Home to Stay part 3

by:  Lyn R.


Adam needed to talk to his big brother and he moved over towards the door, but he found his eyes drawn back to his beautiful fiancée, so very graceful as she lent over Joe and wiped his face. Then the desire to share his good news sent him looking for his brother. Hoss was in his room washing up and looked up alarmed as Adam came in. It wasn’t like his eldest brother to disturb him in his room and for a moment he was scared that Joe was worse, but then he took in the strange look of stunned delight on Adam’s face. Hoss could only think of one thing, which would put that expression on Adam’s face, but he waited to see what his brother would say. Adam seemed to have difficulty finding the words and Hoss moved over to grip his arm “You alright Adam?”

“I’m more than alright big brother.” Adam grinned broadly “Carole said yes, she’s promised to marry me.”

Hoss picked his brother up in a bear hug and swung him round “That’s great Adam, really great. She’s a lovely lady in every way.” Hoss was absolutely delighted not just for his brother but for himself as well. This time he was sure Adam would find happiness, Carole wouldn’t let his brother down and with Adam happily married his brother was far less likely to leave the Ponderosa and he wouldn’t have to worry about losing one of his best friends for long periods again.

Adam went on down to continue the work of the ranch. He had Carole’s promise but before he could marry her the problems of the ranch had to be faced and even more important the problem of his brother’s health. Adam felt more at peace with himself than he had since he first found his little brother. Somehow with her help they would pull Joe through.

Hoss had gone along to see Carole and tell her how delighted he was that she would become his sister-in-law. Carole was pleased to see the honest delight on the big man’s face and she was pleased at his insistence that both his father and Joe would be equally delighted when they found out. Then reassured that she had all she needed to tend Joe, Hoss went down to join his brother.

Hoss updated Adam on the current position at the lumber camp and the sawmills. They had caught up the to the original schedule despite the delays. Adam was well pleased but warned Hoss to keep the pressure on, trouble seemed inevitable leading to further delays and so the further ahead of schedule they could get the better. Hoss promised to keep it going and then Adam filled him in on what was happening elsewhere. One piece of bad news had come in from José, three steers had died in the first herd which had been taken up to the summer pasture in the high lands. They showed the same symptoms as those previously. Deaths had now occurred at nearly every point across the wide pasture of the ranch and there was still no sign of a connecting link or a cause. So far they had only lost about thirty head in five days and at that rate it would take a couple of years to wipe out the vast herds on the Ponderosa but Adam was scared that it would suddenly escalate. Until he learnt the cause there was nothing he could do to combat the deaths. The brothers tossed it around for a few minutes but they didn't come up with anything to help and eventually Adam almost angrily pushed the papers away “Okay we’ll just have to wait until we get some more information.” He got up and went to pour some coffee, fighting to get control, knowing losing his temper wouldn’t help anything.

Hoss looked over at him in some concern but Adam turned with a grin “One good bit of news Pa has finished his business in Boston and started for home this morning. So we have plenty of money to cover the summer and provided we meet at least two contracts on time, we shall be clear of debt.”

On that good piece of news Hoss took his leave while Adam carried on with his own work. The details seemed never ending but when dinnertime came Adam asked Hop Sing to prepare two trays and he joined Carole in Joe’s room. They were both tired and worried but content to be with each other. Adam pushed his plate away and as Carole had finished too he pulled her down onto his lap. “When things ease off a bit, I’ll show you around and you can help me choose a site for our own house.” Carole had dreaded the idea of moving into this all male household but found it difficult to visualise Adam breaking away and she said as much. Adam grinned a trifle ruefully, he had never managed to break away very successfully and now he knew he would never want to. “In someways I never shall darling and this house will remain the centre of work for the ranch. But I do want a house of my own, where hopefully we can raise our own family. I don’t want to be too far away, but my brothers can find their own women, they’re not having mine.” He stopped and bent over Joe again gently stroking the back of his hand down his brother’s cheek and added “Except in times of trouble.”

A little later Adam sent Carole to get some rest promising to call her at one in the morning. He sat quietly by his brother’s bed doing the accounts. Little Joe was resting much easier he seemed to have drifted from unconsciousness into sleep and Adam was no longer really worried for his brother’s life. The trouble was as that fear subsided, the fear of how much damage had been done by the head wounds grew; Adam couldn’t help feeling that his brother might be blind. He knew just how badly Joe had taken it when he was blinded before and he had lived through a spell of blindness himself. Adam could still remember very vividly the feeling of uselessness and hopelessness which he had lived with. Even when he had been up and around he had been dependent on his family for far too much and able to do so little to help. Adam had found that experience far worse than losing the use of his legs after the fall. At least he had been able to deal with paperwork while he sat in a wheel chair and could read to keep himself amused. Even if Joe recovered in the long run there could be weeks even months of uncertainty and Adam dreaded the idea of his little brother having to go through that and it seemed all too likely.

For long hours Adam sat staring into space the account books on his lap getting no attention, as he thought about the past. Then for the first time since he had been brought home Little Joe stirred; he turned onto his side and nestled his face on his left hand, the position in which he normally slept. He whimpered slightly as the movement hurt him and Adam was by him instantly smoothing his forehead and assuring him that everything was alright. Joe slipped back into sleep, looking much more natural in his normal sleeping position. Adam tucked the bedclothes round his back to keep him warm and settled back. It was nearly time to call Carole but Adam knew he wouldn’t sleep now until Joe came round, which he was sure couldn’t be long delayed, so he left Carole to sleep.

Carole woke up at three o’clock and on checking the time immediately got up and went along to Joe’s room. Adam was sitting so still that for a moment she thought he had fallen asleep, but as she entered he turned his head and signalled her to be quiet. Adam went over to the door “Joe’s sleeping now and I don’t want to wake him. He stirred once but he didn’t fully wake up. I’m leaving him until he does naturally but I don’t think it will be very long now. I can’t leave him. I shouldn’t sleep anyway so I didn’t bother to wake you.”
Carole could understand that but she said, “Now that I am awake I’ll join you. Would you like some coffee?”

Adam nodded and Carole went to get dressed and make some coffee. She was back with mugs of coffee laced with brandy within half an hour. Adam was grateful, he hadn’t realised how stiff and cold he was getting sitting by his brother’s bed. They sat quietly hardly saying a word for the rest of the night. Then as dawn came Adam moved over to draw the curtains and showed Carole the magnificent sunrise over the Sierra Nevada. It was the same view that he loved from his own room, which was immediately next door to Joe’s and in the dawn it was breathtakingly beautiful. It was early enough in the year for the peaks to be well covered by snow and they blazed red in the early morning light. As they stood watching Adam heard Joe moan softly and he was by his brother instantly. Joe moaned again and Adam wiped his face and held a small teapot of water to Joe’s lips so that he could take a few sips of water. Then Joe said “Pa, Adam?”

“Easy does it Joe I’m right here just take it easy.” Little Joe felt for Adam’s hand and held it as though for reassurance “Adam it’s dark I can’t see.”

“Everything is going to be fine Little Joe. There’s a bandage over your eyes, just a precaution, they’re still quite swollen.” He kept hold of his little brother’s hand and turned to Carole and asked her to wake up Hop Sing and get him to send one of the men for Doc and another to be ready to take a message to Hoss. Carole went out to do so and Adam turned his attention back to his brother. He lifted Joe’s head slightly and gave him a weak brandy and water to drink. Joe was desperately weak and even that slight movement of his battered body elicited a groan. Adam laid his brother gently back down on the pillow and talked soothingly reassuring him that everything was okay. At least Joe knew who he was and seemed to be able to move so the fear of brain damage receded. Carole came back in and Adam dictated a quick note to Hoss, not wanting to let go his brother’s hand. Joe could hear him talking to someone and asked for his father or Hoss. Adam reassured him that he was sending for Hoss and Pa was on his way home and with that Joe seemed content and slipped back into sleep.

Carole considered Adam, who was standing looking down at his little brother, deep worry still clear on his face. “Doc and Hoss will be here soon.”

Adam nodded and she tried again “There’s no sign of brain damage.”

Adam tried to be positive “I know I have a lot to be grateful for. Barring infection there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to get him well and at least there is no sign of brain damage.”

Carole took his arm “You’re scared of blindness?”

Adam nodded slowly “I’ve been thinking about it all night. It must be at least likely and then Joe faces weeks of uncertainty as to the extent of the damage. I was blinded for a while once. I was lucky I regained my sight but those weeks when I couldn’t see were the worst period of my life. I felt so useless. If I hadn’t known just how much it would hurt my family I think I would have killed myself, I thought about it often. I don’t think I am usually a coward but to be useless to face the life of being a burden, unable to pull your own weight was more than I could bear. I just hate the idea of Joe having to face that again.”

Carole snuggled close to him, trying to relax him as best she could “We can only wait and see Adam. If the worst happens and he is blind now, it may well only be temporary and we will have to help him.”

Adam tried to throw off the despondency which had settled on him, he knew he had a lot to be grateful for. He only partly succeeded but telling Carole to call him the minute Joe stirred, he went downstairs to deal with the messages that were arriving while he waited for Doc.

Hoss arrived first about an hour and a half later. Adam sat back “You made good time. Joe’s sleeping at the moment and I don’t want to wake him until the Doc arrives, but he was perfectly rational. He knew me and asked for you and Pa, although he’s very weak.”

Hoss asked “What about his eyesight?”

“I don’t know I’m waiting for Doc but at least he is going to live unless there’s infection.”

“There’s no real news so I think I’ll go up and sit with him until Doc arrives.”

Adam nodded “Carole is up there tell her to come and get some breakfast will you.”

Hoss nodded “Sure and I’ll yell if he stirs.” Then he headed on upstairs. Adam looked into the kitchen and told Hop Sing that Hoss was up with Joe and could doubtless do with feeding as well as asking for some food for Carole. Then he tried to concentrate, in vain, on the reports that were flowing in from the ranch. He noted down what each messenger said, but took none of it in, as he waited for the Doc.

Eventually he heard a buggy drive in and hurried out to greet the Doc. As they went up the Doc questioned Adam on how Joe had behaved on first coming round and said that seemed okay. Then he washed up while Adam went in to wake his little brother up. Little Joe was only dozing restlessly and Adam had no trouble in waking him. Adam eased another pillow under Joe and fed him some water. “Joe the Doc is here, he wants to have a look at you, Hoss and I will be right here.”

Joe reached out for Adam’s hand and Adam took it, “Just relax Joe.”

Doc asked Hoss to darken the room and then moved over to Joe “Right lets have a look at the damage Little Joe.” Adam stayed close by to reassure his brother as Doc very gently took the bandages off, including the ones over Joe’s eyes. They were still quite puffy but at least Joe could open them and Doc told him to do so. Carole bit her lip as she watched the two older brothers the concern so obvious on both their faces; they were nearly as pale as Joe himself and very tense. Joe gripped Adam’s hand painfully tight but he did as he was told and opened his eyes. It seemed a long time and then Joe whispered in despair “It’s all dark.”

Doc wasn’t giving up yet and he got out a small torch and shone it at Joe’s eyes and asked again Joe with a hint of hope in his voice said, “There’s a light.” Doc covered each of his eyes in turn and checked if he could follow the movement of the light, which Joe did successfully. Doc grinned reassuringly at the older brothers “That’s fine Little Joe, we’ll soon have you as good as new. Now I need to have a closer look at some of those cuts. It will hurt I’m afraid.”

Adam felt Joe dig his nails into the back of Adam’s hand as he tensed up again and he murmured reassuringly to his brother as Doc started to probe the wounds but Joe passed out within a minute. Doc was at least able to take the opportunity to make sure everything was healthy and to clean up two small centre of infection. Then he took the opportunity to check the rest of Joe’s injuries. Hoss moved over to help as Adam withdrew to the window. In most cases things had started to heal but Doc needed to reset some bones in his right hand. Now the swelling was down slightly he could feel what he was doing better and Hoss helped hold Joe’s arm as Doc worked. While he was working Doc did what he could to reassure Joe’s brothers. He was sure that Joe’s eyesight would recover in a few weeks, the prognosis was good, he believed that it was just stunned nerves.

Eventually Hoss left the Doc to finish the final dressings and took a glass of brandy over to his older brother. Adam was staring out of the window blinking back tears of relief after a long worrying night. Hoss put his arm round his brother “Come on Adam drink this, you look as though you need it.” Adam slowly sipped the drink grateful for the warmth of the spirit and even more for his brother’s warm presence. After a minute he said, “I’ve been so scared that Joe would never see this view again.”

“I know what you mean but God is still with us.”

Adam forced a grin “Yeah we’ll soon have the imp back on his feet to plague the life out of us.” Hoss nodded and then turning his brother gently to face him he said, “You’re just about out on your feet Adam. I don’t need to rush back. I’ll look after things here for a while, you grab a few hours sleep.”

Adam looked quizzically at his brother “Unless I miss my guess you have had very little sleep either these last few days.” Hoss grinned ruefully “Maybe you’re right at that” and with one accord the brothers went back over to Joe’s bed where Doc was just finishing up. Hoss helped him tuck the blanket closely round Joe while Adam went over to Carole “Stay with him for a few minutes while Hoss and I have a word with Doc.” She nodded and gave him a quick kiss before settling herself back by Joe’s bed.

Hop Sing had made scones and he poured fresh coffee as the brothers came down with Doc. Doc sipped his coffee and then gave them a full report on their brother. He was very positive about Joe’s eyesight and felt that the only cure was rest and sleep, which his other injuries would ensure anyway. Doc made it clear that he was quite happy if they wanted to call in a specialist, but he didn’t really feel it was necessary. He suggested waiting a few days by which time, if he was right, there should be a distinct improvement. If there wasn’t then they could call for more help, but he really didn’t think it was necessary. Adam and Hoss looked at each other and Hoss nodded, Adam said “You’ve never let us down Doc, we trust your judgement so for now we wait and see.”

Doc smiled “I really don’t think you have too much to worry about. Luckily young Joe has always healed fast. I think his eyesight will be fine but for now the only treatment whatever is wrong is keeping them covered and him quiet. As for the rest of his injuries they are beginning to heal. He isn’t going to enjoy having the dressings changed but it must be done twice a day. Any sign of infection let me know at once but luckily there seldom is out here. Keep him warm and as quiet as possible. Let him build up his strength, light foods to start with. I don’t think there’s anything to worry about, although he’s going to have to exercise his hand once it starts healing. Lucky it’s his right hand. There will be some scarring but less than it looks at the moment. He will be fine but its going to take time. It will probably be eight weeks or so before he’s out of bed and another couple of months at least before he really regains his strength and that’s taking into account how fast he heals.” Adam and Hoss looked at each other horrified at the length of time Doc was expecting it to take Joe to recover. Doc went on “Just one thing I know you four are all obstinate and have good recuperative powers, but don’t let him try too much too soon, simply because he knows there is trouble around or he’ll put himself back a month.”

Adam smiled “Pa will be back in about ten days. I’ll pass the problems of keeping Joe quiet onto him.”

Doc nodded “Okay. I’ll come back in three days to check on him. If he starts running a temperature or any sign of infection send for me, but it all seems healthy. Meantime you two might try getting some sleep or Joe won’t be the only patient I need to see.” On which note Doc headed out for his buggy.

Without discussion the brothers headed back up to check on Joe. He had drifted into sleep again but they decided to leave him for a while before waking him to feed him Carole promised to let them know as soon as he stirred and the brothers headed back downstairs. With the worst of their anxiety for Joe eased they were able to concentrate on the ranch affairs. Adam filled Hoss in on what had been happening. He had had three recent reports of small herds of cattle being rustled and there were the continual reports of the dead cattle but he was still waiting for the vet’s report on the head sent for analysis. At least the reports from the mine were good, everything running smoothly and the crosscut Philip had noticed was very promising. The first ore out was considerably richer than the normal ore form the mine. Hoss grunted “About time we had some good luck.”

“Joe’s going to be alright, how much luck do you expect.”

Hoss grinned at his brother “That’s not luck, that’s God’s justice.” For once Adam was silenced. Hoss went on “I met José on the way in. He was spitting fire. Seems someone has been taking pot shots at his vaqueros. The only damage so far has been a graze on one of the horses and he thinks the shots are intended to frighten not harm. Sorta showing what they could do if’n they wanted. I think José was feeling insulted at the idea that he or his crew could be scared. We’ve had a few odd shots up at the lumber camp too, but nobody hurt there neither.”

Adam hadn’t heard of this latest development and he didn’t like it but he said, “There’s very little we can do. I’ve men out on patrol but it can only be a token measure. Make it clear to all the men that we don’t expect them to risk their lives in defence of our property.”

“Sure Adam I already said that. Otherwise things are going mighty smoothly. The men are all doing their best and we are sending timber down as fast as we can to the sawmill. Reckon we might lose the flume again at some stage.”

“That’s sensible, thanks Hoss. I’m still waiting to see where the next attack is coming; we’re back to pinpricks. All they’ve done so far is put Joe out of action and at this rate we’ll weather the summer without too much trouble, I’m scared they’ll have a go at you next Hoss. I’m tied to the house and difficult to get at and Pa is safe until he gets home. He’s deliberately not letting me know exactly where he is or when he’s due, in case they pick up on it.”
“I’ll watch my back no need to worry about me.”

Adam was pensive twirling his pencil round “At least it’s too early in the season for fire but I have a horrible feeling we may face it later on.” He sighed hard “If only we had some idea who we are fighting. Do they want the Ponderosa? In which case they won’t want to do irreparable damage or do they just want to remove the Cartwrights as a power in Nevada?

Hoss frowned “Noone would devastate the land just to get rid of us surely?”

Adam wasn’t so sure, the attack on Joe seemed deliberately designed to hurt him and through him his family, an almost personal attack and yet the withdrawal of credit was more like some business attack. He couldn’t make any sense of what was going on and that worried him as much as anything else that was going on.

Meanwhile in Frisco, Addison had learnt that the attack on Joe had been carried out as he ordered but far from separating Adam from Carole, it had thrown them together as she had moved out to nurse his brother. He was furious and knew that he had an almost impossible job to win her back if things had gone as far as that, but he decided to at least make life difficult. He sent orders to his men to get Hoss and as soon as he returned get Ben. He still didn’t want them killed but they were to be incapacitated. He doubled the number of men he had creating trouble on the ranch and decided to mount an attack on the main ranch house. He knew it was a show house in the west and that the Cartwrights were rightfully very proud of their home. He told his men to lob a few sticks of dynamite into the main room at night. Enough to cause a great deal of damage without destroying the whole place, as he couldn’t risk Carole being hurt. Then he sat back to await events. He was determined to isolate Adam from all help and break him. If he could in addition add the vast resources of the Ponderosa to his own empire then he would be delighted. His holdings in California were extensive but he was very dependent on the Bank of California and rumour had it that Ralston the head of that edifice was beginning to run out of luck. If he could move in on Nevada, he would be better placed if the impossible happened and the Bank ran into serious trouble.
Meanwhile at the ranch Carole called Adam and Hoss up, Joe was awake and asking for his brothers. The pair rushed upstairs and Adam very carefully lifted Joe up to rest against him while he fed him some broth. While Adam fed him Hoss filled Joe in on what was happening, including their big brother’s engagement to Carole. Joe was delighted and he grinned at the news and gripped his big brother’s arm but Adam wouldn’t let him talk. Much to his brothers’ delight Joe managed a good bowl of broth and then Hoss lifted his little brother and held him while Adam with Carole’s help remade the bed. Once he was lying down Joe slipped back into sleep but his brothers were reassured, thankful that he was on the mend. Their brother was better than they would have believed possible three days earlier. The swelling had nearly all subsided from his face and although it was badly bruised, Joe was beginning to look like himself again.

Carole brought coffee for them both and as they both looked so tired she suggested they take the chance to have a doze for an hour, before lunch. Their little brother was resting easily and she would watch him. Adam hesitated and Carole said, “I’ll call you if any important messages come in.” Near exhaustion and all too aware that his big brother was equally tired and wouldn’t rest unless he did so, Adam gave way. They drained the very welcome coffee and went into their own beds to lie down for an hour. Carole watched them go into their rooms and smiled, very pleased with herself. She went down to join Hop Sing. With his help Carole had laced both their coffees with sleeping pills and knew they would be dead to the world for at least eight hours. Hop Sing had provided her with the drugs agreeing that the brothers needed sleep and having prepared a stew which would keep until they woke he went to sit with Little Joe, while Carole installed herself at Adam’s desk to take any messages that came in. There didn’t seem to be anything of immediate importance and she just made careful notes of all the information she was given for Adam to deal with later. Between whiles she read some of the memoranda Adam had made as he tried to solve the two problems which were worrying him most, namely who was behind it and what was killing the cattle. The second one she couldn’t help on but she added a note to the first, had he ever checked in whose name the shipping was ordered on the dates he wanted prior to Christmas. If he had been delayed in San Francisco deliberately, then the same person might be behind that and the attacks on the ranch.

About seven o’clock Carole got herself a snack meal and then went up to see how Joe was. Joe had just woken up and he was fretful, asking for Adam. Carole sat down by and took his left hand and gently smoothed his hair back. Joe was very uncomfortable, hot and restless and he demanded his brother came “I want Adam, where is he?”

Carole smiled “Your eldest brother is asleep at the moment, but Hop Sing and I will make you more comfortable.”

Joe was close to tears “Adam always comes when I call.” He knew that his eldest brother was a very light sleeper and he would come to any of his family who needed him, usually before anyone else was awake. Carole tried to reassure him “Your brother was very tired but he’ll come in later.” Then she began to bathe down his body and spread some of the soothing ointment Doc had left. Eventually she left Hop Sing to finish off while she went down and heated up some broth.

When she brought the broth up she lifted Joe up to lie against her shoulder just as she had seen Adam do and she began to feed Little Joe. He was beginning to feel rather easier as the ointment took effect and wanted to know how long he had been ill. Carole told him and said “Neither of your brothers have had much sleep, they’ve been very worried about you. So when we were sure you were going to be fine they both took a dose of sleeping powder, so that they could get twelve hours sleep.”

Joe considered that and shook his head “They’ve never done that in their lives.” Even without his eyes Joe could feel the laugh that went through Carole as she said quietly “Well they didn’t exactly know that they were taking the drug.” Joe giggled softly as he realised that she had slipped the drug in on his brothers, although he soon stopped as laughing hurt “You’re a girl in a million. You’ll fit right in this family.”

Joe seemed to be resting much easier and, as soon as he’d finished the broth and had some water, Carole eased him back down in the bed and Joe slipped back into sleep. Carole sent Hop Sing to eat and then get some sleep so he could spell her later if necessary. Then Carole sat by Joe’s bed and she thought about the three brothers. Adam, whom she loved so dearly, and the two younger ones, all so different in so many ways and yet so close as a family.

Later in the evening Joe became very restless, unable to find a comfortable spot for his battered body. Carole gently woke him up and gave him a dose of laudanum to drink as the Doc had recommended. After that Joe rested much easier. Carole sat with Joe all night and he rested quite easily. The night seemed to go very quickly as she dreamt of the future when she would have her own home near here with a wonderful husband. For now she knew Adam had to clear the trouble that was hitting the Ponderosa before he could concentrate on their future. She was delighted to feel how much she had been accepted by both his brothers. Hoss was quite content to entrust his young brother to her and Joe had accepted her ministration easily enough.

Carole was standing watching the sunrise when Joe stirred again and she quickly turned and went to him. Carole gently held him still and reassured him, then told him to stay still while she went and got him some broth. Joe accepted that and lay quietly until Carole came back up. She lifted him up against her and Joe couldn’t quite restrain the groan as he was moved, but then he relaxed against her. He was eating well when Adam came in.

Adam had been amazed to find it was early morning but he felt different again after his long sleep. He had looked in on Hoss, but his big brother was still dead to the world. Then Adam headed to check on his little brother. He stood watching Carole feeding Joe for a couple of minutes before she noticed him. As she did so, Carole smiled at him and then said “Joe your eldest brother has finally woken up.”

To Adam’s delight, his little brother let loose with his trademark giggle. It was a sound that for a while Adam had feared he would never hear again. He went over and took Joe’s left hand to reassure his brother and Joe said “She’s a girl in a million, she drugged you and Hoss.”

Adam looked over at Carole with a raised eyebrow and she had the grace to blush. Carole said without any trace of penitence “You both needed some sleep and I made notes of all the news that has come in.”

Adam shook his head in mock disgust but he had to admit that he felt better for the sleep, even so she was a cheeky minx. He couldn’t be cross with Joe so amused, but he did murmur quietly that she had better not try such tactics again, next time he wouldn’t be so forgiving. Then Adam turned his attention to Joe, demanding to know how he felt and making it very clear that Joe’s normal answer of fine wasn’t going to be acceptable.

Little Joe could hear in his brother’s voice that he wasn’t about to be put off with platitudes and for once he was honest, admitting that he was very sore and felt as weak as a kitten but he did insist that his head felt better than the previous day. Adam was quick to shush him not wanting his brother to waste too much energy on talking and just gave him an every brief update on things, insisting that everything was under control and their father would be home soon. Meantime Carole was there to nurse him and Joe had to do as he was told. Joe gripped his big brother’s hand “Guess if she’s to be my sister I’d better. Congratulations brother, thought you’d never pluck up the courage to ask. Don’t know why she’s wasting herself on you.”

Adam stroked his brother’s hair “Enough cheek from you, young man. Carole or Hop Sing will be in here with you all day. If you need me for anything at all, just tell them. I’ll only be downstairs.” Joe grinned weakly at that and just then Hoss came in. he came straight over to the bed and Adam relinquished Joe’s hand to their big brother. Hoss looked questioningly at Adam who grinned broadly “He must be on the mend Hoss he’s getting cheeky again.” Adam took the opportunity while Hoss was there to remake Joe’s bed and once they had settled their little brother, he was more than ready to slip back into sleep. Adam asked Hop Sing to keep watch on Joe and sent Carole to go and get some sleep.

Hop Sing had a large breakfast waiting for the brothers and as they ate Adam filled Hoss in on how they had been drugged. Hoss frowned slightly not quite sure how his eldest brother was taking it, he had never liked taking drugs. Adam recognised the question and grinned “I couldn’t be cross. Joe told me and he gave his little giggle, much amused at Carole controlling us. I was so scared I would never hear that again, it was marvellous. God I’d have forgiven just about anything.” Hoss could only agree and he had to admit that he felt a great deal better for a long sleep but as soon as he had finished eating, he knew he had to get back to the lumber camp.

Adam had been leafing through the messages that had come in as he ate but there didn’t seem to be anything particularly urgent and he stayed with the plans he had already made for the day’s work. He walked out with Hoss as his big brother went to saddle Chub, heading for the bunkhouse to pass on his orders. Before the brothers separated Adam gripped Hoss shoulder momentarily “Please be very careful big brother.”

“Sure I will, just remember you need some rest tonight, even if you did sleep last night.”

Adam punched him lightly “Take your own advice I’ll be fine.”

Hoss grinned broadly “Somehow with Carole here to look after you I think you might just be right, she’s a hell of a girl, brother.” Adam grinned broadly delighted by his brothers’ reactions, and headed off to his own day’s work with renewed energy.

Hoss knew he needed to get back to the lumber camp as fast as possible. Having missed a complete day on site, there would be numerous chores that only he could do waiting for him. He reasoned that noone could know when he was leaving the Ponderosa and he decided to risk the direct route. It would save him over half an hour compared to any of the other possible routes. For a long time it seemed that his gamble had paid off and an hour and a half after leaving the house he was within a mile of the lumber camp, when he was knocked from the saddle by a severe blow on his right leg. He caught his head on a rock as he landed and he was unconscious before he even heard the sound of the shot.

Luckily he fell clear of Chub who nuzzled his master trying to make him stir and he was even luckier that he was close enough to the camp for the shot to be heard. Worried by recent events Johnny Frankman, whom Hoss had left in charge in his absence, decided to investigate the shot they heard and fifteen minutes later it was Johnny himself who found Hoss. Johnny fired three shots to tell the men that he had found something and bring help and then he knelt down and fixed a tourniquet on Hoss’ thigh. The big man had already lost all too much blood and was lying in a large pool of it. Johnny checked quickly but there was no exit wound the bullet was still in. As soon as help arrived, Johnny sent one man to town to fetch Doc and another to the ranch house to tell Adam. Then he turned his attention to transporting Hoss back to the lumber camp, wrapping the big man in blankets to combat the shock of the wound.

Once they had him back to the camp Johnny checked the wounds again but there was very little he could do, except wrap Hoss warmly in blankets to counteract the shock of the wound and wait for either Adam or Doc to arrive. The whole camp was affected, as Hoss was popular with the men. Hoss was as strong as a horse but always fair and they had seen him with a hurt animal or man, so very gentle. They could all see that he hadn’t even drawn a gun. They were used to fights and injuries but now two of the Cartwrights had been ambushed and seriously hurt. The lumberjacks made their feelings very clear to Johnny. They were backing Adam right down the line.

Adam was quietly trying to rearrange the patrols when the messenger arrived from the timber camp. He told Adam that they had found Hoss on the trail with a bullet in the thigh, lying in a pool of blood. Adam lost colour but quickly checked that the Doc had been sent for and then asked the man to wait. He ran upstairs to Carole, who was sitting with Joe. Carole took one look at him and knew that something was wrong. Adam moved swiftly over to her seeing the concern on her face. He put his arms round her “Hoss had been shot in the leg. I don’t know how bad it is but I’ve got to go to him.”

Carole held him close feeling the tension in him “You go to Hoss. Hop Sing and I will look after Joe and take any messages. Are you going to bring Hoss back here?”

Adam nodded “If he can be moved Doc will go straight to the lumber camp. Have his room ready, bed warmed in case I can bring him home.” Carole nodded and Adam kissed her “Don’t tell Joe. There’s nothing he can do and he’ll only worry.”

Adam ran back downstairs, knowing that she would look after his youngest brother, and he could concentrate on helping his middle brother. He hastily made a note of all he would need to get his brother back. Adam ran down to the bunkhouse and found Dan Tolliver. He asked Dan to prepare a wagon with straw and a mattress, blankets, bandages, brandy and medical supplies. The he told the lumberjack to bring the wagon up to the lumber camp as soon as it was ready. Adam had already had one of the men saddle Sport, he needed to get to his brother as quickly as he could. Adam took emergency medical supplies with him but he knew there would be some up at the lumber camp and Doc would have his own.

Sport was fresh and Adam made good time but even so it seemed to take forever for him to reach his brother. Hoss was still out cold when Adam rode in. Adam was aware of the buzz of sympathy that arose from the lumberjacks but hurried straight over to his brother. Johnny was sitting with him and looked up as Adam came over. Johnny tried to reassure his boss “Hoss hasn’t stirred once but his pulse is good and strong.”

Adam knelt down by Hoss checking the pulse for himself and then had a look at the wound. He sat back on his haunches and looked up at Johnny “I don’t think it’s broken.”

Johnny smiled reassuringly at him “Nope I don’t think so either.” Adam knew that Johnny had come across quite a range of injuries in his years as a lumberjack and was a good judge of broken bones. Even so as he stared down at his brother Adam knew that even without a break, it was a nasty crippling wound. The bullet had entered high on the thigh and torn down by the side of the bone and was embedded in muscle just above the knee. Hoss was going to be off his feet for several weeks. He swallowed hard trying to think how to cope, but his brother came first. “How long ago did you send for Doc?”

“Same time as we sent for you Adam, must be about three and a half hours now. Doc shouldn’t be long. I’ve been easing the tourniquet off for one minute in every ten so don’t worry. Hoss is strong; he can stand the loss of blood. He’ll be okay.”

Adam nodded trying to convince himself “Sure he will but he’ll be flat on his back for the next month.” Johnny couldn’t find any way to help his boss with words so he poured out a stiff whisky and passed it to Adam. For once Adam was very grateful for the spirit as he frantically tried to work out a way to nurse his brothers and run the ranch and the timber camp on his own until Ben could get back, which would be at least a week. He sat by Hoss thinking in circles until Doc arrived twenty minutes later.

Johnny had been getting the men back to work, leaving the brothers alone but he brought the Doc in and stayed in case help was required. Paul frowned as he took in the wound and Hoss’ trousers stiff with blood. He looked at Adam and was worried just how drawn and pale the eldest Cartwright was, but he needed Adam’s help. Paul examined the wound and came to the same conclusion as Johnny and Adam. The bone wasn’t broken although it was chipped slightly but he needed to get the bullet out and sew up the wound before he could move the big man. Johnny already had plenty of water boiled, used to handling bad wounds.

Doc took Adam aside for a minute “I daren’t give Hoss any anaesthetic. He’s had a blow to the head and until he wakes up I don’t know how bad it is, probably nothing much but I won’t take any chances. I hope he’ll stay out while I deal with his leg, but I need you and Johnny to hold him just in case.”

“Sure Doc.”

“Are you alright Adam? You look pretty shaken.”

“What do you expect Doc? Two of my brothers badly hurt.” Adam swallowed hard “No need to concern yourself with me. Only Hoss matters.” Doc could only go along with him and left Adam to hold his brother’s shoulders, while Johnny held the leg still, as Doc began to probe for the bullet. Hoss screamed once as the pain caught him, but mercifully he remained unconscious the rest of the time, and Doc was able to edge the bullet out. Then he concentrated on repairing the damage as best he could, sewing up the torn muscles and tying off damaged blood vessels Eventually he strapped the leg up and sat back, checking how Hoss had stood up to the surgery. Satisfied by what he had found Doc smiled up at Adam “He’ll do.”

“Can I move him back to the ranch?”

Doc nodded “Best place for him, he will probably be a little feverish later. I’ll ride along with you and check on Joe while I’m out here.”

“Thanks Doc.”

Then Paul asked the question that Adam had been trying to answer ever since he heard. “Hoss is going to be off that leg for at least a month and, with the amount of blood he has lost, he’ll need nursing for the next week. How the hell are you going to cope on your own?”

Adam shook his had “I don’t know but I can’t just give up.”

Johnny was still sitting there and he said tentatively “I don’t want to intrude but the boys and I have been talking things over. We don’t like what’s been happening. I ain’t no organiser, but if you can get out here every few days and mark up the trees you want and tell me how there to be cut, I reckon I can keep things ticking over for the next few weeks. All the boys have promised to do all they can to help.”

Adam was totally taken aback by this offer from the tough lumber crews, who normally needed a firm hand all the time to get anything done. Too choked up to find the words he held out his hand and shook Johnny’s. Swallowing hard to gain control he managed to say “I’ll get out tomorrow and sort things out. Please thank all the men for me.”

Then with the Doc and Johnny helping he settled Hoss in the wagon, which was waiting and started out on the journey back to the house. He left one of the lumberjacks to drive while he sat in the back next to his brother. At least he had the reassurance of Doc’s buggy following just behind. Hoss didn’t stir just moaning once or twice as the wagon caught ruts. Two hours later they finally pulled into the yard and with the help of Doc and the lumberjack Adam got his big brother up to his own bed. Hoss had weathered the journey reasonably well but he was beginning to run a fever. Doc reassured the worried man, it would be a miracle if Hoss wasn’t feverish. Then having checked the bandages, Doc left Adam to wrap Hoss warmly while he went to check on Joe.

Carole was with Joe who was awake but very restless. On Doc’s orders she pulled the curtains, darkening the room while he began to ease the bandages from Joe’s head. Once the bandages were removed Joe grinned delightedly “I can see you, a bit blurred but I can see you.”

Doc patted his shoulder gently “That’s great Little Joe we’ll have you a hundred percent soon.” He moved onto check Joe’s various wounds. Joe was hard pressed to keep hold of his senses but it didn’t last long and Doc spread some soothing ointment and with Carole’s help rebandaged Joe. Much to Joe’s disgust Doc insisted that for safety his eyes should remain bandaged for a few more days. Doc took no notice of Joe’s complaints, well used to his young patient’s refusal to accept he was ill. Even Joe’s arm and hand seemed to be healing and he had slight movement in his right hand, although with so much in plaster the movement was very limited. Doc let Carole ease Joe back onto a fresh pillow and said “Well young man I can reassure your brothers, you’re coming along fine. The only prescription is to get as much sleep as possible and to eat what Hop Sing gives you.”

Joe grinned ruefully “Well that’s easy. About all I feel fit for is sleeping.” A fact he proceeded to prove by falling asleep before Doc had finished packing his bag. Carole followed Doc out onto the landing pushing the door shut behind her, not wanting Joe to hear. Anxiously she asked, “How is Hoss?”

“It could be a lot worse, the leg isn’t broken but it’s a nasty crippling wound and he’ll have to keep of the leg until it’s well healed or it will keep breaking open. He has lost a great deal of blood and he’s already started to run a fever. Barring infection he’ll be fine but he is going to need a lot of nursing for the next week. Even then he’s going to be out of action for at least a month.” Doc sighed “Adam is nearly driving himself mad, trying to work out how to do four people’s work on his own. Bad enough at any time and just now it’s even worse, with trouble hitting the ranch.” Carole grimaced, she knew her love well enough to be sure that he would attempt to carry the ranch and his brothers on his shoulders, whatever the personal cost.

Carole followed Doc into Hoss’ room, sure that Joe would sleep for the next hour at least. Hoss had just come round and was trying to apologise to Adam, blaming himself for getting hurt. “I knew it was a risk, taking the direct route but I was in a hurry. Now dadburnit I’ve let you down.”

Adam had hidden all signs of his own worries as he reassured his brother that he would be fine and none of it was his fault One point he made seemed to make an impression on Hoss. “If they wanted to get you Hoss they doubtless had ambushes set on all the routes into the lumber camp. At least you were close enough for Johnny to reach you fast.” Adam fed his brother some water “Hop Sing will bring up a tray in a minute, anything particular you fancy.”

Hoss brightened up at that “A nice big steak and all the trimmings.”

Adam hesitated looking round at Doc wondering if he ought to insist on broth but Doc smiled “If that’s what he fancies it will help to replace the blood he lost but plenty of fluids too.” Adam looked over at Carole and she headed down to tell Hop Sing while Adam went on to tell his brother that they didn’t need to worry about the timber camp because the lumberjacks had promised their full co-operation. Adam said with a grin “Johnny has promised that if I go up every four days or so and tell him what I want done then he will ensure it is done.”

Hoss was amazed; the Cartwright method of felling timber was different from all the other operators in the area; they just cut everything in sight for maximum profit in the minimum time. The Cartwrights carefully selected the trees to be cut leaving enough to ensure the watershed was protected and insisted on replacements being planted. They usually had a running battle with the lumberjacks, who drifted back into old habits as soon as their backs were turned.

Adam said, “I’m sure Johnny still thinks we’re mad, but he and the men were furious that you had been ambushed and they were prepared to do whatever we wanted if it would help.”
Hoss was delighted at this help from an unexpected quarter, but Adam wouldn’t let him talk much. Hoss had lost a lot of blood and was very weak so Adam left Carole to look after his brothers while Hop Sing cooked some food. He went down with the Doc to get his report on the pair. Adam was delighted to hear that Joe was recovering well and had already regained some sight. Then the Doc said “I know you are very busy, so I’ll let you get on.”

Adam offered his hand almost formally for once “Thanks for coming so quickly Doc, we’ll try not to bother you again for a while.”

Doc nodded but said “Just you watch your back Adam and try to get some sleep. You’ll be no use to anyone if you collapse from trying to do too much.” Adam acknowledged his friend was giving good advice but it was difficult to obey. Adam spent half an hour checking the messages that had come in since he left to collect his brother. Then he went back upstairs to join Carole. She slipped out of Hoss’ room pulling the door to behind her and signalled him to be quiet “He’s just gone to sleep, made a good meal.”

“That’s my brother.” Adam managed a smile at the thought and she came over to give him a hug “Hop Sing is going to watch them both for now, they are both asleep. I’m going to go and get some sleep and then I’ll take over from Hop Sing. We’ll take care of your brothers you have a ranch to run.” Adam held her tightly to him so very grateful for her help that he couldn’t find the words to express it, not realising it was written clearly all over his face. Eventually he forced himself to let go and with a final kiss, he went back downstairs.

He had so many things to do that for a minute he didn’t know where to start. He knew he ought to go up to the mines and check with José at the herd but he didn’t know how to fit either job in. He would have to go up to the lumber camp and into town to collect cash for the hands. He was worried whom he could leave to take messages for him while he was gone. The hands were a good bunch but not many were educated past signing their own names and those who were, were indispensable where they were. H e knew Carole couldn’t take messages and tend two sick men, so eventually he decided to sleep on it. Maybe Dan Tolliver could at least make a note and his memory was good, so he could fill Adam in verbally.

Adam spent the rest of the day arranging the multitude of details and calculating how much cash he would need on hand, to cover all eventualities for the next two weeks, as he would only be able to get into town once. He already had a list of equipment and stores to order and he was busy checking over his notes to see what else was wanted when he heard a buggy draw up. Curious to know who it was he went to the door, to find Dan de Quille and Beth standing there, each with a large case. Puzzled Adam stood back and let them come in

Beth smiled at him “I got to thinking about Carole out here on her own and decided she needed a chaperone, even if you two are engaged.”

Adam’s jaw dropped and he struggled to gain control and managed enough to ask, “How did you know?”

Beth smiled and kissed his cheek Many congratulations; she’s a lovely girl. As far as finding out, it seems Hop Sing’s cousin told the laundry owner, who told the sweeper at the Palace, who told the bartender, who told Dan. With the pair of you wandering around like lovebirds for months nobody doubted it.”

Adam shook his head “I haven’t even told Hop Sing and he hasn’t been near town,” He looked over at Dan “Is it in the paper?”

Dan grinned “Not until you’ve told Ben!” Then Dan turned serious and said “We met Doc in town. He told us about Hoss. You can’t run the ranch single-handed and Carole will have her work cut out to nurse two sick men. So Beth volunteered to help out with the nursing and I awarded myself a holiday until Ben gets back. I make a real good messenger boy. Roy said that if Ben comes back through town he’ll do a spot of escort duty to make sure your Pa reaches the ranch safely.”

Adam was choked up unable to find the words, so very thankful. It was amazing how everyone was rallying round in time of need. He had always known they had some very good friends but it was until now that he realised just how good. Seeing that his friend was speechless Dan said, “We’ll go up and unpack “ They left Adam on his own to recover.
Adam had been feeling so helpless, fighting in the dark but with friends like these they couldn’t lose. As his hope came back so did his efficiency and in the next couple of hours he achieved more than he had done all day.

Dan came back downstairs leaving Beth with Carole upstairs, the women were feeding the two brothers. He came over to Adam “I forgot to give you these.” He handed over three envelopes that he had collected in town. One was a telegram from Ben saying he was making good progress and would be home soon. It mentioned no dates or specific places as Ben had agreed with his sons before he went. A precautionary measure to ensure he wasn’t attacked. Even so it cheered Adam up just to know his father was okay, the one member of his family that could be said about. The second was a report from Frisco, they were still no nearer finding out who was behind the attacks.
The third was the report that Adam had been anxiously awaiting on the dead cattle. The incidence was still much the same, every day brought reports of from five to ten dead and there was no sign of trouble with any of the others. Adam sat down and began to read the report and then To Dan’s surprise he sprung to his feet and started pacing up and down.

Dan asked anxiously “Is something else wrong?”

Adam sighed “I knew it was too much of a coincidence.” Then as he saw the complete confusion on Dan’s face, he calmed down and perched on the table “We have been losing cattle about ten a day scattered all over the range. We were scared it was some poisonous weed, but I thought it was too big a coincidence. I couldn’t see how anyone could have introduced it and this had to be part and parcel of all the other troubles. This is the report on one that Hoss took into the vet. He now knows it was killed by potassium cyanide.”

Dan looked puzzled “I’m no scientist Adam. What is this potassium cyanide?”

“It’s a deadly poison and someone has managed to introduce it to the cattle, probably small capsules of it are scattered across the range and as the cattle graze they take one into their mouth. They would be dead in seconds."

Dan looked doubtful “Sounds a mite haphazard.”

Adam could only agree but said “I can’t think of any other way of introducing it at the moment. Still at least we know what we are looking for now. I must go and see José, let him know what is going on. Then with luck we can find out exactly how it’s being done.” Adam grinned more easily than he had in days. It seemed that things had swung back in their direction One of the things that had been worrying him most was at least partially resolved and he was confident they would find a way to fight it.

While Hop Sing got food on the table Adam went up to check on his brothers. Joe was sleeping peacefully but Hoss had a high temperature and was very restless. Beth was with him and Adam helped her bathe down his big brother and Hoss settled more easily. As he straightened up from tucking the blankets back round Hoss, Adam took Beth’s hand “I hope you know how very grateful I am for your help. I felt as though I was drowning all day, just didn’t know how to cope. You and Dan appearing was like a miracle.”

Beth smiled at him “Your father and I have been friends for a very long time. I know if I was in trouble he would be the first to help or, in his absence, one of you three. The least I can do is help nurse his sons. It isn’t as though I have anything very urgent to do in town.”

Adam smiled “The way everyone has rallied round is fantastic, even some of the hands who have only been here a short time.”

Beth patted his arm “You shouldn’t be that surprised Adam. You forget just how often you and your family have jumped in to help other people. Anyway they may be a rough crowd out here but most of them like a fight to be fair. Now you have had two brothers injured in ambushes. Watch your back Adam you must be next.”

Adam promised “I’ll be careful.” In fact he was completely safe if he had but known it, still he wasn’t taking any chances.
Adam grabbed some sleep during the evening. He wanted to be at the lumber camp at first light the following day. There was a full moon and he knew the route well, Sport was sure footed so he intended to head out in the early hours. At least then it should be safe. Dan was going to keep track of the news and take messages for Adam. Adam had spent half an hour with Carole and warned her not to be worried. He had a long list of jobs to do and didn’t expect to get home until late afternoon, the day after tomorrow.

Adam was up at 2.30 in the morning collecting food when he heard a bang in the main room. He went in there from the kitchen and saw that the shutter and one of the windows were broken. As he watched several sticks of dynamite were thrown through. Adam saw at a glance that the fuse was too short to do anything about it, but he ran forward quickly and turned the sofa over on top of the dynamite and then threw himself down flat. The dynamite went off almost immediately and the sofa was blown to pieces. Adam covered his head and waited for things to calm down. As soon as it did he got to his feet, stamping on a couple of stray fires, and then headed for the stairs.

Carole, Beth and Dan had all appeared on the stairs and Hop Sing rushed in from the back, but Adam ignored them all, pushing past the trio on the stairs, as he hurried to his brothers. Joe was awake and trying to sit up. Adam gently pushed his brother back on the pillows, noticing with relief as he did so that Carole was going into Hoss’ room. Adam gently held Joe’s hand “Take it easy little brother. Someone threw some dynamite into the living room, but there isn’t much damage. I saw it come in and turned the sofa over on it. We are gonna need a new sofa but nothing much else hurt.”

Joe relaxed “Never was very comfortable. I’m okay, Adam you have work to do.”

Adam gently pushed his brother’s curly hair back “Everything is under control Joe try and go back to sleep.” Joe settled down and Adam left him to go over to Hoss. Carole had told Hoss what had happened and Adam confirmed that there wasn’t much damage. Hoss was just content once he had made sure that his eldest brother was unhurt. He grinned at Adam “Maybe you oughta get outside, sounds like the hands are gonna riot unless you go sort things out.” Adam grinned at his brother but he took his advice and headed quickly downstairs.

Dan Tolliver had all the hands in the yard and Adam went out to them. They quietened down as soon as he appeared. Adam said “Someone threw some dynamite into the main room. Luckily there isn’t much damage and noone has been hurt.”

Dan said “We heard a horse leave but he had too much of a start.”

Adam shrugged “Inevitable. We’ll need some help in the morning to clean up the mess and I would like you to arrange for two men to be on guard round the house, day and night for the time being.”

Dan promised to arrange that and took the first stint himself. Adam insisted that everyone listen and made it as clear as he could, that while he was asking for their help, nobody was to take any risks. He did not expect anyone to risk their lives in defence of property. Then he sent the rest back to bed, to try and get some more sleep, it would be another busy day.

Adam himself went back in and took his leave of Carole and his friend and set out for the lumber camp. He spent a most satisfactory morning at the camp. He knew all the details of a lumber camp having served his time as the bull of the camp, but it was a very new phenomenon to have the full co-operation of the lumberjacks. He marked up for several days ahead, noting the exact way he wanted each to be cut, information that would go with the tree down to the sawmill. Adam took some of the papers with him to work on back at the ranch. It would enable him to assess the correct bonuses for the men. Adam left Johnny after lunch sure they could cope for the next four or five days.

Adam headed down to the sawmill but he only needed to stay for quarter of an hour. Jack Catfish had everything under control. He presented Adam with a list of stores he required and gave him details of the wood so far amassed towards their contracts, both that already cut and that awaiting cutting. Adam was surprised to find just how well they were doing. The flume was again proving its worth as they cut timber in previously inaccessible areas, which took heavy cutting. They were well up on schedule and Jack promised to keep pushing hard. He did report one incident near the flume. The guard had seen a lone rider and challenged him. The man wouldn’t answer but when the guard fired a warning shot the man fled. There hadn’t been any other sign of trouble. Adam was worried by that, but Jack shrugged, it was nothing. Adam promised to have the stores Jack needed out in a day or so and then rode out to the cattle herd.

The cattle herd was his favourite part of the ranch operation, although mining and lumber had become increasingly important. The Ponderosa was primarily a cattle ranch, although with his little brother, Adam was beginning to build up the horse side of the operation. They had some good blood horses as well as excellent cutting horses and the brothers had every intention of expanding that profitable sideline. This was the first time that the spring roundup had been carried out without the direct supervision of one of them, but José was very capable, and Adam didn’t expect to find too many problems. The herd was ready for the drive up to the summer pastures and the calf tally was nearly complete. José saw Adam as he rode into the camp and came over. They had already heard about the attack on Hoss; news always managed to travel amazingly fast over the wide spaces of the ranch. Adam told José that both his brothers would be in bed for about a month but they would be okay. Adam explained briefly about the help he had been given and then he turned his attention to business. Adam explained what the report from the vet had said and arranged for José to have the area surrounding dead cattle thoroughly searched. Adam warned him to destroy the carcasses or anything eating it would also be killed and to ensure the men used gloves when handling them. José laughed they would be careful but he’d have the full answer for his friend in a couple of days, now he knew what he was looking for.

Adam wasn’t going to bet against José and settled down to get details of the calf tally, high after a reasonable winter. José was delighted with the tally and insisted that they were good strong animals. Adam grinned at him and left it up to José when he wanted to move up to the high pasture, but he did warn José to keep a good strong guard out. Until the cattle were dispersed on the high plateau, the cattle were very vulnerable to stampede. Adam promised to send more men to help, now that the main cattle were gathered, guarding the herd was far more important than patrols.

Adam needed to move onto the mine and despite José’s attempts to get him to rest, he rode out after a quick meal. It was nearly ten p.m. when he reached the mine and Sport was very weary, just like his master. Most of the miners were asleep but the two men on guard at the mine entrance challenged him as he rode in. Adam dismounted stiffly and identified himself. The older of the two men went to wake Swann. Adam sat down by the fire and relaxed with a cup of coffee. Swann joined him and wanted news of Hoss and Joe. Adam filled him in and then asked about the current position at the mine.

Swann was delighted with himself, since guards had been put on the tunnels and he had ensured the four troublemakers were split up, there had been no cave-ins. Two of the troublemakers had left and the others had calmed down. The crosscut Philip had noticed was very rich and easy to work and they were ahead of schedule with no real problems. Adam was well pleased and collected the details and another wadge of paper work. He promised to sort out bonuses up to date in the next few days. Adam felt that whoever was causing trouble had given up at the mine for the moment. The ore was being stockpiled at the mine and eventually it had to be transported to the stamp mills and could be hit on the way. For the time being Adam felt the mines weren’t a problem, he’d think about the transportation later when his father was home to help.

Adam was exhausted and knew that his horse needed a rest, so he decided to grab a few hours sleep before heading for town. He arranged for one of the guards to call him at 3 am and then settled down. He was asleep as soon as he shut his eyes and it only seemed minutes later when he was shaken awake. He grabbed some coffee while they re-saddled Sport for him and then he set out for town.

Adam rode in just after 8 am and took Sport straight to the livery stable. Taking all his notes and papers Adam headed for the hotel and breakfast. He was busy with a long overdue letter to his cousin Will in Frisco when Roy came and joined him. Adam was pleased to see his old friend but Roy had no real news for him, they had never managed to trace Joe’s assailants. Adam wasn’t really surprised and said “It’s the person who gave the orders for it that I want.”

Roy frowned at him “I know how you feel Adam but let the law take care of him.”

“The question is purely academic at the moment as we have no idea who it is.”

Roy had to accept that and eased himself to his feet “Come round before you leave town I fancy a ride and maybe a piece of Hop Sing’s pie.”

Adam lent back in his chair and raised a quizzical eyebrow “Do you think I need a wet nurse?”

“They didn’t exactly give Hoss a warning.”

Adam considered that “Okay I guess that’s true and I’ll be glad of the company but I’m sure you only really want to see Beth.”

Roy grinned “Well Beth and Hop Sing’s cooking certainly make a real nice end to the ride. I’ll see you later.”

Adam finished his letter to Will, congratulating him on the birth of his twin daughters and telling him about Adam’s own engagement. He also asked Will to find out who had booked the transport in Frisco on the days that Adam had wanted as Carole suggested. Will was in the transport business and ought to be able to find out discreetly. Adam made it clear that it was urgent but tried to give no other hint of trouble. Will was just beginning to build a new and successful life and he had a wife, an older daughter, and now twin girls to take care of. Adam knew if Will guessed how hard pushed they were he would come to help but even now, when he had Carole, Adam wasn’t sure he wanted to see Will and Laura. There would be so much awkwardness, he didn’t think Laura would ever want to return to Virginia City.

Adam posted the letter and then went over to the telegraph office and began to order up all the items he had been requested for on his rounds. They were nearly all standard items from firms well used to doing business with the Ponderosa and by midday he had confirmation that all items would be in town within the week. Well satisfied Adam went down to the livery stable and arranged for the owner to have his young son collect all the goods, which arrived for the Ponderosa each day and bring them out to the ranch. It saved having to send in a hand on the off chance and the kid, at fifteen, was very glad to earn a few dollars for his trips.

Adam delivered long lists of stores required to the General Store, paid for them and said that a hand would be in the following day to collect them. Then he headed for the bank and asked to see the bank manager Mr Harris, in private. Once they were alone Adam asked for 25 000 dollars in cash. He reassured Harris that there wasn’t anything wrong, just that he needed money on hand and wasn’t sure when he would be able to get back to town. Harris was worried it was a lot of money, but Adam just grinned he had his own personal bodyguard, Roy was riding home with him. Mr Harris had proved a good friend when he warned them about the withdrawal of credit and he proved so again, quietly collecting the money and making up a money belt for Adam.

Adam headed down to the jail and as Roy wasn’t there, he poured himself some coffee, and sat down to wait, fighting to stay awake. He had just finished the coffee when Roy appeared “You ready to go home?” Adam nodded and the two men went down to the livery stable to get their horses. It was a long ride but most of the way they rode in a companionable silence. Roy had his eyes skinned for possible trouble but Adam, well satisfied with what he had achieved and very used to Sport’s gait, was three quarter’s asleep, relying on Roy to keep watch. Roy was a little uneasy but Adam moved easily with his horse and Roy could remember Hoss saying that his elder brother could stay in the saddle, even when fast asleep.

It was about five o’clock when they finally rode into the ranch and Carole had been anxiously watching for him. She was in the door as they dismounted and Adam went over and took her in his arms. He kissed her and then smiled “No need to worry about me I have my own personal bodyguard.”

Carole grinned at Roy “Thanks for looking after him.”

Roy offered his congratulations on their engagement and then came in for coffee while Adam headed upstairs to check on his brothers. He found Joe fast asleep but Hoss was awake. Adam gently felt his brother’s forehead and his temperature seemed to be down a little, although Hoss was still flushed and obviously very weak. Hoss was relieved to see his eldest brother, tired but unhurt, he wanted to know exactly what Adam had been up to. Adam sat down by the bed and filled Hoss in very briefly on what he had been doing. Adam explained about the cyanide and José’s insistence that he would find out exactly what was going on within days, now that he knew what to look for

Hoss grinned “Whoever is causing trouble ain’t being real successful is he? He’s put Joe and me out of action but we seem to be ahead of schedule on all fronts.”

Adam nodded “I think he’s badly miscalculated. Our men are a good bunch and they don’t like the way you and Joe have been hurt, so they are doing all they can to help me. It means things are running much smoother than normal.” He straightened up and moved over to the window. “Sooner or later he’ll have to make an all out effort, either at the flume or the ore when we move it, maybe the cattle. A stampede at the moment would be very costly, that’s why I’m sending José every man I can and then if we get them up to the high pasture safely we have to get them down again.” Turning round Adam saw the worried look on his big brother’s face and cursed himself for upsetting Hoss. He tried to be more positive “Anyway the longer he delays the better. We’re that much closer to making our contracts and Pa will be home in a week or two.” Then seeing Dan passing the door Adam called him in and asked for his help. Between them they lifted Hoss into a chair and Adam remade the bed and got his brother settled back in it. Hoss relaxed back against the pillows “That feels better, never can understand how the sheets get all wrinkled even when I stay still. Adam we still got that old wheelchair out in the barn ain’t we?”

“Yes.” Adam said suspiciously and Hoss grinned at the expression on his brother’s face “If I use the chair I won’t break my leg open and I could at least take messages or sit with Joe.”

Adam gently felt his brother’s forehead still too warm “Not yet Hoss you’re still a mite feverish. Once that has settled we’ll think about it, but for now just get as much sleep as you can, get your strength back. You lost a hell of a lot of blood.”

Hoss demanded “When?”

Adam grinned at him “A couple of days if you behave now and a couple of weeks if you try and overdo it now. As you well know! Now if you’re not hungry get some rest big brother.” Hoss grinned sheepishly, as Adam gently squeezed his shoulder.

By the time Adam had eaten Joe was awake. He was fretful sure that something was being kept from him and he was strong enough to lay awake and worry, without having the strength to even sit up unaided, or for any length of time. His healing wounds were painful and irritating and he had a raging headache. He was very glad to hear his eldest brother’s voice as Adam came into him. Adam bathed his brother’s face and rearranged his pillows and then he sat down by Joe. Joe demanded “Where have you been?”

Adam told him briefly but Joe was listening to what he wasn’t told and as Adam fell quiet Joe demanded “What’s going on? Something has happened. Everyone is hiding something, even you.”

Adam wasn’t particularly surprised his little brother knew him very well “We just didn’t want you lying here worrying. Hoss has been shot, got a bullet in the thigh. He was lucky the bone isn’t broken but he’s tied to his bed for a few days.”

Very scared for his big brother, Joe grabbed Adam’s arm “Tell me the truth, how bad is it?”

“Easy Joe. I have told you the truth, it isn’t too bad but it’s a long gash and if he tries walking on it too soon, he’ll reopen the wound. He lost a fair bit of blood before we could get him to Doc, but he’s already badgering me to let him up. Beth and Dan heard about it in town and they came out to help Carole with the nursing of the pair of you and to take messages for me. We are real lucky in our friends Joe and Pa should be home in a few days.”
Slowly Adam felt the painful grip on his arm ease, as Joe relaxed, he knew he could trust his eldest brother, Adam didn’t lie to him. Trusting in Adam, Joe calmed down and soon drifted asleep.

Adam checked the messages that had come in since he left but there was nothing that couldn’t wait until morning, so near exhaustion he headed for bed. He slept like a log, his brothers were improving and everything was under control. The following day he threw himself into the mass of details which had amassed in the two days since he had been there, feeling very much refreshed by having toured the ranch. He sorted out all the pay packets for the men, debating whether or not to add a cash bonus for their help. He decided against it, he would do it but later in the year, for now he wanted to see as many as he could manage personally and thank them for their help. He knew it was help willingly given, without thought of monetary reward, and he didn’t want to tarnish their offer.

The next three days passed quietly, Adam was very busy but no more attacks were reported. He began to feel he was on a powder keg waiting for it to go up. The herd was on the way to the high pastures and Adam was on tenterhooks awaiting news of an attack on it. On the third day he allowed Hoss out of bed in the wheelchair and took him into Joe’s room. Then he left his brothers together, knowing Hoss could at least keep and eye on Joe and would feel he was doing something to help. Little Joe was a lot better and gradually regaining his strength. He was able to sit up for short periods, but as he stayed awake he was more restless. His eyes were still bandages and he was sore and fretful, although he did his best not to be a nuisance to his brother, knowing just how heavy a load Adam was carrying.

On the fourth day Adam went back to the lumber camp where things seemed to be going smoothly. He held a payroll call and personally thanked each man for his support over the last few weeks. He marked up for the next few days and showed Johnny exactly what he required. He thanked Johnny for the great job he was doing. All the timber for the first delivery for the mines and nearly all the timber for the first delivery to the trestle was down at the sawmill. Jack had already cut about half of it. Johnny had been quite enjoying himself as an independent boss although it was hard work and Adam was coping with most of the associated paperwork, which was delivered to him every morning from both the lumber camp and the sawmill. Indeed he was taking a large pile home with him now.

Adam treated himself to a short break up by Lake Tahoe on the way home. He dismounted and slipped into his usual spot staring out over the Lake. He knew Ben would be home any day now and his brothers were both much better. The herd should reach the high pasture that day and everything was moving well. He relaxed for the first time in days and it was a real effort half an hour later to pull himself back to his feet and head home to more paperwork, but he did feel a lot better for a break.

Things were fairly quiet and after checking with his brothers and spending two hours concentrated work on the paperwork, Adam wandered outside with Carole. He had very quickly got used to having her there, although they seldom had time on their own. Now she reminded him that the school term started again in less than a week. Adam had forgotten about that and he held her close “I shall miss having you here darling.”

She snuggled closer to him “Your brothers will be a lot better they won’t need constant nursing, they hardly do now. And your father will be home.”

“I know that, but it has been a wonderful thought all the time I’ve been so busy that I have only got to walk upstairs and you will be there.”

Carole held him tight but she said, “I’m a teacher Adam I have a duty, I can’t leave the children untaught.”

“I understand that but you had better tell the town council that they will have to get a new teacher from next term. You are getting married.”

Carole kissed him “That I will very willingly do my love, but you have to meet your contracts and find out who is causing this trouble, before we can concentrate on our wedding.”

Adam held her tight burying his face in her hair, not wanting her to see the fear on his face, but she could feel the tension in him. Adam said, “We are back waiting for the powder keg to explode. Apart from the injuries to Joe and Hoss everything else has just been pinpricks. I’ve had to engage extra men to mount guard but that sort of thing is absorbed easily on a ranch the size of the Ponderosa. Sooner or later there must be an all out attack. If only I knew whether they want to take over the ranch or just destroy us as a force in Virginia City. If it’s the second then they can use far more drastic measures. At least it’s still too early in the year for them to use fire. Later that could create havoc among the timber and even our pasture land.”

“With luck you will know who is behind it before then.”

“That won’t necessarily help love, the Ponderosa is a huge area to defend effectively and although knowing who we are fighting should make us personally safer, it won’t help the ranch.”

“Surely if you know who is planning it, you can guess in what direction he’ll attack.”

Adam shrugged “If it is someone in Frisco, he may well only be a name and we will have no idea how his mind works.”

“You don’t believe that Adam, some of these attacks are personal spite, like that dynamite. That wasn’t intended to harm anyone or to blow up the house, but if you hadn’t been up, it would have destroyed many of your treasured possessions.”

Adam said, “You can’t be sure. It could equally as well have been aimed at the papers on my desk, with those gone we could have been in chaos for several days.”

Carol shook her head “I’m sure its personal and once you know who it is, you’ll find a way to counteract him,”

Adam grinned “Women’s intuition!” and he gave her a big hug before returning inside to the never-ending paperwork.

The following day Dan had to get back to town, he couldn’t leave the paper without his services any longer. He promised he would come back again in a few days if Ben wasn’t back and Adam still needed the help. Adam rode a short way with his friend to get some fresh air “Thanks for all your help Dan. You carried us over the impossible time. Now I can always leave Hoss to take messages and with both of them much better, Carole and Beth are freer.”
Dan grinned “Friends are suppose to help out at need and anyway how would I fill my newspaper if the Cartwrights weren’t around!” The two men shook hands and Adam returned to the ranch.

For the next two days Adam was buried in the multitude of details entailed in running a ranch the size of the Ponderosa. He took a few breaks to spend time with Carole dreaming of the future but otherwise he was kept busy from five in the morning through to midnight and then sank exhausted to sleep. Hoss was rapidly regaining his strength although Adam knew it would be at least a fortnight before they could risk Hoss standing on his injured leg for even a short period. Still he was able to look after Joe. Little Joe was still very weak although he could now manage to sit up unaided and feed himself. The trouble was that with his eyes bandaged he was completely dependent on someone else and as his wounds healed they itched and pulled. He was doing his best not to be a nuisance to his family, knowing how busy they were, but he was too weak to hide the fretfulness at times. Hoss was very placid and managed to keep his younger brother quiet, knowing it was the best way he could help Adam.

They were all anxiously awaiting Ben’s return. It should be sometime that week and Adam found himself calculating the earliest he could expect to see his Pa. He was feeling the strain and wanted to push some of the responsibility onto other shoulders. Hoss knew that Adam was carrying the whole ranch and there was little he could do, his forte was action not administration. Adam had carried the ranch before, but this time there was the tension of awaiting the next attack. All Hoss could do was to help look after Joe and be around when Adam wanted to talk. Hoss kept expecting his elder brother to explode with all the mass of detail, but he kept remarkably calm. The few minutes Adam stole alone with Carole acted as a safety valve.

Meanwhile Ben was on the last lap of the journey home, he was on the stagecoach for Virginia City. He had found the long trip home very trying. He had deliberately refrained from letting his sons know where he was, in order that no attack could be arranged but it had also meant he had been unable to get any news. The last he had heard had been the telegram that Joe sent him in Boston more than two weeks ago. In that time he knew any thing could have happened to his sons and his ranch. He had a great deal of trust in Adam and knew the two younger boys would give their brother all the support they could, but they were all fighting in the dark and he was desperately worried, knowing that they were personally at risk.

Late Tuesday afternoon the stagecoach finally reached Virginia City. As Ben got down and stretched after the cramped journey the manager of the office came over “Roy asked me to tell you to go down to the office as soon as you reached town.” Wondering what the summons meant and scared it was bad news; Ben collected his grip and went rapidly over to the jail. Luckily Roy was in his office and he motioned Ben to a seat and went to pour coffee. As he did so Roy said “No need to look like that Ben noone is dead and the Ponderosa is still intact.”

Ben gave a sigh of relief but taking in the tension in Roy’s back he said, “Maybe, but something is wrong?”

Roy nodded, “Both Hoss and Little Joe have been hurt. They’re gonna be fine, but I promised Adam to do a spot of escort duty and ensure that you reached the ranch intact.”

“How bad are the boys?”

Roy put on his coat “Come on Ben lets go get two horses we can talk on the way. The sooner we get started the less chance anyone has to arrange a reception party.”

Ben nodded and leaving the coffee untouched the two men headed down to the livery stable. A young boy came over to Ben, he had been just about to ride out to the Ponderosa with some letters and telegrams but he handed them to Ben saving himself a trip. Ben thanked the boy and gave him a dollar and then he and Roy set out.

Roy rode in silence until they had cleared the town and then Ben repeated his question, just how badly were his sons hurt. Roy told him how Joe had been beaten over two weeks ago. He didn’t try to hide the fact that for a couple of days the Doc had been scared for Joe’s life, but he assured Bern that there was no permanent damage. Then he told him how Carole had gone out to help nurse Joe and about the attack on Hoss. Ben said nothing but the expression on his face didn’t auger well for those responsible if he ever laid hands on them. Roy told him how Beth and Dan had gone out to help Adam and said that the whole crew seemed determined to rally round and help. “Adam said that even the lumberjacks were co-operating fully and that you are ahead of schedule on all contracts.”

Ben thought about that for a few minutes then asked “Is Adam okay?”

Roy smiled “Dan came back to town on Saturday and said that Adam was coping. He’ll be mighty glad to have you back and Dan reckoned he was feeling the strain, but Carole was making sure he ate properly and got at least some sleep.”

Ben sighed and rubbed his hand across his aching head but he managed a smile “We have very good friends. Thank God.”

Then Roy remembered the dynamite and said “You’re gonna need a new sofa.” Ben looked puzzled and Roy told him the story, he finished up “That won’t happen again Kirk and Dan Tolliver have the security so tight round the ranch that you may need to get Adam out to identify you before you’re let in.”

Ben laughed, but soon sunk back into his thoughts for the rest of the ride. He knew only too well the pressures Adam had been under and he was worried about the physical health of his younger sons. Roy didn’t disturb him but concentrated on his job as guard, only relaxing as they rode into the yard.

Adam was alone in the main room working at his father’s desk and didn’t immediately look up as Ben entered. Roy stayed outside giving father and son some privacy. Ben said “Hello Son” and Adam looked up to see his father standing by him. He immediately came to his feet and Ben gave him a hug. Then he held his eldest son at arm’s length and traced the signs of strain on Adam’s face; Adam smiled “Thank God you’re back safely. I was hoping you’d get back today or tomorrow, Roy told you about Hoss and Joe?”

Ben nodded and Adam went on “They are both in Joe’s room. Hoss is okay although he will have to stay off the leg for another week at least. Joe is still terribly weak. He took one hell of a beating but he will be okay. They’ll be glad to see you. Don’t worry too much. Joe’s eyes are bandaged, but it’s only for protection. He can see although it’s still rather blurred. Doc guarantees it will soon clear up.”

Ben nodded “I’ll go see them we can talk later. According to Roy the ranch is okay?”

Ben was very surprised at the expression on his son’s face as Adam nodded, but it was quickly explained as Adam said, “I do have one good piece of news. As soon as we have sorted this trouble out, you can start arranging a wedding, Carole has promised to marry me.”

Ben was absolutely delighted and showed it, “I was hoping that I’d have her as a daughter-in-law, she’s a lovely girl. I couldn’t be more pleased.”

“You can tell her yourself. She’s up with Hoss and Joe” and Adam led the way upstairs.

Ben stood at the door and watched as Carole was trying to rebandage Joe’s head and he was moaning that it was too tight. Hoss was sitting in the wheelchair and was first to see his father. Then Ben said “That’s quite enough complaining young man”

Joe’s face lit up as he recognised his father’s voice and he struggled to sit up. Carole helped him and got him balanced by pillows. Then she went to go out and leave Ben alone with his sons but Ben took her arm and said, “There’s no need to leave. I hear you are joining out family. I’ve waited a long time to have a daughter, but I must admire Adam’s taste, it has been well worth waiting for.”

Carole blushed but Ben got hear hears from both his sons and he kissed her on the forehead and said, “I must also thank you for nursing my younger sons and putting up with their bad moods.” At that her sense of fair play came to her aid and she insisted “They have really been very little trouble.” Then she retreated into Adam’s arms as he stood just inside the door. Ben’s attention was drawn by a giggle from the bed and Joe told his father how she had drugged both his brothers to ensure they got some sleep. Ben appreciated that and said “I can see you know how to keep Adam under control, a mixture of brute force and cunning.” Adam grinned at his father.

Ben went over to see how Hoss was, and found it was much as Roy had said. A nasty disabling wound which would keep his big son off his feet for a while longer but not really serious. Then he turned his attention to Joe. Carole had only just started redressing his injuries and Ben took over. By the time he had finished he knew why, over a fortnight later, Joe was only just strong enough to sit up. Joe was exhausted and Ben tucked him up gently and told him to get some sleep, promising to come up to see him later. Joe said “Don’t worry about me Adam’s the one who needs help, he’s been carrying the whole ranch on his own for ten days. I reckon it’s only Carole being around which has kept him sane.”

Ben tucked the blanket round Joe. “You get some sleep Joseph. Don’t you worry about anything but getting better young man. Between us we can take care of the ranch.”
Joe nodded sleepily “It’ll be alright now you’re home.” Ben left him to sleep and headed downstairs. In the corridor he met Beth and gave her a kiss. He tried to say how grateful he was, but she stopped him, what were friends for.

Ben was sickened by what had been done to Little Joe; the marks of the beating he’d taken were still clearly visible. Adam realised how his father felt as he rejoined him downstairs and wordlessly he went and poured out a drink for him. Ben gratefully took it and then sunk into a chair “If I ever lay hands on whoever did that, I’ll kill him.” Adam refilled his father’s glass “I know how you feel and in a few words he told his father how he’d found Joe and the long days until he came round. He didn’t go into any details, but Ben knew how his sons must have felt.

Then Adam changed the subject and filled his father in on the position around the ranch. Ben was worried about the poisoned cattle but Adam was sure José would soon have some definite information on how it was being done and then they’d find a way to counteract it. Then he told his father how all the hands had rallied round, as well as their friends in town. He said “I couldn’t have coped without so much help but just the knowledge of how many good friends we have seemed to make things easier.” Ben sat quietly watching his son’s face. Adam had been under a great deal of strain and it showed. He looked very tired but he had relaxed now his father was home to share the burdens.

Ben suddenly remembered the wad of letters and telegrams so he went and got them. He passed them over to Adam, knowing it would take him a day or two to get up to date with the current situation. Adam found a letter from Will and opened it first. As he read it he lost all trace of colour and then he stood up and started pacing around the room. Ben waited patiently for his son to explain but for fully five minute Adam seemed totally oblivious of his presence. Then he turned to his father and asked, “What do you know about Buck Addison of the Acmé Land company?”

Ben frowned “It’s been a very successful company in California over the last six or seven years but he has a reputation for being unscrupulous. There was a rumour last year that he was thinking of expanding. But why him?”

Adam stared into the fire “I asked Will to check who had booked the transport I wanted before Christmas. It was Acmé and a month later all the orders were cancelled.”

Ben raised his eyebrows “That’s damming, but how does the personal element come in?”

Adam sighed heavily not able to meet his father’s gaze “That’s easy. Buck Addison was engaged to Carole four years ago.” Ben was taken aback at that and he stared into the fire wanting to give his son privacy. Adam went on “Carole learnt about his shortcuts after they were engaged and tried to persuade him that they were wrong but he didn't take her seriously. Even when she said it was a case of his shortcuts or her. So she broke it off and went back East. He knows she is in Virginia City. He met her here and from the little she said he would have been willing to start again where they broke off. Carole's name and mine have been freely linked. He would have been bound to find out.”

Ben stared at his eldest son, Adam made a convincing case but he wasn’t at all sure what this would do to his son. Very tentatively he asked, “What do you think we should do next?”

“We must tell Carole. She knew him well and she’s a good judge of character. She’ll be able to tell us if it’s possible or just maybe a weird coincidence.” Ben nodded and Adam went to find his fiancée.

As Adam and Carole came back in, Ben said “Do you want me to go and see Joe?” but Adam shook his head “Stay please Pa.” Adam passed Will’s letter over to Carole and sat on the arm of the chair with his arm protectively round her shoulders. The suggestion to find out who had booked the transport had been hers and Carole needed no explanation of the meaning of Will’s information. She read it twice and then let the letter fall and stared into space for a minute. Then she turned and buried her face in Adam’s shoulder. He held her tight until she relaxed against him, then he asked what she thought. Carole couldn’t face either Adam or his father but she did answer him "It fits Adam. Much as I hate the idea it fits all too well. The things that have happened are just what I would expect if Buck was getting ruthless. He would order people to be disabled but not killed, which was done very effectively with both Joe and Hoss.”

Adam sighed but looking over at his father he said, “Well I guess we know who we are fighting. I just wonder if it helps.” His attention was brought back to Carole in a hurry as she lost control of the sobs, which had been threatening, and broke down crying on his shoulder. Slowly Adam calmed her down and then as the sobs eased a little he lifted her face up to him and wiped the tears away asking “Why the tears darling?”

Carole looked at him as though he was stupid “It’s all my fault Joe’s beaten and nearly killed and Hoss shot and it’s all my fault.”

Adam smiled gently down at her “Just how do you work that out my love?”

“He is after revenge because of me and he’s taken it out on your brothers. Joe was nearly killed, Hoss badly hurt, all because of me.”

Adam pulled her closer “That’s not quite true my love, equally it’s my fault. If there is hatred it’s because I managed to win the love he lost. I wouldn’t mind betting all his hatred is aimed at me, not you. But I don’t see why either of us should take responsibility for a man who can set out to maim, just because he is a bad loser.”

Ben gave a sigh of relief, he had been expecting Adam to blame himself ever since he heard. Now he decided to put in his own comments “You know Carole Adam is quite right. You broke up with the man four years ago. If he is still jealous than that is unfortunate but there is nothing you can do about it. You can’t remain alone just in case he takes exception.”

Put that way Carole had no answer and she dried her eyes blew her nose defiantly and sat up straighter “I’m sorry. I’m alright now.”

Ben said, “The first thing to decide is what we know about Addison. Is Adam more or less at risk of physical attack, and what is his strategy likely to be? Carole you knew him well, can you give us any idea. Is our best move to let him know that we know he is behind the trouble or not?”

Adam got to his feet restlessly and went to lean against the fireplace staring into the fire “I’d guess that I am immune from physical attack. If he had wanted to get at me that first beating would have come my way not Joe’s. If we assume that he is still hoping that there is a chance to win Carole back, the last thing he will want is for me to get any sympathy. He won’t injure me, if he does anything he’ll have me killed outright but it seems he doesn’t like killing. I would guess that his aim is to ruin me and take control of the Ponderosa, with somewhere along the line regaining Carole.”

Carole could only agree “If he wanted to get you he would have hit you first. I think your father and brothers are at risk, if you have to run the Ponderosa alone you won’t have time to spare for me. I always used to hate being abandoned for days on end, just for business. I’m more realistic now but Buck won’t know that and might think I’d grow tired of an absentee lover.”

Ben asked, “Okay. Where do we stand if we let him know that we realise that he is behind all the trouble?”

Carole and Adam looked at each other and Carole was the first to answer “If he knows that I know what he has been doing, he must realise that he would have no chance to win me back. Then I think he will go all out for revenge, kill Adam and smash the ranch once and for all. Probably try to kill all the Cartwrights.” Despair was clear on her face and Adam moved close again to take her in his arms but although glad to lean her aching head on his shoulder Carole was in control. “I wouldn’t have believed he would go as far as he has, but he must have grown harder since I knew him. If he knows he’s lost I don’t think there will be any restraint.”

Adam and his father considered what she had said and could only agree, eventually Adam said “I’m the only one who will be wandering around for the foreseeable future so there doesn’t seem much point in letting him know.”

There was a silence for a minute and then Ben said “This has come as somewhat of a shock to us. If we are right we have plenty of time to make up our minds just how to react. It seems likely that Adam is safe and, as he said, he’ll be the only one wandering around until his brothers recover. Similarly if telling Addison brings thing to a head, we don’t want to do that at least until Hoss is fit enough o help. It may take a long time for Joe to recover but we want at least three of us mobile. So for now we just wait and see.”

Adam nodded and then he led Carol outside, feeling the need to be alone with her. She buried her face in his shoulder but he could feel the tension in her body. They stood quietly for five minutes and slowly Adam felt her relax against him, until he was confident enough to pull back slightly, and tilt her face up towards him and kiss her “Easy my love”

“Will Joe hate me, he’s suffered so much?”

Adam grinned at her “Little Joe is incapable of blaming you or me. Although if we get near Addison, I’d back my little brother against him, even now. Joe is delighted we are getting married, he told me at Christmas that he would be delighted to become an Uncle and sure that he would be soon, because you would never let me down.”

Slowly Carole relaxed and eventually she pulled away “You must have a lot to talk over with your father I’m alright now and it’s time Hoss went back to bed. He isn’t as strong as he thinks.” Adam kissed her gently and they went back into the house.

Ben wasn’t there and Adam settled to work, checking some of the papers his father had brought out from town. Ben had gone upstairs to fill his younger sons in on what they believed about Addison. Both of his sons had expected Adam to be blaming himself and Ben wasn’t convinced that he didn’t. He stood watching Adam as he worked but he couldn’t read anything in his son’s face. He went and sat down next to Adam who grinned at him, well aware of the scrutiny but avoiding the subject of Addison. Adam went into the current position in detail, information his father needed in order to take over the paperwork and release Adam to check around the ranch.

They worked hard for a couple of hours and then stopped for dinner. Carole and Beth joined them and after the meal all four of them headed upstairs Beth excused herself as the men headed for Joe’s room but Adam wouldn’t let Carole go. Ben went and helped his big son back into the wheelchair and the whole family congregated in Joe’s room. Carole was self-conscious again. She had got used to the three boys together but she sensed that it was an old established custom for the four men to congregate round the sick bed of anyone who was ill and she felt like an intruder.

Adam sat on the arm of her chair and his arm was round her shoulder, Joe and Hoss both grinned at her and she relaxed, accepted into the family. They avoided the trouble and just sat and chatted. Ben told them about his trip and Adam made them laugh at his descriptions of the expressions on the face of hard-nosed lumberjacks forced to plant new trees.

After about an hour Ben moved over to his youngest son “Time you got some sleep Joe, you look exhausted.” Joe protested but Ben gently helped him to settle down while Adam got his big brother back to his own bed. As they came out onto the landing Adam considered his father “Joe’s not the only one who looks tired, so do you. Why don’t you have an early night Pa?”

Ben grinned “I have never understood why sitting still in coaches and trains is so tiring. I think I will go to bed but only if you promise to call it a day and follow me up.”

Adam moved to put his arm round his fiancée “There’s nothing very urgent so I promise no more work, but Carole and I are going for a walk. I won’t be late.”

They got their coats and walked out. Carole asked, “You do believe what you said about not being to blame?”

“Why do you ask darling?”

“Neither of your brothers or your father are sure that you’re not blaming yourself.”

Adam took her in his arms but made no attempt to hide his face from her looking down, his hazel eyes glowing “I admit that sometimes I blame myself when they don’t agree but not this time. I love you with all my heart and by some miracle you return my love. We neither of us owe any duty to anyone else which is harmed by our love, so there can be nothing wrong with it. Why should either of us blame ourselves for something which is so right?”

She snuggled closer to him “I believe you.” They stood quietly in each other’s arms for a moment and then Carole said, “Now your father is home, I must go back to town. School starts again in four days and I must prepare so I ought to go the day after tomorrow.”

Adam was prepared for it and knew she had to go but he was going to miss her. It was wonderful to know she was there whenever he had a spare minute. Carole went on “I know you are going to be very busy and I’ll be lucky if I see you once a week, but my thoughts will be with you and I’ll be there whenever you have time. The sooner this is all sorted out then the sooner we can start planning our wedding.”

Adam hugged her tightly “I can’t wait for that day.”

“Just be very careful my love, we might be wrong in thinking you are safe.”

Adam grinned “I’ve far too good a reason to stay well. I won’t take any risks.” Then he changed the subject “You’ve had a chance to look around, have you any fancies for where we should build our house?”

Carole said hesitantly “There’s that little valley on the way up to the lake. It has a stream running through it and lovely views.”

Adam grinned and said “Great minds think alike. It’s a bit damp but I can arrange drainage and I think a house half way along will be a beautiful site, I’ll draw up an impression of what it would be like and the n we can make up our minds. Its only just over half a mile from the house, near enough to walk over if we want but far enough to be private.”

Carole changed the subject until she could find out more. There was a small cabin in the valley with a new room built along side and even a cradle. She didn’t like to ask Adam about it but she knew he had been hurt while building a house for Laura. If that was the house then she didn’t want to live in that valley. Not wanting to upset Adam she decided to ask one of his brothers and to avoid further discussion said that she was tired. Adam immediately took her home and fell gratefully into his own bed. He felt more relaxed than he had in weeks, with his father home to share the burden, Carole’s promise, and both his brothers recovering and he was asleep immediately.

Carole lay awake for ages wondering about Laura. She hadn’t thought about the other woman much since Christmas, when Joe had told her the story, but talking about the house had reminded her. Curious she was determined to find out all she could and Joe still seemed the most likely source of information.

The following morning Carole got her opportunity. Hoss was downstairs with Ben and Adam while she sat with Little Joe. She said, “Adam is planning to build us a house fairly near here when we are married.”

Joe nodded “Yeah I know. He told me a few weeks back.”

“Where did he build the house for Laura?”

Joe grinned “You needn’t worry about that. He asked me to burn that one down, which I did. To my knowledge he’s never been back to the canyon since so I doubt if you know it. It’s about four miles north-east from here.”

Carole blushed and said “He wants to build in the valley about half a mile from here up towards Lake Tahoe and there is a cabin, which has been extended and even a brand new crib.” Her voice tailed off as Joe turned away, but not before she’d seen the pain on his face.
Anxiously Carole asked if he was alright but Joe muttered “I’m fine but please leave me alone.” The tear trickling down his cheek belied his words and not understanding Carole went to find Adam.

Bewildered and worried she ran downstairs to her fiancé “Please Adam, I think I’ve upset Joe but I don’t know how.” Adam got up from the desk and went over to the sofa pulling her down next to him and Carole confessed what she had said and why. Adam was furious mainly with himself, he should have explained “Alright you have hit a tender spot but you weren’t to know. I should have explained about the cabin. But you are a little ass, as if I would take you back to the spot where I’d built for Laura. Don’t you know me better than that?” Then he left her close to tears while he ran up to his little brother.

Ben saw the expression on her face and came over to her. He put his arm round her and called to Hop Sing for coffee. For the second time Carole explained what she’d done and Ben told her how his youngest son with his brothers’ help had done up the cabin when he had wanted to marry the daughter of one of Ben’s old friends, she was another Laura. The crib was a present from his eldest brother. It was only when they announced their engagement that his friend had told Ben the truth. His daughter had a brain tumour and only months to live at best. Laura didn’t know and it had been one of the hardest things Ben had ever done to break the news to his youngest son. Joe had insisted that they get married even if it was only for a short time but Laura had panicked and run away. Run to the cabin he had prepared for them, falling several times in her headlong flight. Joe had followed her and she had died in his arms in the cabin. Adam had followed his little brother and brought them home but it had taken Joe a long time to recover. Now to be reminded of that time while he was so weak had upset him again. Carole was aghast at what she had unwittingly done, but as Ben said she couldn’t have known. He told her to relax and drink her coffee; the best thing was to leave Adam to calm down his little brother. Ben patted her arm “Adam isn’t really cross with you. He knows that you couldn’t have guessed it would upset Joe, he’s just worried about his brother. Little Joe has always been the baby of the family. If they got the chance Adam and Hoss would have wrapped him in cotton wool. We’ve had lots of rows when Joe has exploded at his brothers, especially Adam, trying to protect him. They have got better over the years, but they both hate it if he’s hurt in any way. Adam will be fine as soon as Joe calms down.”

Meanwhile Adam had given his little brother a drink and remade his bed and then he just sat there silently, his hand resting gently on Joe’s arm in mute reassurance. Eventually he felt Joe relax and his brother even managed a slight grin “I’m okay now. It just brought back memories a little too vividly.”

“I know what you mean, but she didn’t know.”

“Of course not I’m not upset with her, it’s just what might have been”

Adam could understand that and squeezed Joe’s arm sympathetically “You okay?”

“Fine but I think I’ll doze for a bit, why don’t’ you go do some work.” Adam affectionately pushed Joe’s hair back off his forehead “Just call if you want anything.”

“I know, but really I am alright. It was just for a minute.” Adam could only accept that and as his brother fell asleep he headed back downstairs and went over to Carole. "I’m sorry Darling I shouldn’t have been cross with you, it wasn’t your fault. He’s okay now, gone back to sleep, so leave him alone for a bit.”

“Your father explained about the cabin I’m sorry darling I should have known you better.” Adam kissed her firmly and asked her to help him collect what he needed, as he had to go up to the lumber camp. Carole made him some sandwiches to take and walked out to the barn with him while he saddled up. It gave them five minutes alone together and Carole felt much better by the time she went back in.
As Adam mounted up a rider came in and said that José wanted to see him. Adam asked worriedly “More trouble?” but the man shook his head. “José said to tell you that he knows how the cattle are being killed.”

Adam grinned at his father who had come out to see who had arrived “I told you José would soon find out, when we knew what to look for. I’ll go there first and return via the lumber camp. I probably won't be back until tomorrow depending now things go.”

“Makes sense Son. No need to rush, it’s all under control here but watch your back.” Adam nodded and with one final kiss for Carole set out.

José was very pleased with himself when Adam got there, but kept his old friend in suspense.
He insisted that they have some coffee before he would say anything. Adam played along and filled José in on the news around the ranch although he didn’t let on that they now knew whom they were fighting. Then eventually José led him over to a large pile of saltlick tablets. Adam looked puzzled until José said, “By each dead cow there has been a saltlick. I had the men collect these and we tested them with a rabbit. The first ten were harmless but the eleventh killed the rabbit within a minute.”

Adam grinned “Of course. It’s not as haphazard as pellets but equally it’s also possible to deal with. Well done José.”

“The men are already collecting every tablet up here but it will be a huge job to collect then on all the pastures.”

Adam shrugged “Not as big as I’d feared if the poison had been in small pellets, at least its possible. Make sure the men wear gloves when handling them and destroy the gloves afterwards. We don’t want any men killed.”

“I took care of that after what you said before.”

“Right I’ll order up some new tablets with a different shape and then try and find out how we dispose of the poisonous ones. Make sure you keep them away from the water supplies.” José laughed at him “What do you think I am a fool?” Adam refused to answer that and got a playful thump. He relaxed well pleased, the cattle operation was well under control and now that they knew how the poison was being administered the cattle weren’t vulnerable until it came time to bring them down from the high pasture. Adam was optimistic that everything would be settled long before they had to face that problem. He joined the vaqueros for dinner and then taking his leave of his friend, confident in José’s ability to cope, Adam headed on to the lumber camp.

In San Francisco Addison had heard about all the help that Adam had received and now he learnt that Ben had returned safely and that the cowboys were collecting the saltlick tablets. Furious that the measures he’d been taking were not biting as he had planned and knowing from his reports that the Cartwrights were ahead of schedule on all fronts, he pondered the best way of hitting at them. He had added fury at being bested to his jealousy and decided to mount the campaign himself in an all out attack. He ordered a full-scale attack on the flume and began to make arrangements to go to Virginia City and organise the wiping out of the Ponderosa once and for all. He had almost decided when he got advance news from one of his agents that Adam Cartwright's engagement to Carole King was to be announced in that week’s newspaper. The agent thought he might want to grab the schoolteacher, not knowing the circumstances, but Addison ordered them to leave her strictly alone. Despite everything he still desired her, in his own way he loved her and he didn’t want her hurt. However he was going to hurt Adam Cartwright every way he could think of and then kill him for having the temerity to steal his girl. He sent word that he would be coming to take control personally the following week.

Adam spent the night at the lumber camp and the following morning he arranged the work for the next few days. Johnny was enjoying his freedom and readily agreed to continue, provided Adam came up every fourth day and the paperwork was sorted out at the house. Things were still going smoothly and they were well ahead of schedule with two weeks work waiting at the sawmill. Adam joined the men for lunch and took the chance to have a word with them, making sure they knew just how much he and his family appreciated the hard work each and every one was doing.

Adam left the lumber camp about two wanting to get home and spend the evening with Carole knowing she would be returning to Virginia City the next day. He hadn’t gone very far when he heard three shots, the alarm signal for trouble from the guard at the flume. Adam headed towards the shots and as he came within sight of the flume, he saw a party of horsemen. He estimated that there were about twenty-five men and Adam stopped. Alone he could do little, but even as stopped he heard sounds behind him and Johnny rode in with eight of the lumber crew. They had heard the shots too. Adam deployed his men along the treeline. They all had rifles and at his signal started to shoot. The range was about four hundred yards, too far for accurate shooting but he hoped it would worry the raiders and he himself edged forward to a small gully only a hundred yards from the raiders. From that vantage point he began to fire carefully picking his targets and making his shots tell. He was a good shot and within a couple of minutes he had wounded three of the five men who were actually trying to set the dynamite, while the others were exchanging shots with the lumberjacks. The raiding party soon discovered where the accurate shooting was coming from and launched an attack on Adam but that meant they had to head towards Johnny and his men. The lumberjacks put in a barrage of shots while Adam emptied his handgun and the attack retreated. Things were getting too hot for the raiding party who now had nine men with injuries and two dead. They had had enough and the dynamiting party lit the fuse, even though less than a quarter of the dynamite was in place, and then all of them fled.

Adam called to Johnny to let them go, they were still out numbered and Adam just wanted them to leave and he ran towards the flume, hoping to pull the fuse before the dynamite went up. He was far too late and the blast knocked him off his feet. He fell heavily and caught his head on a rock, knocking himself out.

Johnny and his men were further back and protected by the trees they weren’t hurt. Johnny was worried about Adam and the guard, so as soon as the dust began to settle, he ran forward. As he reached Adam, the man who had been on guard came to join him. The guard had run for cover as soon as he had seen the raiders light the fuse, knowing the Cartwrights didn’t expect their men to risk their lives. As it was he had taken a bullet in the shoulder, the only casualty apart from Adam.

Johnny checked Adam’s pulse, and to his relief it was beating strongly. Johnny quickly checked for broken bones but he couldn’t find any just a lump on the side of Adam’s head where he had hit the rock he was lying against and a bloody graze on his forehead where he’d been hit by falling rubble. One of the other men brought a canteen over and Johnny was able to clean the graze up but it wasn’t serious and he sat back on his heels “Far as I can tell he’s just knocked himself out. Then Johnny turned his attention to the other injured man. All they could do was wait for Adam to come round. It was fully half an hour before Adam stirred and when he sat himself up, he closed his eyes momentarily waiting for the world to settle down. He had a first class headache.

Johnny passed over a very welcome cup of coffee and Adam sipped it, giving himself a few minutes to recover, before he asked about other casualties. He was very relieved to hear that the covered bodies he could see didn’t belong to his own men, the only other injury a clean bullet wound through a shoulder. Then, despite Johnny’s advice to rest a while, Adam pulled himself to his feet and went to check out the extent of the damage. Most of the dynamite had been loose and its impact was scattered over a large area of ground but only one pillar and the two boxes on either side of it had been affected. Adam got Johnny to give him a hand and, ignoring the feelings of sickness and slight dizziness, insisted on clambering right up and checking out the next pair of boxes either side for damage. Then he finally took Johnny’s anxious advice and climbed back down. He went to sit down leaning back against a rock, while he made detailed notes of the wood that would be required to repair the flume.

Johnny was still hovering as Adam moved over to Sport and Adam told him to carry on as planned, although no wood could be sent down for the time being. Either tomorrow or the next day he promised to come back personally and supervise the repairs as soon as Jack Catfish could cut the wood. Johnny was still worried about his boss and suggested sending someone to ride home with him, as he still looked very shaken. Adam refused and managed a grin “ I’m okay, just a headache. I’ve had worse from a hangover. I’ll see you in a day or so.” Then swinging up on Sport, he pushed his horse into a lope. At least Sport moved smoothly, for which Adam was very grateful as his head was pounding.

Adam rode down to the sawmill where Jack had everything under control. Jack was worried by Adam’s appearance; his clothes had suffered in the blast and were well torn and very dirty. The graze on his forehead had bled again and crusting over it looked far worse than it was. Adam insisted that he was fine and told Jack about the flume. Jack was worried but he had enough work for the next two weeks and Adam was sure he would have the flume repaired long before that ran out. He gave Jack the list of wood that he would require and Jack promised to have it cut by the end of tomorrow, from their seasoned woodpile. Finally Adam was free to head on home.

He mounted stiffly as bruises that he hadn’t even been aware of earlier made their presence felt and with his headache even worse, he didn’t feel up to pushing Sport past a walk. He had been slightly behind hand anyway having hoped to get home soon after lunch, but in the event it was gone eight in the evening before he finally reached the house. Ben had been worried about his son knowing he had expected to be home much earlier, although he knew all sorts of things could and often did hold his son up. Still with two sons upstairs injured, he couldn’t help wondering if they were right in their estimate of Adam’s safety.

Carole had tried to stay calm, but every time she heard horse come in, she went to the window to see if it was Adam. With a steady stream of messages Joe pronounced that she was a Jack in the Box. Finally she did see Adam ride in, much to Joe’s relief as she had infected him with her anxiety, and she went down to see her fiancé.

Ben looked up as Adam walked in an immediately jumped to his feet, as he saw the state of Adam’s clothes and the blood on his head. Adam forced a smile “Calm down I’m okay it’s only a slight graze, looks far worse than it is.”

Ben went and poured out a drink for his son and Adam gratefully downed it and then said “I’ll go up and change before I dirty anything and then I’ll tell you all about it.”

“Blow the cushions Son. Come and sit down while Hop Sing gets a bath ready. You look as though you could use one.” Adam could only agree and he eased himself rather stiffly down in a chair. Carole had been watching from the stairs and she moved forward as he sat down Adam grinned at her “Don’t look so worried my love, its only a graze honest. I’ve a headache and a few bruises but otherwise I’m fine.” Carole perched on the arm of the chair and had a careful look; she found the bump on his head but didn’t say anything.

Then Ben came back in with coffee for Adam; Hoss followed him and wheeled over to his brother, concern obvious on his face. Adam grinned and gripped Hoss’ arm “I’m fine. Filthy but fine.” Hoss relaxed.

Ben said, “Hop Sing is getting a bath ready. Now just what happened?”

“The flume has been blown up again but it’s not very serious, just one pillar and two boxes. I already have Jack cutting the wood and I think I can get it mended in two or three days with the lumber crew. Jack has plenty of work to keep the mill going until we have done the repairs.” Adam could see the questions on his father’s face and he reported briefly on what had happened, even admitting that he had been knocked out for a short time. He sketched in what José had found and what was being done.

Hop Sing hustled in to say that the bath was ready and Joe wanted to know what was happening.

Ben said, “If you go to him like that you’ll just worry him Go have a bath and I’ll be up in a minute to clean up that graze. Hoss will you fill Joe in and reassure him.”

Carole offered to take any messages and Adam accepted the sense of his father’s proposals kissed Carole and headed for the bath. When Ben joined his son he found Adam lying back in the tub with his eyes closed. Not sure if Adam was hiding things for Carole’s sake he studied his son carefully. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Headache and a few bruises nothing to worry about I promise.” Ben could see from his eyes that Adam had a headache but once he had cleaned up the graze he had to admit it was trivial. He left Adam to soak out the worst of the stiffness, and went to reassure his other sons before going down to reassure Carole.

Adam felt much better for a bath and clean clothes and after looking in on Joe, he went down to spend a couple of hours with Carole knowing she was leaving the next day. They talked of the future, planning their family and day dreaming together, not even noticing the passage of time until they began to feel cold as the fire had burnt down. When Adam checked it was gone midnight and with another busy day planned they had to head to bed.

The following morning Adam had to say goodbye and watch Kirk drive her off into town. In the three weeks she had been there he had got used to her being around and now the place seemed very empty without her. Adam felt thoroughly irritable and, although he worked hard all day, he kept snapping at his father. Ben could understand why and ignored it but Adam did apologise before he headed up to bed. In many ways Adam was glad to be going out to repair the flume the next day and able to forget paperwork for a while.

Three days later the flume was repaired and Adam rode home well pleased. Things had gone smoothly and the break had improved his temper immeasurably. Ben and Hoss were busy so grinning at them Adam went straight up to see his little brother. Joe was sitting up in bed and he had the bandages off his eyes for the first time, although he was wearing dark glasses on the doctor’s orders. Paul had been out that morning and was well pleased with the way Joe was recovering. Joe was delighted, he still wasn’t able to read but he didn’t feel nearly so dependent. Adam grinned broadly when he saw “We’ll soon have you up and around.”
Joe pulled a face at that. He had tried to get up when Doc had left after all it was over three weeks now since the beating, but his legs had given way, and he had crawled exhausted back into bed. Adam could read his little brother and knew exactly what his brother had been up to, but he didn’t say anything. They didn’t need to worry about Joe overdoing things just yet; his own physical weakness would take care of that for a while longer. Adam sat down next to the bed and chatted with his brother telling him about the lumberjacks who were eager to help but still convinced the Cartwrights were mad. As he described the expression on the face of one big Swede Larsson on finding he was expected to plant a tree, Joe broke out into his high pitched giggle and Ben hearing him from downstairs grinned delightedly at Hoss.

For four more days things remained quiet and Little Joe was regaining his strength. On the fourth day Ben allowed Hoss up and carried Little Joe downstairs to spend the evening on the sofa by the fire. Just to see Joe downstairs and Hoss back on his feet made Ben feel that the worst effects of the attacks were over, although neither were fully fit and it would be at least a couple of months before Joe was. Joe enjoyed the change of scene but even sitting on the sofa tired him. When at nine o’clock Adam suggested it was time he went back to bed, Joe’s protest didn’t even convince him and he was glad to rest his head on his brother’s shoulder as Adam carried him back upstairs. Adam tucked him in and Joe was asleep before Adam left the room.

Adam had just got back downstairs when he heard a horse come into the yard. Not expecting anyone at that time of night Adam went to investigate. He found a teenage boy there with a letter for him. The boy passed it over “Miss King said is was urgent and she said you’d give me a dollar cos it’s sorta late.”

Adam opened it and swiftly read it and then passed the boy a coin “There’s no answer but thank you for bringing it.” The boy went back to his horse and left as Adam slowly walked back in, deep in thought.

Ben looked questioningly at his eldest son as Adam went and poured himself a stiff drink “More trouble?”

Adam shrugged “I’m not sure. Carole has written to say that Addison is in Virginia City. She met him in the General Store and from what he said, he will be staying for several weeks.”

Ben considered that “Does she think that means things will come to a head?”
Adam shook his head “She doesn’t say Pa but she wants to talk to me. I’m going to ride into town in a minute, discuss it with her. She knew him.”

Hoss looked worried at that “You be real careful brother.” Adam just gripped his brother’s shoulder momentarily “You should get back to bed, don’t overdo it first day.” Then grabbing his hat coat and gun Adam headed out to collect Sport. Ben looked over at Hoss but he knew that expression. Usually Hoss was the most amenable of his sons but he knew that nothing was going to get Hoss to move until Adam was safely home again. Ben didn’t even bother, if they were going to worry they might as well have company and he was sure neither of them would sleep until their family was complete again.

On the way to town Adam had time to think. He knew that Addison must have seen the announcement of their engagement, it had been in the paper the previous week. That could have brought things to a head and he had weighed the odds before allowing Dan to publish. Adam had had a long discussion with Ban and Carole, but as his father had pointed out half the town seemed to know anyway so there didn’t seem much point in holding back. If Addison’s agents were any good they would let him know even if it wasn’t formally announced and then he might wonder if the formal announcement was held up because they knew about him. Carole had agreed and so Adam had given way, although his instinct had been to hold off.

When Adam reached town he found Carole was upset. She had tried to be natural with Addison, telling him about her engagement. Indeed with the beautiful diamond and sapphire ring that Adam had given her glistening on her finger, she couldn’t really avoid it. He had barely been able to bring himself to congratulate her, but had claimed the right as an old friend to take her to dinner in four night’s time. Carole hadn’t liked to refuse as she had agreed before, not wanting to make him suspicious but equally she wasn’t at all sure that she could get through a whole evening with him, without letting him know how she felt. She snuggled up against Adam, "Every time I look at him I see Little Joe’s battered body and I just want to scratch his eyes out.”

Adam could understand that but told her that she had to do her best. He was half tempted to insist that she come back with him to the safety of the Ponderosa, but when he broached it Carole shook her head. She had children to teach and she was sure, however much Buck might have changed, he would never allow any harm to come to her.

Adam had to accept that, he knew that in her position he would do the same, but he pulled her close, so proud of this strong woman, even if he knew he would worry about her. A few minutes later the possible significance of the date dawned on him “Did he explain why he wanted to make it so far in the future? On past form I would have expected him to demand your presence tomorrow.”

“I wondered about that too, but he just said that he had commitments every other evening, something to do with the mines. Why?”

“Probably just a coincidence, but we are planning on moving the ore from the mines to the stamp mill that evening. We’ve tried to keep it quiet, but the ore wagons have to be hired and time booked at the stamp mills, so it’s bound to leak out.”

Carole frowned “Do you think Buck wants an alibi?”

Adam said “I don’t know but I’ll double the guard just in case. It would cause us major problems if those ore wagons were stolen.” He tried to push his concerns to the back of his mind “I am probably jumping to conclusions and nothing at all will happen, except you’ll have a really boring evening. I’ll have to make it up to you.” He pulled her down onto his lap and started to do exactly that. Carole slowly relaxed in his arms, confident that her clever gentleman would cope whatever was going to happen. For now she was going to enjoy the present, an unexpected bonus to have his company during a weekday evening.

Adam allowed himself an hour to enjoy her company and then, knowing his father would be worried, he had to go home. Carole promised to be very careful and hide her feelings from Buck but insisted there was no need to worry about her, and then Adam finally managed to pull himself away and head back home.

Adam found both his father and his big brother anxiously awaiting his return and he quickly filled them in on the little Carole had been able to tell him. Ben agreed it would be sensible to double the guard on the ore wagon and for a few minutes they tossed around the pros and cons of changing the date. There didn’t seem very much point in changing the date, it would always leak out and anyway it was past time the ore was crushed, if they were to meet their contract date. That decision made Hoss decided he wanted his bed, his leg was aching and his elder brother gave him a hand up stairs.

When Adam came down he found his father staring pensively into the fire. He looked up as Adam sat down on the table just in front of him. “I think things are coming to a head. I just wish it had held of for another week. Hoss won’t stay at home but he’s not really strong enough to ride yet.”

“I wonder if the news of my engagement has precipitated action.”

Ben shook his head “I tend to doubt it, probably helped, but even without that he’s been unsuccessful on all fronts. Drastically underestimated our hands and my sons!”

Adam grinned at his father at that, “Maybe we are building too much on a mere coincidence.”

“Maybe, but a full frontal assault seems the most likely next move anyway, he’s tried everything else. At least if that’s true we’ll know the worst soon. Just watch yourself Adam, if this is the final move he may well want your scalp.”

“The same could be said for all the Cartwrights.”

Ben couldn’t argue against that but as he said there was time in the morning to discuss it and lay their plans, for now it was time for bed. Adam could only agree and followed his father upstairs to bed. For a long time he couldn’t settle, standing staring out of the window at the view that he loved, wondering what the next few days would bring and praying that he and his family, along with their beloved ranch, would survive intact.

Eventually he did go to bed but still couldn’t sleep and about 2 a.m. he went through to check on Joe, hearing his brother moving restlessly. Little Joe was very restless but he didn’t wake as Adam tucked him up and seemed to settle down, as though sensing his brother’s presence. Adam sat by him for over half an hour and for the first time he realised that once he was married, he wouldn’t be able to check on his brothers. He knew it would be a great change for over twenty years he had slipped into Joe’s room at night to make sure that his little brother was all right. At first when he was a tiny baby and Marie was tired and Adam had tried to help to make up for the way he had treated her when she first arrived. Then later when Joe was a little older, Marie died and his father had withdrawn into himself lost in grief, Adam had tried as a twelve year old to act as a father to his three year old brother. For a while Ben had even left ensuring that there was a housekeeper to tend his sons but Adam had taken his responsibilities as head of the house very seriously and insisted on going to see that the toddler was alright before he would go to bed himself. Since that time he had often been the one to go to his brothers through their childish ailments and later injuries since he was by far the lightest sleeper. Similarly of later years Joe had often come into him. Adam knew that he wanted a wife and children, but it had been a good life with the four of them and he knew that he would miss that. Still he thought if trouble threatened or anyone was seriously ill they could always move back to the main house in order that he could carry his own weight. He thanked God that Carole was fitting in so well with all his family. He knew that she would always give him the freedom he needed. Eventually with Joe sleeping quietly, Adam returned to his own bed and this time he slept well.

In town Addison wasn’t sleeping well as he went through his plans for the nest weeks. He did intend to take over the ore wagons but that was only one part of his plans for that night, which he intended to bring the Ponderosa to its knees. He had brought in more men and now had more than one hundred and twenty gunmen at his disposal. He had planned four simultaneous raids on the ore wagons, the sawmill, the flume and the ranchhouse. He wanted to burn down the ranchhouse, knowing that Joe was still bed-bound and if he went with it that was all very well and good. Buck also had found a forger to fake a note to Adam from Carole, saying that she was being held hostage, but would be released if Adam came to a particular place. Once he had Adam he intended to make his rival watch an explosion destroy the flume, fire destroy the sawmill and the ranch house and with them the future of the Ponderosa. Then he would personally kill Adam. Adam had been wrong in one thing, Addison didn’t need an alibi he wanted the evening to gloat over Carole as the plans, to ruin the future she had dared to plan without him, moved to final fruition.

The following morning the three of them were down early for breakfast and the first question to arise was how much they should tell Joe. Ben didn’t want him worried, but Adam pointed out that Little Joe didn’t miss much and he knew them all far too well, he would know that they were keeping something from him. Hoss said “He’s too weak to stand unaided and he knows it, even Joe can’t insist on fighting when he can’t stand. He’ll worry anyway, but I think he’ll worry less if we keep him informed”

Ben wasn’t sure but for once he bowed to his sons’ opinion. He said “In that case we may as well tell Joe now and make our plans in his room. He sometimes has a good idea.”

Adam went up and checked Beth had finished changing Joe’s dressings and that he had had his breakfast. He asked Beth if she would mind holding the fort for the morning as they had some plans to make. Beth smiled at him and kissed his cheek “Of course not.” She left and Adam turned his attention to his little brother, who was struggling to sit up. Adam went over to help him but Joe pushed him away “I can manage. But I want to know what’s going on, what plans?”

Adam grinned and said “Pa and Hoss will be up in a minute, we are going to have our conference in here. Pa said you occasionally have a good idea.”
Joe settled back at that “What’s going on?” Adam filled him in, letting him know that Addison was in town and just happened to be dining with Carole the night the ore was being transported.

Joe frowned “It could be coincidence, he’s kept very much in the background. If it wasn’t for that transport that he hired before Christmas, we still wouldn’t know who was behind this mess.”

Adam shrugged “I know that Joe and maybe we are jumping to conclusions but I don’t think we dare take the risk. If he really is trying to ruin me in the hope of winning Carole back, then the announcement of our engagement will have precipitated matters.”

“You had no choice big brother the grapevine is very efficient.”

Ben and Hoss joined them and Ben started the ball rolling, he said “Obviously we have to increase the guard on the ore wagons. If we lost that ore it would hit us hard.”

Little Joe considered what his father had said “You don’t think that he knows we know and is doing this deliberately to make us cover the ore wagons, while he hits somewhere else.”

Hoss stared at his little brother, totally confused, but Adam and Ben both followed Joe’s reasoning and both of them shook their heads, it was rather too subtle. Adam said, “Addison can’t be sure that we know he is behind the trouble, so he can’t know if it would work.”

Hoss had finally caught up with his little brother’s idea and he said “We don’t know how many men he has, but if things are really coming to a head, won’t he attack in more than one place anyway?”

Adam knew that his big brother was right, although he had been trying to avoid the thought. Ben, in a way more realistic, just smiled at his elder sons “That’s why we are here, to plan for all contingencies. We must decide the most vulnerable points and try to cover them as best we can with the force we have available.”

His three sons were silent just looking at each other, as they thought of all the places where the Ponderosa was vulnerable. Adam got up and poured out coffee for all of them from the tray Ben had brought up. Then he sat down and straightened his shoulders “Right we can’t possibly cover the whole ranch, we are going to have to try and outguess Addison. Luckily it’s still too early in the season for him to use fire in either out forests or the pasture; everything is still very wet. There had been plenty of rain this spring. Even if we can’t get to a fire for twenty-four hours I don’t think too much damage will be done. I suggest we call in all patrols and everyone from the lineshacks. The cattle are well spread out on the high pasture and we all know how difficult it is to round them up so I think they are basically safe. I suggest we leave José with four men and call in the rest. That gives us some seventy men.”

Ben frowned “It’s a risk José won’t like it.”

Adam sighed “Pa we can only make educated guesses and try to estimate where the attack would do the least damage if we guess wrong.”

Joe backed his brother “Pa if we hold some men at the house, they could get help to José within eight hours. Nobody can steal the whole herd, or any large portion of it, within that time, so it wouldn’t be too big a risk.”

Ben liked the idea of a group of men at the house to be ready to go to any trouble spot and to protect the house against any possible raid. It would also help to protect his youngest son although he wasn’t going to say so to Joe, knowing his youngest son’s reaction.

Joe asked “How about the mine?”

Hoss grinned “That’s easy. Leave Swann with four men armed with rifles in the tunnel entrances. Noone will get close enough to cause trouble, the rest can go with the ore wagons.”

Ben nodded “Okay that leaves the flume and the sawmill. We just can’t cover the flume except by having a party ready to head for trouble and I think we must expect it to be damaged again. We must cover the sawmill; the cut wood is vulnerable to fire even if nothing else is. We can’t afford to lose it.”

Adam looked at his notes “Okay that seems to boil down to four defence forces, one with the ore wagons, one at the sawmill, one here to protect the house and head out if there’s trouble elsewhere and one roving round the flume.”

Little Joe disagreed “We have one more thing to defend.”

Adam looked up puzzled “What?”

Joe bit his lip but having started he had to carry on, despite knowing how badly his brother would take it. “You Adam. If things are really coming to a head Addison is gonna want to kill you.”

Adam glared at his little brother “I can look after myself.”

Hoss gripped his older brother’s arm “Don’t be a fool Adam, you’re just as vulnerable to a bullet in the back as anyone else.”

Adam was close to losing his temper “I’m not hiding out while others fight a battle, which even if unwittingly I brought to the ranch.”

Joe glared at him “It’s not your fault.”

Adam forced a smile, knowing that his brothers were only concerned about him “Okay I know it isn’t my fault, but it is my fight.”

Ben tried to calm his eldest son down “We know that Adam, but Joe is right you are at risk and we can’t do our jobs if we are worrying about you.”

Adam’s face showed that he was going to continue the argument and Hoss tried to change the subject “I’ll go with the ore wagons, my leg won’t be a problem on the wagon.”

Adam frowned “How are you going to get up to the mine?”

“I can ride up the day before. Don’t much fancy having to ride fast yet, but as long as I can take my time I’ll be fine. If there’s any way to get those ore wagons through, then they will make it.”

Ben nodded “Okay that seems sensible. I’ll control the defence up at the sawmill and roving gang along the flume.”

Joe asked, “What can I do?”

Ben shook his head “Stay in bed and try and recover your strength. You aren’t doing anything and that’s final.” Little Joe opened his mouth to argue but looking at his father and knowing he couldn’t even stand up, he just sighed and much to his family’s surprise meekly agreed. Joe felt helpless, but he knew the best thing he could do to help his family was to stay quietly in bed and not worry them.

Then Ben reverted to his eldest son “Adam I want you to take charge here at the house. You will have to decide when and how many men to send to any trouble spots. José will lead them and we will leave Pio Gomez in charge of the herd. You will stay here at all times.”

Adam protested but Ben gripped his shoulders “Adam for once in your life, you will do as you are told. I cannot risk you being hurt or killed and you are the obvious target for Addison.”

Adam was seething but looking at his father he knew there was no point in arguing, he turned away and looked out the window, anger in every line of his body. Ben pressed him “Adam I want your promise to stay here.”

Adam refused to answer and Ben went over and turned his son to face him. He held his son at arm’s length “I know you want to do your share, but you have already more than done that, holding things together while your brothers were ill. You are going to be the prime target if things come to a head. We can’t do our job if we know you are out and about. I have had two sons badly hurt, I can’t risk you being murdered.”

Adam pulled away from his father but he couldn’t ignore the plea and very begrudgingly he said “Alright you have my word, I’ll stay here.”

Having got his own way Ben left his eldest son alone and turned his attention to his youngest son, who was looking very tired. He called a halt they could decide later how many men went with each group. He told Joe to get some sleep and signalled his elder sons to go downstairs.

There were still three days before the suspected deadline but as Ben pointed out they were building a great deal on slim evidence and it was quite possible that nothing at all would happen. Adam shook his head “I know I don’t have the evidence, but my gut instinct says we’ll have trouble.” Neither his father nor his brother could deny the possibility.

Adam said “I’m going to ride into town this evening, see Carole and then see if Dan or Roy have any news.”

Ben tried to suggest that it wasn’t very sensible, worried about his son but Adam exploded “Look I’ve given in and agreed to do what you want, hide here on Friday but don’t try and wrap me in cotton-wool. I’m full grown and I can look after myself.” At that he slammed out of the door to go and saddle up Sport, not even waiting to eat.

Ben was about to follow him but Hoss put a hand on his arm “He’ll be fine Pa. He knows the risks and won’t take any chances.”

Ben had to acknowledge that his big son was talking sense and he tried to settle to work. After an hour he had achieved virtually nothing and Hoss realising that suggested “Why don’t you go and warn José what we want. I’ll hold the fort here.”

Ben knew he’d feel better for a ride and smiled at Hoss “I’ll take you up on that.” Hoss grinned “Just watch your back Pa.” Ben gripped his shoulder affectionately and headed out.

In town Adam went straight to see Carole. School had just finished for the day. He told her what they were planning and the promise his father had extracted from him. Carole knew how Adam felt about that but she couldn’t help agreeing with Ben, his life was too valuable and it was far too high a risk. Adam didn’t bother starting a discussion that he knew he couldn’t win, but he did beg her to be very careful. For her own sake she must not let Addison know that the Cartwrights were aware of his involvement. He was so scared that if she let anything slip her life would be at risk.

Carole promised to be very careful and as she said she had no intention of going into any private room with Buck, she would be in full public gaze at all times. Anyway she was still sure that however much Buck had changed, he would not hurt her. Eventually Adam changed the subject and stole a quiet hour to share a meal with his love.

Adam was going down to the saloon to try and find Dan. Much to his amusement, Carole suddenly decided she needed some air and she escorted him down to the saloon. Adam gave her a quick kiss and promised again to be very careful and headed in. Several friends converged on him, as he hadn’t been in town lately. He took a fair amount of teasing about his engagement and had to answer a lot of questions about how Joe and Hoss were recovering, but eventually he managed to extricate himself and made his way over to Dan.

Dan signalled for a beer for Adam and as it arrived, so did Roy. Carole had gone down to the jail and told Roy that Adam was in the saloon and wanted to see him. Adam was amused by that and told his friends how he had been escorted past all the dark alleys and delivered to the saloon. Then he got down to business. In confidence he told his old friends what they suspected about Addison and the possible showdown.

Dan frowned “I think you’re right. I’ve been debating all day whether to ride out and see you. All the strangers, who have been asking questions, have pulled out in the last twenty four hours, as though things were now ready.”

Roy added “I’ve already sent a note to Ben. I’ve had two reports of a large group of men assembling south of town. I’ve seen several lots, arrive in fours or fives. They look tough Adam, gunmen. If they are launched against the Ponderosa you have real trouble.”

Adam asked “How many men?” He was shocked by Roy’s answer “Not sure but both reports suggest more than a hundred and they are still arriving.”

Adam sipped his beer not trusting his voice as he thought about that. The Ponderosa had a labour force of some two hundred in total, including the miners and the lumberjacks, but they would only ask volunteers to fight. He knew that what had been done to his brothers would probably ensure virtually everyone would volunteer, but even so they were having to react. They would need to defend all too many places and could well be outnumbered. With that size of force at his disposal Addison was almost certainly going to try and make several attacks simultaneously

Roy and Dan watched the changing emotions clear for once on Adam’s face and eventually Roy passed over a whiskey “Look as though you can do with this Adam.”


Roy said “I think I’ll be paying you a visit in a couple of days.”

Dan grinned “I’ll come along and keep you company. I could do with the ride.”

Adam looked from one to the other, both good friends and he was more grateful than he could have said, but he shook his head. “Thank you both, but it isn’t your fight.”

Roy disagreed “I think it is Adam. If someone else takes over the Ponderosa this town will soon notice the difference. You and your family have helped so many of us, so often. When things are bad you’ve given food, water, lumber, time, and even fought with us. It is our fight.” Dan nodded his agreement and Adam could only give way “You will be very welcome. Guess I had better get back before Pa starts climbing the walls.”

Roy insisted on riding part way back with Adam. He would have gone all the way but Adam stopped by the turn off up to the lake “I’ll be fine now Roy and I just want to go up by the lake for a bit.” Roy knew what that spot meant to all the Cartwrights and let him go, although he sat watching Adam’s back trail for five minutes just to be safe, before heading back to town.

Adam was sitting on the point sucking a long piece of grass when he heard a horse. He drew his gun and got behind cover but as the horse came closer he recognised his father. Adam came out, re-holstering his gun “Hi Pa, where have you been?”

“I went up to see José, tell him what was going on. He wasn’t at all pleased until he learnt that he would lead one group. Then he was delighted to have a chance to fight back against those who’d killed his cattle and dared to try and frighten his vaqueros. I’ve arranged with him to keep everything to himself until the last minute and then bring all but five of his men down to the house.”

Adam settled back down on the rock and his father sat down next to him. For a few minutes they were quiet staring out over the lake. Then Adam told his father what he had learnt in town and that Roy and Dan would be coming out to help fight, with according to Roy at least a few others.

Ben was pleased that his old friends cared enough to help but he was horrified at the possible size of the opposition, he hadn’t been thinking in terms of anything that large.

“They must be planning simultaneous attacks.”

Ben could only agree with his eldest son but as he said they would have to defend even more places as they couldn’t know exactly where or when the attacks would come.

Adam tried to be positive “We can choose defensive positions in most cases.” Ben nodded but sighed heavily as he looked at the view he loved “It’s always so peaceful here and yet how often is it the centre of strife? I just wish it was all over and the four of us were here fit and well.”

“With luck it will be over in a few days.”

“I hope so.” Ben turned to look at his eldest son “One reason I want you at the house is to protect Little Joe. At the moment he’s not strong enough to can’t stop anyone coming in and shooting him or even smothering him. If someone wants to wipe out the Cartwrights they know where to find him.”

Adam frowned he hadn’t thought of that but he tried to reassure his father “Give my little brother a gun and I’d bet on his ability to look after himself even now.”

“I hope so. I think the house may well be a target anyway. Financially it wouldn’t matter than much, but if any of us are still alive and our home and possessions are all gone, that might be the last straw.”

Adam stared at his father in some surprise “I don’t ever remember you being so pessimistic before a fight Pa.”

“I’ve never fought anyone else, who would be ruthless enough to order what was done to Joseph.” Adam had no answer to that, he had become accustomed to the idea but he remembered how sick he’d been when he first saw what had been done to his brother.

Eventually he straightened his shoulders “Come on Pa we will win. We’ve more than held our own so far ands as Hoss said once; we have lots of good friends who will help us. In a few weeks time you can forget all this and help me plan my wedding.”

Ben grinned at that, he remembered his own thought good friends and three strong sons, with right and God on their side they would come through. He smiled more easily than he would have believed possible a few minutes earlier and put his arm round his son’s shoulder “Sure I will. I’ve waited a long time for a daughter-in-law and you’ve chosen a lovely girl.”

Then father and son rode home, with all too many things to think about but a renewed belief that somehow they would prevail.