Banks, Pipelines and Railraods
By Lyn Robinson

For the three days after Beth’s funeral, all of the Cartwrights got down to work. Ben had plenty to keep himself busy and worked late each evening but he was calm and under control. He was very quiet and sometimes lost in his own thoughts bur his sons weren’t seriously worried, it was bound to take time to accept Beth’s death, it had all been very sudden. All of them missed her and without any real discussion slipped back into work with more than enough paperwork to get on with.

Nita revelled in the added proof of how much all of them relied on her husband. Joe spent a day checking the mine figures, the future projections against the past performance and the test figures for the ore from the explorations, before giving his opinion that the raised dividends were fully justified. Adam had found more in the bank papers than he had expected and Ben was fully occupied with them too so the other three accepted Joe’s word and told him to give their go ahead to Jim Fair. Joe arranged the meeting for the pipeline for Monday on the same trip.

Adam and his father rode into town for the meeting and Carole took the children over to the main house for the day as Adam would be gone until the evening. Joe had just started to go through the bank papers and was passing them onto Hoss as he finished with them. Once Marie was asleep and the twins had disappeared into the kitchen to badger Hop Sing for some cookies, Carole picked up the bundle of papers that Hoss had finished with and began to read for herself. Jim Fair had divided the papers into sections, general papers covering various probable results and detailed financial, political, personnel and legal papers. Hoss had read the general ones and was trying to make sense of the financial detail but as Carole settled by him he shoved the papers away, “Beyond me. I’ll get Adam’s opinion worth more than that lot.” He was more interested in the political and the personnel files and picked up one of those.

Sue and Nita hadn’t thought of looking at the papers and Sue wasn’t really interested, but Nita was intrigued. She had grown up with discussions of business but it had always been made very clear that it was nothing to do with her and that women had no business sense.

Seeing Carole curled up by the fire with the general proposals, Nita went over to Joe who was ploughing through the legal points that had to be covered to protect themselves. She hesitated at first but Joe was finding it very heavy going and was glad of an excuse to put the papers down. He sighed “Too many whereas, and heretofores; I need coffee. What I can’t understand is why Adam is the only lawyer who can write intelligible English and noone has ever successfully challenged a contract he’s drawn.”

Carole looked up and grinned, “Came to the law too late in life to get badly infected. You have to think clearly to be an engineer and it carries over. Too many lawyers substitute for thought by saying things ten times over to try and cover every eventuality.”

Joe got up and stretched “Who else wants coffee?”

Everyone did and Nita went with her husband to get it. As she picked up the tray she looked up at him and Joe took it from her and forced her to look him in the eye, ”Alright what’s wrong?”

“Nothing Joe.”

“You want something Nita, I know that look. Tell me I can only say no and I haven’t done that yet.”

Nita frowned and then shrugged “It doesn’t really matter Joe. I guess I’m just curious, but Carole is reading the Bank documents and I wondered if…”

Joe didn’t need any further explanations and he grinned “Bring the cups. I bet Hoss hasn’t made it clear either.” He joined his brother and sisters-in-law by the fire while Nita rather puzzled followed. Joe waited until they all had coffee and then leaning on the mantelpiece in a favourite position he grinned, “I may be doing you an injustice big brother but I’m betting you haven’t explained to Sue what her position is on family discussion, anymore than I have to Nita.”

Hoss just shrugged not answering, his little brother was quite right. They’d drifted back into work and he hadn’t considered it yet. Carole smiled seeing the glint of mischief in Joe’s eyes. Joe went on “It’s a family ranch, the four of us have equal say in all decisions and we abide by the majority. A lot of things we have to deal with now are technical and sometimes only one of us really has time to go into it and understand things or we rely on Adam as a lawyer or an engineer. That won’t change, it’s worked well and many of the things you won’t be interested in, like Carole. You can’t go down the mines, know the workings as we do. We’ve been in them since the beginning, fifteen years that can’t be replaced and you have your own interests. But the main thing I want to say is that you’re part for the family Nita and you Sue, just as Carole is. We have no secrets, apart from birthdays or Christmas, and any time you want to know more about some proposal, no matter what, you’re free to ask. Any papers you’re interested in reading help yourself and if you don’t understand ask. Perhaps more important if you feel strongly about anything one way or another speak up. If we can’t go along we can at least explain why.”

Carole nodded it was the way they worked. She seldom interfered but Adam always kept her informed and asked her opinion, normally she was happy to go along with his ideas. Hoss said “Joe’s about covered it, just one thing. If you get any ideas, things you think ought to be changed, different ways of doing things, or new things, speak out. No guarantees that we’ll go along but we’ll always discuss it.”

Joe laughed, “And turn it down!”

“Your bright ideas little brother, the girls have more sense.”

Nita looked up almost angry but seeing that Joe was grinning broadly she relaxed. Carole seeing her look said, “You’ll get used to Joe’s ideas. Whenever he’s trying to look innocent, beware. They always sound marvellous at first, the pitfalls appear later and Joe usually sidesteps them but someone else ends up in trouble, commonly Hoss.”

Joe protested “It’s not fair to blame me. Most of the trouble we’ve had recently came from your husband’s big ideas. When you really wan to start looking out is when Adam starts talking about principles, then the sky usually drops on us!”

Nita laughed and looked round at the others, it was a very different attitude to the one she had grown up with but seeing all three of the family took if for granted she accepted it. She began reading the papers Carole had finished. She was surprised how complicated even the general papers were, unused to such things and she made slow progress. She looked at Hoss in a new light because of it. She liked him but had considered the big man to be brawn not brain, rather dim. Hoss had read and mastered these papers a lot faster than she could, not as clever as his brother, he was slow and steady but there was nothing wrong with his intelligence.

At the meeting in town, Ben and Adam learnt that the pipe would be leaving San Francisco in exactly a week and should be coming down their new railway line the following Thursday. It was all arranged and Harv had booked storage space on the outskirts of town. As they rode home Adam was worrying about guarding the pipe but Ben changed the subject, they could settle security later, Jim was pressing for an answer on the Bank. Adam had been sliding away from discussion of the subject, but his father was right they had to make their minds up. The facts were all there and they couldn’t put it off. He suggested “Once the children are settled Carole and I will come back over and we’ll thrash it out.”

“Would you rather we came over?”

“No need, the kids sleep like the dead once they’re down and Kan Su is there if they should stir. The papers are all at the main house, mind you I have been over them so often I don’t think I need them.”

“What do you think Adam?”

“Can we leave it until this evening Pa, nearly home now.” Ben could only go along but he was puzzled at his son’s reaction.

Adam and Carole came back as arranged and Adam went and poured himself a large brandy before sliding down onto the hearth and staring into the fire. He was more worried about this Bank proposal than he could explain even to himself, partly he was still over tired but he felt as though they were getting backed into a corner where they’d lost all freedom to manoeuvre and he didn’t like it.

Ben frowned not understanding Adam’s reaction but as his eldest son was obviously not prepared to start he picked up the papers himself, “Well you’ve all seen these. Jim wants an answer. The Bank is going ahead regardless, with us or without. Do any of you have any firm ideas one way or another?”

Hoss and Joe waited for Adam but as he was quiet, Hoss said “If noone else will start I will. I’m not at all sure Pa, fact is I’m real dubious about getting involved. We ain’t bankers and I don’t see too much advantage in it. We can still carry on dispersing money back east like we have, make sure we’re safe.”

Ben nodded “Joseph?”

“Financially we could do well I can see that, but like Hoss I’m not sure that its worth the effort. I’ve never minded a battle you know that, but it strikes me this is asking for trouble. Sharon hates us anyway and can you imagine what his reaction is gonna be when we move in on his own sphere of banking?”

Ben frowned “Two probable no’s, is that right?”

Hoss and Joe nodded and Ben sighed. Adam still showed no sign of speaking, staring into the fire not obviously listening “Well I’m sorry to say I don’t really agree with you. I can see your point Joseph, Sharon will be furious but he stays within the law so provided we take care in drawing up the charter we can cope. He hates us anyway so I doubt it will make much difference. I think Nevada needs its own Bank and some independence from San Francisco and I don’t see anyone else in a position to carry it. We need legislative approval and we’re rich enough to force it just now with people scared about Ralston. The chance may disappear if we don’t move now.”

Little Joe frowned and pulled Nita closer to him “Well big brother that leaves you. You with Pa or Hoss and I?”

Adam pulled himself up and poured another drink. Ben frowned if Adam was with his brothers he would give way as always and although his sons seldom forced him to they had done it before and would again and knew him well enough to know that he wouldn’t take it badly. If Adam was with him then they were tied and would have to argue it out but that wasn’t unusual. As Adam came back he studied the puzzled looks on his family’s faces, knowing that he wasn’t reacting as he usually did in such discussions. He perched on the table and smiled ruefully, “In many ways I’m with you Joe and Hoss, but there are two points I think are important that we haven’t covered. First the Bank is going ahead regardless of us and I don’t see how we are going to avoid the trouble that is coming. I agree with you Joe, Sharon is going to hit the roof but I think we’ll get the blame whatever we do. Many banks have some directors, who keep quiet in the background, and we are so tied up with the other four that it’ll take a lot of convincing Sharon that we aren’t involved.

Joe frowned he hadn’t thought about it but knowing Sharon he wouldn’t bet against Adam being right. Hoss grunted “You said two points Adam?”

Adam frowned “I’m not happy with any of this Hoss, I get the feeling that we are being forced into it whatever we feel. I agree with you Pa now is probably the best chance of doing it and that on balance it would be a good thing to do but I don’t like the way we weren’t told anything until it was all set to go. What worries me rather more are some of the detailed proposals, in several places the charter is wide open to a clever lawyer and Sharon can get plenty of those. Unless we go in we’ll have no say in the charter and yet it could backfire on us too. We’re involved with them, their sources of wealth to back the Bank are the mines and I can see them getting tied up in litigation if we let them go on as they are.” Adam fell quiet and sipped his brandy while Ben Hoss and Joe considered what he’d said.

Joe began searching through the proposal papers, the legal section and found one part which had worried him at the time.

Adam smiled faintly as he saw what his brother was reading, “Precisely Joe, whoever drew these up isn’t as devious as we are and no disrespect to your legal ability but if you can find it, just how long do you think it will take Sharon?”

Ben hesitated, “Jim will listen to you as a lawyer Adam, without us getting involved if all three of you are against.”

“Maybe Pa, I’m still not sure how I feel in fact. I’m annoyed at the way it’s been done. The trouble is the one Joe’s picked up is the most obvious. There are two more probable causes of trouble and a lot I haven’t considered in detail. I would have to spend quite a lot of time and maybe we ought to reap the benefits, For the future anyway we wouldn’t know if they were going off the rails so maybe we ought to go along, if you think I’m right and we’ll get the backlash anyway.”

Hoss frowned “We rely on you pretty heavily as a lawyer Adam and I’ll bet on you being right but we used to manage before. Couldn’t we get a decent lawyer for this new Bank? Must be some around and Jim would listen to your recommendation whether we were in or not.”

Adam shrugged, “I guess I could Hoss, maybe overrating myself, never feel safe when Sharon’s around unless I handle it personally.”

Hoss protested, “That wasn’t what I meant, we all feel safer with you doing it, heck even Jim Fair insisted on getting Sharon out here for you to handle over the Virginia when you were too ill to get to town. Noone is underestimating Sharon he’s too darned clever. It’s just if’n we take this on too, Fair and Mackay are all too ready to dump their problems on you and you’ve enough to do now.”

Joe nodded his agreement with that it often annoyed him but he was still thinking over Adam’s points. “I could do with a drink. Pa, Hoss?”

They both nodded and Hoss said “I still don’t like it much but on your argument Adam we don’t have no choice.”

“That’s what annoys me Hoss.”

“One question. How would it affect us if the four Irishmen get their mine stock tied up in law suits?” Joe asked

“We’d have money tied up in non-productive mines the paper value would drop and we’d lose all this cash but the ranch is free and clear so it wouldn’t be disastrous and we’d still own a quarter of the ore when it finally came out. It’s got to be considered but it can’t affect the Ponderosa, we can stay out.”

Ben grinned at his sons, “I think you are all three taking a too negative view of it. Right we aren’t bankers but then we aren’t miners either. I believe we need an independent Bank and that it could do a lot of good for Nevada things Ralston and Sharon won’t do. I know several things I’d like to get done and I can only do it from the inside so all else being equal I’d like to go in.” It was a much more definite statement than his first and while the three girls sat fascinating, his sons considered each other, Adam shrugged and Joe was the first to speak “Alright Pa, if you think it’s that important I’ll go along with you,”

Hoss shrugged “Okay I’m in, on one condition.”

“What?” asked Ben.

“We get in some decent lawyer, once the charter is drawn. Adam’s choice, someone he’ll delegate to.”

Adam grinned at the disbelief Joe showed that he would ever delegate. “Alright make it unanimous but we are only in on a decent charter and I’m doing that myself.”

“Noone will object to that!” Ben said confidently and then seeing that although his sons were going along none of them were enthusiastic he began to spell out his own ideas of what the new Bank could achieve. They would have to carry the four Irishmen with them and Ben was well aware that he would have a fight on some of his more philanthropic ideas but both O’Brien and Mackay had some similar ideas and working from the inside he might slowly manage some of it. As he talked both Hoss and Joe got more interested but Adam was barely listening, looking at the legal papers again, slowly planning what needed changing and what checking, knowing what a massive job he was taking on, although he wasn’t telling his family. There was a deadline in three weeks if the charter was to win approval in the current

Session of the Nevada legislature, if left to reconsider too long, too many of them might change their minds. He proposed going to see Jim in the morning and wanted the more obvious changes clear in his own mind to put to him.

Ben acknowledged the sense of that and Adam went on home to go through the papers on his own. He insisted that Carole went on up to bed and when she came down and protested at

2 a.m. he promised to be up soon. She dozed restlessly but Adam was determined to finish and it was nearly four before he went to bed but he was still up at seven. He headed for town after a hasty breakfast, wanting to catch Jim Fair before he headed below, which he usually did after dealing with the paperwork in the office.

Mackay was in with Jim and both were delighted that the Cartwrights were going along, their name lent the integrity which would ensure passage of the bill and business for the bank. They made no protest about having changes in the charter and were very pleased to have Adam iron out any possible problems, with great faith in his legal ability. He outlined the difficulties he saw but they made little sense to either of the others and they gave him complete freedom to do as he saw fit, just grateful for the Cartwright’s support. Adam was pleased to have a free hand and stopped off on the way home to report to his father. Ben promised to leave him free otherwise, with Hoss and Joe slipping back into work and the winter weather still closed in allowing little outside work, Ben could manage the rest, particularly with his current need to keep busy.

Joe was checking all the arrangements and security for the pipeline and Adam was quite happy to leave that to his brother, he knew he could rely on Joe’s commonsense. Even Ben didn’t realise just what wholesale changes Adam was planning. The main problem that Adam had was having found two glaring mistakes he didn’t trust any of the documentation and he has to check it all. He had borrowed several law books from friends in town to augment his own considerable law library and he hoped that he had enough to check all points but it all took time.

They had arranged to go in on Friday for the opening of the railway in the morning and the festivities in the afternoon and evening, all seven of them were attending and Adam had to fit that into his schedule, determined to clear the charter before the pipeline arrived the following week, well aware there could be any number of things to distract him, all the rumours pointed to trouble. At his most optimistic projection he would be pushed to finish by the following Wednesday and at every stage he found delays and problems as he dealt with the legal niceties which he wasn’t familiar with and he had to double check to make sure he wasn’t getting confused. By the Thursday evening despite working far into every night and managing on the minimum of sleep he was still falling behind his schedule. Only Carole realised the hours he was working and she knew better than to waste time protesting, but he looked so tired as he ate dinner not really wanting the food that she couldn’t keep quiet any longer. “Hoss is right you take on too much.”

“I’m okay, be finished next week, it has to be done.”

“I know that but you’re exhausted will you listen to one suggestion.”


“Stay here tomorrow and get on. You won’t be taking in anything even if you come and the Cartwrights will be well represented, Pa will take care of me.”

Adam had contemplated trying to slide out of the celebrations but he hadn’t wanted to disappoint Carole, He considered her for a moment “Would you mind?”

“I’d prefer to have you with me of course but I’ll be fine with the rest of the family and I’d much rather you got an extra couple of hours sleep tonight instead of making yourself ill.”

Adam pulled her close and kissed her “You are the most wonderful wife any man could dream of. Less than a week and I’ll be finished,”

She smiled “Until you find something else. I’m used to it Adam but you’re still not fully fit so take it easy, okay?”

“I promise.” Adam kept his word taking her up to bed before midnight but he was up soon after four. Relaxed with her support he got on faster until 8.30 when the rest of the family dropped by to collect them. Carole was ready and she rapidly explained to Ben and he went to unsaddle Buck in the barn, ready to drive her in her buggy. Joe stropped the surrey and came over to see why his father was leaving Buck, “Adam avoiding driving again?”

“Adam isn’t coming, just Carole. He’s too busy.”

“Precisely why he needs a break!” Joe frowned “I’m going to talk to him.”

“Carole’s quite happy to come with us on her own.”

“It’s not fair on her and he needs the break, he’ll be working all hours otherwise.”

Ben shrugged, like Joe he thought Adam had more than earnt a break but he could understand Carole’s reasons for leaving him in peace. Still when Joe looked so cross nothing would stop him and he let his youngest son go to try and talk some sense into his eldest, although he didn’t reckon much to his chances.

Joe wasn’t surprised to find his brother deep in a law book and doing his best to ignore visitors. Adam had expected someone in and more probably Joe than anyone else. Joe took the book away from him and Adam lent back in his chair and waited for the explosion, it was quicker to let Joe have his say than to try and stop him. Joe glared at him “You’re hopeless Adam, you look worn out now, and you need a break.”

“The job has to be done Joe, bigger than I expected I’m not familiar with banking law.”

“I know that but can’t you break now, have a day off. You’ll get on faster afterwards. Anyway Carole deserves to enjoy herself and she won’t nearly as much without you.”

“It was Carole’s idea Joe. I’m busy and all you’re doing is holding me up.”

Joe lost his temper and told his brother just what a fool he was, in no uncertain terms, not helped by Adam’s attention drifting back to the papers in front of him. Eventually Joe ran out of breath and Adam looked up, his own hold on his temper very precarious. “Alright Joe you’ve had your say now leave it.”

“But Adam…”

“I said leave it the others are waiting.”

Joe sighed but he knew he was fighting a losing battle “You’re an obstinate fool.”

“I know you mean well little brother but really I have no choice, Look after Carole for me.”

Joe nodded, “You know we will.” He went back out, shrugged eloquently at his father and slipped back next to Nita. None of then were surprised at his failure but agreed it had been worth trying and especially on the surrey they were unanimous in their opinion of a pigheaded idiot.

In fact Joe had got through to Adam and to his family’s surprise he suddenly appeared at the dance in the evening, arriving about nine, just as the formal dinner was finished. Very smart in black and white as always but all of them could see his near exhaustion, his eyes red with lack of sleep and a faint grey tinge to his skin. Even outsiders noticed but Adam laughed it off. He had come to dance with his beautiful wife and he proceeded to do exactly that.

As a friend took Nita out to dance Joe wandered over to join his father. “Sorry Pa. I’ve managed the worst of all possible worlds. He looks exhausted and I told him that Carole would miss dancing with him.”

“I shouldn’t worry Joseph. He seems to be enjoying himself and it does make a break, be finished in another few days. I’ve seen all of you look even worse when we were pushed.”

Joe grunted “Finished for how long? Before the mine or the bank hits some problem, or the pipe, let alone our real job on the ranch.”

Ben put his arm round his son’s shoulders “Cheer up Joseph, we’re here to celebrate. We’ll face problems as we come to them. You’re the one who said it was one of the penalties of being rich, too many jobs.”

“It gets worse!”

“Or better!” grinned his father “Go collect your wife Little Joe.”

Adam had enjoyed the dance. He had got bogged down and so tired he couldn’t think straight and see his way out, so he had come to join his wife. As the dance drew to a close, having made sure that Carole didn’t mind, he asked his father to bring her home. Carole knew how much he hated driving, particularly when he was overtired, but she dared him to open another book that night. Adam gave her his word, but kissing her he announced his intention of riding up to the Lake, just for a few minutes.

Ben was happy to fit in with his son and Carole passed on what Adam intended doing. Ben wasn’t surprised and Carole assured him that there was nothing wrong; Adam was just very busy and overtired. Adam had helped his wife up and got her settled and then he’d swung up on Blackie and let the stallion stretch his legs, heading straight up to the lake. He had been trapped inside by paperwork for too long and felt the need of the open air and the beauty and magnificence of the scenery at the Lake. Adam looked down at the graves, the new one still very bare and fresh and for a few minutes he thought of Beth, both Marie’s and his own child but then his memory went back many years and it was Ross and Delphine who were closest to him. He had accepted their deaths over the years but apart from his family, Ross had been his closest friend for a long time. Adam wandered up to the point and made a conscious effort to relax, slowly the peace of the lake reached him and he was able, for the first time in days, to forget the bank charter and the probable trouble when they started laying pipe. He was oblivious of time and looked up startled as his father said, “You must be cold Adam.”

Ben had taken Carole home and collected Buck, like his son he felt the need of the Lake. He had missed Beth a great deal that evening, over recent years at celebration events she had been by his side and he would have been dancing with her most of the evening. There had been too any people around at the funeral but he’d been up several times since. Ben walked up to join his son but he was smiling, able to see that his son was more relaxed, “Go on home Adam get some sleep.”

“I’m okay Pa.”

“Despite your little brother’s fussing I’m not really worried, but you’re not as fit as you could be. Low on stamina and you know it, take a few extra days and get some rest. Your brothers and I can handle the security for the pipe you know.”

Adam grinned his father, knew him very well, and then he did as he was told. By Wednesday he was on the final details, he had got on rather faster as he became more familiar with the terminology and the law that applied. However he had achieved it by averaging just a little over three hours sleep a night and he was too tired to really want food. Carole had tried protesting but had got nowhere so she had covered for him when Joe or Hoss enquired, although she told Ben the truth. Adam finally emerged from his study mid-afternoon and Carole could see he had finished, as for the first time in days he spared time to play with his children. Adam was proposing to go and show the new version of the charter to his father and brothers, but he relaxed with his children until their bedtime. As he tucked the twins in, he smiled at Carole, “Playing with them does me more good than a night’s sleep.”

Carole didn’t look convinced and suggested dryly that he needed both. Adam tried at dinner but he wasn’t hungry and Carole said “You don’t want it, leave it and go see your father. Then have an early night.”

Adam kissed her grateful for her understanding and went out to saddle up. Carole was sure that Ben would send his son back early there was no way Adam could hide his exhaustion, his family knew him too well. It was three days since Adam had seen any of them and they were stunned to see how drawn and tired he looked. Nita was sitting next to Sue and asked worriedly “Is he ill?”

Sue shook her head, she’d seen Adam as exhausted before and recognized the signs. Joe frowned but just poured his brother a brandy “Here you are you fool, look as though you need it.”

“All done Joe, just my brats exhausted me they have been making up for lost time all afternoon.”

“Liar! Come and sit down.”

Adam got out the new charter, “Pa I’d like to have your opinion.”

Joe and Hoss settled down to read the pages as Ben finished. Adam’s final draft was only two thirds the length of the original and bore very little resemblance to it. It was clear, explicit and concise and as Joe put the final page down he smiled at his brother. “Congratulations I wasn’t sure even you could put that into recognizable English.”

“Thanks Joe, any queries?”

Joe shook his head but their father who had been restudying one section asked, “Just one point Adam, did you get Fair and McKay to agree to this charities section?”

“Not yet, but I will. “ Adam said confidently and then shrugged, “If not it could be taken out intact, just one clause, only requires renumbering.”

Hoss looked up at that, “You make them leave it in or I for one don’t put my name to this.”

It was rare for Hoss to be so dogmatic about anything and for a minute his family just stared at him, then Joe asked “You think it’s that important Hoss?”

“It is to me, the one part that really matters.”

Joe grinned at him “Okay you can make that two names Adam.”

Adam caught his father’s eye and reading agreement there he went over to Hoss, “I don’t think I’ll get much argument it stays or no Cartwright name goes on the director’s list.”

“I didn’t mean you to do that, not after all the work you’ve put in on this.” Hoss looked up worried but Adam smiled and gripped his brother’s shoulder, “They’ll give way and anyway you’re right it is the most important part. You don’t often insist on anything; at least let us back you when you do.”

Ben poured out brandies all round “To the Bank of Nevada, You are right Hoss that section is the thing that will make our Bank different to the Bank of California, I shouldn’t worry about Adam arguing it past the others, after all he put it in in the first place.”

Hoss grinned, relaxing, glad of their support and knowing his family felt as strongly as he did, Adam collected the papers back together “I’ll take them into town tomorrow, is anyone else going in?”

Joe nodded “Yeah, Hoss and I have to arrange the security for the pipe. It’s been delayed one day, not coming until Friday now. The railroad hasn’t got their stock sorted out yet, they are finding even more demand than they expected. We’ll pick you up if you like.”

“Suits me." Adam yawned widely “not too early. Now if there’s no query I’m ready for bed,”

“About time too.” Joe commented, Adam shook his fist at his brother and then went on home. He fell exhausted into bed and slept through until nearly nine. He was surprised how late it was but there was nothing urgent and he’d relaxed and more than slept the clock round. It was what he’d needed and Carole was pleased to see it.

When he came down Hoss and Joe were playing with the children, Hoss being a horse for his nephews while Joe sat listening to Marie’s attempts at words as she played with his hair. Adam laughed at the mess Joe’s hair was in and Joe looked up “I wondered is you were getting up today!”

“Just let me have some breakfast and I’ll be with you.”

“No rush.” Hoss said pulling himself to his feet, “I need some coffee myself before I’ll be fit to ride, these two are getting too big.”

Adam was really hungry for the first time in days and he made a good meal while Hoss scrounged a snack. Then the brothers rode into town, light-hearted, enjoying each others company. For a few hours everything was under control and Adam wasn’t worried about getting his charter accepted, he had so much ammunition in the mistakes of the original and anyway Fair and MacKay were well used to relying on his expertise.

In town they separated and arranged to meet later at the Palace Adam found rather more argument than he’d expected, not on anyone point, if the Cartwrights insisted on charity funding, it was worth it to have them along, but Jim Fair was worried about the wholesale changes in the charter. The very simplicity of the language worried him; the original pair of lawyers had summed into him the need for verbiage to cover the directors from undue responsibility. It took Adam quite a while to explain how vulnerable the original charter had left them. Eventually Jim relaxed and trusted in Adam as he always had. He had all the political meeting arranged and didn’t think he would need any help from the Cartwrights but Adam said to call on them if necessary, either he or his father would make the time to come along. He left the main copy of the charter with Jim and walked down to the saloon to join his brothers, feeling light-hearted able to forget the new Bank for a while at least.

That didn’t last long as he took in the serious faces both of them were showing and before enquiring what was wrong, he ordered another round of beer and sipped his own waiting patiently. Neither of his brothers seemed eager to tell him what was wrong, but eventually Joe picked up his beer and suggested they move over to a table in the corner where they could talk in private. ”There’s been trouble.”

“I can see that on your faces, how about explaining what?”

“Two things.” said Hoss as Joe stared pensively into his drink. “Harv says half a dozen men have pulled out of the labour crew, threats in town, but he can’t prove it and Seton is threatening trouble if we move onto his property, Harv’s already organised an injunction to warn him off from interfering, to try and force him to keep his contract but Seton don’t seem to care. According to Tony Enders, Seton seems sure we won’t even be trying to move in next week as planned.”

“Any idea why?”

“Nope, but he’s a bright kid and I wouldn’t bet against him. The other problem is storage for the pipe. We thought we had it all arranged but old man Freer had backed out, filled his shed with furniture. Word is obviously out, noone will hire us storage space.”

Adam was cross, “I thought you’d tied him down with a contract Joe, to prevent just this.”

Joe sighed and looked up, “So did I Adam. I even wrote in a penalty clause. He had the money ready and waiting for us, said he was sorry but it was cheaper than rebuilding.”

Adam sighed “Sorry Joe not your fault, When is it due in?”

“Tomorrow evening about nine. Ten car loads and we have to move it somehow and put it somewhere safe.” Joe grinned “All your’s big brother. I’ve been racking my brains for the last two hours and I can’t find a practical solution. There isn’t spare storage space at any of the mines where we have enough power to force anything,”

Hoss grunted “Be one hell of a lot of wagon trips to get it all out to the ranch and we can’t hire wagons either. Pressure is on Adam. It ain’t that we’re unpopular like before. Most guys are real sorry to have to say no but they ain’t sticking their necks out.”


Joe shrugged “Troy I guess, we can’t get more than rumours and that bloke Barnes who sells water out in the north side. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hearst is still playing games but if so he’s keeping well hidden after the scare Pa put into him. Without proof what can we do?”

“Not much, Come on let’s go home talk it over with Pa. If there was a simple solution in town you two would have found it, but for goodness sake cheer up. We’ll sort it out somehow.”

The three brothers rode out of town all deep in thought and not talking and then Hoss suddenly pulled up. Joe and Adam realised that he wasn’t with them and stopped to look back at him. Hoss grinned “Got an idea, may not come to anything. You two go on home I’ll join you once I’ve checked it out.”

Adam said “Aren’t you going to explain?”

“Nope not until I’ve checked, I’ll see you later.” Hoss turned and headed back towards town leaving his brothers looking at each other. Joe shrugged, “Let the big moose do what he wants. I’m hungry and I want to see Nita.”

When they reached the main house Carole was already there. She’d put the children to bed and come over with Sue for dinner. Sue was surprised not to see Hoss with his brothers and looked at them questioningly. Joe had gone to Nita but Adam grinned, “No trouble Sue. I don’t know exactly where he is but we hit a problem in town and partway home Hoss got some inspiration on how to deal with it. Wouldn’t tell us until he’d checked and headed back to town. Said he would join us here once he had.”

Joe laughed “With both you and food here Sue, the big moose won’t be long. Flatly refused to tell us what he was up to, but he looked mighty pleased with himself!”

The others had eaten and Hop Sing soon provided the brothers with food leaving Hoss’ to keep warm. While they ate Adam filled his father in on the bank charter and Joe on the trouble he had found. Ben suggested three or four ways of getting round it, but in each case Joe had already tried them and people weren’t prepared to stick their neck out and help. Ben couldn’t see any obvious way round the problem and Adam refused to discuss it. He sat back with his guitar, “I’m going to wait to see Hoss; I think he’s already solved the problem so why should we waste time cudgelling our brains?”

Adam began playing some of the songs they all knew and slowly the others joined in. It was nearly an hour later when Hoss finally came in, he grabbed Sue first and then demanded food, he was starving. He looked very pleased with himself, but slightly on edge as he’d gone ahead and committed all of them without any consultation. Ben had been able to see from Hoss’ face that Adam was right his big son had come up with some solution, but he stopped everyone badgering him until Hoss had eaten.

Nita managed to keep Joe under control until Hoss was sitting back with coffee but then he wouldn’t wait any longer, “Come on Hoss don’t keep us in suspense any longer.”

Hoss moved over to the fire, “Pa I’ve sorta of committed us I know I don’t really have the authority but seemed best to move straight away,”

“If you’ve found a solution to storing this pipe, all anyone is gonna do is cheer.” commented Adam.

Ben nodded, “If you thought it right Hoss, then I’m sure it was. Now explain before your little brother explodes.”

Hoss grinned “Very simple. Still means moving it out of town, but we gotta do that anyways eventually. I want to see Lars, his big barn is virtually empty, winter feeds used up and he’s willing to let us store the pipe. I promised we’d pay the same rate we’d agreed in town. I know its longer time than we expected but…”

“No Buts.” His father insisted “Excellent idea. It’s right on the pipeline, as convenient as could be; I wonder why none of us thought of it.”

Joe and Adam grinned and Joe said “The genius of simplicity. It took Hoss to do it.”

Hoss frowned “Watch it little brother. I ain’t too sure how to take that,”

“A compliment Hoss, I promised.” Joe smiled “Nice job brother, exactly what have you arranged?”

Sure now that he had done the right thing Hoss filled in the details. He had promised men to help clear the barn the next day and men to cover the security of the pipe. Payment the same as agreed in town, for as long as they used the barn, promising to have it clear before the autumn when Lars would need it again. He’d arranged to deliver the pipe to the barn over the day or so after its arrival the next evening. Lars had agreed to allow the use of his two wagons although he wouldn’t help personally. Hoss said “I know it still mean a lot of wagon trips but its less that a quarter the distance to Lars place than anywhere we could store it. I reckon its possible, gotta move the pipe out sometime.”

“Should be easier to guard it.” Joe added.

Adam pulled a pad over “Its possible Hoss and probably the only solution but its still going to be a big job. How many wagons can we pull in here Pa?”

“I’ve been collecting in case we needed. There are ten here now, only the ones up at the mine aren’t available.”

That was a lot better than Adam had expected, often the wagons were well dispersed round the ranch and it could take a long time to collect them in. That gave then twelve wagons so far plus probably at least a couple more from the mines they owned in town. Adam looked over at Joe, “Ten car loads right?”

“Yeah and we have twenty four hours to clear them, maximum.”

“We’ll have to allow four loads per car, forty in all agreed?”

Joe nodded but Hoss shook his head. “That pipes real heavy Adam. Steep haul out of the rail-yard, we’d have to double the teams fer that section, be okay later but that first part, I reckon you’re asking too much.”

Adam doodled for a minute, “I’d forgotten that steep section. What are you suggesting Hoss, six loads per car?”

Hoss nodded “I’d have thought it was the best we could do.”

Adam sighed, “60 loads. How long to get to Lars place and back including unloading? What do you think allow five hours?”

“At least.” Said Ben, “More during the day when you have traffic to contend with but I don’t see we have much choice.”

“How about doubling the teams to the outskirts of town and then splitting them?” suggested Joe.

Adam shook his head, “We’d have to go so far to clear the traffic we’d need a heck of a lot of horses and we haven’t started training this year yet, the stock is a bit low.” Hoss agreed he had no intention of trying to unravel teams in the middle of the continuous traffic jam in Virginia’s streets.

Ben said, “Right we accept sixty loads, that means at least fifteen wagons and allowing for inevitable trouble we need a minimum of two spares, preferably four or five. Even then its four trips per wagon and the teams are going to be real tired.”

“Might manage a couple of spare teams Pa.” Hoss said “But we can’t hire wagons in town not easily, Joe and I tried today and we’re barely making fifteen. The mines have their own commitments, supplies coming in for the California as well.”

Adam suggested “Get Jess and a couple of the hands to go down to Carson City. Try and hire some and bring them up to Virginia City by the evening.”

Ben nodded slowly, “I guess we’ll have to but there’s no guarantee the block hasn’t been put in there too.”

Joe said, “I’ve got an idea.”

“About time,” said Hoss, “You’re usually full of them!”

“Be quiet.” ordered Ben “Let’s hear it Little Joe.”

“Let’s have a word with Hop Sing see if he will have a word with his relatives. I’m sure he can round up half a dozen wagons for us.”

Ben grinned “You’d better go get some sleep Adam, all the ideas from your brothers today! I’m sure you’re right Joe; they’ll help us out as always. I’ll leave you and Hop Sing to arrange it. Up to another ten. We have plenty of drivers and the more we have the better, gives us a little leeway.”

Adam yawned widely, “I’ll take you up on that. Be over tomorrow to settle things. Nice to see them pulling their weight for once.” He warded off two cushions and grinned at his brothers.” Come on Carole, let’s leave the mad house to it retire to peace and sanity.”

She laughed, “Only in the evenings.”

The following day Ben ran over the plans again with his sons before they headed for town, but other things needed doing too and he left the arrangements to them. Adam and Joe rode into town early, leaving Hoss to bring the wagons and the large labour force they would require from the ranch later in the day. Hop Sing went in with brothers and as Joe had predicted the Chinese willingly provided nine extra wagons. With the twelve they had Adam thought it would be enough. If things went wrong they could come down on the mines for one or two extra later.

Adam had seen the railroad superintendent Frank Nelson and he got the wagons parked in the marshalling yard where Nelson proposed to leave the ten car loads of pipe. Desperately short of stock Nelson was prepared to do anything to expedite the unloading of the ten cars, freeing them for other business. By late afternoon everything was in place and they couldn’t do anything else until the cars arrived. Adam left four men on guard, promising to relieve them later and let the others go for a meal and a drink, warning of dire consequences to anyone who wasn’t there, fit for work at quarter to nine.

It was going to be a long night and the three brothers went with Harv to relax over a meal at the Washoe Club. As they had a drink beforehand Tony Enders came over, rather apologetic, he’d never forgotten his attack on Adam and Joe even though they seemed to have done so. Adam invited him to join us for a meal but Tony declined, he’d already eaten. He had seen Stoner down in the Silver Dollar and Seton, well drunk, had been saying that no Cartwright would set foot on his land, damn any injunctions, and that anyway by midnight they wouldn’t have any reason to want to.

Adam consider it for a minute and then grinned “Thanks Tony. I’d guess someone if going to try and damage the pipe. We have guards rounds the yard and we’ll be there in force once it arrives, Nothing we can do until then so we might as well relax, could be a very long night. Sure you won’t join us?”

Tony nodded, “Just thought you ought to know” and then he excused himself. Once he’d gone they tossed it around for a few minutes but Adam, was right they could only wait and see. Adam accepted Joe’s point that they would have to do something about Seton but there would be time to consider him once the pipe was safely stored and he firmly changed the subject.

When they went back to the yard the men had nearly all returned and were waiting for them and the train had already pulled in with the various freight cars being separated for unloading before the train returned to Carson City. With his men all over the place Adam couldn’t see how anyone hoped to get close to the pipe and although the wagons made it clear that they were moving the pipe, very few people knew the destination. He couldn’t see how they would arrange a large scale ambush and his own plans included adequate guards along the trail and at the barn. Joe recognized the puzzled look on his brother’s face “We can only wait and see, if they are up to something they’ll have to show their hands soon.”

In fact it was shown all too soon, almost as soon as the last car was parked ready for unloading and before anyone could start undoing the cars an explosion went off. It proved to be the first of a series. Adam yelled to everyone to stay back and to take cover, not that they needed any orders, The horses were frantic as the bangs went off so close and most of the Ponderosa hands had their work cut out trying to control the animals. In fact they were far enough back to be in no danger unless the explosions got a lot more severe. The whole yard was a scene of chaos, not helped as people began running in from town, attracted by the explosions, wondering what was going on. Only a few people kept their heads but Adam took it for granted that his brothers would be two of them. As the explosions stopped as abruptly as they’d started he ran along the line of cars, yelling to Jess to keep the men and horses back “How many Joe?”

”I made it ten in both of these cars.” Joe waved at the two in front of him.

Adam nodded “Same up the front. Hoss?”

Hoss had been down near the rear and he had come to join his brothers “Agreed. Think that’s it?”

“Only one way to check, You two keep everyone back,” Adam didn’t really expect any more. They had been fairly continuous and now there’d been a break of over two minutes and not waiting for the inevitable argument he headed for the nearest wagon, His brothers could only do as they were told, Adam had actually reached the car and was scrambling up onto it when the whole train erupted again. Three explosions went off almost simultaneously in the wagon he was climbing on and he was thrown backwards off the wagon. Hoss and Joe were moving almost before he hit the ground running to their brother, fear with a cold grip on their hearts. Jess yelled at Harv and the others to keep back.

Adam had hit the ground a few yards from the car and was lying in a crumpled heap. Hoss spared time to feel for a pulse and to his relief it was good and strong and then he picked up his brother as carefully as he knew how. He looked up at Joe, “He’s alive.”

Joe nodded and ran back to the men, leaving Hoss to bring Adam over to safety, where they could see what the damage was, he sent one man for Doc, detailed ten others, one to each car to count the explosions and then hastily piled some horse blankets in the back of the nearest wagon, Hoss laid Adam down on them while Jess hastily removed the horses from the shafts to ensure the wagon stayed still.

Adam was unconscious, bleeding badly from a cut on his scalp just at the hairline on his temple but once Joe had stemmed the bleeding sufficiently to see the damage he could see it was superficial and there was none of the sponginess that would indicate a bad fracture. Hoss has been checking as best he could and sat back, “No limbs broken, gash on his hip but it’s not that deep and he hasn’t broken open either of the old wounds.”

Joe relaxed slightly, “I guess it could have been worse, but until he comes round and Doc gets here….” He broke off and smoothed the hair back of his brother’s forehead. For a moment he had been so scared that Adam was dead but although his brother seemed to have escaped with cuts and bruises, they couldn’t be sure until he came round and Doc had checked. There was always the risk of some internal injury or given Adam’s history a recurrence of his back injury. Hoss knew what Joe feared, he felt exactly the same but he forced a grin “Easy Joe, his pulse is fine, no sign of shock, just knocked himself out.” Hoss concentrated on tucking a blanket round Adam while Joe wiped his brother’s face, the blood still flowing from the scalp wound. Both of them were glad of the brandy that Jess found for them. The explosions had died away again but Joe was determined that noone else was going to be hurt and ordered the men to wait. Sure enough a few minutes later another round started. Before it had finished Doc arrived with both Dan and Roy. All three hurried over to Hoss, the big man unmistakeable even amidst all the chaos. Joe and Hoss both denied any real idea of what was going on, other than what could be seen, and they were only really interested in their brother. As Doc began his examination Adam began to show signs of coming round, Doc sat back and waited for him to come round in his own time but looked over at Joe “How long has he been out?”

Joe had lost track of time but consulting his watch he realised it couldn’t be very long, “Maybe ten minutes.”

Hoss nodded “Can’t be much more,”

Doc smiled reassuringly at them, “Seems to have got off lightly.” He turned his attention back to Adam, “Just take it easy now Adam, don’t try to move.”

Adam put his hand to his aching head “What hit me?” He struggled to sit up wincing as it pulled at his bruised side, ignoring Doc. Hoss was quick to help his brother and as Adam sat up and took in the scene in front of him he remembered, “Don’t let anyone get near.”

Joe took his hand “Easy Adam, all under control. Running counts on each wagon, noone is going near until we’ve got seventy per wagon. I’d guess they’ve dynamited each box, plenty of time on the away down from Reno. You just do as Doc says and take it easy.”

Doc took his pulse and then asked, “I know you must ache all over Adam but any particular pains?”

Adam acknowledged the truth of Doc’s comment, but he slowly tested his limbs and with Hoss assistance made it to his feet. For a moment the scene swayed round him but it quickly passed and he forced a smile to reassure his brothers, “Just bruised I think, mainly on my right side.”

Doc nodded “Couple of cuts which need some stitches, so we’ll get you back to my place, a hot bath, get you bandaged up and then straight to bed.”

Adam grinned ruefully, “Nice idea Doc but I can’t just leave this lot; I shouldn’t be able to settle anyway.”

None of them were surprised at Adam’s reaction and all of them knew him well enough to know the futility of arguing. Hoss had moved away, once he was sure Adam was alright, to have a word with a very worried Frank Nelson. It was difficult to judge the extent of the damage as yet but Hoss promised Ponderosa help to repair the cars. In return he got Nelson’s offer of the rest room at the back of his own office, there were even facilities for a hot bath. Hoss accepted gratefully and Nelson sent one of his men off to heat the water while Hoss went back to his elder brother with his compromise suggestion. If Adam would go with Doc, just over to the offices, get patched up and have a bath, rest for a while, Hoss promised to keep him up to date with what was going on and as soon as it was possible to judge the damage and start to sort things out, he would be in a far better case to help.

Adam accepted unwillingly and Hoss carried him over to the office just ignoring Adam’s protests that he was quite well enough to walk. Joe asked Jess to go and stick by his pigheaded elder brother, knowing Adam would insist Hoss come back to help him. Doc might need some help if Adam passed out again. Despite Adam’s efforts to send him back Hoss stayed while Doc patched up the worst of the injuries and helped Adam ease his aching body into a hot bath, sure that Joe could cope. Then leaving Adam to soak with Jess to keep an eye on him, Hoss went back to join Joe. There had been intermittent explosions for all of the intervening time but for the moment it was quiet. Joe looked up as Hoss came over “How bad is he?”

“Very bruised all down the right side, gash on his hip, Doc’s put some stitches in it and that scalp wound. Neither are serious but he’s gonna be mighty stiff and sore. Doc said that after he’d had a soak they’d put some liniment on, but I don’t reckon it’ll help much.” Hoss sighed heavily and then forced a grin “Still we’re real lucky it’s no worse, How about here?”

“Not sure, its difficult to know how many we have missed, but including the first lot the highest per car is 56, lowest 47. I’d guess there’s one more round to go. We wait.”

Almost as Joe finished speaking the explosions started again. As the last one faded away Joe considered the reports ranging from 57 to 65.. Hoss frowned knowing what his brother was going to suggest “ Suppose we’re wrong in thinking its one per box or one of those uncounted ones is late going off?”

Joe sighed “I know. Give it ten minutes, there hasn’t been that long a gap and then I’ll check the wagon where we counted 65.”

“I don’t like it Joe.”

Joe grinned ruefully “I’m not exactly delighted with the idea myself Hoss, but we have to know the extent of the damage and soon.”

Hoss nodded, he knew it had to be done but with one brother already hurt he hated the idea of more risks being taken. Partly to pass the time and partly from genuine bewilderment, Hoss asked “What do you reckon Joe? There’s been a lot of bangs but there seems mighty little mess around, just wood, ain’t no sign of broken pipe.”

“Been puzzling me too. Maybe they didn’t use enough to make a job of it. No way to tell until we can get closer. Meantime let’s try and collect the paperwork, be a help if we knew exactly what was supposed to be in each car.” Glad of something to do Joe went over to have a word with Harv and collected the manifests. He studied the one for the car that he intended to check. Each of the cars had seventy boxes of pipe and each box had been labelled with its contents. The cars had been loaded in order as the pipe was so specific each piece individually tailored to the ground. Each of the boxes contained fifteen lengths of pipe and each of them was individually labelled with a reference number, tying up with Harv’s original specification. It should be possible to sort out the chaos but it was going to be a very long job, always supposing that there was anything to salvage from the chaos.

Adam felt better for a soak and insisted on getting dressed after, determined to rejoin his brothers. He admitted to a headache, very obvious from his glittering eyes, but he’d noticed that the explosions had stopped and he wanted to see for himself. Jess tried to dissuade him without noticeable effect and the Doc just told Jess he was wasting his time. Doc knew that Adam was stiff and sore but he’d escaped with just bruises and nothing would make him rest under the circumstances, so Doc contented himself with ensuring that Adam had coffee and a large brandy before he went back to join his brothers. Hoss kept his promise and sent word of the count on the wagons and of Joe’s intention to check when ten minutes had passed peacefully. That settled it, if Adam had felt twice as ill as he did he would have gone to join his brothers. If his little brother was taking risks, even ones he’d accepted personally he had to be there.

Jess could only go along with Adam unable to change his mind and Adam refused any assistance preferring to make his own way, albeit rather slowly, limping heavily on his sore right leg. Neither Hoss nor Joe were surprised as he rejoined them and Adam pushed off their anxious enquiries, he wasn’t badly hurt just bruised and sore. He didn’t even want to sit down and after begrudgingly agreeing to Joe going to check, he stood by Hoss tense and worried. Hoss put his arm gently round his brother’s shoulders, “Should be safe enough now Adam. You just try and take it easy.”

Adam lent against his big brother, glad of Hoss’ warmth, despite his thick coat Adam was shivering badly shaken by earlier events. It was a cold damp night with a biting wind, hardly surprising for the end of February but at least it wasn’t snowing or even raining. Joe had to check the car was safe first before he could begin to estimate damage and it took time, especially with the limited light of one lantern. His brothers realised that but time seemed to come to a stop. Logic said that the longer Joe was in there the safer it was, if there was any danger he’d have found it and anyway it would have gone off by now but logic didn’t help much when it was their little brother in danger. Joe might be in his late twenties and married for the second time but on occasions like this the habit of years was too engrained in both the older brothers and they couldn’t help worrying. Joe knew then very well and especially with Adam already hurt and badly shaken he made a hasty check and as soon as he was sure it was safe, he emerged and waved them over. Hoss helped his brother over and Joe grinned, “All safe. We need more light, it’s chaotic but at least some of the pipe is intact and none of its smashed as far as I can see.”

Adam insisted on getting up into the car and Hoss helped him before collecting more lanterns and then the three brothers stood staring at the mess. All the boxes were broken open but the explosions had been too unconfined and apart from spilling the pipes in one almighty mess, it didn’t seem to have damaged them badly. Adam forced himself to kneel and pick up some of the pieces. Of the first ten only one was damaged, a slight crack which could be mended with their own resources, The cars were badly damaged the sides blown out and even some of the metal struts twisted. Adam sighed as he tried to work out what to do, “Well at least Nelson won’t be in any great hurry to have these wrecks back. Whether he’ll haul anything else for us I doubt.”

Joe was examining the car as best he could, “Base looks sound enough Adam. Repairs shouldn’t be beyond us; maybe if we offered to try and repair them for him he’d feel a bit better.”

“Worth a try. It’s going to take a lot longer than 24 hours to sort out this lot.” Adam had to get Hoss to help him back to his feet. He was unsure where to start, more shaken than he was willing to admit even to himself, Hoss decided that they all needed coffee and he sent two men to make some and bring it over and sent half a dozen others to try and collect as many boxes as they could so that they’d have someway to repack the pipe as they unloaded. Meanwhile Joe got Harv to collect paper and pencils. They were going to have to check every single piece of pipe to decide what needed replacing, what they could repair and then they’d have to repack it in its original order, Joe frowned as he looked at his eldest brother, Adam’s indecisiveness was all too clear evidence of how badly he’d been affected, and Joe could see that he had a severe headache but he knew that nothing on earth would persuade Adam to leave all of the chaos and rest. Maybe later if they could get a system organised and it was running smoothly with some idea of the extent of the damage, then Joe felt he might stand a chance of persuading his brother to rest.

At least there were plenty of men hanging around, eager to help if someone would explain how. Joe decided the first job had to be to check the remaining cars for unexploded devices. He asked for volunteers and wasn’t surprised when most of the men came forward. He chose the steadiest and allocated two per wagon and then went over to join Adam who was talking with Nelson. Nelson was grateful for their offer of assistance to rebuild but he didn’t blame them for the trouble. He was exceedingly grateful that they weren’t blaming him, it was obvious that the explosives had been set while the pipe was on the train from Reno to Virginia City, when security was his responsibility and he had been warned of possible trouble. Joe asked Nelson if he could lay his hands on any trestle tables that they could use and Nelson willingly agreed to find some.

Hoss brought over coffee and insisted that Adam have some while Joe and Harv checked the manifest and the papers sent on by the company, who had made the pipe. It had all been logically packed and as a supply of crates began to appear. Joe had Jess begin to label them on his instructions, starting with the pipe for the far end near Tahoe in the last car. He had seventy crates labelled and loaded on six wagons, empty. Then he set up five tables with light, paper and pencils and had Harv and Tony help him to copy out a list, divided into four parts, covering over a thousand pipe numbers, dividing them into blocks of fifteen for each crate. As soon as that was done, he got three men who could write to join Tony and start preparing four lists for the next car. Then Joe called over a dozen men and showed them how he’d arranged the crates on the wagons and the arrangements on the four tables. He told them to collect pipe from the railroad car and bring them to the table where one of them would note its condition. They would have to hold back the damaged or broken ones and get the others packed in the appropriate crate. Joe asked Jess to organize and label the crates for the second car and then went over to join Adam and Harv to explain what he’d done. Hoss had been busy too, getting the Chinese to help scour the town for all the boxes and crates that they could lay their hands on and more were arriving all the time.

Adam had sat back quietly in the office with Dan once the initial checks were started he didn’t feel up to anything else and trusted implicitly in his little brother’s organizing ability.

After nearly an hour’s peace and quiet he looked much better when Joe came to find him although he was very stiff. Joe was glad to see some colour back in his brother’s face even though the glitter in his eyes bore witness to his severe headache. Joe kept to business as he explained what he had arranged. He was hoping that with the three brothers taking a table each and Harv taking the fourth one they could have the thousand pieces of pipe checked for damaged and repacked by the time that Tony and Jess had arranged things for the second car. It was as neat a system as Adam could have hoped and he thanked his brother gratefully.

At first as they consulted on doubtful pipes it was rather slow but gradually the four men became more confident in what they were doing and the lines began to move faster. The men soon had a feel for the doubtful ones and amazingly few were really damaged. A few were chipped but from the first car none were really irreparable even with the modest resources available on the Ponderosa. About ninety pieces from the first car needed some attention. It had been good quality well made pipe, designed to resist accidental damage and frosts and the explosive hadn’t been well enough confined to affect it.

About an hour and a half from starting the first six wagons were ready to leave for Lars’ barn. Adam was worried that there had been time to organise yet more trouble, but Hoss reassured him that Roy was taking some of the spare hands and would escort the wagons out and then leave guards round the barn before escorting the empty wagons back in. He was also arranging spare men to stand guard along the way. Roy also had his deputy ready to escort the next six wagons when they were ready with a rota of guards.

Hoss saw his brother visibly relax at that, but even so he thought Adam looked exhausted and suggested that Adam go and get some sleep for a few hours. They could manage without him now that things were up and running. Harv was there to deal with any of the dubious pipes.

Adam wouldn’t hear of it but he did allow Hoss to send for some food and brandy as well as coffee. All the men who were there were in need of it and it would be many hours before they were finished.

It was tiring, laborious and repetitive work but the system was working and three hours later with a total of eighteen wagons loaded and off to Lars and three cars dealt with, Adam submitted to his brothers’ repeated entreaties to go and rest. None of them were going to be able to work straight through the ten cars, a minimum of fifteen hours hard concentration and he could see that Harv was looking drawn. Hoss used that to his advantage pointing out that there was no way that Harv would rest until Adam had done so, after his earlier encounter with the explosives. Giving way Adam agreed to go and rest on the cot in Nelson’s office but insisted that he be called before they started the fifth car. Hoss gave his word and with that Adam allowed his brother to help him over to the cot and was asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.

Tony was far enough on with the lists, and had sufficient confidence that the men with him knew what they were doing, to leave that job and take Adam’s place at the tables. He swapped places with Joe so that he was next to Harv to query the awkward ones but soon picked it up. As things were going smoothly Harv suggested they leave Adam to rest, but Joe knew his brother too well. “It wouldn’t do any good. He knows near enough how long it’s gonna take to deal with a car and he has an inbuilt alarm clock. He might get an extra ten minutes sleep, but he’d be so cross at our breaking our word that it would counteract any good the sleep might do.”

Hoss agreed and went over to wake his brother, taking some coffee with him. In fact Adam was already awake, bearing out Joe’s contention, but he was very glad of the coffee before forcing himself to his feet. Hoss tentatively suggested that they could carry on with out him for a while longer but Adam knew that Harv wasn’t used to working under this sort of pressure or at such hours and insisted that the little man needed some rest. Harv was so tired, shocked by the attack and worried about the future that he felt ready to drop and could only marvel at Adam keeping going even with some rest and perhaps even more at the younger men’s resilience and energy. He protested that he was alright, but his protests didn’t even convince himself and he gratefully collapsed on the cot that Adam had vacated.

The first wagons that had gone out to the ranch returned before the next car was unloaded and the driver were able to report that there hadn’t been any trouble along the way and that Roy had the route well guarded. As they finished the fifth wagon Hoss got up and stretched “We’re halfway and I for one can’t face another pipe until I’ve had a proper sit down breakfast.”

Little Joe could only agree, like Hoss he had been sitting concentrating for nearly eight hours out of the previous nine and he was very tired. His eyes and his head were both aching and he was stiff and hungry. Adam knew just how solidly his brothers had been working, an hour or more setting things up before they could start and then all the hours at the tables. All of them had earnt a break. He stood up and stretched in the grey light of morning, still very dull although it was gone 8 a.m. “I think we’ve all earnt some breakfast. Jess send half the men to get some and take charge here until we get back please. We’ll only be half an hour and then you can go.”

Jess grinned at his friend “Sure, you just take your time.”

Adam limping heavily welcomed Hoss’ support but he stopped before they had gone ten yards and turned, Tony was checking the lists for the next car to make sure that the men hadn’t made any mistakes but Adam called “Come on Tony.”

“I’m alright.”

Joe went back and grabbed his arm “Come on you’ve been working as hard as any of us. We all need a break.”

As they came up Adam forced a grin “Joe’s right, anyway when we first saw the chaos I wouldn’t have thought in my wildest dreams that we could have half of it sorted out already.”

They ate mainly in silence too tired to talk much but they couldn’t get away from the thought of trouble, like a tongue probing a sore tooth they speculated on further risks to the pipe, trouble with the diggers and the problem of repairing the damaged pieces. Even with less than one in ten damaged there would still be nearly a thousand pieces to deal with and few people experienced enough to do it. Overtired the logistics of the situation were frightening but Hoss firmly refused to worry, they would deal with when they had to, first jobs first and they had another eight or more hours to complete the work awaiting them at the yard.

Feeling better for some food Joe started four men collecting what was needed to repair the cars. Nelson had reappeared and he offered his help, leaving Joe free to return to the pipe. Slowly the chaos was being reduced to order and the damaged sections were sent to the ranch all labelled with the car number, so that those needed first could be dealt with first. Harv had rejoined them but even with five of them checking the flow of pipes, tiredness had begun to take its toll of efficiency and each car took over two hours. One box in the seventh car was more extensively damaged than the rest by some fluke. Five pieces were repairable but the other ten were smashed and it took time finding the numbers and checking the lists to ensure they had all of them. Adam sent Harv to find the master specification so that he could telegraph Frisco straight away and reorder the appropriate pieces but it all took time.

The first that Ben heard of trouble was the arrival from town of the damaged pipe. Adam had deliberately sent Hank with the wagon, he could be relied on to give his father a reasonably straight story without too many lurid embellishments and he had dared any of them to mention his own accident. It was minor and he was fine and would fill Ben in when he got home. Even without that piece of news Ben couldn’t help being worried. It had seemed a big enough job anyway moving the boxes out of town and now with every piece needing checking individually and cars needing rebuilding he knew the pressure there must be on his sons and all the men with them and knew they must all be exhausted. Ben quickly filled the three women, Carole having brought the children over. Then warning them not to expect anyone to be back until very late, if at all, Ben collected José and two dozen men and headed for town to at least relieve some of the pressure.

His sons had just finished sorting out the smashed pieces in the seventh car and had three left to do when Ben rode in late in the morning. None of them were surprised to see him and the extra men were badly needed to relive some of the others, everyone was short a night’s sleep and some tempers were beginning to fray. Ben headed over stopping at the first car to see for himself the mess that had been caused before going over to join his sons. All of them looked very tired and drawn, eyes red-rimmed and bloodshot, but his attention was all on Adam the bandage round his forehead eloquent testimony that something had happened. Adam smiled more freely than he had for a couple of days, “Take it easy Pa, I’m okay.”

Ben snorted and turned to his younger sons for enlightenment. Joe swiftly filled him in on what had happened but tried to reassure his father, it wasn’t serious, just cuts and bruises. Ben tried to get Adam to rest but he wouldn’t budge. He had rested for an hour while his brothers arranged things initially and had had a sleep since while his brothers had worked straight through. Now he admitted he was tired but he would see the job through.

Ben had to admit his eldest son had a point, Joe and Hoss looked equally tired and headachy. Joe suggested that his father deal with the rebuilding of the cars and the peripheral organisation leaving the three of them with Harv and Tony to deal with the pipe. They had the system working well now and knew what to look for. As everyone became even more tired there had been too many niggling little problems and with Ben handling those the five men could get on but it was still nearly six hours before the last pipe was in its correct box. Even so that was twenty four hours before Adam had expected and he made no protest as Ben ordered his brothers to see him home and then get to bed themselves. Ben intended to stay and finish up rebuilding the cars and then dispose of the evidence of their long stay, get the wagons back to their rightful owners and all the other details. In all the cars only ten pieces of pipe were irreparable and despite their tiredness everyone had to agree that they had been very lucky.

Adam thanked Harv and Tony for all their hard work and then leaning heavily on Hoss limped down to the livery stable where he needed the help of a mounting block to get onto Blackie, so very stiff. Not that his brothers were much better off, they were all more tired than they could remember being for a long time. They rode out of town slowly, leaving the horses to make their own way home, not talking, Hoss and Joe had pulled in close on either side of Adam, worried about him knowing how exhausted they felt and he had been blown up and not even started out fully fit. It seemed to take a long time to get home and Adam had slumped down in the saddle but insisted that he was fine, just tired. Hoss led the way to Adam’s house first, his brother was going straight to bed, Adam made no protests and Joe got down and slipped into the house to warn Carole, leaving Hoss to help Adam.

Carole was sitting by the fire reading and she looked up as Joe came in, not really surprised by the very obvious exhaustion, She frowned as she took in the worried look on his face and then smiled “Alright Joe what’s he done now?”

Joe smiled, she knew him very well “He’s alright, Hoss’ helping him down, just bruised and tired. He got knocked out by one of the explosions last night, only out for a few minutes, couple of cuts and very bruised, no need to worry.”

Carole studied Joe’s eyes for a minute before deciding there wasn’t any real need to worry. Then Hoss helped Adam in, grinned at her and the picking up his brother carried him straight to their room. Carole followed listening to Adam’s protests and as Hoss put him down Adam took her in his arms, “I’m alright love, just very tired and bullied!”

Carole kissed him “Sure you are, but while Hoss is here take advantage of it. Give him a hand to get to bed please Hoss.”

Hoss nodded “Every intention of doing so and then I’m going home to do the same.” He yawned widely setting both his brothers off. Carole asked Joe to join her on the landing and got a more detailed report of what had happened and the limited rest they had forced on him. Joe didn’t look much better than his brother and Carole didn’t push for details, they could be filled in once the brothers had slept the clock round.

Joe was about to go downstairs when Adam called him. Before he could settle Adam had to try and thank his brothers, they had done an excellent job in organising things and sorting out the mess when he wasn’t capable of thinking straight enough to help. Neither felt it was necessary Adam had done more than his share and the pipe was a joint project anyway, but equally both were touched that he’d cared enough to want to thank them when he was nearly asleep.

They left him to sleep and went down with Carole. Hoss tried to make sure she would be alright on her own that she wasn’t going to sit and worry but Carole reassured him. She was well used by now to their habit of getting into trouble and suggested they go and reassure their own wives who weren’t as used to it as she was. Exhausted both brothers were glad to do exactly that.

Nita and Sue had both been very worried, especially after Carole had taken her children home, she was calm, well used to problems and the Cartwright’s capability in handling them and looking after themselves. They found it hard to settle without her calming influence and were sitting by the fire, talking rather desultorily as they waited for news. Both jumped up as Hoss and Joe came in and hurried over to their husbands, Joe had to stifle a yawn before he could kiss Nita, “Sorry love. We’re alright just tired, it’s been a bit hectic.”

“We heard, you must be exhausted.” Nita said studying his face anxiously.

“Been working hard, sort of concentrated….” Hoss broke off and yawned and Sue said “Do you want food or baths?”

Hoss hugged her “Personally I just want my bed, we’ve had several meals as far as I can remember.”

Joe could only agree and they headed straight for bed where both men were asleep almost instantly, tired out, not just by a missed night’s sleep but also by the sheer concentration and the strains and worry of the last 36 hours.

Ben came home in the early hours and headed straight for bed, but he was still first down the next morning. Sue slipped out leaving Hoss to sleep and went down to join her father-in-law. By the time they had finished breakfast Nita had also come down leaving Joe asleep too. Ben filled them in what had happened in town, he had got all the details from Jess and the others. Both were worried to hear that Adam had been hurt again, but Ben reassured them that it wasn’t serious, he’d just needed some sleep and in fact Adam was there to prove his father right before Joe and Hoss appeared,

Adam was very stiff and he had a bad headache but he ignored his aches and pains, more worried about the trouble he foresaw with the pipeline. By the time he had reassure the others that he was alright, Joe and Hoss had appeared both demanding breakfast. Adam emphasized just how much they’d had to do and how well they’d done it, much to his father’s private amusement, but Sue and Nita were both delighted as Adam had intended. Once the brothers were fed and the girls up to date, the four men settled down to decide on the next priorities. For a start they had a large pile of pipe to repair, and Ben decided to pass Hoss the job of organising that, he knew which men could be trusted to do the repairs and the worst ones he could handle himself. Hoss accepted that but it was bound to take time, Adam just reminded him to do it in order and there shouldn’t be too much of a rush. All things considered they’d got off very lightly and the pipe was very well guarded now.

Little Joe said “Fine as far as it goes but whoever set that dynamite didn’t care who got hurt and they won’t stop. Have to keep trying and the diggers must be vulnerable.”

The others knew that he was right but it was difficult to know what more they could do, they had reliable hands riding guard on the diggers. Hoss asked “When do we move onto Seton’s range?”

“Tuesday if everything goes as planned.” Adam told him, “Which gives us two days to get organised. Harv has all the legal moves covered. Judge Neely has granted the injunctions to order him to keep his contract but we have to enforce it.”

Hoss said, “He knew about the plan to dynamite the railroad cars.”

Ben nodded “That hadn’t escaped us Hoss. He’s obviously well in with whoever is behind this, but Seton hasn’t the money or the muscle to be doing it on his own.”

“Don’t make much odds Pa. If he’ll go that far he’ll try to stop us digging the trench.”

“I realise that, the question is how and when?”

Adam very sore, still wasn’t comfortable sitting down and he got up and lent on the mantelpiece, “The how I’m not sure, force obviously and probably gunmen, but the when is obvious, Tuesday morning as soon as we move onto his land.”

Ben queried it, “Might wait a few days, lull us into a sense of security before moving in.”

“I don’t think so Pa. The minute he lets us start digging without any protests he throws away one large card and Seton is bright enough to see that.”

“We already have the injunction and that contract is tight.” Ben said puzzled.

Adam grinned wryly “Sure in a court of law but I’m thinking of the court of public opinion, Seton will have less to fear from the law if he can claim in that court and there it’ll be important to move at once to stop us.”

Joe and Hoss both agreed with their brother and Ben wasn’t betting against him. Joe shrugged and said “In some ways it makes things easier, we’ll have to go over on Tuesday, move them in under our personal protection. Take enough of the hands to force our point.” He wasn’t seriously worried at the prospect of a fight; he’d faced them too often and usually found that if they stood up to bullies then the opposition caved in fairly easily.

Nita had been listening in silence but at that she couldn’t help the inevitable protest which rose to her lips, “But Joe…..” She broke off and bit her lip, despite Joe’s insistence on her having an equal say she couldn’t really believe it. Joe moved over to her and sat down on the arm of her chair “Go on Nita say what you think.”

She wasn’t sure but he smiled down encouragingly at her “It’s just that you; I mean you’re directors of the company building this pipeline, that’s all. You have men hired to build it, why do you have to go out. Adam’s already been hurt all of you worked yourselves into exhaustion and it’s not really your job.”

Joe frowned he hadn’t even considered the possibility of not going, Ben looked at his three sons, all showing surprised at the idea of leaving it and said judiciously, “Nita has a point. Fair and Mackay have an equal share in this venture and I didn’t see them at the marshalling yards, let alone Flood or O’Brien.”

Hoss frowned “Well maybe they could have helped out, guess they were busy but we don’t need them in a fight. Heck Jim Fair with a gun is more dangerous to himself than anyone else.”

“That’s not really the point Hoss. Nita is right we put up the money for the pipe and hired Harv to build it, now it’s his problem. You were the one who was worried about me delegating.” Adam looked from Hoss to Joe and Nita, deliberately non-committal himself but Joe glared at him “Its different Adam and you know it.” He took his wife’s hand, knowing their life and ways of doing things weren’t what she was used to and willing to explain, but she had to learn because he couldn’t change and despite Ben’s and Adam’s understanding of her point of view, in the last analysis neither could his family. He got up and moved round in front of her “Darling I’ve always warned you that it can be rough out here. We can’t stand back and do nothing, ignore a fight, whatever the risks. We hire men to dig trenches, lay pipe, tend cattle and we pay them for that. They know the risks involved in that work and accept them. Anytime someone is hurt we do all we can to help, get them the best of care, make sure that families don’t suffer and we’re repaid a hundred fold by good loyal men. This is different we didn’t hire anyone to fight for us. We don’t hire gunmen and we don’t expect anyone to risk their lives for us, whether in defence of us, this ranch or in this case the pipeline. We’ll fight our own battles and because we’ve always done that, always taken the lead our men will back us and when we ask for volunteers most if not all will back us. The day we sit here in comfort and don’t fight ourselves we’ll lose something very important, Something I can’t quite explain but without it, on more than one occasion, we’d have lost the Ponderosa and probably our lives too.”

Nita has sat searching Joe’s eyes as he spoke and she smiled at him, “I have a lot to learn.” Ben was very proud of his youngest son “You say you can’t explain Joseph, seems to me that you’ve done a pretty good job of it.”

Nita had seen the sincerity in Joe’s eyes hear it in his voice as he tried to explain his family’s creed and she realised they weren’t fighting for the love of fighting as for a moment she had feared but from a deep sense of commitment. They seldom, if ever, invested money into a project just to make money at least not heavily, and once committed became deeply involved. In the last analysis everything would go apart from the ranch, but all the time there was no risk to the Ponderosa, they would try everyway they could to make other projects a success.

Slowly they settled to detailed plans to move onto Seton’s land on Tuesday and once decided Adam proposed going to town to fill Harv in on what was happening and warn Roy. Ben vetoed that Adam was still very stiff and he ought to rest, he would go to town himself. Adam had to admit he was sore and warned Joe that he’d better be in practice because any situation needing a fast draw was all his. Adam grinned “I reckon you’d outdraw me easily at the minute Hoss.”

Hoss grunted, “Just as long as you can shoot straight don’t reckon it’ll matter much so if you’ll give over frightening the girls lets change the subject.”

Monday was quiet, Ben had spoken to the hands whose support they needed and everyone was to be ready to move out at 4 a.m. the next morning. The digging crews were to combine and wait for them on the edge of Seton’s range nearest to town only moving in under their protection. Ben suggested everyone got an early night but none of them got much sleep, Adam was too stiff and sore to be able to get comfortable and both his brothers were very conscious of their wives. Neither Sue nor Nita wanted to keep their husbands awake, but they couldn’t settle knowing Hoss and Joe were going out to face a probable fight, from which they might not return. Both of them did their best to lie still but it wasn’t easy and first Joe and then Hoss gave up the attempt to sleep and with limited success tried to reassure their wives. Nothing was going to happen to them, they’d faced fights before and knew how to take care of themselves. They had plenty of excellent help and would be fine.

All four were down for an early breakfast although the girls only wanted coffee. Ben could see the fear they were trying valiantly to hide and like his sons did his best to reassure them but he could see that he wasn’t making any impression. Still he gave the girls full credit both managed to send their husbands off with a smile and good luck wishes even if he was sure they would go inside to cry on their own, once the men were out of sight. Joe and Hoss realised that too but as Joe murmured to his brother, “At least they have each other for company.”

Adam rode up to join then just then and Hoss said, “Carole is on her own.”

Joe tried to be positive “She’s got the kids and anyway she’s more used to us fighting. She’ll be alright.”

Adam caught the end of it “Who will?”

Joe smiled “All of them. Sue and Nita are worried but they are both strong, so’s Carole.”

“She was going over to join them once the kids are up.” Trusting in their wives mental strength, the brothers put all thought of wives from them and concentrated on the expected trouble. They had fifteen men with them, chosen from the numerous volunteers, all steady men and good shots, Jess and Stevens among them. José had been very irate when Ben refused to let him come but Ben didn’t want to risk the vaquero being hurt with a hectic summer planned, José played far too important a role in the ranch activities. Ben had been very hesitant about letting Jess come for the same reasons, They had begun to rely more and more on the dark haired cowboy, who had become such a good friend of Adam’s. He and his sons had to take the risks but noone else did.

Harv and Tony Enders joined them on the road just before they cut through to the trench and all of them were surprised to hear the sound of men working as they approached, it was still only 5.30 a.m. and while they would expect the men to be up and getting breakfast in the dim light of the false dawn, it was most unusual for work to have started. Ben pulled up and signalled his men to be quiet. “There’s something going on, they’ll know we will be expecting trouble today, may have moved in overnight.”

The Cartwrights had placed guards round the camp to prevent just that but all of them knew that a determined enough attack out here, with little suitable cover for a defensive action, could have overcome the guards. Ben turned to his youngest son “Joe head forward very carefully. Don’t start anything I just want to know what’s going on. We won’t move in until the light is better, don’t want our own men hurt.”

Joe threw Cochise’s reins to hoss and slipped forward on foot. The others waited tensely for his return but all knew Joe’s ability to use cover and darkness, moving very quietly. He hadn’t been brought up with an Indian without learning their tricks from Jim Willy. Even so time seemed to stand still until he returned and the sky was beginning to really lighten. Joe swung back up on Cochise, “Nothing very obviously wrong, but even given that two crews have combined there are too many men in the trenches. None of the men we left on guard are visible. Light wasn’t great but I’d have spotted at least one of them if they were there. I’m sure of that.”

“Any sign of Seton himself or anyone else we know?” asked Adam.

Joe shook his head, "Not as far as I could see but there was a little knot of men at the far end of the trench, not making any attempt to do anything, and I couldn’t get close enough to see who was there. Mind you attempts to work are at the best half hearted.”

Ben frowned; it was difficult to know what to do for the best with his own men muddled up with the opposition.

Adam queried “Any idea how many extra men Joe?”

“I didn’t dare get too close and I can’t be sure but I’d guess maybe twenty, makes us evenly matched.”

“Except that they have the protection of the trench to say nothing of up to sixty hostages!” Adam sighed and put like that it seemed very depressing, Adam eased his aching body in the saddle, trying to think what to do, ”I suppose we could just ignore them.”

Hoss suggested “How about going up to the north end of Seton’s land start digging the trench there, it might draw them out.”

Adam nodded, “It could at that Pa.”

Ben shook his head “Too many of our men here we can’t just walk away. Before word got to them there just might be a massacre. Only needs someone to go off half-cocked and then to get scared about leaving witnesses.”
Harv protested “They can’t kill over seventy people.”

“Its been known, ever hear of the Mountain meadows massacre? More than 120 men women and children died there so they couldn’t witness against the Mormon’s original killing of two men.” Ben sighed “There have been other cases, not so extreme but bad enough it only needs a couple of men to start, the rest get carried along.”

“It’s getting light Pa, we have to make a move “Joe urged and Ben recognised the sense of that but it wasn’t so easy to know what to do. None of them could be sure of recognising their own men, the sixty in the digging crews were strangers to most of them. “I don’t see that we have much option. We take up position in what cover we can and order the men to leave the trenches. Tell them that anyone with their hands up and unarmed won’t be hurt.”

Noone had any better idea although as Adam pointed out, the armed men might try to prevent anyone leaving the trench. Ben shrugged “Risky for them too, outnumbered, maybe they’ll be glad to get rid of the non-combatants and face us. They have the better cover.”

Tony edged close to Adam, “I don’t understand what they hope to gain by this?”

“Make it so expensive in every way that we’ll give up. If we can’t cross Seton’s land there’s no pipeline, so stop us going onto it. Maybe kill a couple of Cartwrights so we back out, maybe force a stalemate and enrol public opinion against it again. Really desperation, they have run out of other ideas. You watch yourself; noone will wait to give you a fair chance here.”

Ben gave the orders and sending Adam and Hoss to cover the trench from one side with half the men, he and Joe took the rest of the men to the far side. Adam suggested Harv stay and look after the horses but he wasn’t having any of it and drew out his rifle, “I can shoot. This is my pipeline and I’ll do my share.”

Adam was impressed by the little man’s tenacity and he couldn’t deny his right to be along but he warned him to keep close. Then they moved forward to take up position. They were expected and as soon as the men in the trenches saw that they had guns out and weren’t walking into any trap, they began shooting. Adam ordered his men to take cover but not to return fire and then he heard his father offer safe passage to anyone who came out unarmed and with their hands up.

Many of the diggers didn’t need a second invitation and began scrambling out of the trenches. A couple were pulled back but then Seton ordered his men to use it, mingle with them, with so many men moving around the Cartwrights wouldn’t be able to see who was armed and who wasn’t. It was their best chance of killing the Cartwrights, the only way he could see to finally settle matters.

Suddenly everyone erupted from the trench nearly ninety men, heading in both directions, some just running away, others trying to kill. The light was still not marvellous and the rain began to fall as the two sides clashed. It was sheer chaos and none could see more than their own immediate area. It was impossible to know who was the enemy, until they tried to shoot you. Things cleared a little as the digging crews removed themselves hastily from the scene not wanting to get hurt. With very limited cover and little chance to reload, the Cartwrights were all glad of the extra guns Ben had insisted that every man carry. There was a sudden burst of firing all round the area and noway to know how it was going, when Adam saw Seton right in front of him. They exchanged bullets but Seton missed by miles while Adam’s caught him in the ribs and he fell. Adam kicked the gun away as Seton fell and bending over Seton told him to call his men off but Seton just spat at him “Go to hell.”

Jess yelled a warning to Adam and Adam whirled to face a new threat but Jess had already dealt with it although he’d taken a bullet himself. There was no time to worry about his friend as another gunman loomed up and Adam’s shot shattered the man’s arm. Then before he could do anything else Adam was thrown bodily off his feet as Tony launched himself at his friend. Adam, fell heavily on his already badly bruised right side and very nearly lost control of his senses. There were two simultaneous shots and Tony’s body lay like a dead weight on him. Adam couldn’t move. but there was a sudden silence and he could see several men putting their hands up as others stood up, moving out from cover

Hoss saw his brother was down and ran over to him, fear like a cold lump on his chest, he found it hard to catch his breath. He was relieved to see Adam was conscious but his brother was covered in blood. Adam was very glad to see Hoss, he could feel Tony’s blood on him and was scared for the young man. “I’m okay, lift him off me Hoss, real careful I don’t know how bad he is.” Hoss did as he was asked still scared for his brother but Adam recognised that “Not my blood Hoss I’m fine.” Shaken, winded and bruised he was far from fine and it cost him a lot to pull himself up and move over to kneel by Tony. The youngster had taken a bullet just under the heart and Hoss shook his head as Adam looked questioningly at him Tony was still alive but it could only be a minute or so. As Adam felt his pulse Tony opened his eyes and looked up at Adam. He didn’t seem to be in any pain “You alright Adam?”

“Thanks to you Tony, proved yourself a real good friend.”

The boy’s lips curved into a smile at Adam’s words but even as he did so the grip on Adam’s hand fell away as he died. Adam bit his lip and closed his eyes for a moment while Hoss felt for his pulse “He’s gone Adam.”

Adam pulled himself to his feet and turned away, there was nothing he could do for Tony now and he had seen Jess fall too, also trying to protect him. He hurried over to Jess to find two of the other Ponderosa hands trying to pad a wound in his friend’s chest. Adam took over the job and looked at the nasty wound in Jess’ ribs and the tell tale bubbles of blood at his mouth which told of a lung wound. All he could do was pad the wound so Jess lost no more blood and get him to a doctor. He felt Jess' pulse and at least that was strong. Hoss had followed him over and he asked “How bad is Jess?”

“Bad enough, lung damaged. We need to get him to Doc.”

“Town’s closest, get him to the hospital, there’s others hurt too. We need wagons, I’ll get them from Lars he’s closest.”

“Pad them.”

“I know what to do Adam try and take it easy I won’t be long.” As Hoss hurried to his horse his father saw him and ran over “You okay? Adam?”

“Yeah Pa but Jess is badly hurt. Tony Enders and Seton are dead. I’m going to get a wagon from Lars. Joe okay?”

“Bullet in the arm not serious. Nothing too serious as far as I’ve seen on our side. You go ahead.” Ben had to take a grip on things and Joe came to help him, a hasty bandage round his right arm, which he rested in his jacket. Ben said “Go make sure Adam’s alright first, Jess is badly hurt. “ Joe nodded and hurried over to Adam while Ben got Stevens to collect together the armed men who had all surrendered. Harv was reorganising his digging crews while Ben collected his own men together and released the ten who had been on guard over night. They had been captured one by one and tied up. Ben was glad to see that none of his other men were badly hurt. There were several minor wounds like Joe’s, but apart from Jess, none of them were life threatening. Three others of Seton’s men were dead and two seriously hurt with again a sprinkling of minor injuries. The worst of the fighting has been over near Adam as Seton himself had gone that way. Ben recognized several of the worst element in Virginia City and he tried to question them, find out who had hired them but few would talk at all and none of them mentioned anyone other than Seton. He had all of them bound, hands behind their backs and then told eight of his men to take those who were fit to ride into Roy,

Meanwhile Joe had joined his brother and knelt down on the other side of Jess, feeling his pulse. He tried a smile of encouragement “Jess is strong he’ll make out.” Adam nodded slowly “I pray he will Tony Enders is dead.”

“I know, Take it easy, are you okay?”

“Yeah, not my blood.” Adam frowned for the first time taking in the bandage on Joe’s arm, “How bad’s that?”

“Sore, but my arm still works.” Joe frowned seeing something in his brother’s eyes that he couldn’t understand.. “You sure you’re okay?”

Adam tried to pull himself together and as Jess stirred he bent over his friend holding him still and telling Jess not to try and talk. Jess moaned as the pain caught him and Adam wiped his face “Easy Jess just lie still. You’re going to be fine. We’ll get you to Doc in a minute and make you more comfortable. Don’t talk, you’ll be just fine.”

Jess seemed to relax as Adam talked to him and after a few minutes he passed out again. Adam prayed quietly that his friend would survive and that two people wouldn’t end up giving their life for him on the same day. He felt so very guilty, somehow he should have protected both himself and them better, especially the young boy who, however fast he was on the draw, couldn’t know how to handle himself in such a fight.

Adam was glad when Hoss drove a wagon alongside and stood back to let his brother lift Jess into the wagon. Hoss was as careful as he could be but even so Jess screamed in pain as they moved him. Adam lost colour but made no comment and let Hoss help him up into the wagon to hold Jess still. Two other hands with leg wounds joined them in the wagon and Hoss set out for town, leaving Lars to follow with the wounded gunmen. The expression on his brother’s face was enough to keep Hoss quiet and they made their way into town in silence. It wasn’t far but to Adam holding his friend still hearing the bubbling of his breath, it seemed to take forever. Hoss went straight to the Sisters’ of Mercy Hospital knowing word had already gone to Doc so that he would know what they intended doing. In fact Doc was there waiting for them. Hoss carried Jess in while Adam helped one of the others while Doc helped the third. Then Adam joined Jess as Doc began his examination, cutting his clothing away. The bullet had gone through splintering the ribs and Doc had to remove the slivers of bone one of which had cut into the lung. Doc didn’t dare risk anaesthetic with a lung injury and had Adam and Hoss hold Jess still. Even with Hoss’ strength they were hard pressed as Jess reacted although apparently unconscious. Eventually Doc had done all he could and got his patient bandaged up. Only then did Adam risk the question which was tormenting him, “What are his chances Doc?”

“I’ve done all I can for him Adam, its up to him and maybe God. He has a chance. If it was one of you I’d say you would probably make it but I don’t know how good a fighter Jess is.”

Hoss gripped his brother’s shoulder, “Jess is a fighter, he’ll make out, don’t worry.”

Adam stared down at his friend’s drawn face “Please God he will, He was shot protecting me. So was Tony and he’s already dead.”

“Come on Adam it was a fight, everyone at risk, you can’t blame yourself.” Hoss looked down at his brother, seeing just how much Adam was blaming himself. Hoss knew his brother too well to try and talk sense into him yet and stayed with the practicalities. “Why don’t you clean up a bit Adam, I’ll go and get you some clean clothes. You stay with Jess for a while if you want.”

Adam nodded, he couldn’t leave his friend yet and anyway he was so stiff and sore after being thrown down that he needed some time to get back on top of himself. He had been very badly hit by Tony’s death. Hoss hesitated not wanting to leave his brother alone, but then decided that maybe it was what Adam needed just now.

Joe made light of his wound and helped his father sort things out before giving in to Ben’s reiterated requests to go into town and see Doc, have his arm tended. Joe was just leaving for town when Stevens called to him, Stevens had found a man hiding in the bushes, a bullet wound in the leg and he wanted to know which side the man was on. Joe rode over and recognised the man, Barnes. Joe dismounted and grinned at Stevens. Barnes sold water at a high price and had been a vociferous opponent of the pipeline. Without sufficient money or power to pressurise some of the people who hadn’t been willing to assist the Cartwrights, yet his name had been mentioned several time and Joe had got the distinct impression that he was acting as a front men for Troy. Joe decided that it would be useful to have a private talk with Barnes and get a statement out of him before taking him into Roy. He needed a witness and outlined to Stevens what he intended. Stevens just hauled Barnes up on to the front of his horse. He liked Jess and got on well with him and he didn’t like what was being done and anyway his creed involved loyalty to the spread you signed on with. Especially in this case, when for the first time in his life he had returned of his own freewill to the ranch, which was the best he’d ever worked for and where he was given responsibility and rewarded for it. Joe knew a line shack at the edge of Seton’s land, less than a mile away and with Seton dead he couldn’t see anyone objecting so he led the way over to it. Barnes was scared, Joe had a reputation for being impulsive and having a fiery temper and he could see that Joe was injured. Pain lines were obvious on Joe’s face and Barnes couldn’t help feeling that wouldn’t improve Joe’s temper.

Joe could see his fear and he played on it emphasising that he’d lost friends that day ad at least one close friend was lying close to death, Barnes would get no help, no doctor, until he’d made a full statement of his part in the events of the last few days and who else was involved. Joe perched on the table and studied the injured leg “If it get gangrene from that bullet it’s just too bad, your choice.”

Stevens nodded “Only he and I know where you are and I sure don’t mind leaving scum like you to die.”

Barnes was more scared of them than Troy or the law and he was very eager to talk. Troy had provided him and Seton with money, put pressure on the men in town not to help but he hadn’t been closely involved. Joe could believe that, Troy was scared of violence even at one remove and would try to ignore its existence. He wasn’t so believing as Barnes tried to blame all the worst excesses on the dead Seton and after an hour of persistent questioning had the wounded man reduced to a blubbering heap, who would have admitted to anything to get away from the merciless questions. Convinced at last that Barnes would tell the truth, Joe got paper and pencil from his saddle bag and began working through chronologically from the plans to destroy the pipe to the new plans to attack the diggers, and he learnt as a bonus of two men on the digging crew who had been bribed to set new explosives amongst the pipe in the barn once they began removing it. Troy’s part seemed to consist mainly in providing the necessary financing and Joe wasn’t at all sure they would be able to bring him to justice. Even so he took careful note of everything that Barnes said and he made sure Barnes signed every page and countersigned himself and then had Stevens sign as well as a witness. It all took time and it was more than two hours after reaching the line shack before they were ready to ride on into town. Stevens had sat by amused as Barnes cowered away and finally broke, so scared of Joe, who hadn’t so much as lifted a finger against him, not even threatening to.

Eventually they headed on for town, Stevens again taking Barnes up behind him, Joe’s arm had been bleeding again and it felt on fire with the bullet still in and he was glad it was no further to town.

Ben had given all the men the day off. Harv badly shaken by Tony’s death was in no condition to organize anything. Then he had headed into town himself, leaving five hands to bring in the dead bodies. Ben was anxious about his eldest son and about Jess on whom they had all come to rely over the last years. Ben went straight to the hospital and seeing Doc and Hoss he went over, “How is Jess?”

“Bad wound, I’m afraid Ben, maybe fifty-fifty chance, depends on his own constitution and fighting ability, Adam is sitting with him, seems pretty badly shaken himself.”

Hoss had been back and persuaded Adam to change and have some coffee but his brother wouldn’t talk and refused food, just wanting to be left alone. Hoss had done as Adam wanted but he’d hated leaving his brother who looked drawn and strained, almost in shock. He sighed heavily “He blames himself Pa, Says both Tony Enders and Jess were hurt trying to protect him. Now one is dead and the other badly hurt, I can’t get him to eat or talk and he looks ill.”

Ben shook his head, “He’s very fond of Jess and that young man tried so hard to make amends, a tragic waste. It’s not surprising he’s upset. You ought to be used to your brother’s ability to blame himself by now.”

“May have some reason Pa. Tony’s body was lying on top of Adam when I reached them. Looked as though he’d knocked Adam down out of the way, taken the bullet himself, hurt Adam’s side too I reckon.”

“I’ll try and talk to him in a minute, don’t worry to much. Adam will soon get things in perspective and Jess is tough. But first Doc how bad was Joe’s arm?”

Paul stared blankly ar Ben “I haven’t seen Joe.”

It was Ben’s turn to look blank, “But he headed for town to see you a good two hours before I headed in, Hoss?”

“I ain’t seen him Pa. was he on his own?”

“I’m not sure, he was talking to Stevens last time I saw him.” Ben had gone pale, scared for his youngest son, and Hoss put his arm round his father’s shoulders. “Easy Pa, Joe should have headed straight in, if anything had happened, if he’d passed out, you’d have seen him or one of the men, been enough traffic on that road this morning, Chances are he went off on some ploy of his own, maybe with Stevens. I ain’t seen him either and he’s a good man to have around.”

“But Joe’s hurt, bullet still in.”

“He didn’t look too bad when I saw him, want me to go and look for him Pa?”

Ben nodded “Maybe we’d both better.”

“I can get a few of the men to help, why don’t you go and talk to Adam. I’ll find my little brother.”

Ben recognized the sense of that and nodded, leaving Hoss to find Joe while he went to join his eldest son. At first Adam didn’t even seem aware that his father was there and Ben could see why Hoss had been so worried. Adam couldn’t do anything to help his friend, one of the nuns was with him and doing all that could be done. Sister Cecily had tried to persuade Adam to at least go and have a drink, even if he wasn’t able to get the rest he needed, but she knew she had made no impression at all on the stubborn eldest Cartwright son. Adam couldn’t explain to her, barely able to understand himself, but he felt that he owed it to Jess to stay with him. Jess had no family or at least none that he was in contact with and Adam was his closest friend, just maybe his presence would help, although Jess was in a coma, seemingly unaware of anything. Adam was deep in thought, memories of the past, remembering the times he’d asked for Jess’ support, the risks his friend had taken without hesitation trying to help him. He had come to rely heavily on Jess and didn’t really understand just how much Jess revelled in the responsibility he was given. It was always well rewarded and Jess had enough to start up on his own, but at least for now until he found a girl he wanted to settle down with, he wouldn’t leave the Ponderosa thoroughly enjoying the company and the work he did there. Adam only became aware of his father’s presence when Ben moved over and gripped his shoulders, Then Adam half turned and looked up at his father, Ben knew as soon as he saw his son’s face that Hoss had been right in sending him to Adam, he could be of more use here. Ben smiled “I think we need to talk Adam. There’s an empty room next door and Sister Cecily is bringing coffee.”

Adam stared down at Jess for a moment, but he knew that Jess wasn’t aware of his presence, and slowly and painfully he levered himself to his feet and limping heavily went through to the next room. He went over to the window and stared out over the town, too stiff to want to sit. Ben poured coffee for them both and added a stiff slug of brandy to Adam’s before handing it over “I think you had better tell me what happened.”

“I’m not sure I want to talk Pa.”

“I think you need to. When Beth was dying you helped me get things into perspective. I still mourn a close friend but I don’t blame myself. Seems to me its time to repay the favour.”

Adam turned, seeing the compassion and understanding on his father’s face. “Pa they were both hurt trying to protect me. Tony’s dead, just a boy, and Jess …. I should have done more. I’m used to fights. Too slow, stiff, maybe if….”

“Can you think of one single thing that you could have done and didn’t?”

“No.” Adam said slowly “But that’s not the point.”

“It’s exactly the point. You aren’t fit and maybe you were slower to react than usual, but everyone knew that going in. You bore the brunt of the fighting, maybe it was intentional. Seton hated you, that much was obvious, the way he behaved before Christmas. Probably recognised you and headed that way deliberately.”

“Maybe Pa but….”

“Hold on a minute let me finish. We never put it into words, didn’t want to scare the girls but you and your brothers knew, just as well as I did that the only real way of preventing the pipeline being built was to kill Cartwrights. All four for preference, but even one or two might throw things into such confusion the pipeline would go by default.”

Adam nodded “Of course I realised.”

“Jess and Tony aren’t fools they knew too. You were the prime target out there. Seton and the worst of his men came your way. It’s not really surprising that they had to try and protect you, no reason to blame yourself.”

Adam frowned, he hadn’t thought of it like that and he stared at his father as he considered what Ben had said. Everything his father said made sense to him and insensibly he began to relax. He sighed “Tony was just a boy.”

“You could have killed him with complete justification a year ago. Not many men would have risked shooting his gun from his hand, not when he’d sworn to kill you and already shot your brother.”

“He made up for that. Strange, he was so like Bill in many ways. He had Bill’s good qualities without that streak of greed and cruelty that Bill had.”

“Bill was your friend for a long time. I know how hard it was for you to denounce him. Were you trying to find that friend again?”

Adam shook his head “I don’t know Pa. He could almost have been my son, so very young. Such a waste.”

“We all feel that. Harv was badly shaken and I sent him home. Gave everyone a day off, but life is like that out here. You of all people know that Adam. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t grieve for him or worry about Jess, just don’t take the blame on yourself. They were protecting the object of the attack and they both volunteered to do exactly that. In fights people get hurt and it wasn’t our choice, it was forced on us.”

Adam rubbed his aching eyes. They had lost friend in fights before, too often come close to losing one of the family. In many ways they had when Jim Willy died, but with the grip of law still precarious in Nevada they had no alternative. Adam was realistic enough to know that in the same circumstances he would behave in exactly the same way. He slowly drank his coffee, not answering his father but calming down as he thought over what his father had said. Eventually he smiled faintly, “Jess is in good hands. I think I’ll go and get a hot bath, have a soak, I’m very stiff. You did send word to the girls that we’re all alright?”

“I did.” Ben nodded but he couldn’t hide the worry on his face as he prayed that Hoss had found his brother and that Joe was indeed alright. Adam was quick to spot it “What’s wrong?”

“Joe left for town more than two hours before me but he hadn’t arrived. Hoss has gone to find him. Just delayed I’m sure, it wasn’t a serious wound.”

Adam was ready at once to go and check for news, all thought of baths forgotten and Ben was more than willing to join him. In fact they didn’t have to go very far, as they walked down the corridor they heard Hoss’ voice saying “At least sit down until Doc gets here!”

Ben grinned at his eldest son, Hoss didn’t sound worried, more exasperated, and they pushed the door open to see Joe being forcibly pushed into a chair. Joe grinned broadly at them “Will you stop this big moose bullying me, I wanted to have a word with Roy first but he dragged me in here.”

Adam considered the bloodstained bandage on Joe’s arm, fresh blood very obvious. “From the look of you he did the right thing. What’s so urgent about seeing Roy?”

“Stevens found Barnes trying to hide we, um, persuaded him to talk, got a full statement all signed and witnessed. That’s what delayed me Pa. I’m sorry if you were worried.” Joe waved the statement “I want to give it to Roy. Stevens has taken Barnes down to the jail.”

Ben frowned “Did you…?” he couldn’t put it into words but Joe knew what he meant.

“Didn’t lay a finger on him Pa. Just asked questions. Mind you I don’t know what he thought we might do!”

Adam took the statement “I’ll see Roy gets this, you aren’t budging until Doc has seen to that arm.”

“Bullied!” Joe complained but his arm felt as though it was on fire and he felt rather sick and faint so he didn’t push it, glad to relax for a few minutes. Adam perched on the table and read the statement, as he finished he whistled softly and passed it to his father. He looked at Joe “Do you reckon it’s all true?”

Joe nodded “It’s true. I didn’t lead him and by the end he was in a blue funk, just eager to tell me everything he knew to placate me.”

“I think I’ll stop by and see Troy before I take it to Roy.”

“Can we get Troy?” Joe asked.

Adam shook his head, “Seton’s dead, too much of this is hearsay and the rest is Barnes word against Troy’s. You can bet the money is well hidden, we won’t be able to track that back. In a court of law he’ll get off, just as Hearst would have done, too cunning. However he isn’t getting off scot-free and I don’t intend to have him causing any more trouble. I’m bored with this pipeline; I want to hand it over to Harv as a standard job and let him finish it without being called in every five minutes for emergencies.”

They all knew Troy was already scared of Adam and hated his guts and Ben was sure his son wouldn’t go too far, it wasn’t in him, so he made no protest. Just suggesting that as Adam was still stiff and bruised; Hoss should go with his brother. Hoss willingly agreed and they took the statement with them leaving Ben with his youngest son. Joe watched his brothers leave “Adam looks better, is Jess going to be okay?”

“Early days 50-50 chance. I had a talk with your brother pointed out the stupidity of blaming himself. I think I got through to him.”

“I’d bet on it Pa. He’s much calmer, looked terrible earlier.”

“You don’t look too good yourself Joseph.”

“Hurts a bit, good job it’s my right arm.”

Ben nodded and then, pulling his son’s boots off, he helped Little Joe to lie down on the bed. He had hardly done so when Doc came in. It didn’t take Paul very long to remove the bullet and then clean and stitch up Joe’s arm, but by the time he’d done so Joe’s senses were swimming and his father’s order to close his eyes and get some sleep seemed only commonsense. As soon as he stopped fighting it he was asleep and Ben tucked the blanket round him before straightening up. Paul smiled at his old friend “Not serious. Try not to let him use it for a week, give it time to heal but there’s not much damage and at least Joe’s left handed.”

“How is Jess?”

“Beginning to run a fever, hardly surprising but he’s making a fight of it. Probably better than even chance he’ll make it. Adam took it hard.”

“Close friend, anyway Adam’s still badly bruised and he was shaken by Tony Ender’s death.”

“I know. Try and keep them out of trouble for a few weeks Ben.”

“We don’t go looking for it.” Ben commented dryly. Although at that moment he wasn’t exactly accurate, Adam and Hoss had gone over to Troy’s office. Troy was there on his own and he tried to shut the door in their faces when he saw who was there. Hoss soon put paid to that and pushed Troy down in his chair, standing behind him, a powerful menacing figure but he left his brother to do the talking. Adam made himself comfortable in a chair and for a minute just looked at Troy. At first Troy tried to meet his gaze but he couldn’t do it and seeing the contempt on Adam’s face he dropped his eyes and began fiddling with things on his desk, physically shaking.

Eventually Adam spoke, “Once before you tried pushing us. I still have the confession you wrote then, beating a young boy, kidnap and attempted blackmail, Now I have a fancy for it’s mate.”

“I …I don’t know what you mean.”

“Oh I think you do, I really can’t be bothered with the trouble I took before, once is enough to dirty my hands on you, but Hoss won’t mind, not for once. Our brother is at the moment having a bullet cut out of him, a close friend if fighting for his life and another is dead, and for what? Because you have irrational fears for your precious mines. Not the miners or the town, just for a non-existent threat to your wealth. The irony is that when the pipeline is finished you’ll be wealthier, it’s about the only argument against building the pipeline.”

“I haven’t done anything.”

Adam picked up the statement, showed the signatures and read out the relevant passages. As he finished there was silence and then Troy protested “You can’t prove it.”

For the first time Hoss spoke, “That’s why you’re gonna write out your own confession.”

“It’s not valid under duress.”

Hoss laughed “What duress! You write it so the court can deal with you and I won’t touch you. If you don’t I reckon you have to pay and I’ll break your back.”

There was something all too convincing about the very quietness with which he spoke and Troy hastily picked up his pen. At first almost illegibly but then as he accepted the inevitable, more clearly, he wrote out a statement of his part in proceedings and signed it. Adam read it as he wrote and there were no queries so he collected the papers and eased himself to his feet. He stared down at Troy in disgust “This time you’ve gone too far. The Comstock doesn’t need you now and all of this will be lodged with Roy. You try and go back on the truth and one of us will make sure you pay – heavily.”

It took a while to explain to Roy but then they left everything in his capable hands and Adam announced his intention of getting a bath. He was limping quite badly and Hoss went along, not sure that his brother was fit enough to be on his own. Adam was glad of Hoss’ support and help to get into the bath but slowly the warmth of the water eased his stiffness and he was able to relax. Having talked things over with his father, he was able to face discussing events and he wanted his big brother’s opinion. Adam trusted Hoss’ inherent sense of right and wrong, his instinctive moral judgements, perhaps more than anyone else’s. Finding Hoss in total agreement with their father Adam relaxed, he could only accept their reading of events.

When they went back to the hospital Joe was asleep but Ben had good reports on him. Jess was feverish and Adam went back in to join his friend. There was little more to be done in town although Ben wanted to see Roy to find out what attitude the law was taking. Hoss decided to go on home and reassure the girls personally. He was just about to leave when Joe reappeared, feeling much better for a short sleep. His arm was in a sling but he looked reasonable fit. Ben told Hoss to take Joe on home and to warn Carole that Adam would be staying in town at least for the next few hours, maybe a day or so, until Jess had turned the corner. They could reassure her that he was unhurt and she would understand Adam’s need to be with his friend, who had noone else. Ben promised to come out later, but there were various details to be sorted out first.

Neither Hoss nor Joe were surprised and as they rode home Hoss was able to reassure his brother that Adam was much calmer, no longer trying to blame himself for everything. Word had been sent to the house that all of them had escaped without real damage and had successfully routed the opposition but even so Sue and Nita were on edge. Hearing voices they both went to the window and Nita went very pale as she saw Joe was wearing a sling, but before she had time to panic, Joe was there hugging her close with his good arm, leaving the horses to Kirk. He grinned “No real damage and Doc’s cleaned it all up, so don’t look so worried.” After a sleep he wasn’t showing much sign of the pain he’d had and determined not to upset Nita, he was cheerful and demanding food so she calmed down. Carole went into the kitchen and warned Hop Sing that two starving males had arrived. By the time she came back Hoss and Joe had reassured their wives and Joe came over to her. “Adam wasn’t touched but he may not be back for quite a while.”

Carole frowned, “Alright Joe what’s going on?”

“He is okay, we all are. I got the only bullet and that’s only a flesh wound. Its just that Jess took a bad one, lung wound. He was trying to protect Adam and of course big brother blames himself. Pa’s clamed him down to a large extent but he won’t leave town until he’s sure that Jess is going to make it,”

“Will he?” asked Carole, very pale, fond of Jess and knowing how upset and worried Adam must be. Joe put his arm round her “Doc said if it was one of us hit was certain. He’s just not so sure of Jess’ fighting spirit. I am, Jess will be fine, take a while of course.”

“Is Pa with Adam?”

“He has been, just a few details to finish up but he won’t come home and leave Adam unless he’s alright.”

“I know that Joe.” Carole smiled, “Don’t overdo things with that arm. I think I’ll collect the kids things and take them home.”

Hoss frowned “Why not stay here Carole.”

“I’m not going to get in a state Hoss. I am used to my pig-headed husband and his attempts to take the world on his shoulders. You two obviously think he’s calmed down, you’re remarkably light-hearted so I’m not about to get upset. I’d just rather get on home I have a lot to get on with.” She seemed very calm and unworried so the brothers just helped her collect the kids’ toys, which they had distributed widely over the house. Neither brother mentioned Tony’s death to her; there would be time for that once Adam was home.

Carole was determined to leave the two newly married couples alone. Sue and Nita had both tried very hard to stay calm but they had been on edge all day and deserved some peace.

In fact she felt better in her own home and was able to keep busy while she waited, staying calm because she knew Ben was with her husband and anyway neither Hoss nor Joe had been really worried. They were slightly uneasy but that was all and noone knew Adam better than his brothers.

In town Adam stayed by Jess’ bedside, standing staring out of the window most of the time, leaving the nuns to do the actual nursing. Ben was busy with the details, unsure whether it would be possible to take Troy to court, or even if he wanted to. Roy decided to go and talk to Troy at least throw the fear of the law into him and then let him stew while they thought about it and got Adam’s legal opinion, once he was thinking clearly again. At least they could be sure that Troy wouldn’t run, his wealth was too closely tied up with Virginia City and the mines.

Once Ben had ensured all his men who’d been hurt however slightly had been seen to and that Roy had everything under control, he got a meal and then took some food in for Adam at the hospital. Adam wasn’t really hungry, but it was obviously going to cause trouble to argue so he forced part of the food down. He tried to persuade his father to go on home but he looked so tired and drawn that Ben wouldn’t hear of it. When Doc came back to check his patient he was optimistic and by late evening Jess’ fever had dropped and he was sleeping peacefully. Doc promised that he’d be fine although it would need a long convalescence and with Doc’s word Adam was prepared to go on home. He knew he could trust Paul and he wouldn’t say if he wasn’t sure. Adam had already ensured that Jess would get the best of care although he knew the nuns would do that regardless, so he just left word that he would be back the following morning. He knew that Jess was likely to sleep the clock round but he would still come in to check for himself.

Adam needed his father’s help to get to his feet, so tired and stiff but he wouldn’t hear of staying in town, despite Ben’s efforts to persuade him to be sensible. Hoss and Joe would have glossed over things with Carole and he hadn’t been hurt but she was bound to be worried and he wanted the comfort of his own wife, his own home. Ben gave up the losing argument and concentrated on helping his son down to the livery stable and saddled Blackie for him. Very tired Adam didn’t push the pace on the way home. The worst of his anxiety for Jess relieved he was hard pressed to keep his eyes open and before they were halfway he was dozing in the saddle. Blackie kept close to Buck and although Ben kept a close eye on his son, as usual Adam seemed to stay in the saddle instinctively. Ben woke him as the house came into view and helped Adam inside to Carole’s care. He saw to Blackie for his son and then headed home himself, he was exhausted himself and glad when Kirk came to take care of Buck. He headed straight up to bed and wasn’t too surprised when both Joe and Hoss looked out of their rooms hearing him come up. They both wanted to know the same, how was Jess and was Adam alright. Ben was able to reassure them before heading for bed himself.

Early the next morning with his wife in his arms and the children blessedly quiet for a few minutes, Adam told her about Tony’s death and how Jess came to be hurt, She could see he still felt responsible but he was calmer that she expected. Adam smiled “I’m alright darling. Pa’s already lectured me that it’s silly to blame myself. Its just such a waste.”

“At least Jess is going to be alright.”

“Thank God, I’ll go back to town and see him later, lot of tidying up to be done, legal details.”

“If he’d like to come here to convalesce, as soon as he’s fit enough to be moved, he’d be very welcome. I’m fond of Jess too.”

Adam kissed her “You’re wonderful. I’ll ask him but I expect he will go to the bunkhouse, more company, especially at the minute until work really gets under way.”

Adam proved a true prophet but Jess was pleased with the offer. He was very weak and Adam wouldn’t let him talk much but he was going to be fine and that was all that mattered. Ben had gone in with Adam and they both joined Roy for a long discussion, trying to decide what to do. With Seton dead and Barnes injured and terrified, Adam was all for getting written confessions and ordering the men out of town with a warning not to return, especially as he had to accept that they couldn’t make a case against Troy. Roy agreed with him but Ben needed some convincing. Roy didn’t trust the judges and preferred to let men go his way rather than let the judges do it.

Eventually Ben gave way, he could understand Adam’s desire to forget the fight and his son was right they had a very busy summer planned without being involved in the trials. Roy had a message for them that Fair and MacKay wanted to see them but on the way over Dan waylaid them and insisted on buying them a beer and getting their opinion of what had happened. Adam was very quiet leaving his father to do the talking but Dan knew him too well to try pushing him. It didn’t take long for Fair to explain their doubts, scared what effect Seton’s death had on the right of way for the pipe, Adam assured them that the contract was solid, the money paid and accepted months earlier. It was binding on whoever inherited or bought the land, he wouldn’t make an elementary mistake like that.

Knowing that he was close to losing his temper Adam excused himself and headed home, but he went via the lake with all too many things to think about. They had been lucky this time and the pipeline would now be built hopefully without any need of their time but he felt the need to consider the future and needed the peace of the Lake.