right.” Hank looked around him and frowned, “You ain’t got nothing’ organised here that I can see.”

“True enough. After my scolding the other day I decided it was too risky to have another evening’s entertainment here, so I’m going out for the evening. I won’t tell you where so when my mother asks, you won’t know. What you don’t know, won’t hurt you, as my grandmother often told me. Not necessarily true, but sufficiently so in this case.”

Hank frowned, not sure whether to feel relieved of the responsibility, or aggrieved at not being included in the game. He then remembered just how much money he had lost to Clay and realised he was better off not knowing anything about the evening plans.

Clay was dressed smartly. Grey suit, white frilled shirt, black string tie. He pulled on his heavy coat and placed his hat upon his head. He wore his gunbelt low on his hips. He turned to Hank and smiled,

“Goodnight, Hank. Enjoy the evening.”

Chapter 114

Clay entered the room and looked around him. He shrugged himself out of his coat and tossed it onto the rather dilapidated settee.

Amos Hayter’s house was a mere five miles from the borders of town. Closer to shanty town than anywhere else. The room Clay had stepped into was already heavy with the smoke from several cigars, and the glasses were greasy from the fingers that had handled them over the past few days, or perhaps even weeks.

Hayter glanced up at Clay and nodded a welcome. He was, oddly enough, impeccably dressed, clean and well turned out. He left the gaming table and approached Clay, and shook his hand,

“I’m glad you were able to come, Clay.”

“I wouldn’t have missed out on this, Amos.” Clay smiled, and accepted the glass of bourbon from his host and then sat down at the table.

He knew all five of the men seated there, having played against them all at some time or another. One of the men was a stranger to Virginia City but not to Clay. They had formed an acquaintance some time back in Sacremento. Robin Jackson nodded a greeting to his old friend, and continued to play his hand.

Clay drank the bourbon, and refilled his glass. He took his turn to shuffle and deal the cards, and played a reasonable hand. After an hour had passed he had become comfortable with the players there, had assessed them all, and knew how to play against them all to win. Perhaps, as Marie feared, it was all in the genes after all. Generations of de Marigneys had passed onto him the ability to weigh up an opponents weakness with such unerring accuracy that he seldom lost. Perhaps it was just shrewd discernment, a sharp memory, mathematical acumen, but combined it gave Clay Stafford de Marigney the gift of a born gambler. Something Marie would never understand.

He noticed that Robin had sharpened up his game. That was to his advantage, but it did not take long for Clay to denote his weakness and to use it to his own advantage. Amos was overly casual, and played as though he didn’t really care if he won or lost, he was sloppy, nearly everyone there could beat him at the game although occasionally there was a flash of brilliance and he would win a hand.

Hansard tried too hard to keep a blank face and reveal nothing. When a man tried too hard he always overplayed his hand. No matter how much he tried the better the hand the more tension around the eyes. Clay could read the poor man like an open book.

Phillips was nervy. He sweated a lot and his eyes swivelled about as though they were attached to little wires in his skull. He lost repeatedly and was no challenge to anyone there.

Gregory Shannon was a pleasant Irishman who liked to drink, talk and smoke all at the same time. He played a loose hand, careless in his handling of them. But when he had a good hand he was suddenly quiet, concentrating overly hard to make sure he made all the right moves. He would make some quite sensible ones, but was easy pickings for someone so expert at the game as Clay.

The air became stiflingly stuffy and hot. The cigar smoke thickened what air there was, and collars were loosened, along with ties. Another bottle of bourbon was opened. The pot in the middle of the table grew in heaps. Amos did well, winning a number of games, but it was small stuff only, what real gamblers would consider mere pocket money.

Hansard was the first to throw in his hand and declare himself out of the running. He reeled to the door and opened it to get enough fresh air to his lungs. An hour later Shannon was out cold, slouched across the settee and drooling over the cushions.

Clay enjoyed the whole atmosphere. The clink of the money as it went down, the flutter of notes. The tension amongst the remaining players. The way the eyes narrowed, lips thinned, talk lessened.
He played what could only be referred to as a blinder. Despite a gasp from one or two there, no one argued about his being the man to have won. He smiled, nodded, raked in the money.

“Clay, I got to hand it to you, old friend, you did yourself proud there,” Robin smiled, reaching out to shake his hand.

“You didn’t do so badly yourself, Robin. How’s things with you anyhow?” Clay asked, stuffing the money into every pocket he possessed.

“Pretty good. What are you doing here, in Virginia City?”

“Oh, nothing much. Just passing through.” Clay replied, picking up his near empty glass and draining it dry.

“He’s related to them Cartwrights on the Ponderosa,” Amos said, nodding over at Clay with a grin, perhaps not a very pleasant one, which made Clay narrow his eyes and look anew at the man who had appeared so affable previously.

“You got a problem with that?” he asked, putting the glass down.

“None at all, Clay.” Amos replied.

Clay nodded as though to confirm that was a close to the subject, but when he went to get his coat and hat, he found Robin standing right by his side,

“Cartwrights, huh? How did that happen?”

“Mrs Cartwright happens to be my mother,” Clay said quietly, “She was married before she met Ben.” he added hastily.

“She’s a fine looking woman,” Robin said with a nod of the head.

“She’s a fine looking very rich woman,” Hansard observed, “And mighty proud of her sons.”

“She has every reason to be,” Amos said, pouring himself a brandy now, and sprawling down into a chair.

He watched as Clay pulled on his coat, and raised his glass to the young man as he pulled open the door. The cold air blew into the room with the sharpness of a scythe, before Clay pulled it shut behind him.
The light was shining from the window of the big room at the Ponderosa. Clay walked towards it wondering if he had left the lamps alight in the room, and thought that it must have been Hank, trying to make things look right should anyone come riding home early. He smiled to himself, and then noticed the horse hitched to the rail. He was in such a befuddled state that he had barely managed to stay in the saddle most of the journey home. Noticing the horse in the shadows of the night was more by accident than design, and he had a sinking foreboding that either Adam or Hoss had returned home.

He pushed the door open and closed it softly behind him. Just possibly whoever had returned early had fallen asleep, in which case Clay certainly did not want to waken him.

“Good evening, Clay.”

He jumped, startled, and turned. Took off his hat and squinted against the light in the room that dazzled his eyes. Then he recognised who was sitting in the big leather chair,

“What are you doing here,” he asked.
Chapter 115

“Your mother told me that you would be in need of company this evening,” Matt Fraser replied, stretching out his legs and regarding Clay thoughtfully as he watched the young man divest himself of his coat and jacket. His sharp eyes noticed the bulging pockets and he raised his eyebrows slightly, “But it seems she was mistaken.”

“Well, it seems she must have been.” Clay replied with one of his charming smiled, and he pulled up a chair and slumped down heavily upon it, “The thing is, Matt, there is only so much molly coddling a man can take, and only so much homely socialising as well. I prefer finding my own entertainment, which, as you obviously noticed, helps me to live in the life style to which I want to remain accustomed.”

He looked about him, then once again looked at Matt who seemed lost for words, and could only regard him rather coldly. Seeing this Clay laughed, he shook his head and laughed as though he found it quite amusing to have come home to find the family friend there.

“Have you been sent here to give me a lecture then, Matt? Or to advise me on the evils of gambling and drink?”

“No.” Matt replied firmly, “I’ve no rights to do so, although I could, of course, as a friend of Marie’s presume that I could, if just to spare her any further anxieties. Tell me, Clay, do you intend to stay here?”

“On the Ponderosa? No, I don’t think so.” Clay looked away and surveyed Ben’s portrait thoughtfully, then frowned slightly, “I don’t really think I’m cut out to be a rancher.”

“Don’t you think you could give it a try? For your mother’s sake, perhaps?”

Clay turned his eyes to Matt again and saw the kindness in his eyes, and the firmness of his jaw. He could see there was a lot of strength there in the man, and he wondered if his mother could see that as well, or was this something else about which she was blind?

“I don’t know.” he replied after some time had elapsed where both men had sat looking at the other, “I don’t know.” he repeated, and bowed his head, “You see, I’ve always been a rebel. I resented the secrecy that hung over me like a cloud throughout my childhood, and caused my Grandmother no end of trouble as a result. I detested the lies that she told me, about my mother particularly. But despite it all, she was always generous to me, always provided well for me. Perhaps it was because of her own guilt, but it meant that no matter what happened, I never lacked for anything. Then when she died, I was on my own. But I managed very well because of – well, my talents I suppose you could call it -” he paused and bowed his head. The drink was beginning to make his head spin, and the warmth of the room, and the fire, after the cold ride home, was making him feel very tired.

“Go on,” Matt prompted.

“Trouble seems to follow me around somehow, I don’t know why, but it does. I don’t want to bring trouble here, to the Ponderosa. I don’t want to cause my mother, or Joe, any trouble.”

“Then why not give it a try, Clay. Stop the gambling, and just try to be the son she has wanted you to be,” Matt suggested softly.
Clay looked up at him and smiled, a rather crooked smile, and then shook his head,

“Like Joe, do you mean? I’m not Joe, Mr Fraser. I don’t intend to change and become someone else.”

“That isn’t what I meant, Clay.” Matt replied patiently, and leaned back against the chair rest, his elbow on the leather arm, “Marie loves you so much, Clay, all she wants is your happiness, and safety. You are a young man, yet you are already wanted for the deaths of two men. Alright, they were killed in self defence, but your life style, and, as you say, your ability to find trouble, could lead you into far worse situations, and to more deaths, until, finally you either get arrested and hanged, or shot.”

“That’s a rather bleak future you’ve painted for me, Mr Fraser.” Clay smiled, and half closed his eyes. Oh, he was so tired. How he wished the silly fool would leave and let him get to bed. He yawned, and stood up, “I’m really very tired, Sir. I need to get some sleep.”

“Of course.” Matt stood up as well. For a moment the two men faced one another, before Clay stepped aside to let Matt pass him by, “Think about what I have said, Clay. I meant it for your good.”

“I’m sure you did, Sir, and I appreciate it,” Clay replied with his unfailing good manners, and he smiled again, “I shall bear it in mind, believe me.”

“Very well.” Matt sighed, and reached for his hat and then his coat, “Take care, Clay.”

Clay said nothing, but watched the door open and close. He swayed on his feet and put his hand to his head. He really needed to get up the stairs to bed.


In the morning the sound of rain against the window panes were like drumsticks beating a tattoo on several drums inside Clay’s head. He kept his eyes closed tightly as he tried to think of what had happened the previous evening. Had he imagined it or had Matt Fraser really been in the house when he had returned from Amos’? His mouth felt as dry as the Nevada desert, and his arms and legs were as heavy as lead. He tried to remember what they had talked about, but could only recall snatches of the conversation. He came to the conclusion that his mother had asked Matt to beg him to stay and become a cowboy. The thought made him shudder.


It always amused the three Cartwright boys that Marie insisted on staying at the Nicholls rambling ranch house when they had their annual box social. It gave them some freedom to drink a little more knowing that they would fall into a comfortable bed and not out of the saddle into a cactus or shrub or even worse. But it was something that Adam told his brothers was what mother’s did best and that was to worry over their offspring.

For Joe it was a particular irritation this time, knowing that Clay was at home on his own. He had enjoyed the dancing, drinking, eating aspect of the social, and there were some pretty girls that provided him with some flirting, kissing and cuddling besides, but there were times during the evening that he would think of Clay and wonder why his brother had not wanted to share time with him.

In bed, listening to the sound of his brothers snoring, he stayed awake with the problem of Clay going over and over in his head. He wasn’t stupid, not a green kid that didn’t notice things that went on around him. He was not oblivious of the fact that in some particular aspects of his life, Clay was on a completely different track to them. But was that so bad?

While his brothers remained sleeping and there was silence throughout the house, Joe slipped out of his makeshift bed, and hurriedly pulled on his clothes. Creeping downstairs he made his way to the stable, saddled Cochise and walked him out of the yard. Once out of earshot of the house, he urged Cochise into a gallop towards home, towards the Ponderosa.

Chapter 116

The door was unlatched. This did not particularly alarm Joe for those in close proximity to the Ponderosa were trusted enough to walk in and make themselves comfortable. Marie always latched and locked the door at night for fear of the strangers who could come and create problems. Experience is a sound tutor. During the years they had had some rough times due to carelessly leaving the door unlatched.

It was early morning now and the rain had soaked through his clothes, he was also tired and irritable. He threw his hat onto the credenza, and peeled off his jacket which he flung down beside the hat. He paused then and looked around the room,

“Clay? You there?”

The fire was dead, cold grey ashes were beneath the blackened remains of logs that had burned themselves out during the night. Two oil lamps had blackened the funnels by smoking because the wicks had dried out of oil. Two others still burned and these he blew out.

He picked up Clay’s jacket and was about to put it over the back of a chair when the weight from whatever was in the pockets made him look twice at the garment. He glanced around, up the stairs, but there was no sound. He put his hand in one pocket and drew out wads of dollar notes. He stared at them as though not seeing them for what they were, then he realised that he held a lot of money in his hand and it had to come from somewhere!


He tossed the jacket down, and mounted the stairs two at a time. Then he pushed open the door to Clay’s room and stopped in his tracks.

Clay was sprawled across the bed, his arms and legs at angles with his body, and snoring more loudly than Hoss and Adam combined. Joe stared at him in dismay and approached the bed with caution. He leaned down and then stepped back in surprise. There was no doubt about the smell. Clay must have drunk a skinful for the smell to have stayed so strongly on his breath.

So that was why he hadn’t come to the social. Not because he had not been personally invited but because he preferred to do his socialising elsewhere. Joe stood by the side of the bed and stared down at his brother and realised that he should not have been surprised, not really. This was what Clay was all about, gambling and drinking, and probably more besides. Joe swallowed the lump in his throat and turned to leave,

“Hey, Joe -,” Clay’s voice was thick from the effects of too much drink and too heavy a sleep. The rain had woken him from a fitful slumber, but after a little while he had fallen into a deeper sleep from which only now he had aroused.

“Clay.” Joe turned and acknowledged his brother’s greeting.

“How’d you get on with the social, Joe?” Clay struggled to sit up, rubbed his face and head, and coughed. “Boy ,I could use some coffee. Do you make coffee, Joe?”

“Sure I do.”

“How about a brew then, huh? Make it good and strong.” he swung his legs over the side of the bed, and stretched, “I’ll join you downstairs in a minute. How long have you been here for anyhow? You along?”

“I only just got here,” Joe said quietly, “The others are still at the Nicholls” he turned and was about to leave the room when he paused and half turned, “How did your evening go, Clay? Did you have any visitors?”

“No.” Clay said innocently, “Oh, except for one, Matt Fraser called in to visit.”

“Matt Fraser?” Joe frowned, why would Matt call, and where then did all that money come from? “What did he want?”

“Just to chat.” Clay smiled, “You’re getting like Ma, asking questions all the time.” he rubbed his chin, “Hurry with the coffee, Joe, my head feels like it’s about to split open.”

“So, did you go out last night?” Joe asked, but he only received a toss of the head as though the question had fallen on deaf ears, so, defeated, he left the room and went downstairs.
By the time the coffee was brewed and he had cooked some scrambled eggs and ham Clay had washed and dressed. He strolled into the kitchen and looked around him, before perching on the corner of the old oak table upon which Hop Sing created so many culinary delights, and poured himself some coffee.

“I had a good night last night, Joe.” he said quietly, “There was a big game on south of town, and I won a bundle.”

“Was that why you wouldn’t come with us?” Joe asked, handing him a plate of food, which Clay accepted, with a smile.

“I hope I didn’t disappoint anyone, but box socials doesn’t compare to the kind of entertainment I prefer. This is good, Joe, thanks.”

Joe said nothing. He only ate his own food in silence, not at the big table in the dining room and in companionable comfort, but standing up, balancing the plate in one hand, as though they were just passing through, like strangers.

“You would have enjoyed it had you bothered to come too,” Joe said quietly, “It wasn’t that bad.”

Clay smiled and put down the now empty plate. He had not realised how hungry he had been, and now he refilled his cup, and washed the food down with the strong coffee.

“Joe, I’ve talked to Ma about leaving here, going to New Orleans. I asked her if she would come with us, but she said no.”

“Did she?” Joe frowned, “This is her home, Clay. I don’t think she feels that New Orleans has anything to offer her now. She’d not want to leave here.”

“I was wondering though, what with the problems back there with Buchanan, and all this talk of Civil War whether we would be better off going to Mexico. Have you ever been to Mexico, Joe?”

“No,” Joe replied honestly. “Have you?”

“When I got into trouble with that guy I was accused of shooting in Texas, I crossed over to Mexico for a few months. It’s not so bad, Joe. Lovely girls, good food and drink.” he smiled, “You’d like it.”

“I’d prefer to see New Orleans again.” Joe said slowly, pushing his food around his plate thoughtfully, “Why would you want to go to Mexico instead of New Orleans?”

“I already told you – there’s that Buchanan trouble still hanging over my head, and all this talk about Civil War. You don’t want to get tangled up in all that, do you, Joe?”

“It’s just talk. It won’t come to anything.” Joe said with no conviction in his voice whatsoever.

“But if it did? What if you and your brothers were on the opposite sides, huh? You wouldn’t want that, would you?”

Joe shook his head. He put down his plate and looked thoughtfully at Clay,

“You haven’t done anything stupid here, have you?” he asked

“Stupid? How do you mean?”

“Well, wherever you were last night, you didn’t happen to shoot anyone did you?”

“Why ask me something like that? Joe, what kind of person do you think I am?” Clay looked at his brother in surprise, his handsome face the perfect picture of startled concern.

“I was just wondering, what with all this talk of going to Mexico.” Joe muttered.

“Hey, I just won some money, that’s all. It was a good on the level game, and no one there lost anything except their money. I just thought of Mexico because … well, I have good memories of the place, and we could have such adventures there, Joe. There’s a lot going on there just now, and if you have money, and know how to get more, it’ll be plain sailing all the way.”

Joe frowned and surveyed Clay thoughtfully. He wondered if that was what life for Clay was all about … being plain sailing with lots of money and pretty girls thrown in. Somehow he doubted it.

Chapter 117

The package arrived at the Scott’s home in Raleigh not long after the Memorial Service had been held for him. Friends of the family had filled the town church to hear laudable things said about a man who had appeared rather taciturn, but generous to all and kindly. No one had a bad word to say about him much to the comfort of his widow and daughters.

Penelope Scott opened the package reverentally as she could tell from the forwarding address that this was the parcel containing her late husband’s final belongings. She sighed at the sight of his suit neatly folded and the first thing to see, and she stroked the jacket fondly. She had loved him with a passion when they had first married, but that passion had dwindled in time. How can a fire keep burning when no one fuels it? Then Buchanan had come along …

She took everything out piece by piece. She could still catch the slight smell of him on the clothing. She wondered why there was no blood on the clothes but was relieved nonetheless to see none. His personal possessions were in a small box. His fob watch, some cuff links and wallet, containing some money, and a key.

She looked at the key thoughtfully having never seen it before. Where, she wondered, would this fit considering all the key holes there were in the house. Then she remembered his desk. It just seemed so typical of him to have a key to the drawers of his desk. The drawers she had tried opening more than once since his death.

Five minutes later the contents of the drawer were revealed. She sat on the big leather chair staring down at the contents with disbelief and horror. Was this then what their home had been founded on? Was it possible that her husband …? She recoiled at the thought but what was she to do now that she had found this out. All these little cards with names and addresses, and facts. Horrible facts. She took some of the cards out of the little boxes in which they were stored and read them. It was too obvious to ignore. Her husband was a blackmailer.

There was the name, the address, details of the assignment, details of payment. Bad enough to be sure, but then there were the dates of other payments. She felt frozen to the spot, her legs were like jelly, and her heart thudded so loudly that it seemed the whole room was pounding all around her.

She put her hand over her eyes and wept. Sobbed. Murderer. Blackmailer. What else was she to find out about this man she had loved and married. The father of her children was guilty of heinous crimes. Her home was built on a fabric of lies, and murder and the misery of others.

She looked down at the cards in her hands once more. If her husband were the one who fired the gun, the true murderers were surely those who had paid him to use it. Surely she should go to the police then and tell them everything. Was she not guilty now of complicity in crime?

She would have to talk the matter over with Buchanan. He would know what to do surely? He would give her the best advice. But what about her girls? Who would want to marry the daughters of a murderer.

She sat for so long in the study that one of the maids was sent to ensure that she was still alive. She found her mistress sitting by the masters old desk reading through papers. The servants all agreed that the mistress was dealing with things very well. No one liked serving hysterical women. The butler took her in a tray of coffee with the little cookies she enjoyed with them. Penelope didn’t even thank him, which was unusual. He went down to report that the mistress may not be coping quite as well as they had initially thought.

With her own hands Penelope built up the fire in the study, and then carefully threw, one by one, the cards, the bank statements and letters relative to each case, into the flames. She watched them burn with quiet contentment. She could imagine the relief of those who would never receive another menacing letter demanding payment for their crime. Judgement would come from God, not from her. More important now than anything else was the protection of her children from the misery such revelations would bring to them.

She kept only one card safely concealed in her purse.
Chapter 118
Two days passed and Penelope Scott suddenly realised that in her circle of friends she had no one to whom she could talk about her discovery. She had never felt so isolated and lonely in all her life. Had she realised her husband was employed in some illegal way? She could truthfully say, hand on heart, that she had no idea. So plausible had been the reasons for his absences, so warm were the letters he sent to her from strange places, and so kind were all their friends (some of whom were going to be relieved not to have dealings with the Scotts ever again) that she had existed in a bubble of complacent content.

Throughout the two days she was tormented about her actions now. Had she been right in destroying the evidence of her husband’s dealings, evidence that also proved some ‘good’ citizens to be guilty of gross crimes? Everyone fixed, at some time in their lives, their own morality. Penelope was a kind woman, generous in spirit and gentle by nature. She had developed a passion for Buchanan that broke her wedding vows, but she had told herself that it was really quite alright, because she knew so many of her friends who were having an affair. They told her it kept their marriages alive, and giggled over their cups of tea. Penelope had never been too sure about that as a reason for infidelity. An excuse, perhaps, but not a reason.

In the evening of the first day she went to the theatre with Buchanan, and several friends. They had a meal at a fine restaurant afterwards, and laughed and drank wine, and apologised profusely for their lack of tact regarding her widowed state, and laughed some more. It never occurred to them that in some small corner of her heart she grieved for him.

She had pleaded a headache and feeling ‘liverish’ when they returned home, so Buchanan did not stay but returned to his own home, slightly irritated. He was worried that now Penelope was a widow, she would start making certain demands upon him that he was not prepared to provide her.

He arrived late in the evening of the second day. The young ladies were all in bed and Penelope was at her desk, finishing the address to an envelope which contained a rather thick letter. When Buchanan burst into the room and flourished the bouquet of roses at her, she could only look at him with some impatience and wonder why he had to be continually bursting through doors and making these grand and rather stupid entrances.

She reached for her purse and stood up, rather grandly, as though she were Queen Victoria herself preparing to discuss state matters with the Prime Minister. Buchanan frowned,

“Are you still feeling unwell, dearest?” he asked, approaching her side, and taking hold of her hand.

“I am feeling rather unwell, Sir. I had surprising news recently, and I think now would be the best time to discuss what should be done about it. You see,” she looked at him sternly, and withdrew her hand from his, “Edmunds possessions returned from Virginia City. Amongst them was a key to his desk. I discovered …” she paused, and then sighed, it was obvious from his face that he feared the worse, although he instantly rallied, that initial reaction had been the one she had dreaded, but it had been there, “I think you know what I discovered, don’t you?”

He looked at her and then drew himself up straight. He would never have thought little Penelope, so homely and warm, could be so formidable. He shrugged,

“Perhaps you should elucidate further, Penny, as it seems I stand accused of something quite terrible by the look on your face.” he attempted a smile, but his eyes remained cold.

“Murder is terrible.” she replied, “I feel ashamed of myself now, laughing at how you described us as David and Bathsheba. I feel disgusted at getting involved with a man like you. You think because you are a Senator, you can click your fingers and destroy people’s lives without a thought to anything but your own success. Well, I have all the proof I need to let the people know exactly what kind of man you are,” she paused for breath and he stepped forward and gripped her wrist tightly,

“And you tell anyone about me, it will mean disclosing what your own husband was up to, won’t it? Are you prepared to tell the world how your husband disposed of other people’s messes, and then sucked them dry afterwards? There’s many a person who was more than happy to learn about his death, I can assure you.”

“You don’t have to, I know every one of them by heart.” she said softly, and sighed, “I know what they did, and why they did it, and why they will be glad Edmund is no longer alive now. That doesn’t matter to me. Perhaps it should, but I’m too tired and too miserable to deal with their problems. We all stand accountable to God in the end, whether you believe it or not.”

“So? What do you want me to do?” he hissed, expecting her to quail beneath the fury of his temper, but perhaps Penelope was too tired, or too disgusted, for she met his anger with a look of her own that made him realise that she held the ace card, and it was folly on his part to push her too far.

He bowed his head contritely, and stepped back. After a moment of silence had passed he turned to look at her,

“The man I asked Edmund to get rid of, was the man who killed my son. If we have to bring God into this, wasn’t it he who said an eye for an eye? Life for life? Surely I had a right to avenge my own son?”

“Your son was a drunken wastrel” she said coldly, “I know for a fact that his death was caused by his own stupidity, and temper. Whoever shot him probably did him a favour because he would have died from something awful eventually.”

“He was still MY son!”

“I can sympathise with that to a point. But the young man you wanted shot had done nothing to harm anyone. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and had to protect himself. But, it wasn’t just Mr de Marigney, was it? There were others …?”

“Others?” he stammered, “You mean – how -?”

“Edmund for some reason best know to himself kept a record of everything he was asked to do. You have used him to suit yourself, climb the political ladder, seduce me perhaps.”

“No. Edmund never knew about us, I swear.”

“Oh for heaven’s sake, as if I care anyway,” Penelope shook her head disdainfully, and turned her back on him, “You used Edmund to get up the ladder, and now he’s dead, and it’s your fault.”

“I didn’t kill Edmund.” Buchanan protested, “Those others – it was Edmund’s suggestion.”

“I don’t want to know.” she said coldly, “I’ve written to various Editors of newspapers throughout the Southern states. By tomorrow morning everything you schemed will be revealed. You’ll be ruined.”

“You – you can’t do this to me, Penny? Surely you meant – I mean – you loved me, didn’t you?”

“Loved – as in past tense. You know the way out.”

She stayed facing the fireplace rather than see him go. She heard the door shut with a soft click. He was gone.
Penelope Scott closed her eyes and then fainted, falling with a thud on the expensive Aubussion rug her husband had purchased the preceeding year. Her maid found her and with the aid of another servant managed to get her to her bed.

In the morning newspaper were printing the headlines of Senator Buchanan’s death. He had been found hanged in his stables. A note was left saying he could not go on, he had never recovered from his son’s death.

Penelope read the newspaper while in bed, eating toast and drinking tea. She thought of the only letter she had actually written, addressed to a Mr Adam Cartwright of the Ponderosa. With a contented sigh, she closed her eyes, and slipped into a sweet sleep.
Chapter 119
“He’s getting to be quite a regular visitor around here, ain’t he?”

Joe looked up at the speaker and then turned his head to watch as Matt Fraser dismounted. Then he glanced up at Clay again and shrugged,

“Matt’s always been around. He’s -.”

“Yeah, I know, he’s an old friend of your Pa’s.” Clay frowned and watched the older man as he walked to the ranch, and pushed open the door, “He doesn’t even knock nowadays.” he observed.

“What is the problem with you and Matt?” Hoss exclaimed, pausing in the middle of forking out muck from Chubb’s stall, “You’ve had a real downer on him for weeks now.”

“I guess I just don’t know him as well you all do,” Clay replied, looking away from Hoss whose complete lack of guile really irritated him, “and it just seems odd that he’s getting so friendly with Ma, just when I come along.”

“He’s always been fond of Ma. He wanted to court her some years ago, but she turned him down. Told him there wasn’t anyone else for her except Pa.” Joe sighed, and began to give his saddle some extra elbow grease at the memory.

“Yeah, then she started courting that Carter some months back. That must have really upset Matt,” Hoss muttered, tossing the steaming muck into the pile he was building up by the side of the stables.

He thought back to the time when he and Joe had fixed up for Matt to escort Ma to the social, and had not realised that Carter had already proposed. He sighed, it could have been embarrassing but in view of how things turned out, it worked out pretty well.

“Perhaps Matt thinks that because Ma considered Carter, she’s about ready now to consider someone else,” Joe suggested, and grinned up at Hoss, not noticing the glower of disapproval he received from Clay.

They were interrupted from any further discussion by the sound of a horse trotting into the yard. Hoss returned to Chubbs stall to fork out more muck, while Joe rubbed even harder on the saddle. Clay, perched on the top rail of his horse’s stall, continued to plait several blades of straw together.
“Well, looks like a hive of industry here,” Adam murmured as he dismounted and led Sport to his stall. “I see we have company for supper again?” and he jerked his head in the direction of Matt’s horse.

“Yep, getting’ kinda regular, ain’t it?” Hoss gave his brother a gap toothed grin and a wink.

“Seems to be that way,” Adam replied. He looked over at Clay, and frowned, “Clay, I’ve some news for you.”

“For me? What about?”

“That Senator, Buchanan, the one whose son you killed,” he pulled out a newspaper from the inside of his jacket, and passed it over to his step brother, “It’s some weeks out of date, but comes straight from Boston.”

Clay scrambled down from his perch and spread open the newspaper. Hoss and Joe craned their necks to read over his shoulder, while Adam, who had already read it in town, leaned against the stall and watched them.

“He hanged himself, because of his son’s death,” Hoss muttered, then gave a low whistle.
“Shucks, ain’t that too bad.”

“So he’s dead,” Clay scrunched the newspaper between his hands, “but it won’t change things for me, will it?”

“Why not?” Hoss asked, stooping to pick the paper up, and smooth it out a little more.

“Because as far as everyone’s concerned I still killed his son, and now, in a way, I’m responsible for his death too.” Clay’s lips thinned, and he shook his head, clenched his fist and slammed it against the beam supporting the stable joists.

“No, you’re not,” Adam said quietly, “I also received a letter today, from Scott’s widow. It’s a rather long rambling letter so I won’t bore you with details. She wanted to say she doesn’t blame me for her husband’s death, and to mention that she had no knowledge of her husband’s vocation in life.”

“Very nice for you,” Clay remarked sarcastically.

“She explained that she had found documents in her husband’s private papers that proved that Senator Buchanan had been responsible for hiring her husband to kill Clayton de Marigney. She also explained that she believes that the Senator would probably commit suicide shortly, after she has seen him and confronted him with the details in her possession. In a short while it’s her intention to give the details to the newspapers so that people will be in no doubt as to the kind of man Buchanan really is, or rather, was. No one attaches any blame to you for what happened to Buchanan’s son.”

Joe whistled long and low, and then slapped Clay on the arm,

“Hey, ain’t that just good news, Clay? That means those posters can be forgotten now, you’re a free man.”

“Yeah, how about that, Clay? Ain’t’cha pleased?” Hoss exclaimed.

“Yes, I am,” Clay replied slowly, his eyes widening and shaking his head, “I am. Thanks, Adam, thanks for letting me know.”

“I’ve told Roy. He’s read the letter. He’ll deal with the posters and all that, so there’s nothing now to worry about, Clay, you’ve got your life ahead of you with no shadows hanging over it anymore.” and Adam smiled, a genuinely kindly smile which Clay acknowledged with one of his own.

He took a deep breath and nodded as though confirming the matter in his own mind. He was free. Buchanan’s shadow no longer clouded his life.

Chapter 120

Marie was more than pleased to receive the news about Buchanan. She read the newspaper report and agreed that it would not have made Clay feel any better had it not been for the letter arriving so opportunely for Adam.
“How will this affect Clay with regard to the situation in Texas?” she asked, looking at Adam intensely, “That’s what the posters were all about, don’t you remember?”

“There’s no need to worry about it, Ma,” Adam replied, and slipped his arm across her shoulders and gave her a hug, “Roy’s been looking into that case for some weeks now, and with Buchanan out of the picture, there’s no pressure on the witnesses anymore. They’ve come forward and despite the passing of a few years, have all confirmed Clay’s story. It was in self defence. In fact, had Clay not been so quick to defend himself the kid that got shot could well have injured or killed some others there.”

“Hear that, Clay?” Joe cried, his voice almost tinkling with relief and pleasure, “You’re a hero.”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Marie laughed, and gave Clay a motherly hug, something that he still wasn’t used to, but was finding he quite liked. “Oh Clay, you must be feeling really relieved.”

“Yeah,” Clay smiled, his eyes twinkled, “Yeah, I am.”

“Come, let’s have supper. Matt, come sit here beside Clay.” Marie smiled over at the rancher, who walked to the table thinking that Clay would no doubt have preferred sitting with his mother.

He looked over at Clay several times during the course of the meal, The atmosphere was certainly light hearted and relaxed. Hoss and Joe joking with Clay. Marie laughing easily and looking quite girlish. He wondered, and had done so for a few weeks now, whether Marie had spoken to Clay about the evening of the box social. He had told her everything that had happened when Clay had come home far from sober, and she had been dismayed, even wept a little which had given him the opportunity to take her in his arms and give her a comforting cuddle. But nothing had been said since, even though Matt had been told by several contacts that Clay was still going out to the big card games held at Amos’ place.

In Matt’s eyes the man was trouble. He was feckless and selfish, having lived a life that centred solely around himself, he had as little sense of loyalty to anyone else as Winnemucca’s horse. Matt always felt a sense of unease when in Clay’s company. Perhaps Marie sensed it for she was never as relaxed with him when Clay was with them.

Adam was also subdued, considering he had been the messenger bearing glad tidings, he was now sitting at the table listening, smiling, but not really partaking of the joviality that was going on amongst his brothers. He ate, drank, spoke when he was spoken to, smiled at times, but was withdrawn for the remainder of the time.

Matt left them shortly after the meal. He was a busy man, and there was always paper work to catch up on. His spread was not the size of the Ponderosa, and did not venture into the diverse fields that the Cartwrights had gone into, but it was still a sizeable place for one man to run.

It was Adam who walked out with him from the house, with his hands stuffed into his back pockets and his head bowed, he seemed still to be lost in the more sober thoughts that had surrounded him during the meal. Just as he reached the horse, Matt turned to him,

“What’s on your mind, Adam?” he asked in a warm, kindly manner and was surprised to note that the young man appeared startled, before he relaxed sufficiently to give Matt a smile,

“You know, my Pa used to say that …” he said quietly and sighed, gazed up at the stars and frowned, “There’s snow on the way.”

“Not for a few weeks yet I should think,” Matt replied, “Are you concerned about Clay?”

“Well, I guess we’ll always be concerned about Clay in some way or another. I met Zedekiah Murphy in town today. He’s still swearing vengeance on Clay. Reckons he’ll shoot him one of these days.”

“Bit reckless shouting his mouth off like that, isn’t he?”

“You know Murphy?” Adam shrugged and reached out to stroke the mare’s nose as she had turned her head towards him, “He’s a mess.”

“His wife has a hard time of it with him I’ve heard.” Matt looked at Adam then, to see if the young man would say anything about the accusations Zedekiah had been making about his wife and Adam, but there was no reaction.

“Ma told me about what happened the night we were at the Nicholls. Seems Clay returned home hung over and with his pockets weighed down with his winnings.”

“Did you know he still goes there?” Matt asked quietly, looking thoughtfully at Adam who turned away, nodded, and sighed again. “Does Joe know?”

“If he does he doesn’t mention it, not to Hoss nor myself. He seems pretty much under Clay’s spell at times.”

“You don’t like it?” Matt suggested, wondering if there was a streak of jealousy in the man that could cause Marie further distress later.

“I worry that Joe could be influenced by him in a way that runs contrary to how Ma and Pa would have wanted him to go. And then, Ma tells me that Clay has spoken about going to New Orleans with Joe. With Buchanan dead there’s no reason now for him not to go.”

“And take Joe with him?”

Adam nodded, and looked glumly at the ground. Matt heaved a sigh and gave him a friendly slap on the shoulder, before mounting the horse. From the saddle he looked down at Adam

“You know where I am if you need me. Remind your mother of that too, won’t you?”

Adam smiled and nodded. Poor Matt, he thought to himself, still hopeful after all these years. That’s tenacity for you, or, perhaps it’s love, real love.


In his room he turned up the flame of the oil lamp, and re-read through Penelope’s letter. It was warm and friendly, apologetic, timid in parts that touched on her husband’s involvement with Carter, himself, Buchanan and Clay.

“In a short while I shall be sending details about Buchanan to various prominent people – other politicians, and newspaper Editors, as well as the Mayor of the major town in the state Buchanan represented. I want them to know what kind of man he really was and how he climbed his so-called ladder of success by ’removing’ anyone who was in his way.

This will not necessarily expose my husbands part in the matter. I have tried so hard to think of ways to hide his involvement and shall be sending all these details anonymously. I know there is no one in the Buchanan camp who know these details. I have to think of my daughters’ futures. To protect them further I shall be leaving Raleigh with them, and shall be taking them to Europe. These past few months have made me realise how few friends I really have here so they will be no loss.

I don’t even know why I am writing this to you, Mr Cartwright. You are the man who, after all, killed my husband. Perhaps that is why. There is a bond between the living and the dead, don’t you think? Perhaps you are the bridge between the two.

Please forgive me if I have presumed too much, please forgive my husband, if you can …I have to ask myself every night if I can forgive him, so I can understand if you and your family find that an impossibility.”

He folded the letter carefully and put it back into the envelope, then slipped it into his desk drawer. He was about to start preparing himself for bed when there was a knock on the door.

Chapter 121

Joe opened the door and stepped into the room with the certainty borne of years of past experience that his brother would not turn him away. He pulled out a chair and sat down, then surveyed his brother thoughtfully,

“You were pretty quiet during supper, Adam? Any reason in particular?” he asked with his young face looking remarkably grave in contrast to the smiles that had wreathed it during the meal.

“There were things I had on my mind,” Adam replied, shrugging himself out of his vest, he sighed, “Is there any particular reason for this visit, Joe? Apart from an interest in my well being that is …”

Joe was silent for a few minutes. He eventually sighed and leaned forward, as though wishing to speak confidentially to Adam, which prompted his brother to sit down opposite him, and wait patiently.

“It’s good about Buchanan, isn’t it? I mean, the fact that Clay doesn’t have to worry about life back east. He could go back now, couldn’t he?”

“He could,” Adam replied, “How would you feel about it if he went back, Joe?”
“I was – I was kinda thinking of going back with him. Or maybe, going to Mexico.” the youth blurted out.

“Mexico? Why there? There’s trouble brewing there, Joe. I’d rather wish you would not think of going there.”

“But you wouldn’t mind if I went to New Orleans with him?” Joe smiled, and leaned back in his chair.

“I would mind, very much.” Adam replied quietly, “But I would understand why you would want to go with him.”

“You would?” Joe looked surprised.

“Of course. He’s your brother and you’re just beginning to get to know him. It’s perfectly natural. I’d want to go with Hoss if he wanted to go to Missouri, or with you if you chose to go – oh – to Boston.” and he smiled slowly.

“Yeah, but it ain’t the same is it, I mean, going with Hoss or me? If I went with Clay to New Orleans -” he paused and frowned slightly.

“Are you telling me you intend to go with him? Or asking my permission to go?” Adam asked quietly.

“Niether,” Joe snapped, wishing now that he had not chosen this moment to talk to Adam about how he felt with regard to Clay.

“Perhaps the best person to discuss it with would be your mother,” Adam replied quietly, “She has the welfare of both of you at heart, Joe.”

Joe shrugged and then after a moment had elapsed he nodded,

“I don’t think Ma would want us to go.”

“Of course she wouldn’t,” Adam replied, “Clay’s her own first born son, and she’s just getting to know him, and you’re her last born, she would never want to part from you, Joe. It wouldn’t be easy to leave her, you know that, don’t you?”

“Yes, I know.”

He said nothing else but got to his feet and left the room, closing the door quietly behind him. Adam sat on the edge of the bed going over the conversation and wondering what he should have said, or not have said, and wishing that the whole matter could be erased from his memory.

The moon was low in the sky as Joe dismounted close to the grave of his father. He took off his hat and held it tightly, as though nervous about his venture. Since a child he had visited the grave when he was anxious about anything. A five year old has limited memory with regard to a parent, but those they have are usually reinforced by the memories of siblings and the surviving parent. Ben’s personality was so strong, his eyes so alive and his voice so loud and commanding that Joe had, even now, a very clear memory of his father’s features and the sound of him. He could, at a stretch, even remember the smell of him. As he now stood at the grave he envied Adam the time he had been able to share with their father. All those years travelling together, just being together, they must have grown into such a close relationship over all those years that sometimes Joe wondered if Adam were not just a young version of their father.

“Pa?” he paused, and glanced around him. There was no one else present. The moon softly shone down sending dappled silver light through the dark newly naked boughs of the trees that shaded the gentle grove. He sighed deeply, and then squatted upon his haunches, and gently touched the grass that covered the ground beneath which his father slept. “Pa, I wish you were here now. Do you remember Ma telling you about her son, Clay? He lives here now, with us, but – but he wants to move on. He just ain’t the kind of man to settle down to ranching, Pa. He’s restless, and a bit of an adventurer, I guess. I don’t know how you’d feel about him, but I know from what Adam and Hoss tell me that you’d give him a fair shake, and not judge him just because he likes drinking and playing cards and such.

“Pa – I love it here, you know that, don’t you? I can remember when I was small how your would ride about the Ponderosa with me on your saddle, and you’d stop every now and again and tell me about all sorts of things. I can’t recall a lot of what you said, Pa,