A Sense of Blame


Lyn Robinson

Adam enjoyed himself with all his family around, his lovely wife on his lap, the twins playing round his feet and it was peaceful until mid-evening. Carole had taken her daughter upstairs to feed and Adam commented that he needed to go into town the following day. Joe had passed on word that Schussler wanted a word and there were several other jobs needing to be done. Joe didn’t expect any trouble and he just passed over a long letter for Adam to post to Nita. Both brothers were equally taken aback when Ben pronounced “You aren’t going to town.”

With Carole upstairs Ben felt free to say what he liked but he was ready for an argument. Adam looked blankly at his father for a minute and then said “Why ever not?”

In answer Ben got to his feet and picking up Adam’s gunbelt threw it at him “Put that on and show me how fast you can draw.”

“Don’t be silly Pa.”

Ben, furious, barked, “That’s no way to speak to me.”

Adam sighed heavily, catching his youngest brother’s eye and recognising an unwarranted amusement there. “Alright I’m sorry. Look I freely admit I can’t draw fast at the moment; but there’s no need. I am not going to fight anyone.”

“Suppose you don’t get the choice?” Ben asked, unable to hide his concern.

“Pa I lived with a reputation for years. Remember? Okay recently it’s faded and this will have sparked it off again, but noone has succeeded in forcing me into a fight yet.”

“At least wear a sling.”

“I don’t need one, need to exercise my arm and I am not running scared!”

“Roy sent word that someone was looking for you.”

“Then he’ll be out of luck. Will you just trust me and stop worrying.”

Ben couldn’t do that but he had to accept that his eldest was full-grown and that there was no way he could stop Adam going. There was no way he could help if he went along, so he had to give way unwillingly and spent the next day worrying.

In town Adam was surprised to find that Tony Enders had asked Schussler for a job. The boy was eager to learn and had studied hard and learnt sufficient maths to understand what was happening. Harv liked his attitude and needed help but he wouldn’t take the kid on without discussing it with Adam, not after what he had seen. Tony had assured him that Adam had offered him a job but although Harv didn’t call him a liar, he found that hard to believe.

Adam was pleased to hear of Enders interest and made it clear that if Harv wanted to take the kid on he would be delighted. Harv was still very surprised but he didn’t know Adam well enough to pry. Adam just said that the kid had helped him and his brother and wiped the slate clean, they’d started again.
Harv accepted that statement and started going through the queries which had arisen as he began the survey. Some Adam could answer others he wasn’t sure about and the men slipped into a technical discussion trying to find the best way to deal with the problems. They were deep in one such discussion when a man came over to their table. In his early twenties, wearing two guns, both strapped down low, he had been in town for several days asking about Adam. Hearing that his prey was in town he had come straight over. Not very bright but fast with a gun, he had taken it very seriously when a friend suggested that he could double his fee if he had a big reputation like Adam Cartwright. There was one sure way to earn that reputation and that was to kill the man who had it and Domingo as he called himself was determined to do just that.

He pushed Harv away from the table and stared down at Adam “You Cartwright?”

Adam carefully put both hands on the table, “I’m Adam Cartwright.”

“You claim to be fast, let’s see how fast you really are.”

“Not interested.”

“I wasn’t giving you the choice.”

“I’m not drawing against you. Shoot me and you’ll hang for murder, plenty of witnesses. I have no argument with you.”

Domingo slapped him hard round the face “You have now. Outside.”

“Nope.” Adam sipped his beer.

“Are you a yellow bellied coward?”

Adam just ignored that and the string of insults that followed, just sipping his beer, until frustrated Domingo shut up. Then Adam looked up, “I won’t draw against you, find someone else to play your games. I have nothing to prove.” With that he stood up and walked out leaving Domingo quivering with rage. “Some bloody reputation, he’s got a yellow streak a mile wide instead of a backbone.”

Adam’s step broke slightly but he went on out, he’d been called names before. Roy came over at a run, word having reached him and he was relieved to find there wasn’t any trouble. “Do you want me to run him out of town Adam?"

Adam shook his head “Forget him Roy, an overgrown kid, he’s not worth bothering with.”

“Might cause trouble, “Roy said dubiously.

“No, he’s only interested in earning a reputation. He needs to fight me face to face in front of witnesses to do that. No advantage to him in back shooting. Forget him I'm going to get some lunch.” Adam had just about finished his discussion with Harv and despite his casual front he was glad to be alone, angrier than he wanted anyone to see. He wasn’t exactly delighted to see Harv coming into the Washoe Club with Tony Enders in tow, but he hid his feelings and smiled. “Pull up a chair both of you. I’m sorry I walked out on you earlier Harv, it seemed the easiest way. I didn’t want trouble. Well Tony, Harv says you want to work on the pipeline. You know I’m keeping an eye on the project?”
Harv settled in a chair and glared at Tony. “That wasn’t why we came up Adam. He’s talking about dealing with that Domingo. I thought you might be able to talk some sense into him, or he might not want that job.”

Adam pushed back his chair and catching the waiter’s eye demanded a brandy. He shook his head, letting a little of his exasperation and anger show. “What is the matter with everyone? All trying to mind my business for me. Joe I can understand, he’s my brother, but why you Tony?”

“He’s telling everyone that you’re a coward, just because your arm’s not fit. It’s all my fault.”

Adam sipped his brandy and then forced Tony to meet his eye “I’ll tell you once and no more. What happened is forgotten, you evened the score. You owe me nothing. I’ll handle my own affairs, my own good name; I’ve managed it for a long time. No matter how fit I was I wouldn’t face Domingo. I don’t want to hurt him and I have nothing to prove. Everyone who knows me, whose opinion I care about, know that I’m no coward. When necessary I’ll fight but I won’t be forced into anything. Neither will I allow anyone to do my fighting for me, do you understand?”
Tony couldn’t break away from Adam’s gaze and slowly he nodded.

Adam went on “Right you want to work with Harv. I fully approve but I want a promise from you not to interfere in any of my affairs again. Do I get it? If not I’ll ship you out of town, back home tomorrow.”

Tony bit his lip “I’m sorry. You have my promise. I was only trying to help.”

Adam relaxed and smiled “I know but my reputation really doesn’t stand on such a flimsy base. Come on join me in a drink and tell me what your first moves are going to be.”

Later as Adam went out to go home, he found Domingo waiting by his horse and the younger man blocked his way. Adam shook his head in disgust "Out of my way. I told you I am not playing your games."

“You’re a coward.”

Adam had kept his temper all day but now it boiled over and he began untying his holster and took off his gunbelt. “Little children sometimes need a sound tanning. I won’t fight you with a gun, will you face me with just your fists.”

Domingo was only slightly smaller than Adam and he had been drinking and bragging all afternoon, so with a mixture of Dutch courage and fear of looking a fool, he unbuckled his gunbelts. Dan had hurried out and went over to Adam “Don’t be a fool you’re effectively one handed.”

“I can handle him Dan. I’ve had about as much as I’m going to take.” Adam turned to face Domingo circling warily to protect his right arm. Although Domingo was fit and strong he was no fist fighter and with two punches Adam put him down and not even breathing hard commented, “Next time I tell you to get out of my way do it.” He went to mount Blackie and Domingo lunged up catching Adam by his right arm, he tried to pull him round. As his finger’s dug in Adam’s arm felt on fire and he had a job not to cry out but very slowly he pulled Domingo’s hand of his arm. The would-be fast gun was no match for the work hardened rancher and had to let go. Adam’s anger was very clear and his voice was ice cold “It’s finished kid. Push it any more and you’ll get the thrashing you’re asking for. Go home.”
Dan could see how pale Adam was, his mouth set tight against the pain but to outsiders little showed and Adam mounted up. Domingo went over to his guns but Roy was standing there casually and he said, “I shouldn’t kid. We don’t like unarmed men shot down round here. It’s over. I see you in town again and I’ll find you a bed at the jail.”

Adam rode out, but not until he was clear of town did he rest his aching arm in his jacket and try to massage the worst of the pain away; it felt on fire again. Despite his efforts people had seen his loss of colour and Tony had no hesitation, even after Adam’s warning, in reminding everyone of the crippling injury Adam had received a few days earlier, which had come out at the inquest. He was again the subject of gossip all over town and word got back to his father the following day. Adam didn’t want to talk and just shrugged it off, it had been nothing.

Over the next weeks talk gradually died down, Adam was busy out on the ranch and in his absence other topics took over. Ben was the only one going to town and noone dared comment to him about his eldest son’s prowess with a gun. Both Adam and Joe had fully recovered and Joe had put in some hours practice with his gun until he was satisfied that he was back to his best, albeit not as good as his oldest brother.

Without flumes to build, the work was going smoothly and Adam had been able to keep an eye on the pipe survey, working mainly from home and enjoying his family. He had settled his plans for a trial cut on the west shore, planning to spend a month over there, now that Carole was fit and strong again and he could leave her.

Word had spread in town that the Cartwrights had bought a large amount of the land on the west shore of the Lake and various opinions had been put forward as to why they wanted the land. Some thought it was for minerals; some just to stop encroachment onto the Ponderosa proper, but the most popular theory was some scheme about water. Everyone had hard of Schussler’s new job and there had been bitter denunciations of the Cartwrights, claiming they were taking over all possible water rights and would make everyone pay through the nose. One or two people had suggested tentatively that they might want the timber on the far shore but everyone else laughed at the idea. The Cartwrights had plenty of timber closer in on the Ponderosa, why would they want to do it the hard way and move it all that way. Sharon had been keeping a close ear to the ground and he heard that Adam was moving in with a lumber gang. Unlike most he hadn’t discounted that possibility knowing the Cartwrights views on conservation. It annoyed him that Adam was using the money from the Belcher to set up this new operation but there was nothing he could do except to hope that for once the Cartwrights would fall flat on their faces.

Adam was glad to see the detailed map of the pipeline finished before he had to leave. The actual pipe would be made in short sections, contoured exactly to the ground and the ground would have to be marked out and the detailed specification drawn up. Adam was confident that Schussler could do that accurately and he was glad to avoid the tedious work; by the time he got back the job should be done and they could get the factory in San Francisco started on the massive job of making the pipe.

Adam didn’t want to leave the trial cut any longer as Will and Laura were coming out for a holiday in five weeks time and he wanted to be back. Joe was hoping to get over to join him in another ten days, having about finished the smaller cut. Hoss with the main gang up between the two new flumes could cover the rest of their contracts on the virgin slopes. Adam had spent hours discussing the best way to handle the new cutting area with all his family but to a large extent he had to try out their ideas on the ground. As he rode up to the Lake Adam had a lot to think about, even trekking in the stores for a small gang was a major undertaking and he made many notes on the problems which would have to be faced the following spring for a full crew.
Adam made camp at a central spot on the west shore. It didn’t have such a good view as the camp he had shared with his brothers the previous autumn but it was more practical. He had raided Joe’s crew for experienced men as Joe had nearly finished, but even so there was some grumbling that it was an impossible job. Adam had three temporary slides into the lake made and cut enough trees to launch out and see how the currents in the Lake would take them. He’d done a certain amount of experimenting but it wasn’t easy to scale up and if he was to let the Lake do the work the trees must arrive close by the main flume. He kept his men busy checking routes back into the woodland and for the longer term he spotted a couple of possible routes for flumes down to the Lake. It wasn’t easy to get the timber into the water without massive wastage and by the time Joe came to join his brother Adam had already decided that a permanent low angle flume was needed and he had begun drawing up plans. Adam was pleased to see his brother, with new problems facing him everywhere he turned he had been working very long hours. The men, faced with the unusual, were being awkward and tempers were frayed. Certain supplies were running low and so the packhorses Joe brought were equally welcome. Unsure of what they were doing on some unusual jobs there had been some niggling injuries and Adam had found himself needed in two or three places at once so he was glad of help.

Joe thought his brother looked exhausted but it was a waste of time protesting and he could at least help out now. That evening over coffee he filled Adam in on what had been happening, passed over messages from Carole and told his brother how the kids were. Adam relaxed, glad to hear everything was alright and that night Adam slept better than he had for days.

Adam had a steady stream of reports of the timber arriving at the far side but the currents weren’t strong enough to overcome the high winds and the arrivals were erratic. Adam left Joe to cope with the trails while he kept an eye on the low angle flume into the water and tried out various ideas for tying the timber together in rafts to cross the lake. He had feared that it might prove necessary and had found out as much as he could about the techniques used elsewhere, but there wasn’t very much. Even though it was the height of summer, it was bitterly cold in the waters of the Lake. Adam seemed to spend the days soaking wet and Joe protested but it was no use. This was one job that Adam had no intention of delegating and laughed off his brother’s reminders of pneumonia.

It wasn’t a popular job but with the boss taking the brunt of the worst jobs, the men went along. Slowly Adam sorted out the two best methods as far as he could and he had two rafts going across the lake. Adam was busy getting a third made, when the man at the other end of one of the logs lost hold of it and it crashed down catching Adam’s shin. Adam was trying to get a bandage on the torn and bruised flesh when Joe rode in. Joe dismounted rapidly and just leaving Cochise to stand, he hurried over to his brother. “Here let me do it Adam. How did it happen?”

“Hank dropped his end of the log, it rolled sideways before I could stop it.”

Joe nodded and then bathed and disinfected the wound in silence before he began to bandage it. “We’re running short of medical supplies Adam. There have been too many accidents.”

“Happens on a strange job, no-one’s sure what to expect.”

“Maybe we ought to slow down a bit, been pushing very hard. We don’t want any serious accidents.”

“There are other jobs to do. We need to finish up here before we run out of supplies. I can’t help it if there are more problems than we hoped. I have to push.”

“Adam, I know you want to get home but....”

“If you’re that worried Joe, go on home. I managed before you came and it will be one less eating the supplies. That’s why I’m pushing, the only reason.”

Joe could see the anger on Adam’s face and he knew just how tired his brother was, so he backed off. He didn’t want to get into an argument with his brother, even if he did think that Adam was pushing too hard, maybe unnecessarily.

For two more days Adam carried on, working the hands hard but putting in twice as much himself and then checking figures far into the night. Joe said no more about easing up but he matched his brother, helping with the calculations and just making sure that Adam did at least eat properly. Both of them were very tired but the job had to be finished and they only had about a week’s worth of supplies left. Adam was determined to get all the information he needed so that he could set up a smooth operation the following spring and Joe could only go along. Adam seemed to have forgotten their slight disagreement; there were too many immediate problems.

The twenty men with the brothers were nearly all short tempered, eager to get finished and back to the ranch, with the possibility of a night in town. Even the hefty bonus each had been promised had lost their attraction for now.

Then late in the afternoon disaster struck. Adam had his attention divided between the new flume, which was nearly finished, and the new raft, which he was building. He was yelling orders to the two men tying up the timber when Little Joe fired three shots in the air and called out a warning. One of the tree trunks had fallen wrong and was crashing down towards the lake out of control. Adam yelled to the men to get out of the way and scrambled towards the side himself. The men on the raft with him ran off to the side but suddenly the trunk bounced and flew off at a tangent to hit the flume and then crash into the lake sweeping one man with it.
Adam saw him go and was already kicking off his boots and taking off his gunbelt before the man hit the water. Adam dived after him, heading towards him with powerful strokes, but although he was on the spot within a minute, there was no sign of the man. He dived three times but he couldn’t see anything and the bitter cold of the water seemed to penetrate the depth of his bones.

He felt rather than saw someone dive in close by as he went down again and when he surfaced, he wasn’t surprised to see his little brother treading water. Joe said, “It’s no good, get to the shore before you get cramp, too cold.”

Adam ignored him and dived again and Joe followed him down but the lake was very deep and there was no sign of anything. As they surfaced Joe pulled at his brother’s arm “Get ashore.”
Adam felt the first twinges of cramp and this time he did as Joe wanted and swam powerfully to the shore, trailing his legs as the cramp hit, relying on his arm stroke. Joe tried once more, without expecting any luck, and he had none and then he too followed his brother ashore.

None of the men blamed anyone for what had happened, it was just a tragic accident and the brothers had risked their lives to try and save the dead man. Adam collapsed as he got ashore, his legs badly cramped wouldn’t support him and one of the men got a blanket round him. As Joe came ashore they had a blanket for him too and he ordered two of the men to help Adam back to the camp and sent another ahead to bank up the fires, as they were both bitterly cold. Adam hadn’t got his breath back yet and he just let his brother take charge. He needed the support, limping heavily his right leg still useless with cramp and he could only drag it along after him. Joe hurried ahead and found dry clothing for both of them. As Adam arrived Joe helped his brother strip off and rubbed him dry, rubbing hard with the towel hoping to get the blood circulating but Adam pushed him away. “I’m okay, get yourself dried”

Joe could see that Adam was a bit warmer and he began to strip off at the same time. Demanding coffee and brandy and ordering soup to be prepared. He hastily dried and changed and he was dressed almost as soon as Adam. Joe went over to kneel down in front of Adam and began massaging his leg, feeling the knots of cramp. Slowly as Joe worked Adam felt it ease and eventually he said, “Okay Joe thanks, that feels better.”

Joe pulled himself stiffly to his feet and gratefully accepted the coffee, shivering slightly. “That water is cold, I don’t think I realised quite how cold.”

Adam didn’t answer but he’d put down the cup and he pulled himself to his feet and walked back down towards the Lake, standing staring out over it, trembling slightly, still very cold. It was a long time since he had lost a man for any reason and he could remember every word of Joe’s comments a few days back when his brother tried to persuade him not to push so hard. This new project seemed fated. He’d already nearly lost his brother to it and now he had lost a man. He blamed himself bitterly and couldn’t seem to think straight.

Joe left him for a minute or two and finished his own coffee; he was bitterly cold himself. Then he went down to join Adam and put his arm round his brother’s shoulders. “Take it easy Adam, you’re shivering. Come back to the fire.”

Adam didn’t even hear what Joe said but he tensed at his brother’s touch and pulled away from Joe. For the moment he just wanted to be left alone. Joe tried again “Come and have something to eat, warm you up.”

Adam shook his head “Go on Joe, you look frozen. I’m okay, I just need a few minutes alone.”
Little Joe was uneasy not wanting his brother to catch cold but he knew Adam too well to argue and he slowly went back to the fire with many backwards glances at his brother, who was standing staring out over the lake. He left it for half an hour and had some stew to warm himself up and then went back to Adam. Joe stood by his brother for fully five minutes but Adam was seemingly unaware of him. Eventually Joe put his hand on Adam’s arm, “Please Adam, you’ll make yourself ill. At least come back to the fire, I’ll make sure that the men leave you alone.”
Adam couldn’t stop shivering but shook his head “Just let me be.”

“You can’t afford to risk pneumonia, you have responsibilities. Please be sensible.”

Adam sighed, “Responsibilities. I guess I’ve forgotten some of those, these last few weeks. These men are my responsibility. I’ve risked their lives, just to get home, You tried to warn me but it took a man’s life to show me what I’ve been doing. Little better than murder.”

Joe put his arm round his brother, “No Adam, you can’t blame yourself. A breakaway and accident. No more your fault than what happened to me last year.”

“If I hadn’t wanted to expand, been so greedy, maybe that was my fault too....”

Joe gave his brother a shake “Stop it Adam. Pull yourself together. Come on back to the fire, I owe Carole too much to let you make yourself ill.”

Adam pulled away from his brother “Let it go Joe. Leave me alone.”

Joe gripped his brother’s arm “Look, please Adam...”

For the first time Adam turned to face his brother, pulling his arm away and with anger in his voice he said, “I mean it Joe. I know you mean well but just let me be.” It wasn’t the words or the anger which made Joe back off, it was the look in his brother’s eyes, along with the pain and the worry was a stubbornness he knew all too well.

Joe went slowly back to the fire and poured himself a large whisky as he tried to work out what to do next. He was surprised when one of the four Paiutes in their work-gang came over to join him. The man Jack Catfish was the head of the Paiutes working on the ranch and normally took charge at the sawmill but he had come along on this new project, an expert on all sides of lumbering. All the Cartwrights knew him well and respected his expertise but Joe was taken aback when Jack sat down and asked, “What’s eating Adam?”

Joe looked up and Jack saw his hesitation “I have known you all a very long time Little Joe.”

Joe sighed heavily but maybe the older man could help “Sure Jack. Adam blames himself, he’s been pushing pretty hard.”

“It was necessary. But today, an accident. He did his best to reach Larsen. No blame.”

“I know Jack but you try telling Adam. I have and he won’t listen to me, I can’t even get him back to the fire and he’s freezing. He’ll make himself ill.”

“You don’t mind if I try?”

“Be my guest Jack. I can’t reach him, maybe you’ll have better luck. I daren’t try again for a few hours; he’s likely to hit me. Guess he’s unlikely to throw a punch at you, but I don’t reckon much to your chances.”

Jack Catfish needed no further invitation and he walked slowly out to the Lake shore and stood by Adam. For a while he said nothing but Adam gradually became aware that someone was there and turned to tell Joe to go away, only to be taken aback as he realised who it was.

Jack smiled, “I know you want to be alone, we’re old friends, yes?”

“You know we are. I just don’t feel very sociable.”

“Little Joe is very worried. You are cold, risk illness, that helps nothing.”

“Jack I know you mean well and I will come back in a few minutes, but I need to think.”

“Blame yourself.”

“Joe talks too much.”
“Death comes to every man when his time runs out and the Great Spirit calls him.”

Adam didn’t answer he was used to the fatalistic attitude of the Paiutes with whom he had lived and worked beside for most of his life.

Jack sat down next to Adam and started talking, almost to himself, well aware that he had Adam’s attention. “Jim Willy was my cousin, your brother, brought up with Little Joe. No father apart from Ben Cartwright. My blood, but of your teaching. You taught him to ride and to shoot when you taught Joe, your little brother.”

Adam slowly settled down next to Jack, easing his sore legs. “Jim Willy died a long time ago Jack. I wasn’t even here. I mourned for him when my father wrote to me, I grieved for Jim in a strange land far from these hills. Why bring it up now?”

“It was Jim Willy’s time, today it was Larsen’s time. This is a rough land, not like those strange lands of which you spoke. Accidents will happen, the Great Spirit determines the outcome. Today an accident, the tree broke away, bounced sideways, no-one’s fault.”

“I’ve been pushing too hard. If Larsen hadn’t been so tired, maybe he’d have reacted faster....”

“Jobs need doing, you push as necessary. Work hardest yourself. When Jim Willy died and Hoss was hurt, your father he blamed himself. He tried to tell Joe and I, saying if only he hadn’t set such store on keeping the Ponderosa, as he wanted it, maybe.... Maybe and if are words that get us nowhere. Your father couldn’t prevent Jim Willy’s time coming anymore than you could stop Larsen’s. You do what you can. Your family all do their best for their men, we all know it. Not one man in that camp blames you Adam. It was an accident, could have happened anytime, anywhere.” Jack Catfish fell silent and Adam sat thinking over what he had said, remembering Jim Willy so clearly. Then knowing that he was only worrying his brother and the men, he pulled himself to his feet, “Alright Jack let’s go calm Joe down. It is getting a bit chilly.”

Joe was relieved to see his brother and looked so worried that Adam accepted the cup of soup Joe gave him. In fact he was grateful for its warmth, cold to the core, he sat by the fire until after midnight at least warm even if he wouldn’t talk. Adam did settle down eventually but he didn’t sleep, trying to sort out his thoughts. He was up early and sitting drinking coffee as the others got up. Unable to face breakfast Adam busied himself organising the day’s work. Joe considered his brother, who still looked very tired and drawn, but he knew that Adam wouldn’t talk with the men around and so Joe didn’t push just collecting two plates of food and moving over to sit next to his brother. Adam didn’t want the food, but one look at Joe was enough to tell him he would have real trouble on his hands if he didn’t eat at least some and he managed to force more than half of it down. Then he grimly settled to work, determined to finish up and get home before anything else could go wrong.

As though they understood every man there worked harder than ever and the days work went smoothly and well. Adam sensed the unspoken sympathy and understanding from all the men and realised that Jack had only been stating the truth when he said that noone blamed him. Slowly he relaxed a little and that night he even slept. For five more days the men worked hard and then Adam called a halt, he’d done all he needed; now he had to think about what they’d found. He sent all but two of the men back to the main ranch and then with Hank and Red, he and Joe finished tidying up the camp and ensuring that the flume into the water was safe for the winter, before following the others back.
With everything ready, Joe told Hank and Red to head out and moved over to his brother. Adam was still quiet and withdrawn, but as he was eating and sleeping Joe had given up worrying. He would pass the problem onto their father when they got home. He couldn’t get Adam to talk maybe their father could. Adam was staring out over the lake. The dead body had never surfaced and all Adam had been able to do was to say a prayer over the Lake. He was taking one last look trying to apologise for whatever part of the blame belonged to him and then realising Joe was there, he turned to his brother, “Lets go home.”

Eager to get home, the four men kept going not bothering to camp and early the following morning Adam’s house was in sight, Joe had already announced his intention of going straight home for breakfast and he promised to bring the papers he was carrying over later that afternoon. He was glad to see that the prospect of seeing his family had effectively dispelled Adam’s black mood at least for now, Despite a sleepless night Adam looked better than he had for a week. Adam grinned, “Okay Joe see you later.” Then he kicked Blackie on, not that the horse needed much encouragement, he knew home as well as his master.

During the morning Adam relaxed with his children and wife, marvelling just how much Marie had grown in his absence. He looked very tired as he relaxed but Carole had expected him to be very busy and she wasn’t too worried, just occasionally sensing something else. Still Joe was fine and apart from a cut and bruised shin so was her husband and he would tell her what was bothering him when he was ready.

After lunch Ben and Joe joined them. Joe had filled his father in on the events of the last month and Ben was determined to get his eldest son to talk but nothing could be done until Joe had seen his niece and placated his nephews. Then Carole took the children off and the three men moved through into Adam’s study.

Adam stood staring at the picture of the Lake and, knowing his father so very well, he said “Joe told you about Larsen. It’s a long time since we’ve lost a man in an accident.”

Ben tried to keep it low key, “It happens. We do our best but sometimes it’s unavoidable, no-one’s fault.”

Adam sighed heavily, “So everyone keeps saying Pa, I’m not sure. Joe even warned me not to push so hard, about three days before. Maybe if Larsen hadn’t been so tired he would have reacted faster.”

“You can’t know that Adam. Once I blamed myself bitterly when an old man died because I was pushing on a timber contract. Even tried to pull out and leave the running of the ranch to you three. His daughter said then that this is a wild land and to tame it you need strong men who will fight and in fights there are casualties. I learnt then I can never change. You three can't put me out to pasture. You push yourself harder than any of the men just as your brothers do and the three of you take the most dangerous jobs. You can’t do more.”

Adam came and sat down. “I’m alright Pa, Maybe Jack Catfish is right every man’s time comes and God decides, I guess when I have to I shall still push just as hard, I can’t change either.”

Adam relaxed with his family and, now with his father’s support, looked much better so Ben let him change the subject. Adam began outlining the major problems that still had to be solved before they could begin logging in earnest. Once the outline was clear Adam wasn’t sorry to forget about the whole project for a while and catch up with the other news round the ranch and in town.

Other people had been busy too while Adam had been out of touch and the detailed spec for the pipeline was finished and awaiting his approval before things were started in San Francisco. The California mine was beginning to show better quality ore, while the 1400 foot level in the Consolidated Virginia was causing a lot of comment because of the richness of the ore, much to the amusement of Fair and McKay who had seen the 1500 foot level. Sharon was taking a fortune out of the Belcher, but it didn’t seem to be sweetening his temper any. The other main news came form Roy. He had asked Ben to keep an eye out on the Ponderosa. There had been two stage hold ups and three mine payrolls taken, all equally brutal, killing everyone in the vicinity and Roy reckoned it was the same gang. Roy had trailed them a short way twice but had lost the trail, once on the Ponderosa itself. Probably the men had doubled back to town, but just in case, Ben had issued a warning to all hands to keep an eye open for unexpected trails or any strangers. Adam hadn’t seen anything but he promised to keep an eye open. The other piece of news from Roy was even more disturbing although very vague. Indians were gathering in the hills to the Northwest of the ranch, noone was very sure why, what tribes or how many but their very presence made people uneasy. Adam thought immediately of his brother working up in that direction “Hoss?”

“I sent him a warning a couple of days back, to keep the men close and armed just in case, He’d seen no sign of trouble.”

“He’ll cope.” Adam said lightly, seeing his father was anxious. Then as Carole rejoined them he changed the subject wanting to know if they’d heard anything definite from Will and Laura.

Carole grinned “I knew there was something I had forgotten to tell you. They are arriving day after tomorrow. I promised that you’d pick them up in town.”

Adam was pleased to hear it; he could handle the rest of his jobs at the same time. Joe volunteered to go along and help with the luggage, he had some odd jobs to do too and Ben asked his youngest son to deal with the Bank for him. Adam looked at them suspiciously, still not sure that his family wasn’t trying to protect him after the trouble before. However there was nothing to show that they were and he decided it was better not to bring it up again. “I’ll want a very early start if I’m going to get finished before the stage arrives.”

Joe frowned and said dubiously, “I could meet you in town.”

Adam laughed “You could try getting up!”

In fact Joe was by promptly to pick up his brother, to find Adam trying to sort out papers with one hand while he held Marie in the other. From upstairs there were screams and sob and Joe looked worried as he asked, “What’s going on?”

“Mark pushed David down the stairs. He only fell a couple but banged his head and I smacked Mark’s bottom. Carole is trying to sort out the ensuing fuss. David promptly turned on me for hurting his brother so at the moment only my daughter loves me, Give Kam Su a yell will you, he can take Marie, I’ve a feeling peace will reign again more quickly in my absence.”

Joe turned grinning “The joys of family life.” But as Adam raised his free hand Joe hurried to do as he was told, He had vivid memories of Adam administering well deserved punishment when he was a kid, rather older than the twins but still young enough to hate his brother for a few minutes.

The brothers made good time to town, Adam with a lot on his mind wasn’t very sociable but Joe was used to him and had finally learnt to shut up. In town they separated, Joe going to deal with the buckboard and promising to meet Adam for lunch before the stage was due. Remembering the last time they had gone to town together Adam warned his brother, “Don’t get into any trouble and remember that you are Joe Cartwright. I can handle my own business.”

Joe put up his hand in a peace sign, “I promise.”

Adam had sent word the previous day and he went straight to the California where Fair and Mackay were waiting. They had a few routine queries on the Ponderosa contracts and Adam dealt with those first. A not so routine legal query brought him up sharp and he was sitting reading the relevant papers when Harv arrived. Adam piled up the papers “I can’t answer this of the top. I’ll take all the papers home and check up, We have a week yet to make our submission, so if you’ll just leave it with me.”

Mackay agreed “Of curse Adam you know that we trust you. Will it be alright?”

“I think so, anyway I can prevent any drastic readjustment, so don’t worry about it.”

Schussler saw the other two men relax very visibly at that and realised again just how much faith they put in the tall cowboy. Adam switched his attention to the pipeline and once he had coffee and a quick outline of what had been happening, he ignored everyone and began going through the detailed spec. Knowing that he was short of time Adam summoned up complete concentration and worked rapidly, occasionally checking back or scribbling down a few figures to check a calculation. Fair and Mackay left them to it, both had work to do down the mines, but Harv sat and watched as Adam worked rapidly through the thick sheaf of papers. He might have been working quickly but Adam wasn’t missing any detail, however small, and after about an hour and a half when he was half way through he stopped. He did several calculations to check and then looked up at Harv “I think there’s something a little odd here.”

Harv came over but it was nearly twenty minutes before he had got his model checked where Adam indicated and checked the figures to find that Adam was quite right, The spec for three lengths of pipe was wrong. It was easy enough to change it and once it was done Harv sat back and considered the younger man “How did you know?”

Adam shrugged “I know that route. It’s my land and I can see each piece in my mind as I work, easier than a model.”

Harv shook his head in near disbelief “I couldn’t have picked it up and yet I’ve eaten and slept that route for the last months.”

Adam just smiled but his attention was already back on the papers in front of him. Harv watched him absolutely fascinated, seeing why Adam was so trusted. A keen incisive brain, better than his own on his own project and much further reaching, there was a lot to respect. Adam found one more small query just before the end and once that was dealt with he demanded more coffee, before examining the plans for the pump station and the terminus. That took another hour and by the time he’d finished Adam had a blinding headache, as he’d condensed a good day’s work into a little more than four hours. There was still the problem of ordering and financing, someone would have to go to San Francisco, the basic arrangements Schussler could handle but the final contract was another matter. Adam outlined the problem but he would have to call a board meeting, he couldn’t decide it on his own and anyway he wanted a chance to talk it over with his father. With the spec cleared Harv was free to start making arrangements to have the pipe made and that would take at least a month. There was time to decide who would go to San Francisco, Adam knew he really ought to go himself but he didn’t want to be away that long again. Pushing it to one side to consider later, he drew up an authorisation for Schussler to negotiate on behalf of the new company and signed it on behalf of the Cartwrights, putting it to one side for either Fair or Mackay to countersign and then got stiffly to his feet. “Is there anything else?"

“No. You work remarkably fast. I doubted we would finish today and it’s only lunchtime.”
Adam grinned “Have to at times, My cousin and his family arrive on the stage just after lunch and with twin girls of three you don’t hang around town. You take them out fast to the house where the damage can be contained! Get Jim Fair to countersign that will you, I must get to the bank.” Adam offered his hand, “If I don’t see you again before you go to San Francisco, I’d like to say thanks, you’ve done a fine job.” Adam smiled and then grabbed his coat and headed out.
Schussler watched him go, pleased by the praise and yet vaguely aware of the thought that Adam could have done just as well and probably in about a quarter of the time.

Adam soon cleared his business at the Bank and went to find Joe for lunch. He was starving and glad to stretch his legs for a bit. Joe had taken the list of supplies Carole and Kam Su had prepared and promised to deal with it for his brother, so that was one less job and once the bank was dealt with Adam was able to go and look for food with a clear conscience. He had one more job to do, to check on a mining deed that he didn’t have a record of, but that could wait until he’d eaten.

Joe was sitting chatting with Dan when Adam came in and as his brother pulled out a chair he got up “Want a beer?”

“Make it a brandy will you Joe, a big one, it’s been quite a morning.”

Dan studied his friend’s face, Adam looked very tired and he could see he had a headache, “Anything wrong? As a friend, not a reporter.”

Adam squeezed the bridge of his nose and rubbed his eyes, but he grinned, “Either way the answer is no. Maybe I’m just getting old can’t take hard work as easily now.”

Joe brought the brandy and watched anxiously as Adam drank it gratefully but Adam just grinned “I’ve earned it little brother. I haven’t lifted my head all morning, been through the whole spec and okayed it.”

Joe nodded but didn’t really stop looking worried until he saw his elder brother relax as he put away a large lunch. Then Adam left Joe to collect the buckboard, while he went down to check the deed. It took him longer than he expected. To be on the safe side he made an exact copy and the stage was in before he got back.

Will and Laura were on the buckboard with the kids and Joe was just finishing loading as Adam forced his way through the crowd. By the time he had said hello, quietened the three girls, and kissed Laura, Joe had finished. Joe came up, “Typical any excuse to get out of the work!”

Adam laughed “I had a good teacher, watched you for years.” He mounted Blackie leaving Joe to drive but as the buckboard edged out through the traffic, Roy came over to the join Adam. “There’s been another payroll job this morning. The Kentuck. Killed five men. I’ve just got back, lost the trail on your place again.”

Adam frowned and got exact details of where Roy had lost the trail. Then he said “Plenty of places they could hole up out there. I’ll try and get a few men together and check the most likely.”

“I’d be grateful. Chances are they double back, but I daren’t miss a move. They’re cold-blooded killers; this latest brings the tally to 16 dead, three badly hurt and not a hint of who. Be real careful boys.”

“We will Roy.” Adam promised “All the men have been warned and if we pick up anything you’ll get it at once. You be careful too, Pa has to have someone to wrangle with or he’ll be picking on us.”

Roy grinned “Thanks Adam.” And he stood watching as Adam weaved through the traffic to catch up the buckboard. Adam was quiet at first, not even aware of his cousin talking, as he thought of Carole and the kids with only Kam Su to protect them in his absence. Killers and Indians both roaming the area and although is father kept all the cash in the safe at the main house, others might not realise that. He decided to ensure that someone else was at his house while he was absent, but for the moment, until the end of his cousin’s holiday, Will would be.
At that thought Laura’s voice finally penetrated “Are you alright Adam?”

He started but smiled, “Sorry I was miles away. I’ve been going over figures all morning and they’re still dancing in front of my eyes.”

“You look tired.”

“Not too bad, just a busy morning. You seem to have survived the journey pretty well. You look lovely and the kids are beautiful if rather dirty.”

“That only took ten minutes after we left home.”

“They’re improving it doesn’t take my pair that long!” Laura laughed and then as Will took over the reins she remembered the letter she had for Joe.

Cochise was being a nuisance trying to move alongside Blackie as he was accustomed and Joe swung aboard letting him. Making it easier to drive the buckboard. As he pulled up by Blackie, Laura passed over a very thick packet “Yours Joe.”

Joe took it and immediately recognized the hand writing, “I didn’t realise that you knew Nita.”
“Oh I’d met her a couple of times before you came to Frisco, I’ve seen quite a lot of her since. She’s changed, cares more about other people, helps me with some of the poor kids. She knew I was coming to visit and so.”

Joe nodded and then oblivious of all of them he opened the packet and began to read, dropping back behind the others. He had just posted a long letter to Nita. Over the months he had had a lot of letters from her and found it very easy to reply. He wanted to see her again, the guilt he had felt had slowly faded and he had sometimes sat by Marie’s grave, telling her about Nita, reading Nita’s letters. He’d had the strangest feeling that the two girls, so very different, would have liked each other and that Marie approved of what he was doing. He was eager to see Nita again but that didn’t seem possible at the moment and the letters had to be enough. This was her longest one yet and Joe read it slowly, not caring about his family’s comment.”

As he dropped back Laura, keeping her voice low, asked, “How serious is it Adam?”

Adam shrugged “I don’t know. I’m not sure if Joe does either. It’s a long way to San Francisco, They’ve been writing very regularly.”

“She’s spent a lot of time with me. I didn’t use to like her, but she’s changed so much that it’s hard to believe, finally become a member of the human race and accepted that other people matter too.”

“Serious for her?”

“She worships him Adam. She’s never said so but her whole face changes when she talks about Joe. She’s in love with Joe and he’s done her so much good. I hope he lets her down gently, I’d hate her to go back to what she was.”

“I’m not sure he wants to let her down. He spends hours writing to her and my little brother usually ranks among the world’s worst correspondents.”

“She can’t help herself. At first it was an occasional casual question but gradually I’ve been subjected to an intensive interrogation, the Ponderosa, Virginia City, you, Ben, Hoss, Carole and the kids and even very tentatively Marie, but never anything directly about Joe.”

Will added, “Got even worse when you hit the headlines. She even started on me.”

Adam frowned, “I don’t understand.”

“A certain gunfight, the fastest gun in the west!”

“In the Frisco papers?”

“It was in all the headlines I thought you would know.”

“Damn!” Adam sighed, “Sorry Laura. I hadn’t realised that it had spread that far. Lot of fuss about nothing. Still it’s all died down now.”

Will had been intrigued by the story and wanted more details but he knew Adam too well to question his cousin. It would have to wait until he could have a word with Joe; the story had included his part and Will knew that he’d been present.

Adam changed the subject and was soon busy telling Laura all about his new daughter. Joe finished his letter and galloped up to rejoin the others, Laura didn’t comment but she could see the look in Joe’s eyes and just maybe her new friend would get what she wanted. There was a gentleness, a quiet peace, that she could remember seeing when Joe talked about Marie.

With all the children overexcited, the first few minutes of their arrival were chaotic. Adam was pleased to see his big brother there but he didn’t have the chance to do more than say hello until things quietened down. Hoss was relaxed and happy so Adam knew there wasn’t any trouble. Eventually the children quietened down, Laura was cuddling Marie and Carole got coffee for everyone. They collapsed in chairs, the luggage was upstairs but it could be unpacked later. Joe asked, “What are you doing here Hoss? Slacking again.”

Hoss grinned “Good job for you I’m too lazy to give you what you deserve little brother. I am obeying Pa’s orders.”

“Makes a change.” observed Joe and then eyed Hoss doubtfully and put his hand up in a peace sign “Okay elucidate.”

“Stop showing off Joe, using long words.”

Adam shook his head in mock disgust “Come on you big moose. That ignorant act cuts no ice here, we know you too well. Give.”

“Pa came up to the lumber camp yesterday, still worried about that Indian scare. We haven’t seen any sign at all. All been running very smoothly, well ahead of schedule and as Will and Laura were arriving Pa decided we could do with a break. He’s given the men a long weekend, too far to town otherwise and told me to do the same. We’ll start up again on Wednesday but until then I’m free and it sure feels good,”

Adam grinned broadly “That’s great Hoss. Where’s Pa?”

“He rode back with me but cut up by the mine. He was going to see to things there, have a word with José up in the high pasture and join us here this evening.”

“I hope you got here in time to warn Kam Su to cook twice as much.” Joe said, then as Hoss raised a cushion, he hastily added, “Well there’s Pa too.”

From the door Ben commented, “Taking my name in vain now young man?”

Adam got to his feet “Hi Pa, you free too?”

“Barring emergencies. I think we’ve all earned a few days break and everything is going smoothly.”

Even the weather co-operated and the next day dawned clear and bright. Adam had passed on Roy’s message and at dawn with his brothers, Will and five handpicked men, he was saddled up ready to clear this last chore before he could settle to enjoy his holiday. Adam had discussed it with his father and brothers the previous evening and they had been able to rule out large stretches of the ranch, sure that trails would have been noticed if anyone had used a hideout there regularly. It was the area closest to town, which was the most likely and Adam carefully allocated that to those he trusted most. Adam didn't expect to find anything but he wasn't taking any chances and he promised his father to be careful. Each man had carefully checked his weapons and Adam led them out. He knew Jess and the other men almost as well as he knew his brothers and he wasn't worried. However he knew that Carole and Laura would be on edge until they got back and he wanted the job done. As he expected they found nothing. There was certainly no permanent camp on the Ponderosa, the most that they had found was an old campfire in one canyon, well out of sight and too old for any sign to be made out. Adam shrugged Harv and Tony Enders have been working round this area, could have been them.”
Will was next to him and he stared blankly at his cousin, “Did I hear you right? Isn’t that the man who called you out.”

“Yeah, bright kid, Harv says he’ll make an engineer.” Adam moved off before Will could recover from his surprise and began arranging the move in on the next canyon. Will managed to catch Joe and got the full story out of him. The later events hadn’t reached San Francisco but even so Will thought that his eldest cousin was mad, although he knew better than to say so, even to Joe.

Eventually just before lunch Adam called a halt. If the men had been on the Ponderosa they were long gone. He sent Jess into town to pass the word onto Roy and the rest returned home to eat and then the Cartwrights were going to have a picnic.

That evening, when the others had gone to bed, Adam retreated to his study and began working on his legal problem It was more involved even than he’d feared and when he finally went to bed at 2 o’clock as Carole settled Marie down, he had barely scratched the surface. He was up again soon after five and managed two hours work before the others appeared. Adam was determined not to spoil the holiday and he fitted in the work when he could disappear for the odd half hour, while the kids were being bathed or put to bed and working late into the night. Carole was the only one who realised but her protests fell on deaf ears. As Adam was relaxed and happy she let him get on with it, knowing that her stubborn husband could mange with very little sleep. By Monday evening it was beginning to catch up on him and he looked so tired that Ben got Carole on one side and asked what was wrong. She wasn’t sure exactly, only knowing it was some legal problem to do with the California, but she did tell her father-in-law just what hours Adam had been keeping. Ben wasn’t surprised and he could understand Adam’s need to enjoy his family and fit in the work as necessary but he wasn’t letting his son go too far maybe risk his health. He managed to get Adam on his own in the study and asked what was up. Faced with a straight question, Adam was glad of the chance to discuss it. There was little that his father didn’t know about Nevada law and it was easy to explain. Ben looked over the papers Adam had been preparing and agreed with the way Adam was handling it. He made a couple of suggestions and then tied the papers up. “I’ll take them home and have another look this evening.”

Adam protested, “I was going to finish it up tonight, Ought to be on Thursday.”

“There’s time. You’ve got at least three or four hours work still to do. Come over for breakfast and I’ll give you a hand.”

“I could do it tonight, send....”

“No. Adam you’re exhausted, have an early night. We’ll still be finished before the children are ready to go out.”

Adam knew it was a waste of time arguing and he was tired so he passed over the rest of the papers. “Okay Pa. I’ll be glad of some help. Thanks.”

Ben just grinned, his son had had a hard summer, and he deserved a break. In fact with Joe helping as well, drawing up some of the routine papers, they had the job finished in not much over an hour. That evening Hoss had to get back to the timber camp and Joe was riding up to the cattle. It had been a very pleasant break but the work of the ranch had to go on. Ben was leaving for Sacramento in two more days and he saw his sons off with a casual “Be careful, see you soon.” trying to forget the uneasiness he felt. His sons were well able to look after themselves and had survived many much more immediate threats than those facing them now.

With all his family busy, Adam couldn’t avoid work with the perpetual paperwork and organisation to do. He worked all morning, while the others got the children settled and sometimes part of the evening, but contrived to spare time during the afternoon to enjoy Will and Laura’s company. The children played well together and the adults were close friends. Adam had always got on well with his cousin and since his marriage and Will’s return they had grown closer, with the women good friends. Adam heard a lot more about Nita and he was pleased to realise that Laura liked her very much, he had a great deal of faith in Laura’s judgement. He toyed with the idea of getting Joe back to San Francisco but so much depended on events and he wasn’t going to interfere, even though he had done so last time with such good results. Joe was a grown man and would make his own decision, although if Joe seemed to be angling for a visit he would have his eldest brother’s help unasked.

The fortnight, which was all Will could spare, passed all too fast and Adam had to take them back to town. Will had promised to somehow manage to get back for Christmas and Adam had warned him one or more of them would almost certainly be descending on San Francisco in a month to six weeks. Carole had written a long letter to Meg, urging her to come and visit, Christmas, if not before. Laura promised to deliver it, she still saw a fair bit of Meg. Meg seemed very happy and content in her marriage, although a little impatient with no sign of a child yet. Laura had half-expected a letter for Nita too but Joe preferred to trust the normal post. He accepted some teasing from his family but he was too uncertain to want to provoke it.

Once Adam had seen his cousin and family onto the stage, he went to check with Roy before handling various routine jobs, which he had put off until he was in town anyway. Roy had no fresh news for him. There hadn’t been any more robberies but then the take from the last one had been substantial and the killers might have gone down under to enjoy it.

Adam tried to be optimistic “Well maybe they will try their luck elsewhere when they run out.”
Roy shook his head and said, rather despondently, “Why should they? The pickings are good here and we’ve been no threat to them.”

“Cheer up Roy, get a run of bad luck sometimes. You do a good job, the breaks can’t run against you forever.”

Roy nodded and then reverted to the Indians. “Still only rumours. Noone I really trust but word is over a thousand hostiles back in the hills. Some powerful medicine man and a lot of dancing. Been going on for over two week, bound to break up soon and there could be trouble.”

“Usually only spend three or four days.” Adam said with considerable concern

“That’s why I’d guess a powerful medicine man, like that Apache one, three, four years back.”
Adam nodded “I remember. Is it just Apache?”

“Various tribes from what I hear, Apache Shoshone, Bannock even some Paiute. You heard any rumours?”

Adam shook his head “Jack Catfish and the boys don’t keep in close touch these days. Half the time I think they forget they are Indians, I know I do. You know even if the rum ours are exaggerated as usual even ten percent of 1000 hostiles can spell real trouble.”
“You’re in the line south, that’s why I’m glad you dropped by.”

“I think I’ll ride up to see Hoss, just pass the word, he’s working up in the Northwest.”


“No. Full lumber crew, there must be close on fifty men. Noone is going to attack the camp but maybe a lone guy marking up might be in trouble. Doesn’t hurt if they’re on their guard.”

Adam had to get on and it was late when he left town, with plenty to think about. He was carrying a lot of money and with thieves around he didn’t take the normal route home, cutting up to Washoe Lake just to be on the safe side. He had taken precautions before he left home and Pio Gomez was at his house in his absence. Pio was a good shot and stuck at home with a badly sprained ankle at the moment. Carole liked the small quick little vaquero, José’s right hand man, and was quite happy to have him around for a few days, while Adam was away. She wasn’t particularly worried but could understand Adam taking precautions. She knew the wild country well and didn’t think he was being unnecessarily alarmist even if trouble was unlikely.
When Adam finally reached home he found Joe back too. José had everything well under control and was beginning the roundup in the high country. After several years of having to handle it on his own with the Cartwrights busy in other places, he had been indignant at the idea of Joe keeping an eye on things. Joe had left him to it, promising to come back as usual and help out to bring them home and do his last sweep of the high canyons with its view down to the lake, a little treat he gave himself every year.

Adam was pleased to see his brother and they chatted and played with the children for a few minutes before Carole firmly whisked the twins away, insisting that they go to bed. It was way past their bedtime with first Uncle Joe and then Daddy arriving home.
As she took them upstairs Adam poured out a couple of drinks and then he passed on what Roy had said. Joe listened quietly, just whistling once as Adam told him the number of hostiles that rumour credited. The thing that really worried Adam more than anything else, was that in all the rumours he’d heard noone had seen a squaw or a child, just the men. He was scared that really meant trouble especially if a medicine man had been rousing them up, As he finished Joe poured himself another drink. “Sounds rather nasty. Do you want me to go and warn Hoss? They are a bit exposed.”

“Large gang. I doubt the Indians would attack.” Adam said reassuringly

“Thousand Indians! That well outnumbers Hoss’ lumber gang.”

Adam grinned at his little brother, who looked seriously worried. “Come on Joe. You know how rumour exaggerates. I’d be very surprised if it is anywhere near a thousand. Even so we’ll warn Hoss, won’t do any harm to keep the men working close together.”

“I’ll ride up tomorrow early.”

Adam nodded. “I’ll come along. Be safer to keep in pairs just until this quietens down. Pio can come back over to look after Carole and the kids.”

Joe didn’t argue but realising that Adam was taking it seriously he bit his lip, worried about his big loveable brother.

Adam came over and gripped his brother’s shoulder. “Take it easy Joe. He’s not on his own out there and anyway Hoss can look after himself.”

Joe forced himself to relax, not wanting to worry Carole. Soon afterwards he headed home, arranging to meet Adam early the next day and to have a word with Pio.

Neither brother slept well despite their brave words, both concerned about Hoss. However large and strong he was and capable of looking after himself in the mountains, noone was safe from renegade Indians and both wanted to get up into the mountains and see for themselves.