Pipeline Problems
By Lyn Robinson

Hoss had been so sorry for his brother and sister-in-law and was much relieved to see them close again but even so he had thoroughly enjoyed the hours he had stolen with Sue, gradually getting to know her better. He had decided what he wanted, her beside him for the rest of his life but he couldn’t ask her, not so close on all the upheaval sure they both needed time to think. He wasn’t surprised when, two days after bringing Adam and Carole back together, Sue announced her intention of returning to town. She had a job and ought to get back to it now that they didn't need her. Carole was almost recovered physically and was glad to keep busy with the children and in the last two days Adam had made remarkable progress and looked very much better. Their family could now give them all the help that they needed. Hoss could only accept it but he put his arm round her. “I really will miss you Sue but I guess you have to get back. I can get into town one night during the week, maybe by then you’ll know when you’re getting a day off and we can arrange something?”

“I’d like that.”

“Tell you what. Can you arrange for two weeks of at Christmas, you must have some holidays due and all those nuns don’t go nowhere round Christmas.”

“I expect I could, but....”

“Come out and spend Christmas and New Year with me. Either stay at the main house with Pa, Joe and me, or if’n you’re worried stay here. Adam’s gonna have a houseful, he’s already said you’re real welcome.”

Sue hesitated and then smiled “I’d love to Hoss and I guess your father is sufficient chaperone. I’ll stay at the main house if you want me.”

Hoss pulled her close and engulfed her, making her feel small and so very feminine in his embrace, She turned her face up towards him and he kissed her passionately, his voice husky as he said, “You know I do Sue, my darling.”

For the first time Sue knew for sure that Hoss felt the same way she did and knew that when he felt it right he would ask her to marry him. Hardly able to believe her own good fortune, she clung tight to him. He was a rich powerful man but it was his gentle strength that she loved, the first man to ever make her feel feminine. No longer even anxious about his family, knowing that whatever she was, if she made him happy they would welcome her very willingly.

Adam accepted her decision and he wouldn’t offend her, or belittle her help by offering her money. He would make sure that he got her a very special gift for Christmas but there was something he could give her now and shortly before she was due to ride in with Hoss he brought Sheba over. He had managed to get a lady’s light saddle for the mare and led her over to Sue. “I guess with the weather closing in you won’t be able to get out here so easily over the net weeks, I can’t have Sheba moping over you. She’s yours Sue. I’ve arranged for stabling at the livery stable in town. The owner’s an old Ponderosa hand and he’ll take good care of her for you. It’s all settled. Just a small token, there’s no real way to say thank you for all your help.” Adam put his arm round her and held her close, kissing her forehead, “Thank you so very much SueEllen for everything.”
Hoss grinned broadly and he sat on her confusion as she tried to say it was too much. “Adam’s got Blackie, he don’t need Sheba. He’s paid for stabling for six months in advance, then I guess we’ll have had time to review the situation,”

She blushed hotly as she realised what Hoss could be implying and Adam, sure of it, grinned so knowingly at his brother that Hoss embarrassed punched his brother gently in the stomach. Then as Adam bent over in ‘mortal agony’ Hoss tied Sheba onto the back of the buckboard and helped Sue up, before driving her back to town.

Adam watched them out of sight and then went in to join Ben, Joe and Carole who were with the children by the fire. They looked up slightly surprised by the expression on his face. Adam grinned, “How long do you reckon we’ve got to choose a present for them?”

Ben frowned and Adam went on, “Hoss will be adding that redhead to the family Pa and personally I think she’ll be almost as worthy addition as mine.” He gripped Carole’s shoulders and kissed her forehead.

Joe asked, “Has Hoss said anything?”

“Not in so many words. Want a bet brother?”

Joe shook his head “I might throw money away but I don’t bet against certainties. She loves the big galoot.”

“For all the right reasons. “Ben added, “She’s just what he needs.”

Adam looked over at Joe and then, grinning broadly, he commented, “Might end up rather lonely in that big house Pa.”

Ben laughed, “Well if everyone else is getting married.....”

Joe said wickedly, “How about Beth?”

His father rose to the teasing, “Watch it Little Joe, you’re still not too big, I haven’t lost my knack with a belt.”

Carole laughed and Adam was so happy to hear a sound he’d feared for a while that he wouldn’t hear for a very long time. Delighted he lifted her bodily, crushing her against him as he kissed her soundly. Ben watched his son and Carole, glad that the worst of the black cloud over them was dispersed.

The next day Ben and Joe moved back home too although they were still frequent visitors and Ben made sure that Adam had little ranch work to do, although he couldn’t prevent his son handling various legal work to do with the pipeline and the mines. Carole had been relieved to find that apart from the immediate family noone knew about her ordeal. There were rumours and inevitable speculation but her early appearance in town with Adam led most people to accept the Cartwrights stories of kidnap and a beating and if there were other stories noone was mentioning them near the family. Adam was very much fitter and beginning to plan for Christmas with guests due to arrive five days before, it was only six weeks off.
Carole seemed to be able to put it behind her to a large extent but she still couldn’t face sharing her bed, even on a platonic basis, waking too often to nightmares in the early hours. Adam had his own nightmares, but he was quick to go to Carole when she woke. Awake she was glad to find comfort in his strong arms and that more than anything else gave Adam the strength to face things calmly. He had thought of putting off their guests, but decided that Carole was better for being busy and with the added incentive of knowing just how important the visit was for his youngest brother, he had opted for carrying on as planned.

Joe had broached the subject once, much as he wanted to see Nita and, knowing that Leland Stanford would jump on any change of plan as an excuse to prevent her coming, he wouldn’t inflict any extra strain on Carole. She had taken more than enough. Alone with his brother out in the barn he had suggested that Adam should write to Will and get both his cousin and Meg’s party to come to the main house instead. Adam was touched by his brother’s concern, knowing from what Joe had said that it could well cost Joe his chance to show Nita the ranch. “No need Joe. She’s better for being busy, too early to let her have time to brood and I’ll make sure she doesn’t overdo things.”

“Are you sure Adam? She’s absolutely marvellous, hell I still have nightmares, don’t ask too much of her.”

“I shan’t Joe and anyway any changes would just start the rumours up again. You know what was being said, all too accurate, but just because she’s so marvellous they faded. I don’t think either of us could take it erupting again.”

“Okay, just as long as you’re not being swayed by your promise to me. I can always arrange something else.”

Adam smiled affectionately at his brother, “Thanks for the offer Joe. I won’t deny it was one factor but even without it I’d have made the same decision.”

“Adam, I....” Joe broke off; “It doesn’t matter.”

Adam knew his brother very well and as Joe went to turn away, he caught his arm and forced Joe to turn back, “You want to tell Nita what happened, the whole truth?”

Joe looked into his brother’s eyes, seeing the pain of memories, but unable to deny that that was what he had been going to ask. Adam smiled, “Easy Joe. You can trust her to keep quiet about it or you wouldn’t love her. I have no objections, just don’t tell Carole that you are doing it and warn Nita not to say anything.”

“It’s just that she ought to know the risks, what can happen out here. It somehow feels dishonest not to tell her. I won’t go into details of course.”

“I can understand Joe. Do you really want to give her so many reasons to back out?” Adam shook his head in disgust, “I’m sorry Joe. I shouldn’t have said that, none of my business.”

Joe smiled, “Its okay Adam. No I don’t want to give her any reason to leave. I love her, she’s as important to me as Marie was. For a while I doubted I’d ever feel that way again and when I began to I fought it. Seemed disloyal to Marie. Now I know that she’d approve, guess it’s easier with Pa around, I’ve known all my life that he loved all three of our mothers. I’d like nothing better than to show her a rosy picture but I want to spend my life with her. I can’t base it on a fraud can I? If she can’t take it, best we both find out now before we get in any deeper.”

Adam pulled his little brother close and hugged him, suddenly emotional. “I pray you and Hoss both find joy Joe. Between you, you helped to hold onto mine.”

Joe couldn’t answer; uncertain just how normal things were for his brother yet. He knew that Adam was still using a separate bedroom but when he’d mentioned it to his father Ben had just said they had to give her time to readjust. She was remarkable really and certainly to a casual inspection life seemed to have reverted to normal.

Adam had found it harder than he would admit to have to hold Carole in some senses at arms- length. Physically nearly fully fit he was able to hold his worries to himself and neither Carole nor his family knew of the many sleepless nights. He spent hours sitting by the window staring out at the view he loved which he’d designed his house to show, or sat poring over law books or scientific tomes unable to sleep and not wanting time to think. He was scared that she would never come back to him, knowing that he could take it as he’d promised, but admitting to himself that it hurt more than he expected. He wasn’t getting much sleep but he could hide that, knowing how much he had to be grateful for, her survival and recovery were little short of miraculous, maybe wanting more was just greedy. During the days he kept himself busy, the children a never-failing source of peace and laughter.

Adam spent long hours running over the results of the pilot logging run on the west bank of Tahoe with all his family, both together and separately. He slowly began to finalise definite plans for moving in supplies and arranging a full scale-logging season. Adam was determined to handle it himself; hopefully both his brothers would have equal reasons for not wanting to leave the house for too long come spring.

Two weeks later it was the anniversary of Joe’s marriage and he rode up to the Lake after lunch, where he’d been very quiet. He’d had a letter from Nita the previous day she was very excited about her visit, not long off now and her father had had to go to New York without finding any reason to stop her coming. Joe sat by his wife’s grave for long hours remembering very vividly the details of the short time they had had together. She seemed to be there with him and he kept feeling that if he just turned round Marie would run into his arms. He loved her as much now as he had that day when they walked out to join Adam and measure up for their house. He knew if she’d lived he would never have looked at another woman, but life went on and he couldn’t live alone, not having known the joys of married life. He told Marie about this other girl; sure that she would like Nita, he was only doing what Marie had wanted in finding someone else. No longer feeling guilty he still stayed up by the Lake until nearly midnight, He was at peace with himself but he always felt closer to Marie there. Even if he married Nita he knew he would still come back sometimes to talk to his gentle tiny first wife who would never lose the place she had made in his heart.

Adam rode over after dinner and wasn’t particularly surprised to find his father alone, “Joe up at the Lake?”

“As far as I know, he rode out after lunch, very quiet. It doesn’t seem possible its three years ago since she was here and Joe so excited on his wedding day.”
“And now he is thinking of marrying again.”

Ben frowned, puzzled by something in his son’s voice, “You disapprove?”

“Of course not Pa. It’s what Marie wanted. I miss her sometimes and I know Joe must but he’s young. We couldn’t sentence him to live alone and I’d be the last to want it, You know how much my own marriage means to me.”

Ben lent forward to grip his son’s arm, “How is Carole recovering?”

Adam couldn’t meet his father’s eye and brushed the question aside. “She’s remarkable. What do you think about Nita Stanford? Joe’s amazing isn’t he? Difficult to imagine two more different backgrounds than Marie and Nita, No objections this time?”

Ben acknowledged Adam’s evasion, if his son didn’t want to talk that was his prerogative but he smiled at his son. “I learnt my lesson last time. I’ll trust your brother’s judgement, I don’t mind betting that Nita like Marie will turn out to be something very special.”

“Talking of someone special, I suppose Hoss is in town?” As his father nodded Adam grinned broadly, “I’ve never known my big brother find so many reasons to go to town, She’s rather special too.”

“You know that Hoss has invited her here for Christmas, for a fortnight,”

“Yeah he told me. Said something about arranging a party on the twenty-third here.”

Ben gave a self-satisfied smile. “He has mentioned it, maybe he’ll have an announcement to make. It can’t be long, they are very much in love.”

“I couldn’t be more delighted, Hoss has sometimes seemed almost scared of marriage. Guess it could be a busy spring, leave you lonely here Pa.”

“Its what I always wanted for all of you and anyway with all three of you settled down on the ranch. I’ll never really be lonely, just alone sometimes and that I’m used to.”

Adam pulled out the papers from the California and the Consolidated Virginian the reason for his visit, but Ben just rested them on the table. “Adam you know your married life is your own business and I don’t want to pry, but you’re still my son. Are you alright? It was an ordeal for both of you and I know how much it cost you. I don’t want any details but can you begin to forget?”

Adam lent back and shut his eyes, very aware of the love and compassion in his father’s eyes along with the anxiety. He took a moment and then sat up and smiled before answering very quietly. “I am alright Pa, my word on it. Carole is not fully recovered yet and maybe it will still take quite a time but I have my wife home safe and sane. For a while that didn’t seem too likely, it’s enough. I have Carole and my children and I have you Hoss and Joe. Frankly I thank God every night for his mercy and his generosity to me. Maybe I’ll never forget but we are both beginning to put it behind us and I think Christmas will help.”
Ben accepted that and although his son looked rather tired Adam was relaxed so he tried not to worry, allowing Adam to turn the conversation back to work. Adam returned home before either of his brothers got back. He was tempted to ride up by the lake and make sure that Joe was alright but he pushed the idea away, if Joe wanted him he knew where to come.

Joe went home eventually but apart from being cold he was fine, perfectly at peace, even more convinced that Marie was supporting what he was doing. Ben had waited up for him and watched Joe take off his coat and gunbelt, relaxing as he saw his son was content. “You missed dinner Joseph, do you want anything?”

“No thanks Pa, just coffee. I’m not hungry.”

Ben got some fresh and they sat not talking for about ten minutes and then Joe said, “I’m fine Pa just tired I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Sleep well son.”

“Surprisingly enough I think I will, goodnight.”

Ben sat on for a while longer thinking of his three sons. Joe had lost his Marie but now maybe found someone else. Hoss, who’d always been backward in dating girls, suddenly seemed for the first time to have found the true meaning of love. Then there was his eldest son; Adam had finally found such joy with his Carole. Marred by events over the last weeks, Adam knew his son well enough to know how hard it had been for Adam but he also knew Carole’s strength and the depth of love between them so he couldn’t help but believe that time would again prove the great healer.

Hoss was late up the next morning and the others had already finished breakfast. It was most unusual for the big man and Ben was slightly worried, hoping nothing had gone wrong. Hoss got himself some coffee and joined Ben and Joe by the desk, looking very serious. Joe frowned as he caught his father’s eye but Ben signalled him to be quiet and waited for Hoss to speak. Hoss sipped his coffee and then to their surprise he said, “I met Jim Fair and John McKay in town last night.”

Both Ben and Joe had expected something to do with Sue and they were taken aback. Ben asked “Trouble?”

“Sure seems like it could be Pa. Lots of bad feeling against the pipeline. Troy has started some rumour about the risk of flooding the mines. All the miners are up in arms. Even the small farmers and the townsfolk seem to think we’re gonna charge real high for water.”

“It’s senseless!” Joe erupted, “God you’d think they would know us better by now.” He was furious and his father smiled wryly, “Simmer down Joseph. You ought to have learnt by now that no mob thinks rationally.”

“What do we do Pa?” asked Hoss, “I guess it ain’t urgent we can’t start digging until spring but if we don’t sit on these rumours its gonna be dadburned difficult to hire any men.”
Ben frowned in thought, “First Hoss you have your breakfast and then I think we all ride over to Adam’s. You can give all three of us as much detail as you know, I don’t like making decisions without knowing the facts.”

Hoss nodded and then as Hop Sing brought in his plate, volubly complaining about his lateness, he hurried over to the table. Knowing that the irate Chinaman was quite capable of throwing away the food if he was annoyed enough. Hoss ate rapidly while Joe got the horses saddled and twenty minutes later they were on their way to Adam’s.

Adam was surprised to see his family so early and stood back to let them in, frowning in concern “Is something wrong?”

“Potentially,” his father said, “We thought we ought to have a talk.”

The twins demanded attention before anything else could be done and Adam got Kam Su to make some fresh coffee and took it through to the study while his brothers and father pacified the little boys. Then he disentangled Joe and Hoss from their nephews and leaving Carole with the children Adam firmly shut the study door, The twins had learnt that when the door was shut Daddy was working and they weren’t allowed in. They had occasionally tried testing the rule but it had stood firm and they accepted it. Once they were settled, Adam looked from one to the other, “Well?”

“Go on Hoss.” Said Ben

Hoss settled back in the chair and explained exactly what Fair and Mackay had told him. They were running scared; a brick had been thrown through the window at Mackay’s house with a note accusing him of trying to flood the mines. Schussler, who was back in town, had narrowly escaped a beating at the hands of some enraged miners, luckily Roy had been around to pull him out. Everywhere it seemed that the Cartwright name was mud, everyone seemed to feel that they were mainly to blame. Hoss couldn’t help much when it came to who was behind the problems; all too many people seemed to be involved. The one definite figure was the President of the Gould and Curry mine, Alpheus Troy.

Joe shrugged “Troy hates our guts, he’ll be against anything we do on principle!”

Adam smiled faintly “Unfortunately he has a lot of influence.”

“You humiliated and terrified him. I suppose we can’t use that confession he signed?”

Adam sighed heavily “You suppose right Joe. It was all a very long time ago and if we brought it
out now, having done nothing for years, it would just prove to everyone that we had something to hide.” Adam fell quiet remembering how he had obtained the confession. In an attempt to force the Ponderosa to cut more tree and provide timber for his mine, Troy had used a lovely brunette to entice Joe out on his own and had him kidnapped. Joe had been so badly beaten that he’d temporarily lost his sight. That was more than the girl had bargained for and she had told the Cartwrights where he had been grabbed and who had arranged it. Adam had gone to see Troy while Hoss attempted to follow the trail. Troy was a physical coward and Adam had shaken the truth out of him. He had found his little brother bound gagged and blind alone in a small shack miles from anywhere. Once he got his brother home Adam had gone back to town sent Doc out to the ranch and then forced Troy to sign a confession. Adam had sworn to take Troy to court if he ever moved against them again and had told the story to Dan. Despite the bad publicity, Virginia City needed Troy’s money and organising ability at the time with several mines in borrasca and the square set shoring proving expensive and only slowly paying dividends as the mines got deeper. The Gould and Curry was one of the most successful and so Troy had survived but he hated the Cartwrights, especially Adam for that humiliation, not even grateful for their failure to press charges. Adam hated him equally for the pain he’d had inflicted on Joe. Since then Joe had taken an even worse beating but at the time it had seemed terrible. Adam would never forget the state he had found his brother in, blind and scared, nor the long fortnight of fear before Joe’s sight returned. Adam had lived through it himself and he’d been best placed to help his brother but he knew that he’d been able to do so very little. Even now thinking back his lips tightened in anger and it took Ben a minute or two to recall him.

All the others had their own memories of those days and Ben was the first to push then to one side. That was all in the past they had present problems to face. Having regained his sons’ attention he asked “Hoss what do Fair and Mackay want us to do?”

Hoss snorted, “They’re running scared Pa. They don’t know what they wanted us to do. Just to find someway to pull their chips out of the fire.”

Joe nodded, “They’ve got into the habit of running to Adam to sort out any legal or engineering problem. If he’s not around one of us is a substitute.” The habit had been annoying Joe for some time, ever since Fair contemplated worrying Adam just after Carole lost her baby.

Adam sipped his coffee to hide a grin “I’m grateful for the concern little brother but I can manage my own affairs, You seem to forget that we are majority stock holders in both mines and in this pipe project. Personally I should be even more annoyed if I wasn’t kept adequately informed.”

Joe subsided, glaring at his brother, and Ben with a definite edge of anger to his voice said “Let’s keep this in the realms of discussion. Adam you know that Joseph is right. Sometimes Jim and John do push their luck in getting you to sort things out, We have a big stake and we are directors of the companies but we have company lawyers, paid ones. However none of that seems particularly relevant here, Legally we can’t be touched I take it.”

Adam relaxed a little, “Sorry Joe. No Pa we’re safe, I drew the contracts for rights of way and water rights myself. It’s all been paid for and whoever changes their mind, they can’t back out. The contract Joe signed in San Francisco for the supply of pipe is equally solid; I’ve checked them over often enough. I’ll stake my reputation on them.”

“Good enough for me.” Ben said

Hoss sighed heavily “It don’t help Pa. Maybe we got the right to dig that trench, lay the pipe and bring the water, but the four of us sure can’t do it alone, we’re gonna need men.” Hoss lent forward earnestly, “From talk around town, not only is it gonna be difficult to get men to work on the pipeline but they’re threatening to try and stop anyone working for any of our operations. It could get real nasty, give it a while to simmer up and it looks like real trouble to me.”

Joe said, “Could bring in some Chinese work gangs like we did with the flume.”
“How long will they stay if someone starts shooting at them?”

Ben frowned, “You seriously think they’d go that far Hoss?”

“The atmosphere in town is as nasty as I’ve known it Pa. I could feel it even before Jim said anything.”

Ben glanced over at Adam. “We could get an injunction to keep trespassers off the right of way.”

Adam nodded, “As soon as there’s any trouble. Probably do it now with all the talk but if it’s as bad as Hoss says then no one is going to take any notice of a piece of paper.”

Joe said hotly, “We can force them to.”

Ben and Adam caught each other’s eye and both laughed, for a moment Joe was acting and even looking like the impulsive youngster they had so often had to curb five or six years earlier. Joe, rather shame-faced said, “I don’t see what so funny.”

“You are little brother, threatening to take on the whole of Virginia City with how many guns?”

“We’ve done much the same before.” Joe protested weakly.

Ben sighed “In the past we’ve had to on occasion but I hope by now we have some law and order and a little civilisation in this state. It is 1874 after all; we’ve been a state over ten years now. I know progress has been slow but I won’t believe it has been non-existent.”

Joe knew himself that he wasn’t being very realistic but he didn’t like his family pointing it out and angrily said, “Fine sentiments Pa, but what are we going to do?”

Ben glared at him, “For a start you can stop talking to me in that tone of voice.”

Adam got to his feet, “Calm down both of you. I’ll get some fresh coffee. Joe come and give me a hand. I think Kam Su has been baking this morning, let’s see what we can find.”

Joe, glad of the excuse to back out gracefully, followed Adam out and as he put some cookies out on a plate, he grinned ruefully at his brother. “I thought I’d learnt to curb my impetuosity. Guess I haven’t made it yet.”

“Oh I shouldn’t worry, you’ve never failed to so it when there’s noone else around to stop you and it’s rather nice just once in a while to see my excitable little brother back for a few minutes. He was a nuisance sometimes, but even though he’s grown up into a close friend, I have been known to miss him.”

Joe punched his brother’s arm “You’re an idiot Adam.”

Adam rubbed his left arm where Joe had hit; still sore although the wounds were basically healed, and sighed “So are you Little Joe.”

Remembering with sudden concern, Joe asked, “I’m sorry I forgot. Has it healed?”
“Yeah but the scar’s still a bit tender, punch somewhere else or better still not at all! Come on let’s take this lot in before the kids arrive and snaffle all the cookies.”

The four Cartwrights sat quietly eating and drinking, each trying to think of the best way to try and defuse trouble. Eventually Ben pushed his cup away, “Alright, obviously we have to do something before it gets any worse. Any suggestions?”

Joe said tentatively, “Dan would write an article giving the true facts if we asked him.”

Hoss shrugged, “He’s already written a couple. General opinion seems to be that he might be a fine mining reporter but he ain’t no water engineer. When Philip tried to talk sense to them he got the same reaction."

Adam got to his feet, “The only water engineer is Schussler and he’s involved in the project and therefore biased. Great!”

Joe asked, “Well who is the expert on their side who is telling all these tall stories?”

Hoss shook his head, “I don’t know Joe, everyone’s an expert when he tells you what you believe anyways.”

Adam sighed, “I’m caught both ways, not primarily a water engineer and involved so I guess none will listen to me!”

“We have to do something.” Joe insisted.

Ben nodded, “I think we had better arrange a meeting.”

“Who with Pa?” Adam asked puzzled.

Ben said, “Everyone who can get in. take over say McGuire’s Opera house for the evening, it’s about the biggest. The four of us, Fair and Mackay and Schussler, tell them in simple terms exactly what we are doing and answer any questions they have.”

Adam frowned as he considered the suggestion, before saying very doubtfully, “It could work, defuse the situation, just seems more likely to end in a riot.”

“Any better suggestion?”

“None Pa, but if they don’t want to believe what we tell them, there’s no way on earth to make them.”

“I think a display of Cartwright solidarity might help, remind some of them at least that we’ve always tried to help the town.”

“Worth a try.” Adam conceded, “Do you want me to arrange it?”

Ben shook his head, “No you’ve enough to do and you’ll be the principle speaker. Keep it simple. Joe, you and Hoss can arrange it, for as soon as possible. Fix a date with the hall, get Dan to publicise it in the paper and have handbills printed and passed round. With luck just the announcement of a meeting will forestall trouble for a few days.”

Joe nodded, knowing exactly what his father wanted and capable of doing it. Adam said, “Try not to get into trouble Joe, we don’t need a fight! I think I’ll go have a word with the three main farms that we will be crossing. Legally they can’t back out but it won’t do any harm to reassure them.”

“Good idea.” nodded Ben; “This afternoon will do though. It’s almost lunchtime. We ought to be making a move.”

“Sure you won’t stay?”

Ben laughed “Don’t dare we didn’t warn Hop Sing and he’s already muttering about your big brother being late for breakfast!”

Adam had to laugh but Hop Sing was quite capable of throwing a fit of temper and deciding to go to San Francisco for a holiday. With Christmas coming, none of them wanted that, his visits down under were as unpredictable in length as in timing

Over lunch Adam explained to Carole why his family had come. She couldn’t understand why the townsfolk should be so antagonistic to the pipeline. The Cartwrights were putting a lot of time and effort into it, to bring water to the town. They would be getting minimal return on their money and although the mines they were interested in needed the water, the main gainers would be those very people who were fighting them. Adam was less surprised, he knew the men and basically they were suspicious, all too often with reason. The Cartwrights could promise what they liked; frequently promises were made only to be broken later, once the monopoly was well established. He tried to explain to Carole but it wasn’t easy, she was less familiar than he was with the mob mentality.

Carole was uneasy as he rode out but Adam laughed at her tentative suggestion that he take Jess along, just in case it was dangerous. The three men he was going to see were men he had known for many years. In their early days each had been helped to get started by the Ponderosa and whenever they had hit trouble it was always the Ponderosa whom they turned to for assistance.
It was a cold clear day and Adam wasn’t sorry to get out of the house for once. He’d barely left Carole’s side apart from brief trips to the main house since her kidnapping. He rode up to the lake first and spent ten minutes out on the pint, glad of the peace there. Carole still didn’t get through a night without nightmares and he was tired, long after she went back to sleep he would sit by her bed. He stared out over the Lake praying that in time she would be able to forget and come home to him. His marriage had been so perfect and he could only pray that in time they could find their way back to it.

Eventually with an effort he pulled himself back to the present and swinging up on Blackie he rode off towards Virginia City. He considered the three men whom he was going to see. Fred Johnson, a bluff plain spoken almost illiterate man, born in England he was remarkable effective at ranching even though sometimes needing help to sort out his accounts. The second was a Swede although born in America, his parents having emigrated just before he was born and bringing him up to speak Swedish. A big man, Lars Svenson had always got on well with Hoss and Adam expected least trouble there. Lars was a sensible man and wouldn’t be easily stampeded by rumours. The third man although he’d known him the longest, was probably the most unpredictable. Henry Seton had come west from Ohio with the forty-niners and contrived to make some money in the gold fields. Then leaving California he had bought the ranch only seven years after the Ponderosa was established. A while later he had disappeared entirely for three years but come back to re-establish his ranch. He accepted help from the Ponderosa but Adam had always felt he rather resented it. He was a dark saturnine man, very quiet, seldom saying anymore than was absolutely necessary.

Joe and Hoss reached town about the same time that Adam reached the Johnson ranch. They went down to MacGuire's opera house and negotiated with the manager to take over the building for one night. The building was vacant the following Tuesday and they settled on that night, Hoss let his little brother arrange the price of the hire and Joe rapidly drew up a contract. He was determined to get it signed and settled before MacGuire came under any pressure to back out. Joe had picked up enough legal knowledge from his brother and general legal work round the ranch to draw up a simple watertight contract. Once it was signed Joe handed over the cash to settle for the hire and got a receipt, the brothers had taken the precaution of drawing some cash when they first got to town. Having got everything witnessed by two men that Hoss had pulled in from the street, one of whom was Roy’s deputy. Joe was content that there was noway MacGuire could back out.

As they came out Hoss glared at him “Was all that necessary little brother. We only want to hire the hall for one night!”

Joe grinned, “I’m not taking any chances Hoss. We’d look pretty silly if we publicised the meeting and then had nowhere to hold it. Just the sort of trick that Troy would pull. That’s why I put in a heavy penalty clause. MacGuire will stand up to a lot more pressure it its going to cost him money.”

Hoss grinned “Little brother you’re getting near as devious as Adam.”

Joe laughed and led the way down to the Palace to join Dan, rather pleased by his brother’s compliment, if it was meant that way! Dan listened to their news and promised to publicise it but he seemed doubtful. “Might help, but I reckon you’d better go see Roy give him fair warning, could be trouble.”

Joe was serious as he sipped his beer, “I noticed we got some dirty looks on the way over. Who’s stirring Dan?”

“Apart from Troy I’m not sure. He’s certainly behind this mine-flooding story but as for the rest....”

“You’ll keep your ears open for us?” asked Hoss.

“Have been, but it’s all so vague. You know how rumours spread round this town.”

Joe grinned, “Drink up big brother, let’s go arrange these hand bills.”

Dan looked up “Joe watch your backs will you? I’m not too short of news and the Cartwrights just aren't popular."
Joe grinned, “Why do you think I brought the big moose along? My own personal bodyguard.”

Dan laughed, “I thought you just found him here, seems to me he’s been living in town lately.”
Hoss got to his feet, pulling Joe up with him, “That’s enough from you two, Come on little brother work.”

Joe had got an outline of the handbill decided with his father before he left home and it only needed the insertion of the date and place. It didn’t take long to arrange for a couple of thousand to be paid for. The printer was an old friend and set it up for them straight away, once Joe had explained the urgency. Joe stayed chatting while Hoss rounded up some of the horde of young boys round town to distribute the handbills. Hoss was popular with the kids, known as a soft touch. They had learnt he could be relied on to help out but couldn’t be pushed and woe betide any of them found ill-treating another or an animal. Joe knew his brother would have no trouble arranging the distribution and he relaxed chatting to the printer Roger Cassell. Joe had made himself comfortable on a pile of paper in the corner and he was hidden from the doorway. When the doorbell rang Roger answered it and four men pushed in and surrounded him. Roger backed up against his press not a man of violence, he was frankly terrified. One of the men picked up a completed handbill, “You helping the Cartwrights? They ain’t too popular.”

“Just a business proposition gentleman, “ Roger said placatingly.

Joe heard what was going on but hesitated about revealing himself, not sure if he would make matters better or worse. One of the men grabbed Roger’s arm and pulled him roughly away from the press, “Reckon we’d better break this here press, if this is all you can find to use it for.”
Joe didn’t wait any longer and settling his gunbelt more easily, slipping the braid off which kept his gun in the holster, ready for a quick draw if he needed it. Then he stepped forward, “If you have an argument with the Cartwrights take it up with me, not a guy just doing the job he’s paid for.” His hand hovered over his gun, anyone of the men facing him outweighed him by more than thirty pounds and he prayed that Hoss would get back fast, but he hid his fear. The main thing was to force these men to back down if he once came to grips with them he would at the least risk getting badly hurt. He smiled, forcing himself to appear relaxed. “Don’t push it I may not be quite as fast as my brother but I can still take any of you.”

For a moment stunned by his appearance, an armed Cartwright of proven worth and considerable experience, ready and willing to fight, was a very different proposition from the scared unarmed printer. They just stared at Joe and he decided to push it while he had them off balance. “The doors behind you, get out. Don’t try coming back, anyone touches Cassell or his shop for just doing his job and I'll be looking for you, I know each of you and you’ll pay whoever else is involved.”

For just an instant they seemed to back away and Joe felt he’d won, but then they seemed to realise he was only one man and that he didn’t have his gun out. There were four of them and between then they could take him. The leader still had hold of Cassell’s arm and a tray of print in his other hand. He couldn‘t draw against Joe but if he could get his hands on the smaller man he could pulverise the hated Cartwright. He shoved Cassell's at Joe at the same time throwing the tray of print at him. Joe dodged backwards but there was little room to manoeuvre and Roger was in his line of fire. Time seemed to stand still for Joe and knowing that he badly needed help he drew his gun and got off the alarm signal of three shots before it was torn from his hand and he was sent across the room by one punch. Joe shook his head and struggled to get to his feet, with his back to a wall so he could try and defend himself. For a few seconds the four men got in each other’s way and they gave him that much time to clear his head. Roger ignored them and ran outside and called for help, incapable of physically helping Joe.

For a minute Joe managed to keep them at bay but a heavy blow to the side of his head sent him to his knees and a kick to his stomach doubled him over. He tried to pull himself up and two of the men helped him, pinioning his arms as he flailed helplessly trying to defend himself. His head was rocked back by blows to the face and he could only see through a red haze as blood dripped from a cut on his eyebrow and then a fist sunk deep in his stomach and Joe retched unable to even ride the blow. Then as though from a great distance he heard a bellow of pure rage and to his indescribable relief he saw his big brother pull one man away and with one blow send the man who had just hit him to the floor. One of the men holding him was pulled away and the other decided to run away and Joe sank to the floor, leaning against the wall trying to catch his breath. Others had followed Hoss in but in the confined space they couldn’t act and seeing four big louts attack his brother he needed no assistance. The four men had only one aim, to get away from the enraged mountain of a man; the fury so clear on his face terrifying them before he even landed a blow. Hoss turned but told the other men to let them go and then moved swiftly to kneel down by his brother. In an instant his expression softening as he looked at Joe with mingled tenderness and fear. Joe wiped the blood from his mouth; “I’m okay Hoss, thanks to your prompt help.”

He was struggling to his feet and Hoss helped him, a touch of exasperation in his voice as he asked, “Just what were you up to little brother? Any one of them would have been more than a match for you, let alone all four.”

Joe lent heavily on Hoss, hardly able to stand upright with the pain in his stomach and for a moment he was scared that he’d done some serious harm again, but gradually it eased and forcing a lop-sided grin he said, “It wasn’t choice Hoss. Anyway I was relying on my big brother rescuing me.”

Hoss grunted, “You ain’t fit to walk.” And ignoring Joe’s protest Hoss picked up his brother and turning to Roger asked, “You okay?”

Roger nodded, feeling very guilty, “I couldn’t help him, I’m no good in a fight.”

Hoss smiled at the little man barely five foot five inches tall and slight in build. “Noone expects it Roger. There’s two of Roy’s deputies here now. You finish up those handbills I’ll be back to collect them once Joe’s patched up.”

As Hoss carried his brother down to Doc’s, Roy and Dan ran over to join him, both wanting to know what had happened. Joe heard the question but his head was spinning and he couldn’t think straight. Hoss realised that and said, “Hold it for a bit he’s almost out. Let Doc get him cleaned up and give him a drink. Then he can fill us all in ‘cos I don’t know how he got into trouble this time.”

Joe was glad of Hoss’ warm strength and rested his head against Hoss’ shoulder, feeling very woozy. He was glad to lie down on Doc’s couch and willingly accepted the offer of a brandy. There wasn’t really very much wrong and a few minutes quiet did a lot to make him feel better. Doc put four stitches into the cut on his eyebrows and cleaned him up putting ointment on the worst of his bruises and then Joe swung his legs round and sat up. “Cheer up Hoss, I’m alright just a bit sore.”

Hoss looked questioningly at Doc, who smiled. “He’s alright, no sign of concussion. What happened this time Joe?”

Hoss grunted, much relieved that Joe wasn’t worse and almost angry after the scare he’d had.

“You’d better have a good story Joe. Adam told us not to get into a fight.”

Joe pulled his shirt back on, wincing at the effort as it tore at his bruised muscles. “Guess there’s no way to hide it from him.”

Hoss glared at him “You’ll have more to show in a minute if you don’t start explaining Little Joe.”

Joe accepted another brandy and then told them exactly what had happened, even Hoss had to admit that he hadn’t had much choice. Roy wanted to know if they knew the men and if they were pressing charges. Joe said, “Yeah I know all four of them but I don’t think charging them will help much. I’m okay and Hoss gave them a scare, probably as effective or more so than anything the courts can do. Best you keep out of it Roy, we aren’t exactly popular.”
Hoss added, “Might keep an eye on Roger, make sure he don’t get any more trouble.”

“Already arranged. You’d better get Joe home before you find any more trouble.”

Joe sighed bitterly, “Amazing isn’t it, we just set out to help and the very people we’re trying to help suddenly hate our guts.”

“You know this town Little Joe, common-sense don’t go with the sort of people who end up here. Maybe mining ain’t a sensible way of life, down those hell holes twelve hours a day.”

Joe could only nod, “You have a point Roy.”

Hoss said, “Doc can I leave Joe here where he won’t get into any trouble? I wanna see those handbills spread around ‘fore I leave town.”

“Of course Hoss, he could do with taking it easy for a while anyway before you ride home.”

“Doc, I’m fine.”

“Joseph I am the Doctor remember. I admit I’ve seen you far worse, all too frequently, but you’re bruised and sore and pretty shaken, so put your legs back up and take it easy for a bit.”

“And who is going to look after that big galoot?”

“Well I reckon he’s been doing a pretty good job of looking after himself.” Roy observed, considering Hoss who didn’t have a mark on him. “But I reckon I can watch his back adequately.”

“No need for you to get involved Roy.” Hoss protested.

“I think there is. For a start despite the idiots, we need that pipe and anyways this here is my town and I keep the peace here whenever I can.”

Joe lent back, more sore than he was willing to admit, sure that Hoss was safe with Roy along and Hoss gave in and accepted help as he went to collect the handbills.

Meanwhile Adam wasn’t doing a whole lot better than his brothers. At both his first two places of call there was surprising unanimity of view. Johnson and Svenson both regretted signing the contract to allow the pipeline across their property and for the necessary work to be carried out. Johnson blustered more about trying to break it but Adam got the impression both men had already consulted lawyers and learnt it wasn’t breakable. Both seemed to feel that they were being cheated and to be worried in case any of the trouble headed their way. Adam spent about an hour with each man without really finding out what was eating them or more importantly who was getting at them. He did his best to reassure them about the pipe, the non-existence of risks to their land and the advantages of extra water, but although each heard him out, Svenson rather more politely, he didn’t flatter himself that he had the slightest effect of their opinion. His denial of a fat profit coming to the Ponderosa met with very obvious disbelief. Adam rode onto this third port of call very sombre; these were steady older men who had known the Cartwrights for a very long time. If they were so convinced by the rumours, he didn’t like to think of the effect in town. In time they would be able to prove to everybody that they meant every word, actions speak louder than words. A few days of free and plentiful water would do the job but that was six months off and if the whole area was against them, the pipe might never be built. Financially it would mean a loss as they were already contracted to pay for the pipe, but to Virginia City it would be a crippling blow, even if they were too blind to see it.

Adam rode into the Seton ranch and dismounted tying Blackie up. He knocked on the door but there was no answer and Adam turned to go round the back to see if anyone was out there. As he did so Seton came out of the barn and leaning on the doorjamb still holding the pitchfork he’d been using he said, “I’m surprised you have the gall to come round here Cartwright. You and all your family swindling frauds, but you’re the worst. Bloody lawyers, lowest a man can get, never seen a decent man yet.”

Adam bit back the angry retort and said mildly, “I heard you weren’t too happy, thought maybe we could discuss whatever is bothering you.”

“Discuss! That’s good. I tell you, you ain’t taking no pipe across my land, not without cutting me in and I don’t mean those few paltry thousands.”

“We have a contract Mr Seton.”

“You can stuff your bloody contract.”

“Any court will uphold it, give us an injunction to lay the pipe, using force if we have to.”

“You come here and threaten me on my own place!” Seton almost growled at Adam moving forward staggering slightly and for the first time Adam realised that if not drunk the man had been drinking heavily and the chances of talking sense to him were slight but he had to try. “I don’t mean to threaten you, just telling you the law. I don’t know what stories you’ve been hearing but the true facts are those my father and I told you initially. You were pleased enough to sign the contract then and nothing has changed.”

“You Cartwrights are gonna make a fortune, you need my land and I want my share. Then I’ll forget the risks.”

“There are no risks and we aren’t making any fortune, we told you the water will be made available free to all who need it. Only mines and businesses paying and just enough to cover the costs, we aren’t looking for a big profit.”

“Yeah and hell just froze over! I wasn’t born yesterday. Try telling the truth for once, even a lawyer can manage it once.”

“I have told you the truth Mr Seton. I think its best we leave this discussion for another day.”

“Oh no, not now you’ve deigned to come calling. You’re here and I want a new contract.”

“We have a valid contract. I haven’t either the authority or the desire to renegotiate. It is perfectly fair as it stands.”

“Fair!” Seton screamed. You don’t know the meaning of the word. Smith, Franks, Lloyd get out here.”

Adam stood very still not wanting to precipitate trouble, keeping his hand well away from his gun, not wanting to give them any excuse but hoping for once that they knew and would remember his reputation. “Mr Seton, you’ve never had any reason to quarrel with the Ponderosa and there’s none now. Too many uninformed rumours are flying around but we aren’t making any attempt to defraud you, my word on it.”

Seton spat at his feet, sneering, “The word of a Cartwright.”

Adam, tight-lipped with anger by now said, “Yes the word of a Cartwright and it has always meant exactly what it said. We keep our word, you should know that. We’ve always tried to be good neighbours to you.”

“Bloody condescending high n’mighty Cartwrights.” Seton glared in a fury unable to find words to express his distaste. “Bloody lawyers, typical you can’t fool me with all your long words. I know how to treat lawyers.” Then to Adam’s surprise Seton seemed suddenly to realise that he was still holding the pitchfork and lunged forward with it. Taken by surprise at the sudden agility of the drunken man Adam barely moved in time. One tyne of the pitchfork tore his coat and gashed his left arm, but as Seton was carried forward by the very force he put into the blow, Adam caught him with one punch and the ranch owner measured his length on the ground, out cold.

The three men who worked there had all come out and on seeing their boss go down they went for Adam. Outnumbered three to one Adam took a lot of punishment but although versed in the rough and tumble of fisticuffs living and working in the west and hardened by their work on the range, none of the hands were anywhere near equal to Adam in his ability to handle himself. Most of the time he contrived to have a least one too dazed to help. Time seemed to standstill and he didn’t know how long he’d been fighting but although contriving to keep them from a joint attack he hadn’t been able to get through to Blackie. Then Adam noticed Seton stirring and scared what the rancher might pull apart from the obvious risks of lengthening the odds against him, Adam made a final effort. As the smallest of the three men came at him, he picked him up bodily and threw him at the other two. As they went down, for the first time Adam reached for his gun, which by some miracle was still in his holster. “That’s enough, no reason for this fight. Tell your boss I’ll meet him, or my father will, any time he wants a reasonable discussion.”

All of them knew Adam’s reputation with a gun and having got decidedly the worst of the contest, the three weren’t sorry to stay still and let him ride out. Adam rode slowly watching them as he danced Blackie sideways, making sure noone took a shot at him but as soon as he was out of range, he pressed Blackie to put some distance between him and the ranch, not wanting to end up shooting anyone. He mopped his face up as best he could, but his arm was still bleeding and dirty. He hesitated for a moment but not wanting to worry Carole, he decided to head straight to Doc’s. He wasn’t far from town anyway and could get cleaned up before going home, he tucked his throbbing left arm into his jacket and made the best time he could for town.

In town Hoss had ensured the boys distributed the pamphlets without disturbance and put some on the recognised notice boards around town himself, signing them prominently as a warning of trouble to anyone who fancied taking them down. Then he headed back to collect Joe.
Joe felt much better for a rest, but he was hungry and thirsty so he flatly refused to head home until that had been taken care of, despite Doc’s protests and offer to get something brought in. Hoss agreed with his little brother, he was hungry too and not about to be driven out of their town by stupid rumours.

The brothers walked down to the Bucket O’Blood. Joe refusing any assistance but they couldn’t avoid hearing the muttered comments and seeing the filthy looks they got as they passed. The feeling against the Cartwrights might not make sense but it was abundantly clear and as the bartender came over to take their order Joe looked at Hoss and then said, “Just two beers, we have to get home.”

Hoss said, very softly, “Not like you little brother, had enough trouble for one day?”

Joe smiled, “As the man said, there comes a time when discretion is the better part of valour. Drink up Hoss and let’s get home, I’ve enough bruises.”

The brothers were riding out of town as Adam came in on another road. Joe looked back at Virginia City as they reached the road turning of to their ranch, “I can’t remember being so unpopular. I’m sure glad you were around to rescue me big brother. I reckon all that lot would have stood by and cheered.” He shivered at the thought and Hoss concerned about his brother said, “Come on Joe lets get you home, a hot bath and an early night is what you need.”

Joe couldn’t deny it and the brothers headed straight home, wanting to talk things over with Adam and their father. Things were much worse than even Hoss had realised.

Adam went straight over to Doc’s and dismounted stiffly. He was in luck, Doc was still there and after one look at Adam he helped him over to the couch, “This is getting monotonous.”
Adam, examining his left arm as he eased his coat off, could only agree, the wound from the pitchfork had torn the new scar tissue from the two bullets he’d taken. “My left arm does seem to have a fatal attraction for trouble at the moment.”

Doc laughed, “Be grateful you’re right-handed, the amazing thing is that it keeps being your left. Anyway that wasn’t what I meant. I only packed Hoss and Joe off half an hour ago.”

Adam looked up, anxiety flaring; his own aches and pains forgotten momentarily, “What was wrong?”

“Young Joe got in a fight, four to one. Hoss broke it up. Cheer up Adam you’re more damaged than he was, a couple of stitches in a cut eyebrow and a number of bruises. He was shaken but Hoss prevented real damage.”

“And Hoss?”

“Sore knuckles.” Doc chuckled, “I don’t reckon any of them stayed long enough to try and plant a blow on Hoss!” Then he busied himself helping Adam strip to the waist and cleaning the dirty wound on his arm. “How did you get this Adam?”


“I’m going to disinfect it and then I think I need to cauterise it. Better safe than sorry, don’t want lockjaw but it’ll hurt.”

“Whatever you think necessary Doc.” Adam took off his belt and bit down on it as Doc worked on the ugly gash, his senses reeling with the pain. Doc held his arm still expertly and although it felt forever to Adam, the whole operation was over in less than five minutes. Doc spread some soothing ointment n the wound and bandaged it tightly. “I won’t try stitching it Adam, not on that scar tissue. See how it goes for a day or two and then I want to see it again. I’ll give you some ointment, redress it before you go to bed and after breakfast.”

Adam nodded and then lay back with his eyes closed as Doc did what he could for the rest of his cuts and bruises. When he’d finished Doc poured out a large brandy, “Drink this Adam.”

Adam sat up, resting his head on his hand for a minute as the room swayed round him and then took the brandy “Thanks Doc.”

“Feeling is running very high round town I know, but where did you get this? Do you want me to fetch Roy?”

“No, keep it a private argument. Bringing in the law can only make a bad situation worse. The man who did it was drunk. I’ll try and reason with him once he’s sober but next time I won’t go alone.”

“Even if you don’t want to get Roy to move on this maybe he ought to have someone ride home with you, it’s a fair way. I presume you won’t stop over.”

“I’m not leaving Carole alone, not yet. I’ll get a meal before I head home, be fine, not serious after all.”

Doc shook his head “Bad enough Adam. I know I hurt you, unavoidable, but you’re badly shaken.”

Adam just looked mulish “I’ll get a meal first.”

“Let me send out for one Adam, you don’t want more trouble.”

“I am not afraid of anything in this town, neither am I in the mood to back down.” Adam put his glass down and started to dress, forcing himself to use his sore left arm, albeit gingerly. Then thanking Doc for his help and paying the bill, Adam headed down town to the Washoe Club. Like his brothers, he got dirty looks and rude comments but despite the obvious bruises, most of them noticed the expression on his face and the way his hand hovered near his gun, his coat swinging open out of the way. He was obviously already in a bad temper and noone was going to provoke Adam Cartwright unnecessarily. Dan joined him at the bar as Adam ordered a brandy. “Well looks like Joe won’t have to worry about his fight. You don’t look in much of a position to complain.”

Adam frowned, puzzled and Dan went on, “Hoss reminded Joe that you had warned them not to get into a fight, told him he’d better have a good story. I assume you’ve heard?”

“Yeah Doc filled me in.”

“Care to tell me about that?” Dan asked, gesturing at Adam’s bruises, but he wasn’t surprised when Adam shook his head. “I think not Dan. Probably a case of least said soonest mended. I’m going for a meal.”

“Join you, I haven’t eaten yet, watch your back.” Dan offered but again Adam shook his head.

“Thanks for the offer but I don’t need protection. I can take care of myself and I’m not feeling sociable.”

“Okay I can take a hint but watch yourself Adam.”

Adam went upstairs and took a corner seat with his back to the wall and ate his meal alone. It was an effort to force the food down but he managed the steak he’d ordered and then, refusing anything else, had three cups of coffee and a large brandy. Draining the brandy Adam decided to go home but as he made his way down the elegant staircase, one of his favourite features in town, he became aware of the sudden hush in the saloon below. The reason was apparent as Troy came over towards him flanked by two of his bodyguards, used to ‘negotiate’ with the miners in Troy’s mines. Troy was waving a copy of the handbill that Joe had had such trouble getting printed. The mutual hatred between the two men was apparent to the least perceptive observer as Troy waved the handbill at Adam and demanded, “What’s this all about Cartwright?”

Adam bit back the hasty reply insulting Troy’s intelligence and said mildly, “I’d have thought it was self-explanatory. There are a lot of rumours and worries about this pipeline. We thought it time that anyone who was interested could hear the actual facts.”
“We all know that you can talk, that don’t change nothing.”

“Look Troy we will have the directors and the engineer available. Once we’ve outlined the situation as we see it, we are prepared to answer, as best we can, all questions that are put.”

“Just a gimmick.”

“I’ll personally ensure you have every chance to put your point of view, or are you afraid to face me in debate....” Adam hesitated the unspoken words “as well as in a fight” all too obvious between them. Troy went first scarlet and then chalk-white with rage, not even a tan hiding the changes in colour. He was a man who shunned the outdoors. Between gritted teeth he said, “I’ll be there and you’d better have the answers ready. Then he turned and stormed out.

Adam watched him go, at least it ensured Troy didn’t arrange a boycott of the meeting, but it renewed the hatred between them. Adam had tried to avoid making things worse but there were too many things over too many years for them to be anything but bitter enemies.

Adam went out to Blackie to find Roy standing by his stallion waiting for him. Roy considered him and frowned “Heard you hit trouble too, you alright?”

“Just a mite sore, no problem. There’s nothing you can do, I’ll handle it and make sure the trouble doesn’t escalate.”

“Fair enough Adam. Want me to ride along aways?”

“I think I can find my own way home Roy. Funny thing Roy I fancy going via Washoe Lake tonight, should be pretty.” It was a fairly long detour but noone would expect him to go that way.

Roy grinned, “Idea just come to you?”

“Just this minute.”

“Fine. I’ll be seeing you. Tell that old bear of a father that I’ll see him on Tuesday. A lot of my men are real interested in that pipeline.

Adam grinned as he swung up, Roy as usual was helping all he could even if he had a roundabout way of telling it. The route from Washoe led Adam past the main house before he reached his own home. He had warned Carole that he would probably be late so she shouldn’t be worrying and Adam decided to stop off and rest for quarter of an hour and warm up. He was freezing and very sore. Anyway the sooner his father was informed of the potential trouble the better. It would give them all a chance to sleep on the problem and maybe by tomorrow have some constructive ideas.

As he dismounted stiffly in the yard Kirk came over, “Not you too, what’s the matter with you boys? Do you enjoy fighting?”

“Not much Kirk, Just loosen the girth and give him a drink will you. I’ll be heading on home in a few minutes.”

“Did you win?”

Adam smiled “I won, temporarily at least, but fists don’t solve much.” Kirk was content with that and led Blackie off while Adam went into the house. Joe had just had a hot bath to ease his aches and pains and was curled up by the fire in his robe with hot coffee and brandy. As he saw his brother’s bruised face he came swiftly to his feet and went over to Adam calling for his father and Hoss. Hoss was in his room and Ben in the kitchen talking to Hop Sing and all three hurried in. Adam smiled “Calm down all of you. I’m okay.”

Joe fingered the torn sleeve of his coat, “What did that?”

“A pitchfork, don’t worry I’ve seen Doc all cleaned and bandaged.”

Ben took his right arm and led him over to his favourite blue chair, “Come and sit down. Joe pour him a brandy. Have you eaten?”

“Yeah in town. Don’t look so worried Pa, according to Doc, Joe and I are about on a par. He was complaining of monotony.” Adam didn’t realise just how much the pain of the dressing still showed on his face or that with lack of sleep over weeks the afternoon’s events had pushed him close enough to exhaustion for a tinge of grey to show on his skin, stretched taut over his cheekbones. Still he sat down willingly and accepted the drink that Joe gave him. Hoss asked,
“Want coffee?”

“Please.” Adam grinned at his brother “You should be glad Joe as Doc said it hardly leaves me in a position to complain about you fighting.”

Joe glared at that comment “How bad is your arm?”

“Just a cut.” Adam twisted the truth slightly, “Doc didn’t even bother stitching it.” Slowly his family relaxed, although sore and tired, there was nothing a good night’s sleep wouldn’t do a lot to help. Adam relaxed, glad to sit still, “I must get on home in a minute but I wanted to fill you in first, I heard all about the trouble at the printers in town.”

“You must have noticed how unpopular we are.” Commented Joe.

“Yeah, not pleasant, but maybe Tuesday will help. Roy will be there in force and Troy will be there in person.” Adam briefly outlined his talks with both and then explained how he had come by his bruises. Ben was worried that Seton had gone so far as to attack him but Adam pointed out that the man was well drunk. When he’d finished answering all their questions Adam pulled himself to his feet. “I must get on home, like you Joe I fancy a long hot soak.”

“We’ll be over tomorrow morning talk it out.”

“Fine but please don’t make it too early. Kids permitting I’m going to have a lie in.”

Ben walked out with his son and as they waited for Kirk to bring Blackie over, he examined Adam’s face minutely under the porch light. “You are alright?”

“Sore and tired Pa, no more. Doc made a thorough job of cleaning my arm, no chances with a filthy pitchfork. Hurt at the time and it still throbs a bit but nothing serious.”

“Get some rest then we can talk.” Ben watched Adam swing aboard and went back in very worried at the trouble, which had blown up so suddenly. At least Adam looked considerably better than when he’d arrived, a chance to sit still and warm up by the fire and a drink had worked wonders. Anyway his son would be home in five minutes. As he went in Ben was aware of someone else riding out and to his surprise saw Jess follow after Adam. Puzzled Ben went in and ten minutes later heard a horse coming in and went out to see Jess ride back, Ben laughed to himself, Jess had less faith in his friend than his family did. He called out “Did he get home safely?”

Jess in some confusion muttered “Just felt like a ride.”

“Of course Jess but I imagine you went by Adam’s”

“He was putting Blackie away.”


Jess blushed hotly and spent several minutes seeing to his horse before returning to the bunkhouse to reassure José and Kirk, who had both wanted him to check after Kirk’s report.
Ben rejoined his younger sons and amused them with his story of how the hands were keeping watch on their brother. He insisted that Joe got an early night but sat talking to Hoss for over an hour, getting more details about the reaction in town and that of Schussler, Fair and Mackay to their plans. Each had agreed to support the Cartwrights but they had made it very clear they weren’t optimistic about it doing any good.

Adam covered the worst of his pain and tiredness before going into join Carole. Even so she came to her feet in alarm as she saw him. Adam grinned ruefully, “Yes I’ve been fighting again but it wasn’t from choice. You should see the other guys.”

Carole put her arms round him and he felt her shiver, “Calm down my love. I’m fine. It’s not the first time I’ve been in a fight. How’s the hot water?”

Carole pulled herself together, “I’ll get Kam Su to see to a bath for you and once you’ve explained you can have one.”

Adam laughed, “That sound suspiciously like an ultimatum.”

Carole nodded, “It is!” Adam relaxed by the fire and told her briefly what had happened and then before she could push questions, he told her about the trouble Joe and Hoss had encountered. She was worried but Adam told her not to fret they would talk it out tomorrow. Then his bath was ready and Adam kissed her, “I’ll be down soon don’t sit here and worry.”

Carole hesitated, she’d been avoiding Adam while he was dressing, scared of memories but it was silly. “Do you want coffee.”

“Yes please, get Kam Su to bring some up.”
Adam was relaxing in the bath the hot water easing the ache from his muscles when the door opened and to his surprise Carole came in with a tray. He hadn’t missed the care she had been taking to knock before coming in, to see if he was respectable. Carole stared down at him only aware of the red bruises and the heavily bandaged arm, too concerned about her husband for memories to bother her.

Adam gripped her hand “I’m alright, you’ve seen me much more bruised than this. It was just a fight and I don’t think they really had their hearts in it.”

“I hate you to be hurt.” Carole bit her lip, feeling guilty, unsure how much she was hurting her husband by banning him from her bed. Adam knew her so very well that he could read exactly what she was thinking and his heart leapt in him, it was the first time she had shown any sign of considering things from his point of view, but he wasn’t rushing anything. Smiling at her, very relaxed he said, “I know that my love but all I need is a long sleep so go get my bed warmed up and try to stop the twins sitting on me in the morning and I’ll be fine.”

She bent down and kissed him, then went to do as he asked. Concerned about her husband, for almost the first time she forgot her ordeal totally and had an unbroken night’s sleep herself, feeling much better for it. She managed to keep the twins quiet and it was nearly nine before Adam came down. He was surprised how late it was and even more that for the first time he hadn’t been woken during the night, He ate a small breakfast and drank two cups of coffee and then as casually as he could asked, "No nightmares? Or did I sleep through it?” Carole smiled happily, “Not a sign of one.”

“I must get in more fights obviously.” He commented dryly. Carole put her arms round him,

“I’m sure there’s an easier way. I guess I’ve just been brooding too much, I’ll try harder to forget.”

Adam kissed her gently, “You have been and are the most wonderful wife any man could ever have.”

She snuggled up against him and neither were aware of the door being opened until shrieks from David and Mark heralded the arrival of the rest of the family. Adam raised his head but didn’t loosen his hold on Carole and he looked more at peace with himself and less tired than he’d done in a long time. None of them missed the fact although noone commented and all three grinned before Joe and Hoss bent down to ward off attack from Mark and David respectively. Carole broke away and went to fetch fresh coffee and cookies. Even though they had come to discuss trouble, the family was very light-hearted over coffee.”

It was nearly an hour later before Ben said, “Pleasant as this is we must get down to some work.” Carole picked up Marie from his knee, “Time she had a sleep anyway. I’ll keep the twins out of your hair, why don’t you move into the study. This place looks as though an earthquake has hit it, let me tidy up.”

Adam considered the mess ruefully, “I’m glad of an excuse to leave it.” The twins had been vying with each other to show their uncles every possession they had and then dropped them.
Ben started out by having Adam report in considerable detail exactly what had been said at all three farms. Adam was sure that someone had been causing trouble, not just Troy. He couldn’t imagine Svenson taking Troy very seriously; he had a low opinion of all those involved with the mines. Whether it was being done deliberately or just some big mouth, he couldn’t be sure. Hoss offered to go over and have a chat with Svenson, they had always got on well. Ben thought it might be sensible but he didn’t want to be seen to be pushing too hard and suggested leaving it for a few days. Two Cartwrights in two days would only prove to him that something was going on. Hoss nodded, “Pa I ain’t no hand at being tactful. Is there any objection to me asking Lars straight out who has been bad-mouthing us?”

Ben glanced at his other sons, Joe shrugged and Adam said, “I just hit a brick wall by trying to talk round the subject. You know him best Hoss, handle it however you want. We need to know who is behind this trouble.”

Ben nodded but Joe headed for the crux of the problem, “So both Johnson and Lars are feeling hard done by, they’ll come round once they see we meant exactly what we said and neither of them will back out of a contract. But what about Seton. If he can go for Adam with a pitchfork a small matter of welshing on a contract ain’t gonna worry him.”

“Can we go round his place if we have to?” Hoss asked.

Adam shrugged, “I suppose we could if we had to. It would be costly, fresh pipe would be needed, don’t forget it’s designed to fit the ground and we chose that route because it was the best.”

Ben tapped his pencil on the desk, “Could sue for damages, that contract is watertight isn’t it Adam?”

“I’d rather push to enforce it Pa. Could delay the whole scheme by six months or more and the town needs water. At the worst yes we have to sue can’t let him get away with it, but we can try talking to him when he’s sober, get an injunction if necessary.”

Joe was doodling and he looked up, “I’m with Adam, make him keep to the contract, even if we need to protect the diggers by force.”

Hoss grunted, “Push straight ahead regardless! I thought you’d grown up little brother, but these last few days I’m beginning to doubt it.”

Joe smiled, “There’s one thing you’ve forgetting Hoss. If we don’t go over Seton’s land the only other alternative route as I see it would mean crossing Martelli’s land, If you don’t think he’d make us pay through the nose and then some, you have a different opinion of the man to me.”

Hoss hadn’t thought of that and knowing how tight-fisted Martelli was, he had to admit his brother had a point. Adam added, “Joe’s right and anyway as a matter of principle I don’t think we should let him back out.”

Joe groaned, “When Adam starts talking about principles he always ends us up in trouble.”

Hoss punched him and added, with a grin, “You’ll have to learn to duck won’t you?”

Ben called them back to order and decided that on Sunday he would go to talk to Seton taking Adam and Joe for support, dropping Hoss off at Seton’s on the way. With any luck on a Sunday Seton would be sober and with the three of them there shouldn’t be any trouble. Noone had any better suggestion; it had to at least be tried. Then they turned their attention to drawing up a list of points, which had to be covered on Tuesday before throwing the floor open to questions. Adam questioned his brothers carefully, especially Hoss as he’d been to town most often recently, trying to find out just what was worrying the people in town. Apart from the major fear of the mines becoming flooded and unworkable, the list was much the same as he had picked up at the farms. He wrote out the list and then Ben put the cat amongst the pigeons by telling his sons that at least until after Tuesday he didn’t want them going to town on their own. Joe had already met trouble and Adam had been hurt, even though not in town, he wasn’t risking more trouble.

Hoss was furious, he had already arranged to meet Sue the next day and although he was prepared to forego the rather vague promise to go in that night if he could, he wasn’t missing the whole day tomorrow. He told his father so in no uncertain terms finishing up, “I’m derned well big enough to look after myself!”

Ben shook his head, “You’re as vulnerable as anyone else to a bullet or a blow from behind and you made four new enemies yesterday.”

“Sue’s expecting me and I’m going.”

“You can send a message, Sue will understand, just until Tuesday and then we’ll see.”

“No!” Hoss glared at them all, furious, then seeing the half smile on Adam’s face he turned on his eldest brother. “I don’t see what you find so amusing, you always do exactly what you want.”

“Easy brother, I intend to do so tomorrow too, so stop hitting the ceiling. I’m going into town, be glad of some company.” Adam turned and considered his father “It’s no good Pa, we’re full grown, can’t be wrapped in cotton wool and with both of us around nobody will try anything. We’ll watch our backs.”

Ben didn’t like it but with his sons ganging up on him he could only give way. Adam was probably right they could take care of themselves and if unpopular, there were still a great many friends in town. Even so he couldn’t prevent himself sitting around the next day, worrying. Joe was busy with some maps of the west shore that Adam had asked him to prepare but in the end he put his pen down and came out from the desk, “Pa you’re making me nervous. Honestly they can look after themselves.”

“I know Joseph.”

“Then why don’t you relax instead of pacing around.”

Ben laughed, “It makes me feel old when I start getting sensible advice from my youngest son!”

“Come on Pa, these can wait. Give you a game of chess, with your mind distracted maybe I can beat you.”
Ben welcomed the distraction and soon got involved in a tight game with Joe. His youngest son’s maturity even showed in his playing of chess and he was better able to give his father a game although he’d never be better than average. Eventually Ben was concentrating so hard, seeing how Joe was trapping him but unable to avoid it, that he was surprised when Hoss and Adam came in just after nine.

Hoss had been worried that Adam was only going into town to help him but Adam assured him that he had a day’s work to do at the mines and then made the mistake of mentioning that he had to see Doc. Hoss reined up, “Why what’s wrong?”

“He just wanted to check my arm is healing alright.”

“Is it?” Hoss asked suspiciously.

“It’s fine.” Adam grinned affectionately at his brother, “Don’t look so worried Hoss, everything is alright.”

In the end Hoss had to go and collect his brother and even then Adam was taking a pile of papers home to work on. Hoss frowned as Adam put them away in his saddlebag, “How much more you gotta do?”

“It can wait until morning or even Monday.”

“Don’t let ‘em push too much on you Adam.”

“I can take care of myself big brother. Did you have a good day?”

Hoss smiled broadly “Sure did. She’s just about got that mare talking. We went for a ride. I hadda show her the line of that pipe; she’d been reading Dan’s articles, seen one of the handbills. I had grave difficulty in dissuading her from coming on Tuesday.”

Adam turned at that in sudden alarm “You have stopped it? It could well prove to be the last place for a lady, even a nurse.”

“She’ll do as I told her.” Hoss said with supreme confidence and Adam burst out laughing,

“You’ll learn brother, you’ll learn. I just hope she does this time.”

Hoss lent forward to fiddle with his bridle, embarrassed suddenly, not even wanting to face Adam, “What do you think Pa and Joe would say if.... You and Carole too. I mean...” he broke off in confusion.

Adam was pretty sure he could guess what Hoss meant but he wasn’t jumping to conclusions, “I can’t answer that unless you’re just a mite clearer.”

Hoss sat up biting his lip and looked at his brother, “How’d you feel about having Sue as a sister?”

Adam grinned broadly “I’d be delighted and that I know goes for all of us. It won’t exactly come as a surprise, we can all see you two are both in love.”

“I haven’t asked her yet, do you think she’ll....”

“She’ll say yes without any hesitation Hoss.” Adam said very positively “Just as Carole did and for the same reason, she loves you.”

“I can’t seem to find the words Adam, in case.... How did you ask?”

“Oh no brother. It’s no good trying to plan it Hoss or try and use anyone-else’s words. All you can do is just ask. You just need to be alone, your heart will tell you what to say. Carole and I weren’t even alone. I’d had all sorts of romantic plans of being up by the Lake but in fact we were by Joe’s sickbed, both almost out on our feet with nursing him after that beating. It seems a very long time ago.”

“Quite a while, a lot happened since, hard to remember a time without your little ’uns.”

“Things continue to happen, have you arranged that party on the 23rd?”

“More or less.” Hoss grinned sheepishly, “It needs one thing yet.”

“Unless you’ve been doing some shopping I don’t know about I should make that two things.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Even if you’re only having a short engagement, most women like a ring, so apart from the lady’s consent...”

Hoss grinned even more broadly “I have it in mind. Come on let’s get home.” He knew that he didn’t have to ask his brother to keep their talk confidential but it had crystallised his thoughts and he knew the following day once he’d seen Svenson he was going to go and find Sue and settle things.

Ben looked up from the chessboard as his eldest sons came in and he didn’t need to ask both men looked very pleased with life. Adam came over and considered the board, “He’s got you on the run Pa. Can you spare me five minutes before I go on home? I think you need time to think before you move anyway.”

Joe shook his fist at his brother, “Don’t go giving him any hints.”

Adam held up his hand in a peace sign, “I’m not even sure that I could rescue him Joe.” He ran over the important points of news from the mines and handed over several papers and then refusing to stay for a drink, he headed on home to Carole, who was gratifyingly pleased to see him. She had wanted to go in on Tuesday too but Adam had flatly refused and just occasionally he put his foot down and Carole had learnt when he meant it. This was one of those times and she accepted it.

Carole couldn’t help worrying the following afternoon, with Adam returning to the Seton ranch, but with Ben and Joe along she had to admit that it should be safe enough. In fact it was a wasted journey, Seton flatly refused to talk to them, he’d said all that needed saying to Adam. Ben tried to make him see sense, there was no harm in talking; but the most he got was a grudging admission that Seton would come on Tuesday and see them put in their place. Then he went on into the house and slammed the door. They obviously couldn’t burst in on him and Ben gave up. Maybe it was best to give him time to calm down, it would be a couple of months at least before any digging would start. It was too soon to interrupt Hoss and so they left him to it and headed home.

Hoss was very straight with Lars, “We’ve been friends for a long time now Lars. I’ve always been straight with you; I wouldn’t lie to you. I always reckoned you knew that.”

“Noone is accusing you of lying Hoss.”

“Ain’t you, you sure as hell thought Adam was. He’s my brother and I’m telling you now, he told you the exact truth. We’re not gonna make much, if any, profit on this derned pipeline.”

“Well I won’t call you a liar Hiss, but if you ain’t, why build it?” Lars sat back as though he’d raised an incontrovertible argument.

Hoss considered the big man; “I don’t remember making any profit when we restocked your herd after that stampede. Maybe Pa and Adam forgot to tell me.”

Lars frowned, “Well I know you bore some of that loss for me and I’m still real grateful. One of many reasons I ain’t backing out on that contract. I know I owe your family.”

“No need to feel beholding, it was our choice to help. You’re a friend and we were real glad to do it, but we got lots of friends in town too and they need water. We’ve got more money than we need and Adam’s got the know-how so why shouldn’t we help and not charge?”

“But you are.”

“Only businesses, mines, not even the farms. A fixed rate to cover the cost over a few years. It’s in the contracts; the water will be free to all individuals. Only way we’d go along.”

Lars considered Hoss silently for several minutes. Then he offered his hand, “Sorry Hoss perhaps you’d pass it onto Adam. Reckon I should have known you all better. Now what can I do to make things right?”

“Ain’t no need for that Lars but if’n you could tell me why you thought the worst it might help. Thing is you ain’t easily stampeded and if you doubted us, then most folks will. Was there anyone in particular got you worried? If there was, maybe we could have a word with him make sure he knew the real facts.”

Lars frowned and tried to think, remember. Slowly over coffee he told Hoss of the rumours he’d heard, the general discussions in the saloon with Troy sounding off and then he remembered the one who above all had convinced him personally. It was a quietly spoken itinerant preacher, who had seemed to have all the facts at his fingertips and even to have God on his side. He claimed that it was a blasphemy against God to try and redo his works, if he had wanted a river to run down from Tahoe he would have made one. Hoss was surprised that Lars had been swayed by such nonsense and even Lars looked slightly guilty, “I can’t explain him Hoss. He don’t rant and rave. His words don’t sound right when I say them but when he did, it just seemed obvious.”

“Any idea where I’ll find this Preacher?”

“He has been around town all month, gaunt man about Joe’s height, Preacher Mckenna. Otherwise I don’t know.”

“Guess I’ll have a word with him myself, thanks Lars.”

“I’ll speak for you in town. Wanna stay for supper?”

Hoss shook his head, “Thanks but no, I’ve got an appointment in town.”

“With the preacher?"

“ Nope, not today but another Irish visitor to our town.” Hoss grinned happily and saying goodbye slowly rode into town, knowing that Sue wouldn’t be off duty for another hour. Still she wouldn’t be expecting him so he wanted to be there to meet her before she wandered off somewhere and he had a job to find her. He had listened to Adam very carefully and he was going to speak when he was ready, not try to plan it in advance. He was waiting outside the hospital when Sue came out and surprised she stopped dead. Hoss took her arm, “Hello darling.”

“I didn’t expect you today Hoss.”

“Well I was near town, thought I’d ride on in and see you. Want to come for a ride, just for an hour?”

“Of course. If you’ll just wait while I get changed.”

“I’ll go get Sheba, meet you outside the boarding house.” Hoss was deep in thought as he headed down to the livery stable, there weren’t many attractive spots close to town where he could depend on being alone, particularly on a Sunday. Eventually he decided to head down to Washoe Lake. On the west shore of that he would be on the Ponderosa and somehow he needed the confidence that the very land gave him, so much a part of him.

Sue was waiting when he came back with the horses and swung aboard before Hoss could get down to help her. She was puzzled by his mood as they rode out of town, he barely spoke to her. The previous day he’d told her about the trouble and she assumed he was still worrying about that. Having tried two or three subjects of conversations and eliciting virtually no response, she gave up, just going along with his mood although puzzled why he had bothered to come to town.
Sue hadn’t been out that way before and after a while Hoss roused himself to show her the boundaries where the Ponderosa started. Then led the way to a small grove of trees with a view down across the lake to Virginia City and in the other direction a view clear up to Lake Tahoe with the Sierra Nevada covered in snow looming over it. All his lands but he wouldn’t comment, that wasn’t what he wanted to offer her. Too often women had been prepared to take him for what he owned, but this time he was convinced it was different and he’d been glad to find that Adam’s judgement coincided with his own. He had great faith in his eldest brother. He dismounted and helped Sue down, taking her in his arms and kissing her. Then he let go and held her at arm’s length, “I love you SueEllen, I think you know that.”

Sue smiled but made no attempt to answer. Hoss went on “I’m not much good with words Sue but I want to spend my life with you. I want you to bear my children. Will you marry me?”

Sue had sensed what he was asking before he started, it was written all over his face and with her eyes glowing she said, “Yes darling, there’s nothing I want more in this world.”

Hoss pulled her close and held her so tight he nearly suffocated her, “Oh Sue.”

“I love you Hoss.”

“Yeah I can’t get over my good luck.”

“I’m no prize.”

“Don’t you talk like that, you’re beautiful. Most gorgeous hair I’ve ever seen and the sweetest kindest lady I’ve ever met. I’d look derned silly with some tiny little girl. You’re what I want.” Then suddenly serious he said, “You know what I’m offering.” He gestured at the land, “I won’t leave here Sue, oh I’ll go for trips maybe even follow my brothers and go to Europe, be worth it with you beside me. But this is my home; you’ve seen what it can mean, Indian raids, outlaws. Its a rough country, we’ll do everything we can to keep you safe, but as Adam found there’s never any guarantees.”

“If that scared me do you think I would be working in Virginia City?”

“No, like Carole it was your choice to come here. I’m just mighty glad you did. You’ll have to give up nursing, mind you with the amount of trouble my family can find, especially my little brother, guess you’ll get plenty of chances to use your skills.”

“I love nursing but I’ve always wanted a home and children but I just never expected to find someone like you. Oh I do love you so very much.” Hoss just held her close and then they settled to making plans. He was going to announce their engagement at the party on the 23rd December and until then only his family would know, neither of them wanted the embarrassment of engagement presents. Then Hoss insisted he’d get the banns read and the wedding arranged for the very first Saturday they could. Sue was just as eager, she had no relatives in America and although she would be contacting her parents back in Ireland there was noway they would ever come so she had no reason to delay. Eventually getting cold they had to ride back and Hoss was eager to get home and share his joy. He took Sue back to the boarding house and kissed her “You have made me the happiest man alive Sue, bless you darling. I’ll come by Tuesday after the meeting let you know how it goes. Promise you won’t try and come.”

“You have my word on everything.” Sue watched Hoss ride out of sight, her life was going to change but she had no doubts. She loved Hoss and she had spent enough time with his family to know that they would all welcome her and she could learn to love them too, much more than she had ever loved her own family. Suddenly she had been given everything she could ever have dreamt of and ten times more, a new life with things she would never have thought of, but it wasn’t the material things she was thinking about. It was the gentle giant of a man, who couldn’t hide from her his sensitive gentle nature or the love that he had for her, so much more than she had ever dreamt she could inspire.

Hoss rode home in a happy dream, hardly able to believe in his luck. He decided to drop by Adam’s first before going on home and knocked on the door early in the evening. Adam had just finished his supper and was lazing by the fire in his study with coffee, while Carole was in the kitchen with Kam Su. As his big brother appeared Adam at first though that Hoss had found something out from Lars, but as his brother came over to the fire it was obvious that trouble was the furthest thing from his mind.

Adam didn’t really need telling but he sat back and waited as Hoss grinned broadly, “You were right again Adam, it wasn’t even difficult and she said yes.”

Adam came to his feet and gave his brother a big hug “I couldn’t be more delighted, Sue’s a lovely woman.” He went over and poured out three brandies, yelling for Carole, “Hey darling, get in here we have to celebrate.”

Carole hurried in and seeing Hoss’ face, she went straight over and kissed him, “You’ve finally asked her.”

“And she said Yes.”

“Of course she did Hoss, she loves you. I am delighted, I’ve missed having a sister and I like Sue very much.”

Hoss picked her up and gave her a hug before accepting the brandy Adam offered. He smiled at his brother with an expression Adam had never seen before and Adam said, “To you Hoss, you and Sue, a long and very happy life and our warmest congratulations.”

Carole nodded “She’s a very lucky girl”

Adam laughed, “I think she deserves it and I think Hoss is just as lucky. What does Pa say?”

“I haven’t been home yet. Thought I’d tell you first. Once Pa gets planning I won’t get away.”

“Thank you Hoss,” Adam said deeply touched. “When is it to be?”

“We thought we’d announce it on the 23rd, nobody to know beforehand ‘cept you four. Then we’ll get the banns read and arrange it for the first free Saturday.”

“Why not have a word with the Vicar Hoss. He won’t tell anyone but he can get it all booked in.”

“Good idea Adam, I think I’ll do that, far as I’m concerned sooner the better. We’ll live at home, least for now.”

“You’ll have to let us know what you want for a wedding present.” Carole said with a grin but Hoss just shrugged “Why? I never got no help from big brother. He’ll have to get his thinking cap on.”

Adam clapped Hoss on the back, “Very willingly big brother, now you’d better go and tell Pa and Joe.”

Hoss nodded, glad to see the very real delight and support written all over both Adam’s and Carole’s faces. “I’ll see you tomorrow and thanks for all your support.”

“No thanks need Hoss, we are both very very pleased, not exactly surprised but no less delighted. She’ll be as good a wife for you as Carole is for me and a very lovely addition to our family. I know that you’ll be as happy as we are and that’s all I’ve ever wanted for you and Joe.”

Hoss couldn’t find any answer and hugged his brother for a moment before heading home to tell the other two people he loved. Ben was rather surprised that Hoss was so late and uneasy, scared his big son had hit trouble. Joe was reading by the fire and he laughed at his father, “Calm down Pa, the big moose can look after himself and anyway I’m sure there’s nothing wrong.”

Ben frowned at his youngest son but Joe just grinned and Ben realised that his son wasn’t just trying to reassure him, Joe was very sure that nothing was wrong. Ben was used to the almost telepathic communication between his sons; they had always been able to sense when anyone was in trouble. He often sensed it himself; he had a close affinity with all his sons, maybe Adam more than the others, but every one, especially if they were in trouble. He relaxed slightly and at Joe’s insistence they had supper without waiting any longer for Hoss.

Hoss left Kirk to put Chub away and went on in to join his family, They looked up as he came in and Joe caught his father’s eye, something had obviously happened and he could guess what. Hoss went over to the desk and poured out three brandies and handed Ben and Joe one each, “Got some news for you.”

He hesitated but then grinned, “Guess it won’t come as no surprise, SueEllen had promised to marry me. Soon after Christmas as we can get it arranged.”

Ben grinned very broadly “Congratulations Hoss, long life and happiness to you and Sue.” He raised his glass and Joe did likewise, “I’ll drink to that very willingly big brother.” Joe drained his glass and came to his feet to hug Hoss “You know how pleased we are Hoss. You’re as bad as Adam, I began to wonder if you’d ever summon up the nerve.”

“What’s the matter Joe, fed up doing my chores?”

“The thought had crossed my mind!” Joe slapped his brother on the back “Every happiness you big galoot and I’m sure you’ll find it, she’s a lovely lady.”

Hoss looked over at Ben, “Pa?”

“Do you need to ask Hoss? I liked her anyway and she proved what a worthy addition she will be to our family in the way she helped Adam and Carole. Most important of all you love each other, I can’t tell you how delighted I am.”
Hoss sat down on the sofa and grinned happily at them, “Funny, once I was scared at the very idea of marriage.”

Joe sat next to him and punched his brother’s arm, “It’s so different when you’re in love and you know for one hundred percent certain that its returned.”

“Didn’t like the idea of someone else coming first before us. Guess Adam finally proved to me it don’t make no difference. Just ‘cause he has Carole and the kids that don’t make us any less important to him.” Ben listened to his big son, knowing Hoss was speaking from the heart as he rarely did. He got to his feet and moving behind his sons, he gripped Hoss’ shoulders, “I don’t think anything can ever come between the four of us Son, we’ve been through too much together. Still every man needs the fulfilment of a wife and children, I’m sure with Sue you’ll find it.”

Joe was in a pensive mood and he didn’t even notice as Ben took Hoss off to get some food. He had once dreamt of that fulfilment and possessed it for such a short time, only to lose it with more agony than he had ever known could exist. Now he was on the verge of finding it again and he prayed that Nita would fit in, scared that he would mar his brother’s joy if once again he lost his dream.

Hoss looked questioningly at his father, worried by Joe but Ben said softly, “Your brother is delighted but it’s bound to bring back memories and I think he is hoping to join you after Christmas. Bound to have a lot to think about. Eat your food and let him be. How about Adam?”

“Went by on my way home, he was delighted and Carole."

“We all are Hoss. We’ve been expecting it, as Joe said he wasn’t betting against a certainty, even if you hadn’t said anything. We already know just how well she will fit in with the family."

“Nurse could be handy.”

“Not too often I hope.” Ben turned the conversation to the detailed questions of exactly what Hoss wanted and when.

It wasn’t until the following day that anyone gave a thought to the thing that Hoss had supposedly set out to discover, They were having coffee at Adam’s bringing him and Carole up to date on the arrangements decided on so far. If Hoss was euphoric, Ben and Joe were surprised to arrive and find Adam and Carole in about the same exalted state and for a long time no sense could be gained from Adam.

The previous evening once Hoss had gone they had talked round the subject for a while wondering where Hoss would end up building and Carole was wondering about a wedding present but Adam just smiled knowingly, he had already made arrangements. Then suddenly Carole disappeared upstairs, to reappear a few minutes later with an armful of sheets. Adam stared at her in total surprise, “What are you doing darling? You can’t do the washing at this time of night.”

“Not going to, just thought I’d put them ready for Kam Su in the morning.”

“He’s already gone to bed I think, do you want me to give you a hand to remake the bed.”

“No, not now, we shan’t be needing it until the guests start arriving.”

“Then why...” Adam broke off, “Which bed have you stripped?”

She blushed lightly and Adam took the sheets from her, “Darling?”

“Come back to our bed Adam. I watched Hoss; I’ve never seen him so happy and he made me remember that marriage is more than just the meeting of two minds. I haven’t had so many nightmares anyway and I want you back.”

Adam couldn’t find any words and just held her close. When they went up to bed, he picked up a bolster to put down the middle of the bed as they had once discussed, but Carole took it away from him. “No Adam, I asked you to come back, no reservations.”

“Are you sure darling?”

“Very sure my love. Hoss reminded me what I should have always known, I love you and you’re my husband.” Carole bit her lip, she couldn’t truly claim to want him, not yet.

Adam joined her in bed and took her in his arms, feeling her tense slightly although she tried not to. Adam kissed her forehead, “Relax darling, I love the quiet time when we can lie close together and you go to sleep in my arms. That’s all I want, for now anyway.”

“You could make me want you.”

“Probably darling but don’t lets rush things, for now this is heaven.”

Carole relaxed against him, it was all she wanted for now, as so often Adam could read her thoughts. Adam was telling the truth he was content and as she slept peacefully in his arms he lay awake for a long time just savouring her closeness.

The next morning despite lack of sleep he was exuberant as she moved all his things back into their room. Slowly the effects of her kidnapping were fading and for the first time he felt sure that eventually every last effect would vanish in time. With that certainty he could relax and he was happy as his family quickly realised, Adam was on his knees playing with the children and punning outrageously.

Eventually Ben insisted that they had to get down to business, they had the meeting arranged for the following day. Adam put the twins down, “Hoss are you going to town later?”

“Thinking of it.”

“Come with me I’ve got to take Mark to Doc’s get this cut off.” He patted the plaster, “Not before time it’s filthy.” David clamoured to go too and Adam looked helplessly at Carole hating to say no to his young son. Hoss said “Let him come I’ll look after him, only want a word with the vicar.”

“Thought you might.”

Ben shook his head, “Carole will you get your husband into the study, then maybe we’ll get some sense out of him.”

Carole giggled but did as she was asked, leaving the other three with the twins. Joe said softly
“What’s got into him? It’s been years since he’s been in such a zany mood.”

Hoss shrugged, “Carole’s in about the same state, just a bit quieter, who knows....”

Ben shushed him as Carole came out, “Well he’s sitting quiet but if you get any sense out of him, it’s more than I have so far today.”

None of them liked to ask her if she knew why and as she busied herself with the children they went into join Adam. He was sitting staring into the fire lost in his own thoughts, but from the half smile curving his lips they were pleasant enough. Ben sat down opposite him “You’re remarkably exuberant Adam. Hoss I can understand but why you?”

Adam shrugged “Just everything going right I guess.” Ben frowned, “You should be wearing a sling on that arm, you and Joe both show all too many bruises. We’re so hated in town that you don’t even dare take Mark in on your own. It seems a strange time to get pleased with life, especially with this meeting tomorrow.”

Adam grinned, “What a catalogue of woe! It’ll all work out Pa. Hoss had got engaged to a sweet girl. Mark is fully recovered, the last sign going today and Carole is, what she’s always been, she’s just about recovered too, no more nightmares. With so much to be grateful for, why worry about a few bruises or some temporary mistaken unpopularity?”

It was obvious to all of them that something had happened and they could only guess but it didn’t matter the effect was great. Adam lent back “Okay to business if Hoss can still remember anything that happened before he met Sue.”

Hoss laughed “Just about brother.” Then he filled them in on what he had learnt from Lars.
Adam was quiet when he finished barely aware of the discussion between his father and brothers. Eventually coming back to the present with an effort, he turned to his youngest brother “Joe fancy joining us in town, maybe between the three of us we can manage to track down this Preacher. Seems a good idea to have a word with him before tomorrow.”

Ben said, “You have the twins too.”

“That’s why I want Joe’s help. If necessary Beth or someone will take care of the kids for half an hour I’m sure.”

Ben could only agree and as Joe signified his willingness to go along he gave way. There seemed little reason for this Preacher to be so against them, but with luck his sons would find out if he were genuinely mistaken or in someone’s pay. Adam could be very persuasive and might even be able to change his mind. Carole had lunch waiting and as a special treat the brothers had agreed to take the little boys to town on horseback, riding in front of them, so there wasn’t any great hurry to set out.
In the even Hoss took David and Joe lifted Mark onto Cochise and by the time that Adam came out after saying good bye to Carole the twins were all set. His brothers just grinned as he commented dryly, “Maybe once you two get kids of your own, I’ll get a look in with mine.”

They just laughed knowing that he didn’t really mind and Joe said seriously, “Anyway you don’t want to strain that arm Adam.” Adam had to admit it was still sore, but insisted that he was quite capable of handling both his sons without straining it, let alone one. Ignoring him Hoss and Joe set out for town and he moved Blackie out after them, waving to his father and wife, before slipping Blackie in between Chub and Cochise. The three chatted as they rode and answered the children’s inexhaustible stream of questions and in no time they reached town. Hoss stopped off at the Vicar’s, passing David over to his father and promising to join his brothers at Doc’s once he had made the arrangements.

Doc was expecting Adam and Mark and he chatted to the little boy while his father held him. He was able to cut the plaster off before Mark really noticed. The bone had healed perfectly and apart from being rather white the arm was unmarked, He had been using his hand even with the plaster so it wasn’t even weak. Doc reassured Adam that it was fine and Adam felt a surge of relief rather to his surprise. He had seen how freely Mark was using the arm and hadn’t consciously been worried about his son. Then Doc handed Mark over to Joe, “Let’s see your arm while you’re here Adam.”

Adam frowned at his brother suggesting he took the twins out, but his very eagerness to get Joe out of the room convinced Joe to stay. The twins were busy pointing things out to each other from the window so Joe just shook his head. “Give up Adam. I want to see for myself. Carole says you’ve been dressing it yourself. What are you so keen to hide?”

Paul laughed, “Reckon your family knows you real well Adam! Don’t look so worried Joe, he’s alright. Just a nasty gash, it was the dirt which was worrying and I took rather drastic steps to ensure there was no infection.” As he spoke Doc unwound the bandage to reveal the mess underneath, the burnt flesh sloughing off, Joe stared horrified but Doc cleaned it gently and underneath it was already beginning to heal. By the time he’d finished Adam was pale but his arm looked much better and Doc said reassuringly, “Healing just fine.”

Joe looked questioningly at the brandy in the corner and Doc said “Good idea Joe. Pour yourself one as well, look as though you need it.”

Joe handed one to his brother as Paul redressed the wound and told Adam, “Just keep it clean, it’ll be fine in a week or two, healing fast this time.”

Adam grinned, knowing twice recently he’d got too upset and run down to heal as he usually did. “Cheer up Joe, Doc says its fine.”

“Why didn’t you tell us, it must have been agony.”

“Didn’t need you fussing and anyway it looked worse than it was.”

Joe was unconvinced but as Adam already looked brighter for the drink and not wanting to upset the little boys he let it drop, at least temporarily. Doc asked how Carole was and Adam grinned broadly as he told Doc his wife was so much more herself, only the occasional nightmare now.
Then Hoss arrived to collect them, looking very pleased with himself. He had everything arranged and had even found time to pop into Beth’s and arrange for her to take care of the twins for an hour. She was delighted to see then even if Carole wasn’t along and very pleased to have the little boys company for a while. They both liked Beth and were happy to stay with her; not that unusual as Adam and Carole often took them to visit Beth when they came to town.
Hoss bullied his brothers into moving and saying goodbye to Paul they headed over to Beth’s. On the way Hoss was full of news trying to tell them exactly what he had organised, more excited than either of his brothers could remember in a very long time.

Once they had chatted to Beth for a little while the brothers left the twins with her and separated to look for the Preacher, with warnings to Joe from both his brothers of the dire consequence from them if he managed to get into any trouble. Joe was incensed particularly with Adam who had managed to get far more seriously hurt last time and had no room to talk. They arranged where each of them was to search and planned to meet up in half an hour whatever their success, or lack of it.

Adam started by sounding out Dan but although he had seen the man around he didn’t know where he hung out and hadn’t heard him talk. Dan wanted to know why the Cartwrights were interested in finding the Preacher but Adam wasn’t wasting time with explanations, Dan would have to wait.

The atmosphere in town seemed more muted, although still unpopular, most people were waiting to hear what the Cartwrights had to say the next day. Adam came up blank and headed over to meet his brothers at the palace. Hoss was already there, waiting for him equally unsuccessful and as Adam came in he ordered two beers. Five minutes later they were on edge as Joe still didn’t arrive, wondering if their little brother had found trouble yet again. They were just about to go and look got him when he appeared at the door and beckoned them over, relieved that he was alright, they ambled over to join him. Joe grinned, “Sorry I’m late.”

Adam grunted, “We’re used to it, hard to remember any occasion when you’ve been on time, even though I gave you a watch!”

Joe just laughed, “Well at least I have news, either of you find anything?” His elder brothers could only shake their heads and as Joe made no attempt to carry on, Hoss threatened to shake it out of him. Joe giggled but seeing the edge of anger on his eldest brother’s face, he gave in “I was just about to give up when Tom Parker told me that he was down at St Mary’s in the Mountains. I went down there and he was talking to Father Minogue, agreed to see us.” He looked ostentatiously at his watch, “ In just under ten minutes.”

Adam clapped his brother on the shoulder “Well done Joe. Is he Catholic?”

Joe shrugged “I don’t know but I guess he’s at least a legitimate preacher or he would stay away from the Catholic Church, Father Minogue ain’t no fool.”

“Maybe Joe but that doesn’t prove anything. Let’s go and talk to him.”

They arrived to find a gaunt ascetic looking man waiting for them. Adam led the way over and joined the man in the small garden at the back of the church. Although not Catholics they had always been on good terms, supporting the church charities and Adam knew that Father Minogue wouldn’t object. He smiled at the man “Preacher Mckenna, I believe.”

“My name young man.”

Adam bit his lip, not feeling particularly young, especially as he doubted that Mckenna was more than his mid-forties but he went on, “I am Adam Cartwright, my brothers Hoss and Joseph. As you know we are planning a pipeline to bring water to this town. A friend has told me that you disapprove. We would like the chance to discover why and maybe tell you a few things that you don’t know.”

“Why bother with me, You are rich and powerful men, I’m an itinerant preacher, bringing God’s word to those who sorely need it.”

“Preacher I don’t know which sect you support, neither do I care, but I reckon we all believe in the same God and when any man of God disapproves of my actions I at least like to know why.”

“Maybe you aren’t beyond redemption.”

“God is a God of mercy, can any man be said to be beyond redemption?” Adam asked very mildly and then seeing his brothers’ restlessness he moved to more practical matters. “What we don’t understand is your objection to this pipeline? The town is growing all the time and badly needs more water.”

“That can not be denied but God in his wisdom will provide.”

“Maybe he is doing just that by giving us the idea for the pipeline.”

“Whose idea was it?”

“Mine initially I guess.” Adam admitted and the Preacher looked at him almost pityingly, but with certain tenderness which Adam found embarrassing. The Preacher said, “I have heard your reputation Adam Cartwright. You are fast with a gun; already have much to seek forgiveness for, even amongst the evil doers in this town.”

Joe was rapidly losing his temper but a glare from his eldest brother kept him quiet. Adam was determined to keep things calm as long as he could and very mildly said, “Noone would deny that this is a rough town with much evil and sometimes we have to do things we don’t like, but my conscience is clear. When the time comes I’ll face my maker without fear. Either way it has little to do with this pipeline, just why do you object?”

“To latch on to such misery for profit, is reason needed?”

“I think you have been misinformed, we will make little or no profit from this pipe. It will take a couple of years to even cover our costs and the water will be freely available to all who need it.”

The Preacher frowned and for the first time considered the younger brothers almost questioningly. Hoss nodded “It’s all written on record down the courthouse, legal. We’re just trying to help these people, give ‘em water, maybe better cleanliness and health, how can that be wrong?”

“If it is indeed so, then I have been misinformed.”

“We don’t lie preacher.” said Joe curtly.

“That does rather change things, you aren’t exactly what I expected.”

Adam lent forward slightly, at his most persuasive, “Many people listen to you because you are a man of God. We have taken great care over this project and I can assure you that there is no risk to the town in any way. I am an engineer and I can be sure of that. Maybe you can think it over and withdraw your opposition.”

“No flooding? Too much to expect I suppose, but this is an evil town.”

“Try not to judge it too severely Preacher. My brothers and I have known it since its earliest day and although much is still wrong, things have improved.”

“Maybe you have never known different?”

“We have travelled fairly widely Preacher. I have studied back east, even in Cambridge, England and Joseph and I have travelled in Europe. Virginia City does not have a monopoly of evil and there are many good people here.”

The preacher nodded slowly and then stood up, “I will think on what you have said. If you are telling me the truth then it does rather change things.” With that he turned and walked off leaving three sorely puzzled brothers. Hoss said hopefully, “ Think you may have changed his mind Adam?”

“I’m not sure Hoss. Can’t make him out, all so very softly spoken and not a word about blasphemy, but ....”

“Well he did say it altered his ideas.” Joe offered. “None too trusting, I’d bet he goes over to the courthouse and reads the contract.”

Adam shook his head, “I wonder. Nobody else has bothered to, or if they have they don’t take any notice of it and I’m fed up with pointing it out. Come on we have another call to make before we go home and we can’t leave the twins with Beth too long, they’ll wreck the place!”

Hoss and Joe frowned, as far as they knew they had accomplished what they had come to town for. Still as Adam was heading of at speed they could only follow him. To their surprise he went straight down town and then Joe realised where he was going. He caught up, “And suppose she’s busy at the hospital?”

“We’ll only keep her a few minutes but don’t you want to congratulate her and welcome her to the family? I can’t leave town without at least seeing her, suppose she heard that we have been in town? Not very nice.”
“Of course I do Adam. I’m as glad about this match as you are. Sometimes I thought he’d never settle down.”

“Just had to find the right girl. It can take time, not all of us have your luck Joe.” Adam looked sideways, “ Sorry Joe, that came out all wrong, you know what I mean.”

Joe smiled, “I know Adam. I have been very lucky to find two girls in such a short time, it took you several years longer to just find one.”

Adam relaxed “Exactly.” Then as Hoss came up to join them, Adam asked one of the sisters where Sue would be. Hoss had also guessed where his brothers had been heading and he was delighted that they wanted to see Sue so immediately. It didn’t take them very long to find Sue but she was very busy and told Hoss of for coming in when she was working. “Not my idea darling, this pair of idiots. I ain’t responsible for them!”

Sue accepted his kiss and his defence and then looked at Adam and Joe. Adam grinned, “We won’t keep you a minute, but we were in town and with the twins along, without their mother to keep them in order, we couldn’t wait until you got off duty. Had to come along and welcome you to the family. Many congratulations Sue and I am delighted to have you for a sister. “ Adam hugged her warmly and gave her a big kiss and then stood back as Joe followed suit. Joe grinned broadly “I think Hoss is a very lucky man, I just hope you can keep him under control.”

Sue was so delighted by their very evident pleasure that she didn’t now what to say and promising to see her after the meeting the following evening as arranged Hoss chivvied his brothers out to let her get on. For quite a while Sue stayed in the small room where they had found her, fighting for control, close to tears with sheer happiness. She had known that they would accept her if that was what Hoss wanted but they had gone out of their way to show her how pleased they were and how much they approved of Hoss’ choice; which she still couldn’t help feeling was an odd one, sure that he could do so much better.

Hoss was equally delighted that his brother had wanted to see her. Glad that his wife to be showed every sign of fitting into the family just as well as Carole and Marie had. Despite Sue’s low opinion of herself, Hoss was very proud of both her looks and her skill as a nurse, sure that she was brighter than he was and surprised that she had come to love him.

The following morning Adam ran over with his father exactly what he intended to say and as best they could guess what questions would be asked and how they would answer. Then he firmly refused to worry any more about it and they all tried to put it out of their minds. They rode in during the afternoon having arranged to meet Fair, Mackay and Schussler for dinner to run over the best way to handle things.

It was rare for the four Cartwrights to be riding into town together these days and without even Carole and the twins. Ben knew that several of his hands were intending to be at the meeting and he couldn’t stop them, but had issued firm warnings that he didn’t want trouble. Jess, José and the others had decided to ride in a little later not wanting to provoke Ben into ordering them to stay away.

Adam caught Joe’s eye and saw the glint of mischief in it and he was waiting to see what his little brother was up to. Joe said casually, “Sue-Ellen going to come to the meeting Hoss?”
“Of course not. I done told her it ain’t no place for a lady.”

“All the more reason to expect to see her.”

“She’ll do as she’s told!”

Joe let loose a cackle of laughter at that. “Hoss! You do have a lot to learn doesn’t he Adam?”

“I’ve already warned him little brother, if he thinks that he’s going to be the boss he’s got another think coming.” Adam played up to his brother “What do you think her first move will be?”

“Put him on a diet I should think, too big to be healthy and she’s a nurse.”

Hoss almost scarlet couldn’t find an answer as Adam agreed with Joe, “Almost certainly after the first two or three nights.”

Joe grinned, “Yeah when she finds out how much of the bedclothes the big moose filches.” He danced Cochise out of the way expertly as Hoss raised his hand threateningly. Ben told his sons to stop teasing their brother; they were almost there. Joe pulled up the far side of Adam for safety and grinned at Hoss, who was still muttering darkly.

Schussler was waiting for them at the Washoe club; the other two would be joining them any minute. Hoss had booked a private room, so that they could talk undisturbed. Harv was very worried and nervous, not really used to violence. The threats against him had badly frightened the little man even though Roy had pulled him out physically unhurt, he was scared that this meeting was just asking for more trouble and that it would end up in a full scale fight. Physically a small man and no fighter he didn’t know how to look after himself. Adam spent ten minutes doing his best to reassure Harv but he couldn’t convince himself that he was doing much good. He did promise Harv that in the event of trouble he and his brothers would make sure they protected him, but it didn’t help. However when he offered Harv a chance to pull out, not attend the meeting, the suggestion was indignantly turned down. Harv was determined, this was his project, his pipeline and he would speak in defence of it, the rumours were wild and untrue it was time someone put the true facts forward. Despite his insistence on coming Harv couldn’t eat and picked at his food, amazed at the unconcerned way the other six, all used to trouble, ate solidly as they talked.

When the seven men headed over to the Opera House it was already half full. Roy was waiting for them and briefly filled them in on how he’d spread his men around hoping to sit on any trouble before it really had a chance to spread. He was offering no guarantees and rather sombrely told Ben, “I shall be very glad when this is over.”

“Me too Roy! I’m beginning to wish we’d never got involved in this pipeline, It’s caused nothing but worry and work and frankly we don’t stand to gain much from it. Should have stuck to the Ponderosa, we have enough to do there.”

Roy just ignored his old friend’s complaint, knowing that with the only water available involving crossing the Ponderosa, wild horses wouldn’t have kept Ben out of it. Ben went to join his sons on the stage. The curtains were still closed but from the noise the Opera house was filling up rapidly. Joe stationed himself in the wings where he could see what was happening and kept the others informed as to who was arriving. He saw Troy and the Preacher come in and then turned in surprise, “Pa come here. I think that’s George Hearst out there?”

Ben went over and had a look and nodded “You’re right Joseph. I wonder how long he’s been in town. I hadn’t heard he was visiting.”

Adam saw Harv looking very puzzled and lent over to say quietly, “George Hearst lives on Nob’s Hill in San Francisco. Very occasionally deigns to visit Virginia City but he is a big investor in the mines. Not our main ones but we are joint directors on some of the others like the Chollar-Potosi and the Savage. We have clashed occasionally, Pa doesn’t see eye to eye with Hearst on many things. In Hearst’s opinion the mines are here to provide money for himself and his cronies on Nob Hill but at least he’s always had faith in the mines, backed them during the bad times.”

Ben was surprised and not too pleased to find Hearst there as well as Troy but the man had every right to be there, he was a major investor. Adam asked “Joe is Sharon out there?”

“Not as far as I can see. Asking a lot for him to risk his precious person with this rough crowd. He’ll have to someone here to report back.”

“I know that but I’d have liked to see his reaction. I’m none too sure of his position on this and I never trust Sharon when I don’t know what he’s up to.”

Jim Fair grunted, “Seems to be keeping out of it.”

“Unusual enough to be worrying in itself. “ Adam insisted.

Ben frowned, “Forget about it now. It’s just about time to pull up the curtain. Joe come and sit down.” Joe gave the signal to the man in charge of the curtain and joined his family. Ben was at the centre of the long table with Harv next to him and then Fair and Mackay, with his three sons on the other side, He was intending to get quiet if he could and then leave Adam to put their case as they had arranged. Adam had more confidence as a public speaker that Ben would ever have and this was his project, perhaps more than anyone else’s.

As the curtain went up an almost physical barrage of hissing, shouts and boos came at them and Ben looked at his sons. Banging the gavel seemed to have very little effect and Ben waited for a moment for the noise to lessen. When it didn’t he tried banging the gavel again but it had no effect. Hoss got to his feet and moved behind his father and took the gavel and then shouted loudly “That’s enough boys.” his roar sounded over the shouts and for a moment at least some of the people quietened down. Slightly more quietly Hoss went on, “You came here tonight to find out what we propose with this pipeline. If you don’t hush up a bit, seems to me we’ll all be wasting our time and I can find something better to do, even if you can’t.”

By the time he’d finished speaking most of the people were quiet and Hoss handed the gavel back to Ben, “All yours Pa.”

“Thanks Hoss.”
Ben started by introducing the six directors and Harv as the chief water engineer, emphasising that he had built the Spring Valley Water Works for San Francisco and then he handed over to Adam, saying that his son had done all the preliminary work. Adam stood up and for a minute there was some hissing but he ignored it. Adam said, “I’ll try to keep it simple. The town needs water; the mines are using more and more as they go deeper. Icehouses use gallons and each one of you knows how expensive it is to provide enough water for cooking and the bare essentials of life. Lake Tahoe can provide as much water as the town needs without noticing the difference, so the obvious answer is a pipe. We dig a trench, deep enough to avoid frosts, lay the pipe and you have water.” Adam held up a section of pipe. “This is it, 12 inch pipe. It will bring over two million gallons of water every twenty-four hours. That sounds a hell of a lot and it is a fair amount. Over fifty gallons for every man, woman and child in town at the moment. The mines will use a lot of it either directly or from the icehouses. Now I know that a lot of people have been worried about the risk of flood. “ He held up the pipe again. “It’s all got to come through this small pipe. How long do you think it would take to flood one mine, let alone all? Twenty years?”

The rest of the platform party relaxed slightly as virtually all the noise in the hall had subsided apart from Adam’s voice; he had their undivided attention. Adam went on, “The risk is even lower than that. We are going to have to pump the water up the last stretch to Mount Davidson anyway, so that the risk of flooding just doesn’t exist. The other thing that I have heard on all sides is the fortune we are going to make out of it. I guess in one way we will. Our mines need that water to get lower into the rich ore, good reason for us to build the pipe. It’s mainly on Ponderosa land, that’s another reason for our involvement, but profit from selling the water is not a reason.”

That statement brought a great chorus of hisses and catcalls and Adam raised his voice to be heard. “Any one of you can go and look up the deeds of the Tahoe water Company. Those deeds are legally binding on the present directors and any of their successors, I know they are water tight I drew them up myself and the legal language isn’t too obscure. They say water must be provided free, I repeat free, to every individual requiring it. If we turn round in a year’s time and start charging any of you, you can take us to court and you will win! The mines and businesses will pay a fixed sum per year, depending how much water they use but we expect it to take at least two years to cover the cost of the pipe. Noone is aiming to make a fortune out of this. Speaking personally I have more money than I need now so I can afford to help out.”

There was a buzz of noise around the theatre, but it didn’t sound quite so antagonistic as it had done earlier. The men were discussing what Adam had said with their mates. Adam glanced at his father. He had planned on making a few more points, but wondered if they ought to quit while they were ahead. Ben said quietly, “Ask for questions.”

Adam said, “That about covers it but if anyone has any questions we will do our best to answer them. Troy I promised you the chance to put your point of view. Do you want to start."

Troy glared at him, as antagonistic as ever, he couldn’t help but feel that Adam had undermined his position. With the small pipe sitting there, even he couldn’t help but feel that the risk of flooding was slight. He was still sure that somehow Adam was twisting things, but didn’t know what to say. He got slowly to his feet and was very relieved when he was interrupted by the Preacher pushing his way through to the front. The Preacher’s voice was no longer quiet and reflective as he denounced the plan as the work of the Devil.
The man’s voice boomed through the theatre. “This Godless town has little enough chance of salvation, the Devil works through his own agents. Sometimes they don’t even realise their own evil. This time he uses his own man, a killer many times over to try and undo God’s own work. This scheme is a blasphemy, designed as such, not even rational profit motives, just a way to desecrate God’s works. If God had intended a river to this town he would have placed one, anyone involved in this or using tainted water will risk any chance of salvation. Denounce it now before a shovel touches the earth.”

Ben and Adam sat back, shocked by the attack, Adam hadn’t been as sure as his brothers that they had convinced the Preacher of their good motives, but he certainly hadn’t expected anything as virulent as this. Ben lent towards his eldest son, “I thought Joe said that you’d calmed him down.”

“He said we’d changed his mind. I didn’t realise it was for the worse.”

Before either of them could say anymore Joe was on his feet; furious at hearing his brother described as a killer, an agent of the Devil. He picked out a couple of men that he knew in the centre of groups inflamed by the Preacher. “John Wheatley was it evil when my brother designed a windmill to raise water on your farm? You Smithers, is it evil to stop your wife paying a dollar a barrel for every drop of water in her laundry? Everyone of you here is changing the face of the land, building houses God hasn’t provided with tree he has, but we have to cut them down first. Digging mines to follow the veins. Why is that right and yet a pipe to bring water people need, to use the water God provides in Tahoe, is blasphemous.”

Joe was so furious that the emotion in his voice made them listen but Preacher Mckenna took up the challenge. “Brought up amongst such evil how can you know what is right or wrong?” There was a touch almost of sorrow in his voice but at the added insult to his family, Joe erupted. “I know more about evil than you seem to. At this minute you personify it. Trying to stop an attempt to improve the health and living conditions of this town. My God wouldn’t force any one to go short of water unnecessarily.”

That attack on the Preacher personally was just the spark needed, he was a man of God and without thinking logically many of the men recognised the attack and resented it. As though by some plan they came to their feet and surged forward towards the stage, the roar of anger very clear.

Ben got to his feet “That’s torn it. Get out Harv, we’ll cover.”

The other six were all well versed in the rough and tumble of fistfights and they needed to be. Adam was slowest to react; he had seen something, which both surprised and distracted him, as he listened to the Preacher’s attack. George Hearst had sat there, an expression of satisfaction on his face, not even surprised at what was being said. He saw the look the Preacher cast across to Hearst as though asking if that was what he wanted done, Puzzled by it Adam didn’t even see the first blow aimed at him. It took him high on the cheekbone and for a moment he was stunned and took several more blows before Hoss could work close enough to try and protect him. One blow directly on his left arm broke open the wound again but the savage pain seemed to clear his head and although his left arm was useless, he began to do some good with his right, much to Hoss’ relief. The brothers stayed close together protecting each other’s back and working towards the exit, covering the three older men as best they could. Slowly Roy got some of his men up to help and in the pit it had degenerated into a free for all, everyone fighting for no particular reason. Roy was sure he couldn’t calm it down until the Cartwrights were at least out of sight. He yelled at Ben and Adam to get out of it and they tried to oblige but it took time for the three brothers to break clear.

Adam was the last through the side door and shut it behind him, leaning on it as their erstwhile opponents tried to follow. Two of Roy’s men loomed up from the alley; “We’ll make sure noone follows. Get out of it before things get any worse.”

The Cartwrights could only follow their advice and collecting their horses from the back lot moved slowly towards Sue’s boarding house. All sore and bruised wanting to collect their thoughts get their breath back. As they stopped outside, Ben said, “You three okay? Any real damage?”

Hoss said, “Just bruises. No need to wait. I’ll see Sue catch you up.”

“Oh no!” his father said. “Feelings running too high, you’ll just have to be brief. We’ll wait for you.”

Hoss wasn’t surprised and going in, he promised not to be more than ten minutes. Adam moved over to the porch with its outside light, “While we’re waiting maybe one of you would rebandage this blasted arm of mine. It’s fated.”

Ben and Joe moved closer seeing the blood on his hand in sudden alarm. Adam grinned, “Just broken it open.”

Ben said, “Sit down. Joseph get the first air kit from Buck.” He helped Adam out of his coat but before he could do anymore Sue was there, demanding all three come up to her room and at least wash and clean up before attempting to go home. Ben having seen Adam was hurt very willingly accepted. Sue wasn’t surprised by the three having seen Hoss’ state and since coming to Virginia City she’d seen the effects of all too many fights to panic. It didn’t take a moment to see that apart from cut lips, eyebrows and knuckles the main damage was bruising. The only more serious damage was Adam’s arm so Sue concentrated on that, cleaning the wound and rebandaging it, “You’ll have to have it stitched if you keep this up.”

“Not my choice Sue. Thanks it feels much better.” Sue wasn’t convinced but she turned to Hoss insistent in hearing exactly what had happened. Listening as she worked cleaning and putting ointment on all four men’s faces and hands. Adam was quiet his arm throbbing and he knew he was going to have a beaut of a black eye, as was Joe. He had a stinking headache and a sense of failure. It was left to Hoss and Ben to explain what had happened to Sue. Joe was feeling very guilty, sure that by losing his temper he had provoked the fight, which might have been avoidable, he had taken a lot of punishment and was bruised and sore. They glossed over the accusations the Preacher had laid against all of them, Adam in particular. Sue wasn’t too sure just what had started the fight but trying to cheer them up she said, “ Even though it ended badly, they did listen maybe it will penetrate when they have time to think.”

Adam sighed, “I don’t believe Virginia City ever stops to think, it just reacts.”

“What will you do now?” she asked.
Adam pulled himself to his feet, “Go home and as far as I’m concerned try and forget all about the blasted pipeline, I’m sick to death of it and I don’t care if it gets built or not. It will be Christmas soon and I have guests coming so I am going to get ready for them.” He sounded slightly bitter and considering the way he had been attacked by the Preacher, none of his family were surprised. Sue looked puzzled but Hoss just kissed her and promising to come by on Friday, which was her day off, he went to help Adam downstairs. As his sons went out Ben turned and took hold of Sue’s shoulders, “With all of this I’ve forgotten the most important thing. Congratulations Sue, I’m so very glad that Hoss is giving me such a lovely daughter. Welcome to the family.” He kissed her forehead, “We don’t usually spend our time fighting. Many thanks for your help.”

“You are very welcome.”

Ben nodded. “I know that. We will see you soon but now I’d better get them home before we end up in any more trouble.”

Hoss gave both his brothers a hand to mount and had just swung up himself when Ben came out. Ben mounted Buck and then the four keeping close together in case of trouble, moved out of town. Some of the miners involved in the fight saw them go but noone was going to attack the Cartwrights when they were all together. They rode in silence until they were clear of town and then Joe couldn’t restrain himself any longer. “I know I should have kept quiet but that stupid man daring to judge Adam, I just lost my temper, all my fault I’m sorry.”

Adam smiled, “Not the first time brother, I’ve been called hard names before and survived.”

“But he was hiding behind his cloth, as though it was God talking.”

“We know God doesn’t judge us harshly Joe, too often we’ve asked for and had his help when death threatened.”

Joe glared at his brother “So I shouldn’t have lost my temper, that’s why I’m saying sorry.” He was on the verge of losing it again and Adam seeing that said, “I lost mine too Joe. I can assure you I didn’t like it one bit better than you did and I was very glad to have a champion in my little brother, even if it did precipitate trouble.”

Ben shrugged, “Probably inevitable anyway. We all knew the risk of a riot before we went.”

Adam eased his aching body in the saddle, “I’m sure it was inevitable, maybe even planned.” He had his family’s attention and told them what he had seen, sure there was some relationship between Hearst and Preacher McKenna.

Hoss very puzzled, asked, “Do you think it was an act?”

Adam shook his head, “Oh no. Such pure fanaticism can’t be acted I’m sure, but it’s not beyond Hearst’s capabilities to bring it in deliberately and hint how best to achieve their joint aims.”

Ben frowned, “We’ll try and check back. Whatever else we do I want to stop that man, he’s dangerous. Any fanatic is, especially one who has his claws into us.”
Adam rubbed his sore arm, “That’s why I was so slow to react when trouble started. I was watching the pair of them. They set out to cause a riot and they succeeded. Maybe you helped Joe but they weren’t about to give up until they’d achieved their aim, so personally I’m glad you got a few digs back.”

Joe relaxed slightly glad that his family didn’t blame him for the trouble and sure that Adam was right. When his brother was that positive inevitably he was. Ben insisted on seeing Adam home first and Hoss offered to see to Blackie for him. Adam smiled, “I’m fine you know, just bruised same as you three.”

“Your arm’s a bit more than bruised.” Hoss commented, “I’ll see to Blackie.”

“Alright brother and thanks. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Ben nodded “We’ll be over after breakfast. Try and get a good night’s sleep.”

It took Adam a while to calm Carole down and then she wanted to know in great detail exactly what had happened. Adam pulled her down on his lap and then filled her in. he told her everything, scared that she would hear about it from another source if he didn’t. He couldn’t hide his anger at the things he’d been called but did his best to reassure her than none of them were seriously hurt and if the meeting hadn’t improved matters, it probably hadn’t made them any worse. It was just possible that when they calmed down some of what he’d said would have effect but he was very doubtful. Eventually after a long soak in a hot bath he turned to the more pleasant topic of Christmas and refused to worry any further.

All of them were in a sombre mood the next morning. Adam and Joe with spectacular black eyes and even Hoss and their father showed every sign of a fight. They went over the events of the previous day but it didn’t help and noone knew what to do next. Even the antics of the children only raised the briefest of grins. It was easy to say they’d forget about the pipeline until after Christmas but not so easy to do. They had invested very heavily in it, money, time and prestige. Carole had arranged lunch for all of then but she found herself attending to the children’s wants while the four men ate basically in silence, not even too sure what they were eating, all deep in their own thoughts.

As they were sitting over coffee and brandy, Carole removed all the children upstairs before they really annoyed one of the men, none of whom was in a good temper. When the knock on the door heralded someone’s arrival, Adam went to answer it. He stood back and let Dan in, unsure whether it was a social call or more trouble. Dan knew him too well to think the hesitation was aimed at him personally and he grinned, “Well I must say you four are a colourful sight.”

Hoss grunted, “I’m sure you didn’t come out here to gloat and you were there last night so our bruises ain’t news. What’s wrong now?”

Dan sat down by the fire warming his hands at it, “Cheer up. The four of you look as though the sky is about to fall in. Nothing is wrong! I just thought you might like to see today’s edition of the Territorial enterprise and hear the considered reaction around town.”

Joe shook his head, “Business so bad you have to come all this way to sell one copy of the paper Dan?”
Dan threw the paper at him and passed another copy to Ben, “As you about filled it, we’ll even give you the copies free.”

Adam went over to his father to read over his shoulder, while Hoss read with Joe. The front page was largely filled with a verbatim report of the evening’s events and Adam caught his father’s eye as they finished reading it. Without twisting a single word Dan had managed to emphasise their arguments and the force of what Adam had said was backed up by quote from the deed, tying them to free delivery of water for individuals. Then Ben turned to the editorial and Goodman had let himself go. Not the most fervent supports of the Cartwrights and not a close friend, it made his words more effective. He concentrated on the personal attack made upon Adam and the family telling Preacher McKenna to check his facts. That although Adam had undoubtedly killed it had always been in defence of either his own or someone else’s life and that wherever possible he’d avoided it, even when he could have easily claimed legal and moral justification. Then he outlined the other times the Cartwrights had come to the assistance of the town without gain to themselves. He had finished up by stating that if the Cartwrights were sent by the Devil then he for one would change his allegiance because so much good was achieved. But he thought that the Preacher was just plain wrong, or maybe his God wasn’t the God of mercy that Christians worshipped.

The four finished the editorial in silence and Adam found himself slightly embarrassed and busied himself getting fresh coffee. Ben asked Dan what the reaction was around town. Dan sat back comfortably with his coffee. “I think Smithers about summed it up in the Bucket O’Blood later. Seems you got to him Joe with the example of his wife’s laundry and a lot of others too. He reckoned that the evening proved that Adam could talk and all of you could fight, which they knew already, but maybe it also proved you were only trying to help the town with the pipeline and maybe they ought to have known that too. That as an engineer Adam had helped set up the shoring and built the flumes everyone had laughed at but were now copying and maybe they ought to trust him to build a pipeline too.”

The Cartwrights looked at each other almost in disbelief and it was left to Hoss to ask, “How typical is that reaction Dan?”

“Fairly widespread. I think the attack on Adam went too far, most of them know you and know it just isn’t true, so if that was wrong maybe the rest was too. That small pipe helped, just didn’t look capable of flooding the town. So by the time they’d sat back to think, finished boasting about their prowess in the fight, which everyone else enjoyed, even if you didn’t, they began to give you the benefit of the doubt.”

Ben shook his head in amazement; “Well I’d never have believed it. I thought I knew Virginia City but after last night I began to wonder if we’d dare to show our faces in town again.”
Dan laughed, “They’ve swung over the other way now, almost making saints out of you! Not that it will last. However I don’t think there will be anymore large-scale opposition to your pipeline. Troy and Hearst won’t give up so there may well be more trouble but not the general hatred. I thought you’d like to know the general reaction.”

“Kind of you to come out. “ Adam said, well in control again. “We were all feeling a bit low, didn’t seem to get through at all to them.”

“Well you did, both you and Joe. They respect him for speaking up for you.” The atmosphere had totally changed by the time Carole came down and she recognised it at once, the men all looked so much more relaxed. Puzzled she joined Adam and he handed her the paper and once she’d read it, explained what Dan had said.

Now they could relax and do as they had claimed forget about the pipeline. They spent a very pleasant couple of hours chatting with Dan and beginning to lay their plans for Christmas and a wedding, all getting very close now. Hoss filled them in on what he had arranged, with a little juggling of the banns over the Christmas services he had managed to get his wedding booked in for the 8th January. Hopefully Will would be able to extend his visit by a day or so and stay for the wedding. Dan promised not to tell anyone about the wedding until Hoss was ready, even if he did grouse about people who tried to gag reporters.

Eventually Dan had to get back to town and Adam walked out with him, thanking his old friend again for taking the time to come out and let them know the news. Dan just grinned he’d had a good meal and a large brandy and had a follow up piece for tomorrows paper. “Just make sure I get an invite for Boxing Day and the wedding.”

“You know you have that.”

Adam went back in to find his brothers wrangling over wedding presents with Hoss being unhelpful at least in Joe’s estimation and he sat back and watched, pure amusement written all over his face as his brothers seemed to revert to childhood. Ben waited and within a couple of minutes his expectations were fulfilled as Adam got sucked into the argument. He went over to his daughter-in-law, “I sometimes wonder if they will ever grow up, but maybe they need it after the last few days.”

“They sound like the twins!” She laughed, “You wouldn’t want it any other way Pa, it’s good to see them relax, now I really feel as though Christmas is coming.”