The stage rattled into Virginia City, late as usual. A tall young man emerged stiffly from the stage looking around uncertainly, only to be greeted by the deep baritone of his friend, striding towards him.

"John!" Adam Cartwright exclaimed, gripping his friend's arm in his excitement. He hadn't seen John Harrington since he'd left Boston two years ago, when he'd finished college. They'd been best friends. John Harrington was the person who apart from his family was closest to Adam. They'd shared a lot of dreams and adventures together, most of which Adam didn't think he wanted his father to know about.

John gripped his friend's shoulders and held him back for an arm's length view. "You haven't changed a bit" he declared, then reached out and touched the gun which rode on Adam's hip, "but what's the gun for?" Adam wore that gun all too easily, John thought, as if it were a part of him. What kind of wilderness had he come to?

Adam shrugged. "A wise man is prepared for any eventualities out here. Its not as wild as it used to be, but better to be safe than sorry." He smiled comfortingly. "Its just a precaution, John. Let me introduce you to my father."

It had just been a coincidence that there'd been a meeting of the Cattlemen's Association called for that day, but when Ben had asked Adam whether he'd prefer his father to travel separately rather than travel home with Adam and his guest, he'd been slightly surprised when Adam had practically begged him to meet the stage with him. It was very unlike Adam to be so nervous, but Ben understood Adam's anxiety. Nevada and Virginia City were a lot different to Boston. Adam was grateful for the quietly unobtrusive support his father gave him, standing back while Adam handled the first meeting in his own way.

Ben was talking quietly to his friend, the sheriff, Roy Coffee. Roy Coffee always came to check out new arrivals in town, and he wanted to meet Adam's friend, too. Ben looked at the young man who'd got off the stage and was slightly taken aback. Roy, on the other hand, was amazed.

" If I didn't know any better, Ben" he said, "I'd say Adam and his friend were related. Are you sure there isn't something you haven't told me?" he teased.

Ben wasn't so surprised. Adam had already mentioned the resemblance to him. It was true that John looked more like Adam than either of his two brothers did. A casual glance could confuse them, but closer inspection showed the differences. Adam's eyes were a lively hazel, John's a clear gray. Both men were tall dark and handsome, but the newcomer was slightly shorter, chunkier, and didn't have the lean rangy look of a man who worked on the land. Adam moved with a lithe grace, comfortable with himself. It was hard to tell how John moved, since he'd been stuck in a stage for two days.

Ben chuckled. "Don't be ridiculous, Roy. Its just coincidence. That's how they met. Some professor friend of John's father mistook one for the other, and invited them both home for dinner."

Adam came over then to make his introductions. "Pa, I'd like you to meet my friend, John Harrington, from Boston. John, my father, Ben Cartwright." John heard the note of pride in Adam's voice as he introduced them. He looked at his friend's father and liked what he saw. A tall, graying, solidly built man, with a kind smile and deep brown eyes. He looked prosperous, dressed in a fine suit, unlike Adam, who was wearing his everyday work clothes.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, sir, I've heard a lot about you. Its very kind of you to permit me to stay with you." John said.

Ben smiled at him as he shook his hand. "I'm delighted to finally meet you. I hope you enjoy your stay with us."

Then Adam introduced John to Roy. "Are you staying long?" asked Roy as he greeted the young man.

"I'm not sure quite how long yet. Adam and I have a lot of catching up to do. And I don't think I could face travelling on the stage again just yet. It's a hell of a way to travel."

Adam chuckled. He agreed with John wholeheartedly, but he glanced at his father. Ben had raised one eyebrow. He didn't approve of bad language.

"If I'd known what it was like..." John said, with a dark look at his friend.

Adam held up his hands. "Don't blame me. I told you what it was like."

John grinned. "Yeah but I didn't believe you. I thought you were exaggerating."

Adam shook his head. "I don't think it is possible to really describe how bad travelling on the stage is," he said with a grin.

The other men laughed. "Adam, I'll go get the buggy. You get John's things." Ben said.

"Sure, Pa" said Adam. He smiled at his friend. "We thought you'd prefer to drive rather than ride." John nodded his agreement. He was relieved. He didn't ride everyday, and he wasn't sure that he would be able to ride as well as these men, who did it every day. "I'm way too stiff to ride just yet," he said ruefully.

The ride out to the Ponderosa was relaxed. Ben drove, leaving the two young men to talk to each other. Ben listened quietly but didn't interrupt.

"How's your father, John? Did you have much difficulty persuading him to let you come to visit?" asked Adam. He had met John's father when he had spent some of the holidays at John's home.  Mr Harrington had been polite, but not particularly interested in the boy from the west, although he had been mildly interested at discovering the extent of the Cartwright holdings. A rich country boy was maybe more useful than a poor country boy. Adam hadn't felt particularly comfortable
in the luxurious atmosphere of the Harrington home. It hadn't seemed like a home to him at all, more like a fancy hotel. He'd been there for a week and had seen John's father only once, when Mr Harrington had asked him about his background over dinner.

"He's fine" said John. "I told him I wanted to visit you and he said that was all right. He's thinking of investing in railroads."  

That last remark explained a lot. Adam had told Ben about John's family. John was an only child from a family with old money. He was never going to have to really work to support himself, although his father had numerous business interests. His mother was an extremely fashionable high society lady, and she hadn't seemed to pay much attention to her only son either, although she was looking around for a suitable marriage for him. John had been interested in engineering and architecture, so his father had allowed him to study those, but expecting him when he'd finished to put away those 'hobbies' and turn his attention to business. John was, Ben thought, a poor little rich boy. He'd had all the advantages money could buy, and most of the disadvantages too. His upbringing had been very formal. He had had tutors and nannies and had been to boarding school. He didn't know his father very well at all. He had been astonished when Adam had told him about his own upbringing. The idea of being a partner or a confidant of your father was a new one to him, and he had been fascinated. One of the reasons he had wanted to visit
the Ponderosa had been to see how true Adam's tales had been. There was another reason for his visit; one that he hadn't mentioned to Adam in his letters, but he would wait for the right time to tell Adam about that. John looked around with interest.

"Sure is beautiful around here. I can see why you like it so much. Do we have much further to go?"

"Just wait till I take you up to the lake" Adam said. "That is so beautiful it tears at your heart. We'll be at the house in about twenty minutes. All of this is Ponderosa land, you know." he added, with a broad sweep of his arm.

They drove into the yard, and Ben went into the house, leaving Adam to unload John's bags. While he was doing that, a small whirlwind galloped into the yard. The small boy astride the horse greeted his frowning brother with a grin.

"Sorry Adam," he said in an attempt to forestall the scolding about running his horse into the yard.  "Is Pa here?" he asked as he dismounted. It didn't work.

"You know better than that, Little Joe, " Adam said severely, raising one eyebrow. "And you'd better hope Pa didn't see you. What's your hurry anyway?"

"Nuthin'" Joe said. "Pa just said not to be late, and I want to go fishing with Mitch tomorrow, so I want to get my chores done and keep Pa in a good mood."

Adam chuckled. "This is my friend, John Harrington. John, my brother, Joe."

Joe grinned shyly and offered his hand. "Pleased to meet you, Mr Harrington," he said politely.

John shook the small hand solemnly offered and smiled at the boy. He didn't really know what to say to children, as he'd not had much to do with them, but courtesy dictated an appropriate response. "I'm pleased to meet you too, Joe, but you'd better call me John." he said.

Joe glanced up at his brother to see how he felt about it. When he saw Adam's slight nod he smiled back at his brother's friend. "Thank you. My friends call me Little Joe," he offered in response.

"Little Joe it is then," John said.

"Hop Sing" yelled Adam as he led his guest into the house. Hop Sing came out of his kitchen, scolding. "Why you yell all time?" he demanded crossly.

Adam grinned. Hop Sing was always complaining about them yelling. "Sorry, Hop Sing. Where's Pa?"

"Mr Cartlight change for supper. Say you get friend settled."

Adam turned to John. "John, this is Hop Sing. He runs this place...he just lets Pa think he does. Hop Sing, this is my friend John Harrington."

John shook the hand the Chinese offered him, rather disconcerted. His family had servants at home, but it would never have occurred to him to introduce them to his guests, or expect them to shake hands.

Hop Sing smiled and bowed slightly. "You like to clean up and rest from travel. Hot water ready for bath. Mr Adam, you show Mr John his room and washhouse." he instructed. "I go get special supper ready." He left.

Adam could hardly contain his mirth at his friend's face. John's mouth had dropped open. "Do you always do what he says?" he asked, astonished.

"I wasn't kidding when I said he runs this place. He's been here since before Joe was born. Pa'd skin us alive if we were rude to him. Do you want a bath? I did tell you we don't have indoor plumbing." he said, just a bit anxiously. "But I am working on it!"

John laughed and went to clean up. When Adam came to collect him for supper he met the last member of the household. Adam had warned him Hoss was a big man, even at eighteen, but he didn't expect the size of the man Adam called "little brother"-or his appetite. He almost forgot to eat as he watched the amount Hoss consumed.

On the third day of his visit John came downstairs at his usual time of ten o'clock for breakfast. Adam was working with his father at the desk on a new contract for timber. The timber operation was his favorite part of their holdings. He looked up and smiled.

"Good morning, John. Sleep well?" he asked. Then he yelled "Hop Sing, bring some breakfast for John, please!"

"Thanks, I'll just wash up," John said, heading out to the washhouse. While he was there he heard a very interesting conversation between Little Joe and Hoss.

"Its not fair" Little Joe whined. "How come when I get up late Pa yells at me an' says I'm lazy an' Adam's friend gets to laze around in bed all morning? And he gets a special breakfast." Little Joe pouted. "Pa smacked me this morning 'cos I didn't get up on time."

That was true. An exasperated Ben had whacked Joe's rear end after he'd snuggled down for five more minutes that had turned into fifteen. He hadn't wanted to disturb John by yelling, so he'd used other means of getting his son moving.

Hoss grinned at his little brother. "Serves you right. You know it really annoys Pa when you go back to sleep, and he'd been in to get you three times! You've got chores to do in the morning. John is Adam's guest. He ain't used to gettin' up as early as we do. An' Hop Sing said he didn't mind making another breakfast." He chuckled. "In fact, I might just go in and see what's cookin'...I been workin' pretty hard this mornin', an I'm hungry"

Little Joe giggled at that. "You're always hungry!" he declared.

John stood in the washhouse stunned. It hadn't occurred to him that his hosts had eaten long ago. Adam had been an early riser at college, so he hadn't wondered at Adam doing paperwork when he'd come down for breakfast. He hadn't realised he was being treated specially. He knew the Ponderosa was a working ranch, but if he'd thought about it at all, he would have thought they paid people to do things. Adam had said they employed about a hundred men. But this was the second time he'd heard the fact that Joe had chores to do, now that he came to think about it. He supposed that Hoss and Adam had regular chores too. He didn't know what to do. It would be too embarrassing just to ignore what he had heard and continue getting up late. He wondered what ungodly hour of the morning they did have breakfast. Then he realized that if he hung around in the washhouse any longer he would be inconveniencing Hop Sing even further. He hastily finished washing up and went back into the house to see Hop Sing snatching a plate away from Hoss.

Adam grinned at him as he came in. "You'd better hurry up, John, or Hoss will have eaten your breakfast too."

"Aw, shoot, Adam, I'm hungry, but I wouldn't take John's breakfast." protested Hoss, as his family laughed at his look of injured innocence.

John took a deep breath. "I guess I've got an apology to make." The Cartwrights looked at him in surprise. "I didn't realise you had a set time for breakfast. I'm sorry if I've inconvenienced you. I..." he wasn't quite sure what to say now.

Ben smiled at him." You need make no apology, John, you've done nothing wrong." he said kindly. "You are our guest. Our only intention was to make you feel at home. If we've made you uncomfortable then we should apologise to you."

"That's very kind of you." he said, "but while I'm here I'd like to help out if I could. I know I don't know much about ranch life, but I'd like to learn, if there's things I could do." Then he grinned and added, "but I don't really want to muck out the barn...I wouldn't want to deprive Little Joe."

It didn't take John long to settle into the routine of the Ponderosa and the Cartwright family. Ben tried hard to lighten the load on Adam, wanting to give him time to spend with his friend, but there were some things that Adam was the best person to handle, so he couldn't have a complete holiday. Even so, John was thoroughly enjoying himself. He loved the warmth and informality of the Cartwright household. When he'd been a child he ate in the nursery with his tutor. The first night he'd assumed that Little Joe ate with the adults as a special treat. He soon learned that Ben Cartwright expected his sons at the table on time at night, and that included the youngest. It didn't take John long to realise that although his host was polite to his guest, he had a set of expectations of appropriate behaviour for young men, and that included his grown sons, and himself, by extension. John Harrington loved his father, but the relationship he had with his father was a distant and formal one. He had never been treated with the warmth and genuine interest by his father that Ben Cartwright extended to him as a friend of his son's. He began to understand why Adam adored his father, and why his friend had been so homesick while he'd been in Boston. He'd wondered what had dragged the brilliant Adam Cartwright out of the big city with all its opportunities back to the wilderness. He'd thought it had only been Adam's sense of duty, but it wasn't only that. Adam and his father were very close. Ben obviously valued  Adam's opinion on the running of the ranch and the care of his youngest brother, while at the same time making it clear that he was the final authority; even though Ben kept a very light hand on Adam's reins, that hand was still there.

Over the next few weeks John fitted into the Cartwright household as well as he could. Ben treated him as another son, which pleased John enormously, although, as Adam pointed out to him one day, he wouldn't think it was so good if he did something his father considered unacceptable. John had chuckled at this. He had seen Little Joe on the receiving end of his father's displeasure the previous week when he had come home late for supper. It wouldn't have been so bad for Joe, Adam had said, if only he'd learn to keep his mouth shut, but Joe had argued with Pa instead of just apologizing and accepting the punishment. Instead of just having to miss
out on supper, Joe had ended up with a week's restriction, and had only escaped a tanning for being disrespectful by the skin of his teeth. Joe had spent the week sulking, but John was faintly wistful. His father had always made sure he was well taken care of, but he'd always paid people to do it. His tutors had been the ones he had to answer to. He couldn't remember his father ever actually punishing him for something. Adam's voice brought him back to what he was doing.

"Hey, I thought you were helping me with this fence. If we get this finished today, and those cattle brought in from the high pasture over the next couple of days, we should be free to go into Virginia City for some fun on Saturday night." They'd been into Virginia City before, but there was no dance on this week. They just wanted to go into town, spend some money-there were a couple of pretty saloon girls around- play some poker and get drunk. Just be a couple of handsome young men with money in their pockets on a spree. It hadn't been too hard to get Ben's permission, although both Adam and Ben knew Adam didn't really require it. Adam knew that Ben didn't really approve of either excess drinking or excess gambling or saloon girls either, but he knew that was what young men did sometimes. He didn't like it, but he tolerated it, as long as it was kept within reasonable bounds. Adam hadn't yet pushed those bounds, but there was always a first time. He didn't know what Ben would do when he exceeded his limits, but he had a fair bet with himself that he wouldn't enjoy it.

They did finish their work in good time, and dressed themselves up to go into town. They'd invited Hoss to join them, but there was a foal due, and Hoss didn't want to miss it. So Adam and John went in alone. They stabled their horses and wandered down to the Bucket of Blood. They spent a very pleasant evening with a saloon girl to keep them company, a bottle of whiskey in front of them and a game of poker to keep them occupied. Adam was having a good night. The cards were falling his way, and he had a couple of hundred dollars on the table in front of him.One of the men they were playing with, a stranger with an unusual accent, lost the fifth hand in a row to Adam. He threw his cards into the table and leapt to his feet.

"Ya gotta be cheatin'" he yelled. "No one's that good less'n they is card sharks, and ah reckon you is one. No one cheats Lyle Roberts!"

Adam tensed, but he didn't say anything. He was drunk, but not so drunk that he couldn't control himself.

John, on the other hand, equally drunk, took umbrage at this man's remarks. He also leapt to his feet. "Cartwrights don't cheat" he yelled. "You take that back, mister, before I slug you one!" and he swung wildly at the man, but most unfortunately connected. The man, naturally enough swung back, so Adam felt obliged to help his friend. Then the fight turned into a brawl. Most of the men there were miners or cowboys, and most of them were drunk. It developed into a real free for all. By the time Roy Coffee managed to restore order, there was a lot of damage and not a few injured men. Roy let most of the men go, but he hauled Adam and John off to jail, because John had started the fight. He got Paul Martin to come and fix a long gash in John's arm, but insisted they stayed in jail overnight. By this time, Adam had sobered up. He sat on the bunk in the jail with his head in his hands. He had tried everything he could to convince Roy to let him go, but Roy refused. He would get Ben in the morning, and Ben might, if he were lucky, bail him out of there, Roy had informed him. Either they were released into Ben Cartwright's custody, or they
could wait for the judge. There were distinct drawbacks in having your father and the sheriff close friends, Adam thought to himself crossly. It wasn't as though they couldn't afford to pay the fine themselves. Fortunately for Adam and John, most of the damage was paid for by their poker winnings, so they didn't have a willful damage charge to deal with. Adam sighed. No, all they had to deal with was an angry Ben Cartwright. He didn't want to see how disappointed his father was going to be with him. Perhaps he'd just stay in jail. He'd be safer.

When Roy arrived at the Ponderosa shortly after dawn the next morning he was greeted by a very worried Ben, who had just finished saddling his horse to ride into town. "Roy, have you seen the boys?" he asked anxiously.

Roy nodded. "Yup. They're fine. They're both in my jail. Young John's got a real bad cut on his arm, but Paul's seen to that. They started a fight in the saloon last night so I thought I'd keep them till they'd cooled off."

"Good idea. You said they started it?" he asked, frowning, as he rode toward the town with Roy.

"Well, strictly they didn't. Some guy accused Adam of cheating at poker, and John decided to defend Adam's honor, or more correctly, the honor of the Cartwrights. Yelled out "Cartwright don't cheat" and took a swing at the guy." Roy chuckled. As if Adam needed defending. Everyone knew the Cartwrights were scrupulously honest. Only a stranger would accuse a Cartwright of cheating. "It would have fizzled out if John hadn't connected."

"Well, whoever was responsible I don't approve of my son getting himself involved in a drunken brawl and I will certainly let him know how I feel. Is there a fine?"

"The usual. Their winnings paid for the damage at the saloon so there's just the disturbing the peace fine. I gotta tell you, Ben, Adam's pretty worried about facing you this mornin'. Said he thought he'd rather stay in jail." Roy laughed.

"Good" said Ben flatly. "So he should be."

Adam looked up as the sheriff unlocked his cell. "Your Pa's out in the office" he told him, "and he's plenty mad."

Adam got slowly to his feet. "Hi, Pa" he said nervously to his father as he went into the office.

Ben didn't say anything, just looked him over from head to toe, then did the same to John. Both young men squirmed. Ben looked disgusted.

"Your horses are outside" he said curtly. "I don't want to hear a word from either of you until we are home. Understood?"

They nodded, and mounted their horses. Adam knew his father in this mood and wasn't about to antagonize him further. John was just relieved at this moment that Ben wasn't his father. The ride home was long and silent.

The two young men stood in front of Ben's desk. Ben sat in the big green chair. He wasn't really very angry, but he wasn't going to tell either of them that. He had spent most of the ride home wondering what he would say. Adam had merely come to his friend's aid. He would have been very surprised if Adam had done anything else, but even so, he could not condone barroom brawling. Adam looked cautiously at his father, and looked away quickly. He didn't look pleased.

"John, Hop Sing should have bath water ready now. Why don't you go and get yourself cleaned up. We should be able to make it to church on time this morning." It was phrased as a suggestion, but it was clearly an order. John did as he was told. Ben turned his attention to his son. He looked him over in silence for what seemed forever. Adam didn't want to look at his father. He didn't want to see the look of disappointment in his father's eyes. He stared down at his feet.

"Look at me." Ben ordered. The tone of his father's voice really worried Adam. When Ben was really angry, he got quieter. His sons had learned a healthy respect for that quietly intimidating voice over the years. Adam tried hard to obey, but he couldn't.

"I don't have to tell you how disappointed I am. I get up early in the morning, worried because my son hasn't come home, and I am met at my door by the sheriff, who tells me my son is in jail. My son, my supposedly adult eldest son, involved in a drunken brawl in a saloon. Shaming me, disgracing himself and bringing shame on my name. And you allowed your guest to get injured. No," said Ben, as Adam attempted to interrupt, "I don't want your explanation. Roy told me what happened, but it doesn't matter who started it. All I need to know is that my son was involved in a drunken brawl. I have paid your fine, and John's and since he is your guest you will pay me back on his behalf. You will do extra chores to earn the fine money. Is that clear?"

Adam knew better. He really did, but the words popped out before he could stop them. Words absolutely guaranteed to infuriate his father further. When he thought about it later, he decided he must still have been a bit alcohol-impaired. Otherwise he would never have said it. He did just what he'd been laughing at Joe about. He should have kept his mouth shut, too. It was no wonder he ended up with the same punishment as Joe. "That's not fair. John started it..."

"That's not fair? John started it?" his father echoed. "That's the kind of response I'd expect from Joseph. I told you I don't care who started it!" Ben snapped, stabbing his finger at his son. "You are supposed to be responsible. Not only have you let your brothers down, you've let yourself down. A fine example you are setting for your brothers. If you were five years younger I'd take a strap to you!" This particular threat didn't worry Adam. The last time Pa had felt it necessary to give him a tanning he had been fourteen, although he'd threatened him more than once since then. "Since you want to behave like a child, you will not leave the Ponderosa without my permission for a week." His voice was uncompromising.

Adam's mouth dropped open. "But Pa," he protested indignantly, "I'm twenty-four..."

"Yes" said his father. "I know."

The tone of his voice made Adam flush to the roots of his hair. He suddenly found his boots very interesting. He really hated it when his father used that particular tone. It made him feel about five years old and two inches tall. He swallowed, hard. There was an uncomfortable silence.

"I'm sorry, sir." He paused then added, "We didn't mean to..." in almost a whisper.

Ben permitted himself a small smile. Adam looked and sounded about six years old-and thoroughly ashamed of himself. He'd clearly made his point. "If I thought for a moment you'd got yourself involved in a brawl intentionally, boy, you wouldn't set foot off the Ponderosa for the rest of your life," his father retorted. Adam let out a breath he hadn't even known he was holding. A remark like that showed Pa wasn't furious with him, at least. He waved him away. "Go get yourself cleaned up for church." he said, as John came in. "John, I'd like a word with you."

John came over to Ben's desk and stood in front of it. He respected and admired Adam's father, but he didn't think Mr Cartwright was particularly pleased with him, either.

"John, I'm not your father, but I think that since your father is not here I should speak to you about the events of last night in his place. I do not think fighting in a public saloon is either acceptable or appropriate behavior. I have no authority over you in this matter, but I do have rules that I set in place for my sons. Adam knows that there are always consequences for whatever actions we take. I have paid your fine, and Adam will be working on extra chores to pay me back for both of you, since you are his guest. He is also restricted to the ranch for a period of one week." He was about to continue when John interrupted him.

"Mr Cartwright, I don't think that Adam should pay my fine. I mean, I started the fight. Adam was just helping me. I think I should pay it myself."

Ben nodded thoughtfully. "Very well. The point however is not merely the handing over of money. In your case it would be your father's money, wouldn't it?" John nodded. "That is why Adam is doing extra chores; to earn the fine money. Are you prepared to share in Adam's punishment?"

"Yes sir" John said, squaring his shoulders.

"Then you can work with Adam on those chores. Are you prepared to accept the week's restriction also?"

John nodded. "Yes sir" he said. There wasn't really any point not; if Adam couldn't go anywhere he wasn't going anywhere either. Besides, he wanted Mr Cartwright to think well of him, and if he hadn't been so stupid neither of them would be in trouble.

Ben smiled slightly. "I'm sure Adam won't be too upset." Ben said. "What would your father say about you spending the night in jail?"

John was slightly flustered at the sudden change in subject. He shrugged his shoulders. "I don't think my father would care. I don't think he'd even notice." he said, sadly.

Ben leaned back in his chair and considered the young man in front of him. It was clear that John  believed what he was saying. "I'm sure he would. You know, some men don't relate well to children. I think it may be up to you to show your father that you are a grown man-and not by getting involved in barroom brawls! It might be an effort on your part, but you could try. Have you written to him since you arrived?"

John looked faintly guilty. "Only once, to let him know I'd arrived safely. I didn't think he'd be interested."

"Has he written to you?"

"Once." John looked thoughtful. That letter had been in reply to his. Only a short one, but it had been a response. Maybe Father would be interested in what he was doing. He could write and see. "I'll write to him today, but I don't think I'll tell him about last night."

"No, I don't think that would be a wise move just now. That would be better told in person. The other part of your punishment, then, is that you write to your father regularly and tell him what you are doing."

"Yes sir, I'll do that this afternoon, after church."

The week's worth of extra chores was hard work, but not totally unenjoyable. One of their chores was to design a new, more efficient, icehouse, but that was reserved for an evening activity. After all, said Ben, smiling, with two engineers underfoot, he might as well get some value for money. There were other less enjoyable chores, like cleaning out the pigs and the chickens. Ben lent them to Hop Sing one day, and he had them scrubbing out the wash house and cleaning all the windows. He made them clean out the cellar and whitewash it, too. Ben couldn't help laughing at the state his grown up son and his friend were in when they reappeared
from the cellar.

"What were you two doing? Bathing in it?" he laughed. Adam looked at himself and his friend and laughed ruefully. "Not exactly Pa" he said. He wasn't quite sure what his father really felt about it. "It started off as an accident, but then we sort of got carried away. Sorry" Ben chuckled. "Go get yourselves cleaned up. I'm not sure what Hop Sing will have to say if he sees the state you're in."

John grinned. "Uh-oh. Too late" he said. Hop Sing looked at the two of them and went into a spate of obviously angry Chinese. Adam understood a little Chinese that he'd picked up over the years, but you didn't have to speak chinese to know how angry Hop Sing was.

"I'm sorry, Hop Sing. We'll clean up the mess." Adam tried to pacify the angry cook. Hop Sing switched to English. "You clean up mess now" he ordered. "No supper till it clean" and he stomped off, angrily.

"Better get on with it, boys," said Ben with a grin. "otherwise you'll have a hungry Hoss to deal with too, and that's not a pretty sight! I think I'd better lend you to Hop Sing tomorrow to keep the peace!" Hop Sing was always looking for help with some of the heavier work, and he took full advantage of the help two strong young men could give him. Adam and John got to work. Pa was right. A hungry Hoss was not a pretty sight at all. After they'd finished doing things for Hop
Sing, Pa let them build the new icehouse, but they wouldn't be able to test its efficiency until next summer. Adam promised John he'd write and let him know how well it worked.

They finished it the night before John was due to go back to see Paul to have his stitches taken out. They were sitting having a quiet pre-dinner drink with Ben to celebrate when Hoss came in.

He threw his hat on the table and said "Adam, that dadburned windmill of yours over in the east has broken again. The cattle are gunna use up all the water if you don't get over there to fix it."

Adam frowned. "That creates a bit of a problem. John has to go see Paul tomorrow, and that windmill will be an all day job." He turned to Ben. "Can you go into Virginia City with him, Pa?"

Ben shook his head. "No, I've got to go to the Jefferson ranch to pick up that new stallion."

"Hoss?" Hoss shook his head too.

"How urgent is the need for water down there?" Adam asked.

Hoss thought about it. "The way I see it, they've been without water for at least three days already..." he said.

"Yeah, I'd better get it fixed tomorrow then. That brings us back to our original problem," Adam worried.

John looked from one to the other. "I don't really need nursemaiding, you know. I'm sure I can get to and from Virginia City with no difficulty."

Ben rubbed his chin. "I'm sure you can, but I'd feel happier if someone went with you. It's not that I expect any problems, John. After all, Joe goes to school in Virginia City everyday alone, but you aren't as familiar with the area as we are. Its just a precaution. ...I know, Joe can go with you. He always wants to do grown up things." Joe's older brothers chuckled. When Joe came in and was told he was providing an escort for John, he prudently waited till John was out of the room to protest. He'd wanted to spend the afternoon with his friend Mitch, and he didn't see why he should miss out on his fun to be Adam's friend's escort. Since Ben's explanations had no effect, his father finally resorted to a stern, "because I told you to". Sometimes Ben wondered if he didn't let that boy get away with far too much, just as Adam said he did!

The following morning the Cartwrights all went their separate ways. John spent the morning writing a careful letter to his father. Joe was still sulking a bit, but he was careful not to let Pa see. Pa didn't take kindly to him sulking. After lunch, when he and John were riding towards Virginia City, they came to the turn off that led towards the Devlin place.

"Hey, John," said Little Joe, with his most charming smile, "do you really need me to come all the way to Virginia City with you?" Both of his brothers would have known he was up to something if they'd seen that smile. John didn't. He thought Little Joe was cute.

He smiled at the boy and shook his head. "No, I don't but your Pa thinks I do. Why? Is there something else you wanted to do?"

"Pa just wants to be extra careful," Joe said, dismissing his father's concerns. "Its just that I said I'd meet Mitch today. He only lives a couple of miles up that way" he said, pointing. "If you went in the rest of the way by yourself, I could go see Mitch," he said hopefully, looking up at John with big eyes. John had no defences against Joe at his most high-powered, and he really didn't believe there could be any danger for him. After all, he had no enemies. He knew practically no one. He could handle a horse. He grinned at Joe.

"Ok Little Joe, you go see Mitch. I can get there and back by myself."

"Thanks, John," Little Joe said, beaming, as he turned off to the Devlin's place. John continued towards Virginia City. He saw Paul and had his stitches taken out, and dropped into the saloon to apologise to Sam. It was getting towards supper time as he headed off towards the Ponderosa. He rode slowly, but not really taking much note of what was going on around him. He was thinking about things: his father, his friendship with the Cartwrights, his real reason for visiting the Ponderosa. His mind wasn't on the ride at all, so he was doubly startled and shocked when three men held him up at gunpoint. He tried to escape, but one of the men hit him with the handle of a gun and knocked him out. The last thing he heard was a laugh.

Ben arrived home shortly after Hoss with his brand new stallion. It was a truly beautiful horse, Hoss said, as he stroked it gently. It would really improve the bloodline of the horses they were breeding. Suddenly there were hoofbeats and one of the ranch hands came racing into the yard.

"Mr Cartwright, Mr Cartwright" he yelled, practically falling off his horse in his anxiety. He held out a piece of paper. "One of the hands found this fixed to the fence he was workin' on."

Ben took it.

"To Ben Cartwright: If ya want to see your boy again, bring twenty thousand dollars up to Silver Canyon tomorrow at noon. Come yourself." it read. Ben paled. A cold hand clenched his heart.
Which boy? Both Joe and Adam were out. He handed the note to Hoss, worried.

"I'll need to get Roy, and go to the bank. I'm sure there won't be any problem with the money." He was about to say something else when Joe rode into the yard, at his usual pace.

"Oh hi Pa," he said cheerfully. "Sorry, I didn't want to be late." Joe hadn't thought his plan through properly. He should have arranged to meet John and ridden back with him, he'd realised, but it was too late now. He was really going to be in trouble, so when Ben grabbed him and hugged him tight he was astonished.

"Joe!" said Ben, hugging him. "Thank God." He didn't want Adam to have been kidnapped either, but Adam had more sense than Joe. He was older. There was a better chance of Adam coming through an ordeal like this in one piece.

Joe was puzzled. Why wasn't Pa mad with him? "What's the matter, Pa?" he asked.

Ben stroked his hair. "Someone's got your brother. We thought they might have you." he explained.

Joe shook his head." No, they haven't, Pa. There's Adam now." Ben looked as his oldest son, whistling cheerfully, rode in. All his boys were safe. He crumpled the note up in his hand and went to meet Adam, greeting him with an uncharacteristic hug. Adam was surprised. He returned his father's hug, asking, as Joe had, "What's the matter, Pa?"

Ben held out the note. "Someone thinks they're funny" he said. Adam took the note, and read it. "We're all here" he said thoughtfully, "but it's definitely addressed to you...." He had a sudden thought that turned him cold. "Pa, where's John?"

"John! I'd forgotten about John." He turned to Joe. "Where is he, Joe?"

This was the moment Joe had been dreading. "I don't know." he replied.

"What do you mean you don't know? You were supposed to be escorting him into Virginia City."

Joe gulped. "I went to the Devlin's place." he admitted. "John said he could manage without an escort." he added just a little defiantly.

"You left John to ride alone, after I'd specifically told you I didn't want him to do so? Why can't you ever do as you're told? Now you see the consequences! Go to your room and stay there. I'll deal with you later." Ben ordered.

Little Joe went, unusually without any argument. It was his fault John had been kidnapped. He deserved everything he was going to get, he thought to himself, unhappily.

"That's your answer, Pa," said Adam. "Someone's got John and they think he's me. We do look very alike if you don't know us. We've got to rescue him, Pa." Adam said anxiously. "If he tells them he's not me, they might kill him..."

Ben nodded. "I agree. I'm sure he's smart enough to realise that. We'll get Roy and work out what to do." He smiled reassuringly at Adam. "Don't worry, son, we'll get him back. I'll pay the ransom, if necessary." Now that it wasn't one of his precious sons in danger, Ben could think quite calmly about the problem.

John was unconscious a long time. So long, in fact, that his captors began to be a little worried. It was towards morning when he woke. He found himself tied up in a dark cave, with a vaguely familiar man staring at him with hatred in his eyes.

"Well now, mister high-and mighty Cartwright," he sneered. "Not so high and mighty now, are you? I reckon that your Pa will be real happy to pay me to get you back. That'll teach ya not to cheat when ya play poker, mister high and mighty Adam Cartwright. I've writ your Pa, tellin' him as how I've got ya, and he's gonna have ta pay twenty thousand dollars ta get ya back. Pete delivered the message last night." He smiled, a very unpleasant smile. "That's sposin' he even wants ya back. An' we ain't said nuthin' about what you'll be like when we give ya back-if we do. We waited a week ta get ya on your own."

John groaned. This man had mistaken him for Adam. The resemblance had only been a source of amusement up to now, but this was serious. He tried to think what to do but his brain felt like mush, and he felt sick. One thing was glaringly obvious, and that was that he'd better not tell them who he really was. The Harrington name might open doors in Boston, but it was of no help here. He'd be Adam until the Cartwrights came for him. He had no doubt at all that the Cartwrights would come for him. If only he'd listened to Mr Cartwright when he'd said that John shouldn't travel alone. He wouldn't be here now. Adam had said once that his father was nearly
always right. Adam. What would Adam do? He moved, and it felt as though there was a knife twisting in his head. He groaned again. "Water...give me water" he said.

His captor didn't want to, but the man called Pete said, "He don't look too good, Lyle. He ain't gunna be worth nuthin' dead. Give him water."

"I s'pose you're right. But don't try anythin' or else" he warned, holding a canteen up to John's lips, briefly. It wasn't enough, John thought, but he wasn't going to give them the satisfaction of seeing him beg. He was certain Adam would remain his usual calm cool self-or at least let them think that was how he was. He would be too. "Thank you" he said politely. His head hurt. He closed his eyes, and tried to sleep. There really wasn't anything else he could do.

The Cartwrights tried to sleep too, but they were all up at first light. None of them had a particularly good sleep, especially not Joe. The lecture and the tanning he'd got made quite an impression on him. He knew his father did not tolerate deliberate disobedience, and now he could see the consequences that Pa worried about all the time could happen. It was his fault John was in this mess and if anything happened to John Adam would never forgive him. He'd never forgive himself. He lay awake worrying for a long time, but eventually cried himself to sleep. He was only twelve years old, after all. Roy and some of his deputies came early, and they planned their search.

"Its obviously not someone who knows the area well," Adam said, studying the map.

"Why do you say that, Adam?" asked Roy, also studying the map.

"Well, Silver Canyon looks like a good place to hide out, if you don't know about the way in behind the waterfall. Pa couldn't find us for ages when Hoss and I went into the waterfall, when I was twelve." He smiled reminiscently. Pa had been so worried, when he couldn't find them, and so angry and relieved when they turned up later. "I mean that cave looks onto the entrance so you can see anyone coming in, but they can't see you. And there are places on the rim where you can see into the cave quite well, but you can't see the rim from the cave. Its tempting, but anyone familiar with the area wouldn't hide out in Silver Canyon. Besides," he smiled briefly,
"they don't know the Cartwrights well enough to tell me from John, so they must be strangers to the area."

Ben squeezed Adam's shoulder reassuringly. "I think you're right, Adam. If I ride up towards the entrance towards noon, with a saddlebag or something, the rest of you can come in from the back and rescue John. I'll insist on seeing him alive and well before I hand over any money.  That'll draw them out into the open."

"But Pa," Adam protested. "That'll put you in danger...I could do it." He stopped and sighed. "No, I can't, can I? They think they've got me."

"That's right, Adam," said Roy. "I know you want to protect everyone" he smiled at young man. Sometimes he was so predictable. "But in this case you have to stay out of sight until after. They'll be expecting Ben. Anyone else and they might hurt John. I'll put some of my men up on the canyon rim, and you'll take a couple through the back way. I'll leave it to you and your men to attempt a rescue. The rest of us will cover you. Clear?"

It was close to noon as Ben rode slowly towards the entrance to the canyon. He had some money in his saddlebags, just in case the kidnappers wanted to see he had money, but not twenty thousand. The other men were deployed according to plan, and Adam and two others had gone in the back way and were hiding close to the entrance to the cave. The biggest problem was that they didn't know how many there were. Roy's preference was not to kill anyone-he preferred to leave it to the courts, but he wouldn't hesitate to shoot if he had to. So would Ben. Ben Cartwright was the soul of kindness and generosity, but hurt even one hair on any of his sons and a sleeping tiger was woken. Even people who didn't know Ben Cartwright had heard of his fierce protectiveness of his sons and his ranch. In this case the protectiveness extended to John. He was a guest and Ben felt responsible for him.

"Hey in there" he yelled.

A man emerged holding a rifle. "Get off your horse" he ordered "And throw down your gun." Ben did so, glad of his covert protection. "Now throw me the money." the man with the rifle demanded.

Ben shook his head. "You don't get a penny until I see my boy alive and well."

The man with the rifle half turned towards the cave entrance. "Pete, Frank, bring the Cartwright boy out here!" he yelled. Two men appeared half carrying, half dragging a very pale young man. They shoved him forward and he staggered a little, but kept his feet. "Son," said Ben, "Are you all right?"

The pale young man smiled slightly. "I'm fine." he said. "Just got a bit of a headache." The watchers all breathed a collective sigh of relief. This had been the critical moment.

Ben moved towards John. The man with the gun waved him back. "Ok you've seen him; now hand over the money."

"I said I wanted to be sure he's alive and well. I can see he's alive, but he doesn't look very well to me. Let me talk to him." He moved towards John again. Lyle aimed his rifle towards Ben and away from John. "Money first, old man" he said.

Then a voice from behind him said "Drop the rifle and put your hands up." Lyle did as he was told. Pete pulled his gun, but before he had even drawn it completely, a shot rang out and sent his gun flying. Ben smiled to himself. His eldest son really was a fine shot. Frank put his hands up, scared. It had been a very efficient rescue.

John collapsed onto the ground. "Thanks, Mr Cartwright" he said. "I knew you'd come for me."

Lyle gaped. "Whaddya mean, Mr Cartwright? Ain't he your Pa?" He stared, amazed, at the young man who was quietly untying John's hands, and giving him water. He could be his captive's twin. "Who's that?"

Ben chuckled. He pointed to the other young man kneeling next to their captive. "Allow me to introduce you to my son Adam. The other young man who you kidnapped is John Harrington. Not that it mattered really. I wasn't going to let you have either of them."

" the bar...that one" he pointed to John "said "Cartwrights don't cheat". I thought he was a Cartwright... I don't get it."

"You'll have plenty of time to think about it in jail" Roy said. "Ben, boys, I'll see you later. Oh, I'll send Paul out to check John over for you."

"Thanks," said Ben.

John had a very nasty concussion, Paul told the Cartwrights, and he was to rest quietly for a week. He slept on and off for a couple of days but by the third day he was feeling well enough to come downstairs. He spent much time that week thinking, when he wasn't being 'kept company' by Little Joe. Little Joe was so relieved that John was all right that he drove him crazy trying to make it up to him. John carefully refrained from telling Joe what Lyle had said about waiting to catch him alone; why burden the child with more guilt? He did, however, tell Adam and Ben. Maybe, Ben had chuckled in response, he should have followed his desire and confined them to the ranch for life; at least then he could be sure they were safe. Adam had grinned at his father and rested his hand on his shoulder. John watched, with a twinge of jealousy, as Ben's hand came up and gently covered his son's hand, just for a moment. There was no need for words. Adam and Ben understood each other thoroughly.

He was playing a game of chess with Adam when he decided to tell Adam the real reason he'd come to the Ponderosa.

"I've got a confession to make, Adam" he said.

Adam was puzzled. "A confession? Why? What have you done?"

"I had an ulterior motive for coming to visit you. It wasn't only that I wanted to see you, although I'm glad I came and I've mostly enjoyed my visit." He grinned. "I didn't plan on getting kidnapped, though." Ben was listening too. John continued, "I was planning to go to Europe and spend a year travelling around, seeing it all, and I wanted you to come with me. My father said I could take a companion, and it wouldn't cost you anything except whatever you needed for yourself."

Adam stared at him. A year in Europe. That was something that was definitely on his own personal 'to do' list. He'd love to go to Europe, and John would be a wonderful companion. This wasn't something that could be decided on the spur of the moment, though. He glanced at his father, but Ben's face was unreadable. "It's a very kind offer, John, but I'll have to think about it." he said.

Ben kept his face still, but his heart had gone cold, as he listened to John's offer to his oldest son. He knew how much Adam wanted to go to Europe. If that was what Adam wanted to do he wouldn't stand in his way, but he didn't know how he could bear to lose Adam for another year. He'd missed him so much while he was at college. He'd been hoping Adam would stay for a few more years yet.

John smiled at Adam. "Yeah, just think about it Adam. I won't press you. You going to finish this game of chess, or are you going to resign?" he grinned.

"I've finished" Adam smirked, as he moved his knight. "Checkmate."

It was towards the end of that week that John received a letter from his father.

"There's a letter for you, John. I think its from Boston," Ben said with a smile. John took it gingerly, and held it.

"Open it, boy, it's not going to bite you" Ben laughed, as he sat down to read his own mail.

"That's what you think" John muttered. John opened the letter and read it. It didn't say very much, really, mostly it was a response to the letter John had written the day after the fight in the saloon. There was one sentence in it, though, that stood out like a beacon. "I greatly appreciate you taking the time to write to me and tell me what you are doing, John. I enjoyed your account of your activities very much." his father had written. John didn't think his father had ever written anything so personal before. It actually sounded like he meant it. Ben had been wrong. The letter had bitten him, in a most unexpected way. He folded the letter up carefully and put it in his pocket. It was a good thing he was supposed to rest, he mused to himself. He had a lot of thinking to do.

So did Adam. For the next few days Adam turned John's invitation over and over. He thought about the pleasures of Europe, and then he thought about the Ponderosa and his family. He wanted to go to Europe so badly he could taste it. It wasn't that his father actually needed him to run the ranch. Hoss was getting better at it everyday and there were always good people to hire.  Pa was the final authority. He had no real power here. And yet, he had developed a good working relationship with the men at the lumber camp, and he was developing the sawmill, as he'd wanted. Pa did take note of his ideas, although sometimes he was hard to convince. He would really miss his father. And Hoss. Hoss was not only his brother, but his best friend. Hoss would always be there for him, he was certain of that, no matter where in the world he might be. What about Little Joe? He'd already missed three years of Little Joe's life, and it had taken months for them to be comfortable with each other. If he went away for another year, where would their relationship be? The more he thought about it, the more obvious the answer was.
That Sunday, the family went up to Adam's favorite spot on Lake Tahoe for a picnic. Hoss and Little Joe were fishing. Ben was lying back on the rug lightly dozing. Adam and John had been swimming. They flopped down onto the rug. John grabbed the last piece of fried chicken and grinned at Adam. He had been watching his friend with his family for the last few days, as he wrestled with his decsision.

"You're not coming with me, are you Adam?" he said, almost out of the blue. It was more a statement than a question.

"No." Adam replied. "I really appreciate your invitation, John. I'd love to go to Europe, but I just can't leave the Ponderosa at the moment. There are too many things to keep me here, and Europe isn't going anywhere. I'll get there one day. You just be sure you write and tell me all about it. It'll be almost as good seeing it myself."

John smiled. "I don't know that I'll be able to do that." Adam looked puzzled. Ben had sat up and was trying very hard not to embarrass his son by hugging him, but he was overjoyed. Adam was  staying! John turned to Ben. "You remember when you said the other day that my father's letter wouldn't bite me?"

Ben nodded. John grinned. "Well, it did, in a way. My father wrote something that made me think that perhaps you were right. I'll never know if I can develop a better relationship with Father unless I try. So I'm postponing my trip to Europe and going home to my family. Like Adam says, Europe isn't going anywhere. If Adam had wanted to come to Europe with me, I would have gone, but its probably better this way. I don't know that I would have even said anything about Europe if the letter had come earlier. I think I'll plan to leave on this week's stage."

"I think that is very sensible of you, John, but I'd like you to see Paul Martin to make sure you're fit to travel. I wouldn't want to return you to your father damaged."

"I think I'm in better shape now than when I left Boston," John smiled. He wasn't referring to his physical health, Ben knew.

Paul gave him the all clear, so the following week saw the whole Cartwright family at the stage depot to see John off. Roy came too. They had come to like him for his own sake, not just because he was a friend of Adam's and they were going to miss him. John shook Ben's hand. "I don't know how to thank you for all you've done for me, Mr Cartwright. I've had a wonderful time and I'll miss the Ponderosa very much." He shook Hoss' hand too, but Little Joe ignored the outstretched hand and gave him a big hug. "I'll really miss you, John. Don't forget you promised to send me a model train if you see one."

Ben frowned at Little Joe's impudence, but John just grinned and ruffled his hair. "I'll send it as soon as I can" he promised.

The family backed off a bit and left Adam to say his farewells. They didn't have anything new to say; they'd said it all in private. "I'm sorry I couldn't accept your offer, John, but I'm glad you came anyway." The normally restrained Adam hugged his friend and pushed him towards the stage. "Go on, they'll go without you" he said. John slapped his back. "You could come visit me" he suggested as he climbed into the coach. "Boston's not that far away!" he yelled as he leant out of the window and waved. Adam stood watching the coach as it left. Ben examined him. If he didn't know any better, he could have sworn Adam had tears in his eyes. Well, he could fix that.

"Come on son, let's go home. I've got a new job for you to do tomorrow. I'll tell you about it on the way."

Adam scowled at him. Maybe he'd made the wrong decision after all. Here's his best friend just gone, and Pa couldn't even give him time to feel sorry for himself. Ben's lips twitched. He could practically read Adam's mind, but he'd saved a particular bit of news for just this occasion.

"I've decided to turn our timber interests into a separate company." he said. Adam supposed that would mean Pa would get in someone to run it. He wasn't really paying much attention. He was too busy feeling very badly done to, just at the moment.

Adam was heading into a full-blown sulk, Ben decided with amusement. He hadn't seen Adam sulking for a very long time. "I'm handing it over to a very astute businessman to run. He'll have full authority. Of course I'll be there if he wants advice, but it will be his company to run as he sees fit." He stopped and waited for a response.

That would be most unlikely, Adam thought, grumpily. If Pa didn't like the way it was being run he'd say so, no matter how good the person who was running it. "Who's going to run it?" he asked, interested in spite of himself. "I thought you didn't want to split assets like that."

"I told you he was a very astute businessman," Ben laughed. "You."

Adam nearly fell off the seat of the buggy. "Me? You're handing me our timber interests to run?" Adam had wanted to do this for a long time, but he'd never thought Pa would let him. He'd never even thought Pa knew he wanted to. His face lit up. "Pa, How did you know? I'll do a really good job." he assured his father earnestly.

Ben grinned at him. "I know you will, son. Otherwise I wouldn't be letting you do it." He put his hand on Adam's arm. "I know how much you wanted to go to Europe, Adam. Since you chose to stay, I thought it was time I showed you just how much I value you and the work you do round here. I've been thinking about it for a while. I didn't tell you before, because I didn't want to influence your choice. But I am very glad you chose to stay. I can't tell you how much I would
miss you if you'd gone."

Adam smiled, just a little shakily. "I couldn't go, Pa. Not just yet. I would have missed everybody, and the Ponderosa, too much. And I would have especially missed you." He squeezed the hand resting on his arm. "Did you say I would have full authority, Pa? With no interference?"

Ben nodded, smiling. Adam grinned. He knew his father. He'd give that non-interference about a week. Maybe two, if Pa tried really hard. He was already happily making plans as they headed for home.

The End