The Bank of California Part II
by Lyn Robinson

Ben settled down on the train, more relaxed than he’d expected, confident that his youngest son would keep his oldest under control now that Adam was so much better. He would have been far more worried if he had known about the proposition Adam was putting forward at that moment.

Adam had very casually asked Hoss when he was heading back for the west shore, far too casually for both his brother and his wife who looked at him very suspiciously to the bewilderment of Sue and Nita. Carole smiled at them “He’s up to something, aren’t you Adam?”

“Odd way of describing it, all I did was ask a simple question.”

Hoss grunted “Too casual by half! I’m going back tomorrow, probably early. Why?”

“Suits me.”

Carole sighed, not particularly surprised, but determined to stop him, “You are not going! It’s too far.”

Sue looked horrified as she realised what Adam was intending, “You won’t be strong enough for at least a month Adam, be sensible.”

“Nonsense Sue. I rode home in the first place and I’m a lot fitter now.”

Carole pulled away from the arm he’d put round her shoulder, knowing the impossibility of arguing when he was touching her. “Why do you want to go anyway?”

“I’ve a couple of days work left on the flume surveys, before I can start drawing up the plans.”

“Surveying is hard work darling.”

“Jess is over there, I’ll borrow him to hold the tape, do the hard work. Anyway normally I could finish in less than a day, so I’m only intending to take it easy.”

Carole shook her head “It’s still a very long ride.” She looked at Hoss “What do you think?”

“Too far. Don’t be a fool Adam, it’s not necessary, no rush for those flumes. It can wait.”

“Easiest now. Later we have the herd to manage, babies due. Just at the minute everything is up to date. Joe’s got the cash, the lumber camp can cope so Joe can manage for a few days and you’ll be around on the west shore to keep an eye on me, stop Carole worrying.”

“All very logical Adam only you ain’t fit.” Hoss frowned seeing the obstinate expression on his brother’s face.

“I notice you waited until Pa’s gone before you say anything.”

“Didn’t want to worry him. Unnecessary but with a long train ride and nothing to do, he would be bound to.”

“You aren’t coming.”

“Do you want me to ride over on my own Hoss?”

“That’s blackmail. You ain’t well enough, the survey can wait, until next year if necessary. It’s not worth the risk.” Hoss showed an unusual anger at his pigheaded brother and Adam dropped the subject temporarily but he took Carole off for a walk. He confided in his wife his need to return to the west shore, to lay the ghost of the forest fire which was increasingly troubling his sleep.

Several times unbeknownst to him Carole had heard him, very restless and gone into him and she knew that Ben had too, so she was easier to persuade than Adam had expected. She trusted Hoss to take care of him and agreed to him making the trip, even promising to talk his big brother round for him. Adam stood still for a minute searching her face, more grateful than he could say and then he pulled her close enveloping her in a strong hug for the first time since his injury. Carole was careful to keep her hands off his back but she lent into him, clinging close, feeling her husband was hers in a way he hadn’t been for all too long.

It wasn’t until after dinner, when Adam had taken his children upstairs for a bedtime story that Carole got her chance to talk to the brothers. Joe had been filled in by a very irate Hoss of Adam’s suggestion, made the minute their father’s back was turned. Joe agreed with Hoss’ refusal and insisted that he could prevent Adam following on his own. The four of them had reverted to the subject as Adam left, all unanimous in deploring his pig headed idiocy. Carole sat down sipping her coffee and then dropped her bombshell into a lull in the conversation, “I think you ought to take him with you in the morning Hoss.”

The four stared at her in disbelief and Nita was the first to find her voice, “Are you feeling alright Carole?”

Carole grinned “I haven’t taken leave of my senses. I know he’s not as strong as he pretends but Hoss will be there and I’ve decided that he could cope.”

“Its not even urgent.” Joe protested.

“That’s the point, it is. Not for the reason he’s given although I am sure he’ll be pleased to have everything he needs to draw up the plans for those new flumes.”

“Alright what’s the real reason” Joe demanded.

“Pa mentioned it before he left and anyway I’d seen it myself over the last few nights. He’s been increasingly troubled by nightmares. Not waking most of the time, but very restless. He told me about them this afternoon. After that cave-in Joe you knew that he had to face up to the mines, it’s the same now. Maybe it will overtire him but he needs his sleep, undisturbed.”

“Did he set you onto us?” Hoss asked

“He didn’t ask, I offered. I know I’m asking a lot Hoss, but will you look after him for me?”

Hoss went over to her and kissed her gently, “You know I will. If you think it’s important that’s good enough for me.”

Joe nodded his agreement; noone knew Adam better than his wife. He would have liked his brother to leave it another week or so but maybe Carole was right and Adam needed to face it. When Adam came down to tell Carole that the twins were waiting for her to go kiss them goodnight, Hoss grinned at him. “Sneaky brother, but you win, as usual. We’ll leave about eight.”

“I thought you said early.”

“I’m taking you under protest and you’ll get a decent night’s sleep and have a reasonably leisurely breakfast or I’ll still change my mind.”

Later when the others had gone Adam did his best to thank Carole for understanding and persuading his brothers. She was content to curl up on the sofa next to him, glad he was so much better. She did insist on an early night and having got his own way Adam slept peacefully. Adam had suggested getting the painter to go along with them but Hoss hadn’t wanted to, he would be quite preoccupied enough with his brother to keep an eye on. Maybe whoever came back with Adam could escort Bierstadt out. Adam hadn’t pushed his brother, knowing Hoss was still worried about him attempting too much.

Adam was sitting over a second cup of coffee after breakfast, the necessary bed roll all ready, when Hoss came in. Hoss had been restless all night, he’d given his word and wouldn’t go back on it, but as he got into bed he’d begun to consider the practical problems. His brother still couldn’t bear his back touched and it wouldn’t be easy to rig something comfortable and safe for him to sleep on and yet he’d have to sleep out for at least two and probably three nights. Eventually Hoss had decided to take a pack animal along and with Sue’s help he packed two large sacks with pillows, extra blankets, drugs and bandages to make some sort of strap for his brother. Hoss joined his brother for coffee before starting out and while Adam went upstairs to get his pack, Hoss took the opportunity to promise Carole he would keep in close touch by telegraph and he’d look after Adam. Carole kissed him she knew that.

Joe had plenty to keep him busy but he would much rather have been with his brothers and anxious about Adam he was short tempered all day. He was waiting to hear that his brother had at least arrived safely but he knew it would be late, Hoss wasn’t going to hurry. Everyone understood his mood and let him lock himself in his own study and Joe forced himself to concentrate on the eternal paperwork, knowing work was the fastest way to pass the time.

Hoss kept the pace easy but Adam seemed to be alright, enjoying getting away from the house and, much as he loved her, from Carole and the other girls who tried not to fuss but couldn’t help it. It was good to be getting back to work, to feel well enough even to attempt it. Hoss insisted on a reasonable break for lunch, although on his own he would have eaten in the saddle. Adam considered arguing but one look at his brother’s face told him that this was one argument he couldn’t win and maybe it did make sense to conserve his strength, so he submitted and lazed out flat on his stomach while Hoss made a fire and cooked a meal, brewing coffee. It was very peaceful and Adam was totally relaxed, eating a good meal so Hoss let him set a slightly faster pace that afternoon. Even so it took a long time to get to the west shore and Hoss was wondering if they ought to stop over night, He had suggested stopping for dinner but Adam insisted that he wasn’t hungry and just wanted to get there. Hoss chewed some jerky in the saddle but without much appetite, the long ride was taking its toll on his brother, who looked very tired and could no longer hide it. They still had over an hour, probably nearer two, before reaching the camp and Hoss was worried. Adam hadn’t spoken in more than an hour feeling very sore and comfortable, weaker than he cared to admit, but he took in the look on Hoss’ expressive face. Adam sat up a little straighter and smiled at his brother, “Cheer up Hoss. I’m just tired, as you said it’s a long way.”

“You shouldn’t have come.”

“Maybe, but I have to see for myself Hoss and anyway it’s a bit late now. I’ll make it and soon catch up on my sleep. I’m not about to collapse so stop worrying.”

Hoss sighed but he could do more for his brother at the camp then where they were, even with the pack horse. For a while they went on in silence and then Adam asked “Are they expecting you to be so late?”

“Yeah I telegraphed, didn’t explain why though.”

“Why not?”

“Didn’t fancy a long argument over the telegraph. It was Jess at the other end. I’ll protect you till morning but then you’ll have to let him tell you just how mad you are.”

“And you’ll agree with every word.”

“Something like that.”

Adam smiled affectionately at his brother but fell quiet again only really wanting to lie down, so very tired and aching all over. About an hour later they saw the lights of the fire in the camp and pulled up amidst rising comment as the men recognised Adam. Hoss ignored them all and carefully helped his brother down. Adam was stiff and weak enough to welcome Hoss’ support over to a tree trunk by the fire. Hoss helped him to sit down and Jess handed him some coffee, outrage clear on his face as was surprise, but he could see his friend’s near exhaustion and made no attempt to say anything.

Hoss jerked his head to signal Jess to come away and ordered the rest of the men to leave his brother alone. “I’ll explain later, but first thing he needs is some sleep. Help me fix a bed in the tent will you Jess.”

Jess nodded and began clearing some space while Hoss collected the bags from the packhorse. Jess was rather surprised as Hoss pulled out a thick rug and pillows. Hoss looked a little sheepish, “Has to sleep on his face, his back’s still mighty tender, needs as much comfort as I can manage.”

“I’m not arguing there but what in hell’s name is he doing here, still looks ill.”

“He ain’t too bad, just a long ride taken it out of him.”

“Well you must have known that!”

“Don’t get onto me Jess. I didn’t want him to come either. He’s got the flume surveys to finish and he wanted to see the fire damage for himself.”

“It could have waited.”

“I know, but he’s been having nightmares, reckoned the best way to stop them was to come back see for himself. Carole agreed and asked me to bring him, she knows him best. That’s for you only, understand?”

“Sure Hoss.” Jess could understand why Hoss had given in, even if he still thought his friend was pushing his luck but it made no sense in nagging Hoss so he just concentrated on making as comfortable a bed as they could with all the spare blankets and what Hoss had brought . Hoss stuck pegs in the ground and fixed a strap made of bandages while Jess watched puzzled. Hoss explained, “Stop him turning over in his sleep, we’ve been using one at home, could still damage his back, though it’s healed pretty well.”

Hoss went out to collect his brother. Adam wasn’t interested in food all he wanted to do was sleep and Hoss accepted that and helped him over to the tent. Adam wasn’t looking forward to trying to sleep on the ground but he was so tired he reckoned he could sleep anywhere. As he went into the tent he stopped dead, staring in disbelief at the bed complete with pillows. Hoss looked a little sheepish, “You need what comforts you can get.”

“So that’s why we brought a packhorse.” Adam was very touched by his brother’s care, “The men will think I’ve gone soft when they see all this!”

“No! They all know you shouldn’t even be here. Heck Adam most men with those injuries would either have died or at least still be in bed instead of wandering around pretending that nothing had happened.”

“Easy Brother I’m okay, just tired and very grateful for some comfort, can’t say I was looking forward to the rough ground.” Adam let Hoss help him off with his boots and vest and then he lay down while Hoss fixed the strap. It wasn’t quite as good as his own bed but Hoss had done a good job and it was much better than he’d expected. Adam looked up sleepily, “Thanks Hoss, go get some food.”

“You want anything during the night just yell, I’ll be right outside.”

“Mmm.” Adam murmured but he was already nearly asleep. Hoss left him to it and went to get food. The men let him be as he ate, the big man looked tense and tired but slowly he relaxed, He had already sent word to the ranch that they’d arrived safely and Adam had taken no real harm and when he looked in after finishing his meal Adam was sleeping peacefully. Too tense still to settle himself, Hoss spent an hour running over the current position with the man he’d left in charge, They were doing well another ten days or less would see the logging finished for the year and just a few days to tidy up and they would leave the west shore until spring. They hadn’t scheduled too much for a first year but even so with the fire disrupting everything the men had done very well to be finished so early and Hoss made that clear.

Seeing he had relaxed curiosity would no longer be gainsaid and everyone wanted to know how Adam was and why he’d returned. Hoss stuck to the flumes and blamed his brother’s pigheadedness although he did insist that Adam would sleep off the effects of the long ride by morning and although still weak he was recovering well. While he had their attention Hoss emphasized that his brother’s back was still very tender and asked them to be careful not to jostle or bang him. Only a few had seen the injuries that Adam had sustained but all of them had heard about them and all promised to be careful.

Both John and Jess were restless, Adam’s arrival bringing back all too clear memories and knowing better than anyone just how badly he’d been hurt they found it hard to believe that so soon after he could ride in as though nothing had happened. Long after most of the others, including Hoss had settled, they sat by the fire talking quietly.

Hoss was amused and touched the following morning as all the loggers got breakfast so very quietly, the normal noise of the camp in the early morning very muted as without any discussion the men decided to let Adam sleep in if he would. They were talking in whispers taking care not to bang around, when one unfortunate man let his cup clang against his plate they all glared at him as though he’d committed some great sin. Hoss had looked in when he woke up and Adam had still been fast asleep hardly seeming to have moved since the previous night.

Most of the men had left for their jobs when Adam emerged from the tent, still looking very heavy eyed after a long sleep but after washing his face and downing a cup of coffee he looked much better. Hoss brought him over a plate of food and Adam attacked it hungrily. Grinning at his brother he said “I’m fine now so stop worrying and get on with your work. I’ll see you at lunchtime.”

“And you?”

“If you can spare Jess I’ll go and check what still needs doing, make a proper start after lunch. I could manage alone but you’d only fret.”

“You’re not going anywhere alone yet a while Brother.”

Adam laughed. “That’s what I mean. Go on Hoss, Jess fusses almost as much as you and Joe and if I don’t give him a chance to get his lecture off his chest soon he’ll bust.”

Hoss grinned at his brother but he knew Adam and Jess were very close friends and had already warned Jess that for the next few days his task would be that of nursemaid. It suited Jess who always enjoyed Adam’s company and anyway he was still looking for a chance to say thank you as once again Adam had saved his life. Hoss wandered over to Jess and told him what Adam wanted and then as Jess joined his brother Hoss mounted up and went to get started on the day’s work.

Adam had just finished eating and got fresh coffee when Jess joined him he grinned, “Go on Jess say what you want before you burst.”

“You’re a fool, all this way. You’re not fit enough.”

“Is that it? I thought I was in for a lecture.”

Jess couldn’t help grinning, “Yeah well you’re here now and I doubt I could say anything your brothers haven’t already said, so take the lecture as read. It’s good to see you back on your feet.”

“Good to be there. I never did thank you and John for cleaning my back up. Made a real good job of it, it’s healed fast.”

Jess stared at him for a moment too taken aback for words. Eventually he stammered “You’re thanking me! Adam you saved our lives twice over and I can’t even find the words to....”


“Yeah risked your neck to come through the fire and cut us free from that tree and then bullied us into keeping going, climb that cliff.”

John Wilson hadn’t followed the others wanting a chance for a word with Adam and hearing Jess he came over, “Jess is right Adam. There ain’t noway we can thank you. It’s just so unfair that you had to pay so heavily for helping.”

Adam smiled at the two men, the sincerity very obvious, “You two did a pretty good job of hauling me out of there and looking after me. I don’t remember much, nothing after reaching the ledge and not much before but from what my brothers have said, I have a lot to thank you both for, call it evens.”

“Only it isn’t.” John protested “There was no need for you to ever come through that fire, not many men would and we’d both be dead.”

Adam met his gaze square, “Don’t build it into to much John. I just acted on instinct never really thought about the risks, there wasn’t time. Lots of men would have done the same.”

Jess considered that and nodded “Sure some would, your brothers, a few others round here, that’s why this ranch is so different from most, but it don’t change anything Adam we still owe you.”

Adam was more than a little embarrassed and it showed but he said “You took a bullet through the lung to save me earlier this year Jess so don’t lets have any talk about owing anything, We are all friends and we got out without any real damage so let’s just forget it.”

“No real damage!” said Jess in amazement “You....”

Adam interrupted “Sure I had burns, superficial, I’ll end up with a few scars and in a few months that will be all, no lasting effects so no long term damage.”

Something in his tone warned the men that he didn’t want to discuss it further and John headed off to start work letting Jess and Adam head up into the valley where he still needed detailed survey figures. It didn’t take long to decide exactly what else he needed so they made a start at once. By lunchtime they had several sections measured and marked out. Well satisfied by his morning’s work Adam went back to join Hoss for lunch, but once he had eaten he took his coffee and wandered off to the lake where the fire had caused such devastation. Hoss followed him but Adam didn’t seem aware of his presence for a while, Then Adam half turned and handed his cup to his brother, “I’m going to have a look at the damage and I don’t want a nursemaid.”

The expression on his face stopped Hoss arguing and as Adam slowly walked away along the line of the south firebreak, still very clear despite all the work the men had out into clearing the ground and replanting young trees. Hoss went back to camp where Jess stood watching looking very worried, “You can’t let him go alone Hoss. Hell if he’s been having nightmares it’ll be like a waking one, I’ve had enough I know how he feels.”

“I’m not Jess, just come to collect his brandy flask in case. You get the men back to work, make sure they stay away.”

“Do you want me? I was there.”

“Don’t think so Jess. He don’t even want me in case it’s too much but he ain’t strong enough to be alone. Best leave it to me.”

“I can understand you know. I saw how badly he was hurt, hell I’ve sat at the bottom of that cliff and howled, just remembering.”

“Maybe that’s what he needs too, fewer people around the better.” Hoss smiled, “I know you two are close Jess but he’s my brother.”

Jess acknowledged that but after getting everyone back to work, he stood watching Hoss’ big figure striding after Adam. Restless he only wanted to help and it was hard to admit probably there was no way to do so.
Adam was only aware of the blackened ground and the leaping flames he could see in his memory, so clear that he could almost feel the heat. In his nightmares he’d always been trapped on the cliff and he knew that he had to go and see it again, but although logic said that he had nothing to fear, his legs seemed unwilling to move and he was very slowly making is way across the burnt earth, already showing a few small blades of grass and with fresh young trees testimony to the recovery power of nature. Adam tried to hold onto that thought but the fire seemed all invasive. Hoss was nearly up with his brother before the noise of his approach penetrated to Adam and he turned to see his big brother just behind him. Angrily he said “I told you I don’t need a nursemaid and you have work to do.”

“Yeah and a long way I’m gonna get, standing around worried sick about you.”

“No need I’m alright.”

“You’re still weak and if it’s been troubling you in nightmares then you need to talk, at least have someone there. You let Joe go down the Virginia with you after that cave-in, do you think I understand any less than our little brother.”

“No of course not Hoss, but I’m not going to do anything today, just look.”

“I’m coming, just me Adam, no need to ....” Hoss couldn’t put it into words but Adam understood and it was a long time since he’d felt self conscious with his brothers, they both knew him so very well. Maybe once when they were kids, hero-worshipping an elder brother he couldn’t have broken down, scared to demean himself in their eyes but he’d soon learnt that they understood the need for it on occasion. Not that he intended to break down now and maybe some moral support would make the fires stay away, “Okay Hoss and thanks.”

Slowly the brothers made their way back to the cliff both with their own memories of that night, Adam couldn’t really remember anything clearly, just a confused impressions of pain and fear as they had struggled to get away from the flames which were trapping them in an ever decreasing triangle of land at the base of the cliff. Hoss remembered the two unidentified bodies and the long wait as the men searched for more with only his father’s conviction that the one they had found wasn’t his eldest brother.

Finally they reached the cliff, still black from the fire but the ledge which had taken then to safety clear and green way above their heads. Adam stood and stared at it as he had so often in his dreams and he could hear the fire crackling louder as it approached. He slowly picked out the handholds, some Joe had used, the ones he had used long destroyed by the fire and slowly the memory came back and as though it was unfolding in front of him on a screen he remembered every move he’d made on that impossible climb, the pain, the way Carole and the children moved in front of him urging him on, telling him he had too much to live for that pain could be endured and would pass. He was oblivious of Hoss, unaware of the sweat pouring off him or the pain showing so clearly on his face and as his memories finally reached the ledge he sunk to his knees, burying his face in his hands and trembling uncontrollably. Hoss could feel his brother’s fears and pains, looking at the cliff afresh it still seemed impossible for Adam to have made the climb but Hoss could only let Adam face the nightmare. It was the reason he’d come and until he’d faced it Adam wouldn’t be free of it. Seeing the state Adam was getting into it was hard for Hoss to stay back and say nothing but he managed it, not moving until Adam buried his face in his hands. Hoss knelt down in front of Adam gripping his brother’s upper arms and supporting his head, “Its alright Adam you’re safe, it’s over, easy, now easy.”

Hoss would have given a lot to take Adam in his arms and calm him but he knew his brother’s back was still far too tender and he could only stay close and talk to Adam. Adam felt cold and dimly aware of his big brother’s shoulder and lent against him for warmth, trembling violently, feeling thoroughly sick. Hoss hoped he would break down feeling the tension in his brother, but Adam didn’t feel the slightest tendency to breakdown he was just trying to stop the trembling without much success.

Hoss got out the brandy flask and managed to get Adam to drink some and slowly the spirit warmed him up and his trembling eased. After five minutes he sat up, pulled out his hanky and wiped his face. Hoss offered him the flask again and Adam took another swallow, “Sorry.”

“Don’t be daft brother, just try and relax.”

Adam took several deep breaths and got back more or less in control, “I’m alright now.” He still looked very pale but he had at least stopped shaking, he was staring up at the cliff as though mesmerized and Hoss moved between him and the cliff at least partially blocking his view. “Do you want to talk?”

Adam didn’t answer at first and Hoss gripped his arm “Adam I don’t reckon you will forget until you’ve talked it out.”

“I don’t know Hoss, it’s all so confused.”

Hoss turned to look at the cliff as his brother was still staring at it, “How you ever climbed that I shall never know. I’m no great shakes at climbing, wrong build, but even so I found it near impossible, even with a rope to help me and fully fit, while you.....”

Adam frowned staring at it but he slowly began to talk, “I didn’t think I could make it, made the others go first.” He was quiet for a minute but then went on “The fire was getting closer, I’d seen those bodies, knew I could go the same way, no chance. I’d rather die trying to get to safety, at least trying even if I fell off the cliff, had to try.”

“I can understand that Adam. Thank God you did.”

“Maybe God helped me, I don’t know, Carole did and the children. I could see them too much to live for. Everything worked just took time to react. I don’t know if I screamed felt like it sometimes but pain can be endured, you know that. Don’t remember much, just kept moving.” Adam was trembling again and Hoss bit his lip wondering if he had done the wrong thing, forcing his brother to talk. Adam looked up at his brother, I remember virtually nothing once I reached the ledge, I was lucky Jess and John were with me, I tried to thank them but they wouldn’t accept it.”

“Guess they were lucky you were around too brother, lucky you’re so damned obstinate.”

Adam pulled away and got to his feet looking round at the whole area devastated by the fire, “Two men died.”

“You did all you could Adam, a hell of a lot more than most men could or would have done and you paid heavily.”

“This land has been unlucky for us; maybe I shouldn’t have been so greedy; we didn’t need more land. Joe nearly lost his life and I’ve now killed three men over here apart from injuries, maybe the payment was due.”

Hoss stared at him in disbelief as he realised what his brother meant “You can’t be serious Adam!”

Adam met his brother’s gaze and Hoss could see he was. Hoss sighed heavily “Its rough land Adam accidents happen. We don’t often lose men and we do all we can to protect them, help anyone who gets hurt. You know that as well as I do. We do a damned sight more than anyone else would have done.”
All over here.”

“This lumber is needed, you know the demand in town, it keeps growing. Someone was gonna harvest this crop, what with the price going up all the time it was just bound to happen. A lot less people are gonna get hurt with us handling it and we will stop these mountains being ruined like those further north, Joe said it, gotta protect our view.”

“No view is worth anyone’s life.”

“Fires can happen anywhere Adam you know that as well as I do. You did marvels with the resources you had available and far from killing anyone you saved two lives at one hell of a cost.”

“I don’t know.” Adam sighed heavily, his head throbbing fiercely, he just couldn’t think straight.

“You ask any of the men round here Adam. Do you think that if they didn’t respect and admire you for what you did they would have bothered to creep around this morning so as not to wake you.”

“Did they?”

Hoss filled in some more detail for him and Adam moved, found his eyes blurred by tears, that the men, few of them friends some he barely knew by name, should have cared enough to be quiet. Hoss passed him the flask again and Adam took it gratefully slowly relaxing. Hoss watched some colour come back into his brother’s face and after a few minutes Adam smiled “I think I’ve seen all I want Hoss. I’m okay, thanks for coming.”

Hoss grinned and the brothers headed straight for the camp where Jess was still hovering, Jess was surprised to see Adam looking a lot brighter than he had expected but he made no comment and after coffee Hoss headed back for work while Adam and Jess continued the survey. After two hours Adam was tired and with not too much remaining for the following day he called a halt.

Jess suggested that he go and have a doze before food but Adam just grinned “I told my brothers that you fussed more than they dare! We have an artist doing views around the ranch and I hope he’ll be ready to come over here in a few days. Hoss won’t let me ride back alone and he can’t spare the time so if its okay with you, you’re gonna be landed.”

“You know I don’t mind Adam, easier than working!”

“Well maybe you could bring the painter back.” Seeing the distaste on his face Adam grinned, “Its okay Jess, nice bloke Albert Bierstadt, he’s been living rough, roaming around these mountains for fifteen years, he’s no tenderfoot.”

“Well I’ll take your word for that but what I know about art could fill up maybe five minutes conversation.”

“You know this land and that’s what he’s interested in at the moment. Anyway there’s a view I want painted. It’s still early so come down to the Lake and I’ll show you.”

“I can probably guess.”

“Expect you can, still I’d like to see it myself.” Adam led the way back to where he had camped with his brothers before they bought the land. The small shelter that Hoss had built to protect his critically ill brother still stood, a little battered by the winds and weather but intact. Adam went inside for a moment remembering so clearly how near Joe had been to death and his agony. Jess knew the story and he followed Adam in “Joe made a good recovery.”

Adam nodded slowly, “He had so much pain.”

“And I suppose you haven’t with that back? Come on Adam it was a long time ago.”

“I know Jess I’m alright, just so very thankful. God is good to us, so often we’ve hovered on the brink but somehow.... apart from Marie.”

“At least Joe has a beautiful new wife.”

“Sure. Come on let’s go look at the view.” Adam led the way to the rocks where for several days the brothers had sat eating their meals, watching the changing moors of the Lake. He sat down at ease with his good friend and slowly the peace of the Lake got to him and he felt better than he had done for sometime. Hoss was right, they did all they could to protect their man and although injuries and deaths happened they were inevitable and their record was better than anyone else.

Eventually he accepted Jess’ help to get back to his feet and headed back for food, hungry again. Hoss could see how much his brother had relaxed and glad of it he sent Joe another message to confirm that their brother was fine and he could stop worrying.

Adam enjoyed chatting after the food and the following day he finished up early and had a chance to look around himself and see how much still remained to be done. Hoss got him to bed early and with a prompt start Adam and Jess didn’t have to rush to make it home in time for dinner. As Adam finished packing his papers Jess promised Hoss that he would stop Adam overdoing it, Hoss glanced over at his brother and grinned “You won’t control him, none of us can.”

Jess had to laugh “I remember the first time I went with him to Sacramento when he wasn’t fully fit. Joe recommended low cunning and a tired horse.”

“I know he’ll be as safe with you as with one of us Jess. I hope you know we are grateful.”

“He’s my friend Hoss, you all are, but Adam especially.”

“I know that and its mutual, I saw Adam when you were hurt earlier this year.”

Adam came over then to take his leave of his brother. Hoss hoped to be back having completed everything in about ten days, everything was running very smoothly and he was getting on faster then he had expected. Adam gave his brother his word not to overdo it, either on the journey home or with the work with their father away.

At the house Joe and Carole were on tenterhooks, awaiting Adam’s return. They had word from Hoss that he was a lot better than they’d expected and knew they could trust Jess, but they wanted to see for themselves.

Determined not to worry Carole Adam had taken a break for half an hour and a drink about two miles from the house. The ride hadn’t tired him particularly, a lot less than on the way out so it wasn’t hard to hide his tiredness as he rode in. Carole was waiting for him as he dismounted, not waiting for Joe’s help and pulled her close and kissed her soundly. Joe looked questioningly at Jess, wondering how much of it was an act, Jess grinned as he got down taking Blackie’s reins to go and see to the horses. Keeping his voice low he murmured “He’s okay Joe just see he has an early night.”

“Fair enough. Thanks Jess.”

Carole felt the same and pulling away from Adam she went over to Jess, “Join us for dinner, give you a chance to get used to Mr Bierstadt.”

“Thanks, I’d like to.”

Pleased to see he’d taken no harm from his trip all of them were light hearted and it made a pleasant evening. Joe filled Adam in briefly on the news, nothing startling. He had confirmation of their father’s arrival. In San Francisco from Will, who had said that Ben wasn’t overtired by the journey and seemed in fine fettle.

In San Francisco Will and Laura fussed over Ben, whom they hadn’t seen since his near disastrous appendicitis. At least he looked a lot better than they had feared but they were worried about Adam, knowing he’d been hurt in a fire although not the extent of his injuries. Rumour spread and knowing they worried the Cartwrights tried to keep them informed. This time it had meant so many rearrangements to cover the work it had been even more necessary. Once sure that Ben was alright they wanted full details of what had happened. Ben parried for a while, concerned about his nephew who looked tired and drawn. He wondered just how badly Will had been hit by the business collapse.

Will didn’t try to hide just how hard his transport business was hit. He was a partner now but with most of business life in town grinding to a halt it was inevitable. Like nearly everyone else he had been involved in the market relying heavily on his cousin’s advice and he’d taken it very seriously when Adam told him to sell out. He had managed to sell at a good price and that had cushioned the blow for them. Unlike many of their friend they weren’t burdened with a big mortgage and were still relatively well off. Ben asked if they needed any more money and Will smiled affectionately at his Uncle. “If we need it, I give you my word I will ask but at the moment we don’t. I might be grateful for some extra cash when things start picking up again, take the opportunity to expand.”

“Just ask, apart from the boys, you’re about the only family I’ve got.”

“We will.” Laura promised, it had taken a long time for Will to stop feeling guilty about hurting Adam but now that the cousins were good friends again her husband would accept the help.

Will poured out brandies all round and asked “Right what happened and how is Adam?”

“Recovering well thank God and he will make a full recovery which is all that matters.” Ben sipped his brandy and then knowing he wouldn’t get away without the details he explained exactly what had happened. Even though Ben glossed over his son’s injuries both looked shocked and Will poured more brandy as Ben emphasized that Adam was over the worst and well on the way to a full recovery. In their own ways both Will and Laura loved Adam and hated him to be hurt, it seemed to happen too often. Will cursed his inability to get away with things as they were to see Adam for himself, but with the uncertainty he didn’t dare.
They all had an early night, and Ben was the only one to get a decent night’s sleep, tired after the journey.

By breakfast Will and Laura had cheered up, used to the idea and relying on Ben’s insistence that the worst was over and Adam would be fine. Will found out what his Uncle had to do during his stay and with very little to do himself at the moment he offered his services, Ben accepted gratefully he wanted to get home as soon as possible. He did warn Will about the inevitable failure of the Bank, although warning him to keep it to himself, Will had seen the signs and it didn’t come as any great surprise but he was worried about Ben’s certainty. He only had a minor account with the Bank, dealing mainly with a small independent and the new Bank of Nevada. He had changed over some months back as the new Bank was in some ways a family concern. Will was concerned that closing the account might cause comment so close on Ben’s arrival but he couldn’t really afford to write off the money. Ben told him to go ahead it wouldn’t matter. Then they settled to plan the necessary first visits to complete Ben’s outstanding jobs.

Ben had to negotiate a contract with the railroad for the following year as well as arrange various transport, order particular stores and complete the formalities for his land in California amongst other jobs. A lot of it was time consuming rather than difficult and Ben was very grateful for his nephew’s help. The general uncertainty around town made it difficult to work a malaise had settled over the whole community, half the firms had closed either temporarily or permanently and everyone was waiting for the final blow to fall, for the impossible to happen, Ben got the impression that few people dared to plan more than a day or so ahead in case the Bank failed. Everywhere he turned he was face with frustrating hold-ups with even the railroad kings not immune; the whole business sector in San Francisco was in the grip of paralysis. Ben cursed the waste of time but there was nothing he could do. He seemed to be the only person in San Francisco with any sense of urgency and although he was slowly achieving what he needed, it took ten times longer than it usually did. He had been in town for a week when the blow that everyone had been expecting and fearing finally fell.

The Friday started just as any other day and Ben went down into the business section of town with Will for a meeting he had arranged with the representatives of the railroad. He found the men watching uneasily out of the window. The more senior apologized profusely but under current conditions they couldn’t settle to talk.

Ben very puzzled asked “What’s happened?”

“You haven’t heard?”

“No I haven’t heard anything,”

“Maybe nothing, but we both heard on our way here,” The man stood back to let Ben come to the window,

“Rumour only I guess but maybe that’s all it needs.”

Ben sighed inwardly wondering if the man would ever come to the point. “Could you just tell me what was said?” he asked mildly.

The man met his eye, “Not much, just that the Bank is in trouble, that it will have to close its doors.”

Ben knew that was no more than a lot of them had known for weeks but if it was general knowledge that would almost certainly precipitate the inevitable run which would ensure the accuracy of the statement. Like the others he found his gaze drawn irresistibly to the impressive main Bank building, on the corner across the street from where he stood. Already a crowd was gathering, jostling to get inside, withdraw their own money, their savings. Only small so far quickly swallowed up by the huge doors with room inside but as he watched Ben could sense the panic in the people he could see converging on the bank from every direction.

Ben had seen panics and runs before and knew that this was the start of one, having got this far it would take a miracle to stop it, as rumour growing on its own strength would spread ever wider. Ralston had pulled off impressive tricks before but this time he seemed to have run out of miracles and with all his colleagues drawing away from him it was obvious he would get no help. Ben stood looking down at the street for a few minutes lost in his own thoughts. It was obvious that no business could be concluded until things had sorted themselves out and Ben agreed to postpone the meeting. Then with Will, Ben headed down the street to the saloon cum stock exchange that Flood and O’Brien operated. They weren’t often to be seen there since they made so much money but Ben would have given odds that they would be there this morning. Each had a great many contacts and would have been amongst the first to know that the run, they had worked so hard to ensure, was starting.

The saloon wasn’t far from the Bank and it seemed to Ben that nowhere in San Francisco was going to be free of discussion about the Bank that day, so he might as well go where he could find the most up to date information. Ben ordered two beers and they were listening to the gossip when Flood appeared. “Heard you were in town Ben, I’ve been expecting you to drop by.”

Ben knew that he would normally have made a courtesy call on his business colleagues before this, even though his jobs in town were all connected to the ranch and nothing to do with them. After the meeting at Adam’s he hadn’t felt much like being sociable, he would never think of them again as friends. However he didn’t want to cause a row as they would still have to work together if he was to achieve what he wanted for Nevada and so he made his excuses, “Been very busy and with Adam still not fit I want to get home as soon as I can. Joseph is having to carry a very heavy load.”

“Can understand that.” Flood nodded.

O’Brien had joined them too, “How is Adam? Recovering I hope. I’m still very sorry we bothered him when he was so ill.”

“Luckily we caught the infection in time. He’s recovering well but he’s still weak, can’t pull his weight and he’ll be driving Joe to distraction attempting more than he’s fit for.”

Flood grunted “Glad he’s better. You’ve heard the rumours this morning?”

“Yeah, crowds already beginning to gather round the Bank.”

“It’ll close. Today for certain. I doubt it’ll last much beyond lunchtime.” Flood couldn’t hide the glee in his voice at the prospective downfall of his opposition and Will found it hard to keep quiet, knowing how many of his friends and colleagues were going to be badly hit. He stared fixedly into his glass, these men were in business with his Uncle and it wasn’t his place to cause trouble.

Ben was close to losing his own temper but it was no more than he expected and indeed any other reaction from Flood would have been hypocritical to say the least. He sipped his beer and said dryly, “I just hope that once it’s finally settle, this town will come out of its paralysis. Noone seems prepared to plan ahead at the moment and it’s impossible to get necessary arrangements made.”

“Being held up?” Flood enquired.

“Somewhat everyone is waiting for this run. Once the dust ahs settled and they know just how badly they have been hit I think we can get things moving.”

“How badly will it hit the Ponderosa?” Flood asked.

Ben raised an eyebrow; he never divulged unnecessary information about the ranch. “It won’t really and the people we deal with are in the main safe, at least in the long term. A few changes in the next month, but we saw this coming and took appropriate steps.”

Flood accepted that he would get no more details and began to fill Ben in on the exact rumours that he had picked up. Some fancy detail but it didn’t alter the basic message, the Bank was in trouble. Whatever the truth of that statement when it first started to circulate, the mere transmission round town had turned it into solid fact. Without the sort of advance warning and support the Virginia City bank had received, no Bank could possibly withstand a full scale run. Small ones managed if a large enough institution could carry them but in this case the Bank of California was the largest bank in the west. Everyone was passing by on the other side and noone cared if Ralston fell, most of his erstwhile colleagues had already pulled clear.

Ben stayed in the bar, it would be impossible to achieve any work at all and he was realistic enough not to try. Nowhere else in town would he get faster news so he might as well stay put. After a short time he and Will withdrew into a corner with two fresh beers and Will was able to vent his feelings. His Uncle agreed with him but there was nothing they could do. Every move they could make to protect people who mattered to them had already been made. Will was restless and was glad when Ben asked him to do a job, even one as prosaic as sending three telegrams to Virginia City, All prearranged, each consisted of a single word under Ben’s name to let them know that the run had started, one to the ranch, one to Dan and one to Harris at the Bank. The one for the ranch carried the urgent tag which for a long time had been agreed with the telegraph office so that any telegrams carrying it were taken straight out to the ranch. There were always plenty of youngsters who welcomed the ride, knowing the Cartwrights were always generous. Ben would send further news if the Bank actually shut its doors but for now it was important that everyone was alerted that trouble had stated. He knew that rumour was probably already rife in Nevada as well as here, it didn’t usually take long to spread, but his name ensured the accuracy of the information.

Ben waited as Will pushed his way out on his errand, the expression on his face enough to keep casual acquaintances from disturbing him. He had been expecting the run and since his arrival in town the whole atmosphere had demonstrated that it couldn’t be long delayed but that didn’t make the actuality any more pleasant.

Will was a long time having taken a detour via the Bank to see for himself after sending the telegrams. It had seemed for a while that the whole of San Francisco was doing the same, all the streets jammed with people. Some were scared, some angry, others merely curious with the rumours getting wilder all the time.

Will had slowly worked his way through towards the Bank. Directly outside there was crowd trying desperately to push their way into the Bank to get their own money. Here fear and anger dominated in fact it was near panic with several fights, as the stronger men tried to force their way through to the front. Will stopped to help up an elderly lady who had been knocked down in the rush. She was in tears, scared rather than hurt and rapidly realising that she couldn’t push her way through the crowd to draw her small savings and yet not quite able to accept that the money was lost. Only 630 dollars, negligible in the major catastrophe that was being enacted but all the money she had scrimped and saved over many years. She fought hard to hide her tears, very conscious of her dignity. Will managed to persuade her to come along the street with him to a small tearoom where he got her a drink. She calmed down a little and thanked Will for helping her, slowly accepting that her money was lost.

Will knew that they couldn’t take on every stranger who was in trouble with the Bank failure but he was very moved by this lady who was trying to accept her catastrophe with dignity. It wasn’t a large sum but Will wasn’t wealthy like the rest of the Cartwrights and he couldn’t afford it. He hesitated for a moment, not wanting to commit his Uncle but then he remembered his promise to ask for help. This wasn’t for himself but he was sure that Ben would understand his need to act for this one representative of so many and the money was barely small change for Ben these days. He smiled “You can’t get through that crowd but maybe I can help if you come with me. My Uncle is down the street a way. He can get money directly from the bank managers, a very influential man Ben Cartwright from the Ponderosa. You may have heard of him and I’m sure he’ll help.”

Having lived in San Francisco for nearly fifteen years she had indeed heard of Ben, it would have been difficult not to but she couldn’t understand why a big man like Ben Cartwright should bother with a widow with no influence. She said slowly “The Sarah Jenkins of this world have nothing to do with the Cartwrights.”

“Don’t judge him by the other business men in this town. He cares, he hates what is being done but he hasn’t enough power or money to stop it. He’s already helped many people. It’s worth a try, what have you got to lose?”

Mr Jenkins frowned but he had a point and finishing her tea, with a decisive gesture she pushed her cup away. “You’re right. Let’s go and see Mr Cartwright, Did you say he was your Uncle?”

“Yes ma’am I’m Will Cartwright,” Will offered her his arm and took the old lady along the street, Ben was in a saloon and even if it did double as a stock exchange it was no place for a Lady, so leaving her outside Will slipped in and managing to catch his Uncle’s eye he beckoned him.

Ben had been slightly surprised how long Will was but he guessed that his nephew had gone to see the Bank and it was doubtless very crowded, so he wasn’t worried but he had been watching for Will. Seeing his nephew beckon Ben drained his beer and went over to him, surprised by the obvious embarrassment on his face, “What’s the matter Will?”

“I’m sorry Sir.”

Ben frowned, it was many years since Will had called him Sir, although he had done so in the early days on the Ponderosa, “What on Earth’s the matter?” As Will still seemed incapable of explaining Ben considered his nephew carefully and then he grinned. In some strange way, a similarity of expression, Will looked very like his cousin, a much younger Little Joe, when on occasion something had sparked his quick sympathy and he had promised help. Nearly always help which depended on some one else, either Hoss or when he’d looked like that usually Adam and having pledged his brother’s word he wasn’t sure how it was going to be taken.

Will looked puzzled as Ben grinned, but it turned to open-mouthed amazement as Ben asked quietly, “How many waifs have I got to salvage?”

“How did you know?”

“Years of experience! What can I do?” The question was very serious and sure now that his Uncle wouldn’t object Will did his best to explain. He was very sorry for the lady doing her best to face disaster with dignity. He couldn’t really put it into words but Ben could understand Will’s urge to help, just one of many, to do something. “How much?”

“630 dollars, her life savings. I’ll pay you back when I can.”

“Don’t be stupid Will. I’m glad you brought her. We have more money than we’ll ever need. Joe spent almost twice that on some books for Adam just a few weeks back. Where is she?”

Will led Ben over to her. At least the break had given her a chance to get control and she was very dignified.

“It was kind of your nephew Mr Cartwright but I have no call on you. I shouldn’t have come.”

Ben smiled “I’m very glad that you did Mrs Jenkins. Maybe you have no call on me but equally you have done nothing to deserve losing your money either. Like all too many of those who will suffer from today’s events. I don’t approve of what is happening and where I can I’ll help.”

“That’s very kind, your nephew said that you cared but I have no right.”

“Please Mrs Jenkins. Give me a cheque for all your money and I will give you cash here and now. Then it’s up to me to extricate the money from the Bank, which I’m far better equipped to do than you are.”

“But the Bank will fail.”

“Eventually somehow I expect we will pick up the pieces, pull in the investments and pay off the creditors or run it again. Maybe not the full amount but then I gamble every day of my life.”

“You have nothing to gain, you can only lose.”

“I can afford the loss much better than you can and anyway it will be worth a couple of hundred dollars to buy my nephew some peace of mind, He hates the misery and despair he sees everywhere as much as I do. This way he has at least tried to help a little.”

Mrs Jenkins considered Ben seeing the affection in the look he cast at Will, who had been waylaid by an acquaintance sure that Ben would know the most up to date news. She relaxed, “Alright Mr Cartwright I’ll accept your kind offer with deep gratitude. I shall thank our Lord every night for his mercy to me and for his mercy in making men like you.”

“God has been so very good to me, both materially and more importantly in giving me a fine family, why shouldn’t I try to use his bounty?”

“Few do Mr Cartwright, God bless you.”

Ben gave her the money and watched the old lady move away through the crowd, very erect. He could understand why Will had got involved and he said as much to his nephew as they went back in. Will ordered two brandies and told Ben of the chaos, escalating fast outside the Bank as people fought to get their money out before the cash ran out.

Flood came over to refill their glasses and knowing just how exact a picture he had of conditions in the Bank, Ben asked “How much cash and bullion did they have on hand to cope with this run?”
Flood shrugged and Ben said “Your informant got out early?”

“No he’s still there. I thought you didn’t like my methods.”

“Not much, but it hardly matters now, I just wondered how long it would last, there could be a full scale riot when they close those doors.”

“Not long. They had a little over one and a half million.”

“Including the bullion?” Ben said in surprise.

“Never really replaced the four million or so we withdrew when we opened the Bank of Nevada.”

Ben sighed, he hadn’t realised it had got quite so low. Despite no rum developing there must have been a steady drain of assets over the past weeks for the Bank to be so low. “It will barely last until lunchtime.”

“Depends how many small depositors get in first but it can’t take long,” Flood agreed and then remembering Ben’s illness he added “As you say it might get rough, why not go back to Will’s place, he can bring word. It’s not that long since you were ill.”

“I’m fit enough.” Ben insisted, “I’m used to it getting rough and for once I’m not a leading target, I’ll stick around and see for myself, Ralston’s pulled off some impressive escapes from the brink before.”

“Not this time.”

“No, I tend to agree. Too many people big and small have lost confidence in him.” Ben sipped his brandy, “I’ll still see for myself.”

Noone was really interested in food as they waited for the impossible to happen. Word came of more intense fighting outside the Bank, many of the weaker men and nearly all of the women had given up the fight and surrendered ground to those who were physically strong enough to try and fight their way in. One of Will’s friends, Don, who had been strong enough to do just that and had got his money safely out, came to join Will and Ben. Inside he said that the scene was if anything even more chaotic than outside. Some of the clerks had been reduced to tears or hysteria, never having had to face anything like it before. In a vain attempt to bluff his way out of trouble as he had once before Ralston had all the gold and silver and the money sacks brought into view, stacked up behind the counter as visible statement of the wealth of the Bank. This time it hadn’t worked, the fear embedded by the paralysis of the city since the collapse of the Comstock stock was far too strong. The guards were scared stiff with so many people milling around and they were guarding the money with drawn guns to keep the crowds back. Don was sure that it would only be a matter of time before someone went off half-cocked and there were killings. There was no attempt any longer to get people into queues, inside as outside the fittest fought their way to the counter and if they were lucky hung on long enough for the clerk to count out their money. All the clerks under such pressure were slow and Don was sure that if they had been working normally they would have handled things twice as fast.

Ben was solemn, “It suits Ralston to delay, He’ll be frantically contacting everyone and anyone who might be able to help, to get him through the rest of the day. Then he’d have a weekend’s breathing space to try and pick up the pieces.”

“And?” asked Will

Ben sighed “He’s even sent a messenger here asking to borrow cash but he has virtually nothing left to borrow against and he must know just how unlikely Flood and O’Brien are to help. If he’s driven to such a desperation effort what do you think?”

“The Bank will close its doors.”

“It’s going to be forced to. The only question is when.”

They didn’t have to wait very long for the question to be finally answered. Just before two thirty word cane that the Bank was going to close. The saloon emptied almost immediately pushing out into the already jammed streets as men wanted to see for themselves.

Flood and O’Brien both shucked their aprons “Come on Ben you wanted to see.”

Ben and Will followed them out the back and they threaded their way through back alleys to another back door just down the street from the building where Ben had had his morning meeting, seemingly an age ago. Flood had the keys to the door and let them in, locking it against the crowd before leading the way up to a first floor room with a clear view across the road to the Bank. The security guards, with the inefficient help of the clerks, had forced the crowd inside the bank back into the street once all the cash and bullion had gone. It had taken time pushing against the crush in the street still fighting pushing and cursing as they tried to get in, but the sawn-off shotguns the guards were carrying was an effective argument. As the four men stood watching the last few were ejected and very slowly the massive bronze doors began to swing shut against the crowd. For so long they had been a symbol of the wealth and prosperity of the Bank and with it that of San Francisco. Now as the doors shut against them the crowd was almost silenced for a moment as though they were realised it was the end of an era. Although all four men had known that it was inevitable and indeed two of them had worked for it, seeing those doors close they were drawn together. Whatever happened in the future life would be different. The huge all invasive bank of California had failed and with its tentacles in every aspect of business life in the western states it was bound to cause upheaval. Some wanted it some didn’t, but all were stunned by the accomplished fact.

Below as the big doors clanged together, finally shut, it seemed to arouse the crowd to renewed fury. They couldn’t break down the doors but some seemed determined to try even though they must have known there was nothing inside even if they succeeded. All rational thought had vanished from the mob and many were taking their anger and fear out the nearest available target and with those often all too ready to retaliate, vicious fights were breaking out all over.

Will watched in horror, “Someone ought to stop them.”

Ben was more realistic “I doubt anyone could Will certainly there’s nothing we can do. We had better get down to the telegraph office, get word of this home.”

Flood said “I know you didn’t approve Ben, neither you nor your sons, but it was inevitable you know. Kinder in the long run to push him over fast. This town was paralysed before we moved; it couldn’t go on like that.”

Ben nodded he had to go on working with Flood if any of the things he wanted were to be achieved and if it helped Flood to rationalise his actions, then Ben wouldn’t protest, but he knew just why the four Irishmen had acted. Jim Fair at least was honest about it. Ben would never really trust any of them again. He wasn’t sorry to get on the move anything was better than standing watching the useless fighting which he couldn’t do anything to stop.

The streets were still very crowded and it took Ben and Will nearly three-quarters of an hour to edge their way down to the telegraph office. The fighting had spread and stories were spreading of a number of robberies and attempted robberies as some of those who had failed to get their money from the Bank tried to recoup their losses at the expense of the more fortunate. Ben knew that it was inevitable but although he was obviously wealthy, his clothes all top quality, he was also armed and so was Will with the casual ease of men who had always lived with guns and could use them so noone tried anything, Not that it would have done any good, Ben had had to borrow from O’Brien to pay Mrs Jenkins and he only had about twenty dollars on him.

When they finally reached the telegraph office it was obvious half of San Francisco was sending word to associates elsewhere, Ben suggested that Will leave him to queue wait for his turn and go home reassure Laura, in case any of the rioting had got out that way. Will refused, he would stay with his Uncle just in case of trouble. Laura was self-reliant; she hadn’t lived in Virginia City for years without learning to look after herself. If there was trouble she would bar the house and she had a shotgun. Anyway they were well out of the way and unlikely to have any real trouble, the risks were much greater right here. Ben couldn’t argue about that and he was glad of his nephew’s company as they waited. Rumours got ever wilder but it was obvious that at least some murders and a number of robberies had taken place. The rumours did at least have the effect of partially clearing the streets as the more timid members of the crowd headed for the safety of home. Even some of those in the telegraph office decided that discretion was the better part of valour and word would spread without their help so Ben moved closer to the front faster than had seemed possible. He guessed that Dan would already have the news but it did no harm to ensure that it was accurate and he sent telegrams to Dan and Harris as he’d agreed. Then he sent a rather longer one to his sons using the codes they had agreed plus a brief description of what was happening and confirmation that he Will and Laura were fine. With it finally completed Ben was eager to get home, it had seemed a very long day. A wasted one as far as Ben was concerned but he knew that he was lucky that that was the only way it affected him, for many it had been an unmitigated disaster.

Laura was waiting anxiously for their return, she had already heard about the closure and many of the rumours of trouble. As a precaution she had locked up and kept all the children inside, much to Peggy’s disgust. She had prepared an evening meal but none of the adults were hungry, just picking at the food. They were very sombre all evening unable to avoid speculating on what would happen, both in general and to particular friends and acquaintances, caught up in the failure.

At the ranch Adam was feeling much more himself and he was able to put in a reasonable day’s work without feeling exhausted. Joe helped out as much as he could although he had to be out and about checking the work and arranging things, some decisions needed one of them on the spot. Joe had things reasonably up to date on Adam’s return from the west shore and he spent the following day working with his brother so that Adam didn’t have too much to do the following day as Joe head to head out to the lumber camp. By alternating days at home with days out Joe hoped he could keep on top of things and prevent Adam overdoing things, Joe knew that his brother was regaining his strength rapidly but was still worried that Adam would go backwards if he started overdoing things. Carole and Nita insisted on helping too and Adam had been able to spend reasonably lazy evenings and get to bed early. Even so he was usually very tired which at least ensured he got a decent sleep and each day he felt a little better, able to do more. His hand was healing well with just a simple protective bandage on it now and it was no longer troubling him unless he used it too much. All in all Adam was well satisfied both with the way things were going and his own recovery.

On the Friday, 26th August, a date which would live in the history of California, Adam was going over some figures from the sawmill with his youngest brother before lunch when Ben’s telegram arrived from town. Carole had paid the boy who brought it and she came in and gave it to Adam. The single word was self explanatory as Joe read it over his shoulder. Joe sighed heavily, “So it’s started. Do you think he can hold on for today? Its Friday so it would give him a couple of day’s breathing space.”

Adam shook his head “I doubt it, if things are as bad as those figures suggested. It can only have got worse, everyone who knows will have pulled back. Maybe we have contacts but we aren’t the only ones and plenty of people actually in San Francisco are in a better position to find out than we are.”

“I know it was inevitable but....” Joe fell quiet thinking of all the people who were going to be hurt.

Adam pushed the papers away and went over to put on his gunbelt, Joe stared at him “What do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m going to town. I want to see for myself. Word will spread fast. Pa isn’t going to be the only one using the telegraph.”

“Don’t be a fool. “ Joe said in outraged tones, “You’re not fit enough.”

“If I can ride to the west shore and back a ride to town isn’t going to do me any harm.” Adam said mildly and Carole frowned puzzled by Joe’s vehemence. She would have preferred Adam to wait another week or so before going into town but she had seen him make the trip when he was a lot less fit than now.

Joe sighed heavily “It’s not the ride which worries me Adam, You know as well as I do what it’s going to be like, crowds, half of them scared and angry, all pushing and shoving. There’s no way I can give you adequate protection, you’ll hurt your back.”

Carole had to admit the justice of that, even a light touch still made Adam wince and if it got banged in a crowd he could all too easily pass out and get badly hurt in the crush. However Adam just grinned “I assumed that you’d come too little brother.”

Nita gripped his arm, “Please Adam stay here. Joe can find out what’s happening, bring word.”

“I know he’s an efficient reporter but it’s not the same as seeing for yourself. Do a deal Joe, I’ll stay safely on Blackie until you can get us through to the Virginia City Bank. Then I’ll stay in Harris’ office, you know he won’t mind. Just gives the problem of getting through to his office and if you go ahead and get him to open the back door for us it should be easy enough.”

Joe frowned at his brother, it all seemed very logical but Adam was good at making his most outrageous suggestions do that. He wavered “You’ll stay put?”

“I know I’m not up to fighting my way through crowds Joe.”

“Well I suppose we could manage but I still don’t like it.”

Adam grinned at his brother and Joe subsided knowing when he had no chance of winning the argument.

Sue had been playing with Marie but seeing Adam put on his boots and hearing what he was planning she tried to persuade him to at least let her put a protective layer on his back just in case. The others thought it was a good idea but Adam wouldn’t knowing that it would chafe on the ride into town. He kissed Carole and told her not to worry while Joe saddled up for them both. As Adam swung up Joe stopped by Carole “I’ll look after him.”

Carole smiled at him “I know that Joe and after all he has a lot of friends in town and Doc is there if it should be necessary.”

“It won’t be.” Adam said confidently “I’ll be careful but we may be late back so don’t worry.”

Joe let his brother go ahead “If he’s overtired I’ll make him stay in town, send word out.”

The brothers were quiet as they rode into town, even out here word seemed to have spread and everyone was converging on town. They had expected it to be busy but even so they were rather taken aback by just how crowded the streets were. Few horses were moving as most people opted for forcing their way through on foot and the brothers got numerous filthy looks as they edged the two horses slowly down the street.

Word had obviously spread of what was happening in San Francisco and noone was bothering to differentiate between the various Banks, the only safe place for their money was in their own hands.

Eventually the brothers got into such a jam that noone could move. Cochise was jammed up tight against Blackie and Joe, very worried about his brother, was grim, “Well you wanted to see brother! I hope you’re satisfied.”

“Take it easy Joe, let’s aim for that alley, leave the horses and go over the back lots.”

“Sure with half the rest of the citizenry. Its little better than it is here. You are staying up on Blackie where you’re safe. I’ll leave Cochise and cut through. You keep going aim for the alley by the Bank and I’ll meet you there.”

Adam looked at the crowds, unsure if he could force Blackie through and Joe glared at him “Either that or you’ll have to stay here, you are not risking getting down into this mob and you don’t deserve any sympathy. It was madness to come.”

Adam had to smile “Alright little brother. I must admit I didn’t realise just how crowded it would be.”

Joe edged away with his brother’s promise to stay on Blackie at least until they were reunited, he wasn’t too worried about Adam. Mounted his brother could cope and anyway he needed all his attention to edge Cochise through to the alley.

Blackie didn’t like all the people so close and with the one familiar thing vanishing as Cochise edged away, Blackie tried to push clear of all the people pressing in on him, tossing his head around and half rearing, trumpeting his disapproval for all to hear. Close at hand the magnificent black stallion was a frightening sight and those near him pressed away from him in fear, slowly opening a passageway for Adam. Adam enjoyed himself keeping Blackie sufficiently under control to ensure that he didn’t hurt anyone and yet using the fear the stallion evoked to open a path. It was consummate horsemanship with a fiery animal like the stallion and although he was Adam’s horse in every sense and responded to his master’s wishes almost before being asked, it placed a strain on unused muscles and Adam was tiring rapidly, very aware of the ache in his back long before he reached the alley where he was meeting Joe. Just about the only person still mounted he was very conspicuous and there were some angry comments but luckily he was also very well known and his identity was soon being passed round. For some it was just another insult, a rich man using his weight and that of his horse, but enough people had heard about the fire and his injuries for the true reason to spread. He hadn’t been seen in town since the fire and those who weren’t too tied up in worrying about their money speculated about his presence, particularly alone. As speculation mounted that the wealthy Cartwrights were moving to help, Adam found his path eased for him. As word spread it reached several of his friends who found it hard to believe that he was really taking such a risk. Roy was the first to push through to Blackie and his reaction was typical, “You’re mad.”

“Joe’s around too Roy. I’m okay.”

“Where you trying to go?”

“Alley by Harris’ bank. Joe’s meeting me there. I want to see Harris.”

“So do half this mob.” Roy commented dryly.

“The Virginia City Bank is solid.” Adam said, deliberately raising his voice. “Enough cash for anyone who is mad enough to want it. You’d better leave me Roy. I’m okay but with all this cash around robberies are going to multiply.”

He could see everyone within earshot hanging onto his words and Roy asked, “Why do you want to see Harris?”

“Just to see if he needs any additional cash. The Bank of Nevada has a surfeit with so much ore coming out of the California and the Consolidated Virginia, we can pay all our depositors twice over and still have cash left, so if Harris should need some I might take over some of his medium term loans.”

“You that sure?”

“We made sure weeks ago. The Bank of California is in trouble but the other Banks in this town are safe. I can guarantee it. Between them they can even survive a run with all the people losing their heads, anything less they can survive unaided. You’re the one with big problems Roy, not me or the Banks. You and the people trying to safeguard large sums in cash and bullion.” Adam had the satisfaction of seeing most men were talking earnestly together. The looks cast at him mute testimony that every word he’d said was under discussion as he’d intended. Many would think that he was bluffing, others knowing and trusting in the Cartwright name would believe him and might even think twice about withdrawing their cash. He knew that every word would spread through town and it might help a little but the effort of forming it for the maximum attention had cost him heavily and with the struggle to control Blackie he was exhausted. It was a great relief when Roy took hold of the bridle and growling at everyone who couldn’t get out of the way forced a path through the crowd to the alleyway where Joe was waiting. Joe hadn’t been able to see what was happening but word had already reached him of Adam’s discussion with Roy and several people had asked his opinion. Joe had vehemently backed his brother, who was in any case only telling the truth. Dan had also heard of Adam’s arrival and he was trying to get through when he saw Joe and pushed over to him, “What’s he playing at?”

“Pigheaded, stubborn and obstinate! Pa sent word and nothing would stop him coming to see for himself. At least on Blackie noone can hurt his back.”

“Even so Joe?”

“I couldn’t stop him, I never can and he’s better, well enough for brute strength to be useless, with those scars, I couldn’t” Joe sighed, “He is much better, it’s just the crowds.”

Roy led the stallion through to them at that moment and Joe thanked the sheriff for his help. Adam swung down a trifle unsteadily and held onto Blackie’s saddle for support while Joe moved to protect his back. Joe could see that his brother had overtaxed his strength but now was neither the time nor the place to fuss and he just touched Adam lightly on the arm, “Harris is expecting us, can you make it?”

“Sure little brother.”

Roy and Dan moved close to Joe to protect Adam and the four men edged through to the door here Joe gave the knock he’d agreed as a signal and they heard the bolts being withdrawn. The door was opened just enough to let them in and then hastily closed and relocked. Harris was waiting for them looking very harassed and worried but on seeing how drawn Adam was he ordered the man who’d let them in to fetch coffee. “Come and sit down Adam.” Without asking he poured a stiff brandy and handed it to Adam, who accepted gratefully. He was grateful for the comparative peace of the office, the angry voices in the Bank muted by the closed doors.

Harris met Joe’s eye and the question was obvious, Joe jerked his head over towards the window and the four men gathered there. Harris asked quietly “Is he alright?”

“Just give him five minutes to recover.” Joe said with rather more confidence than he really felt. He had already explained to Harris why they had come to town and why they wanted to use his office as a safe place for Adam at the centre of things. Harris had been delighted to see them, with Ben’s help he could be reasonably certain that his Bank would be safe but it was still very unnerving with the scared people surging around. The Cartwrights were old friends and he’d relied on Adam’s brain often enough. He had relaxed slightly knowing that Adam would soon be there and able to give him advice, but now looking at the obviously weak man Harris was even more worried. Adam was drawn, his back aching and his head throbbing but as he relaxed and the brandy took effect he was regaining his colour and beginning to feel better, much to everyone’s relief. He sat up gratefully drinking the coffee and grinned, “Thanks for your help Roy. I’m okay now. What’s happening?”

“We heard from San Francisco, run on the Bank has started.”

“Pa sent word.”

Dan nodded “I got confirmation from Ben but I’d already heard from several people and once word spread round the town, panic didn’t take long to spread.”

“So we see,” Adam commented. “How about here?”

“The run is on. We can cope thanks to you. I have plenty of cash on hand and paper from the Eastern banks which some of the bigger holders are accepting.”

“Dissuading any yet?” asked Joe

Harris shook his head, “Not too likely, the first ones to arrive in this sort of run are always the easiest panicked and it’ll take more than my reassurances to stop them.”

Dan said “You are safe?”

Harris nodded, “Prepared for this, we’ve never had such a high degree of liquidity.”

Roy told Harris what Adam had said. “It might help in at least a few cases with the Cartwright’s name behind it.”

Harris nodded but he couldn’t stay any longer, his staff needed his support. Roy had to get back too; Adam was right there would be a lot of robberies before the day was out. Adam wandered over to the window and stared out at the crowds. “Joe go and find out what the situation is at the Bank of Nevada but be very careful.”

Joe frowned “You’ll stay here?”

“My word on it Joe. I do know my limitations.”

Outraged Joe said “That’s a matter of opinion.”

Dan went out with Joe pushing through the crowd in the Bank. One old friend of Joe’s grabbed his arm “Joe are you taking your money out?”

“Why should I? It’s a damn sight safer here than trying to carry it around in this mob. This bank is quite safe.”

“You sure?”

“I can guarantee it.” Joe said firmly aware a number of eyes were on him, searching his face and he managed to look at ease. His friend let go but he turned to leave too. “Good enough for me, if all your money is safe, my couple of hundred should be.”

“Sensible.” Said Joe lightly, aware that a few others were also turning to leave. Now if he could do the same at his own back, maybe a little of the panic would subside.

Joe was a long time coming back and Adam was pacing around uneasily. He had been out once to the main bank but he was only in the way, He had talked to a few people but not managed to persuade anyone, maybe still looking too ill to be convincing and he decided that his visible presence was just causing more apprehensive speculation so he retreated back to Harris’ office. A little later Harris brought in the expected demand for assistance from the Bank of California. It had come from the local branch but not from Sharon who was diplomatically out of town, actually in San Francisco as far as anyone knew.

Harris passed the demand to Adam. Adam knew exactly what his father had discussed with Harris and Canmore, “It’s not surprising, you have to pay. Canmore explained the legal position didn’t he?”

“Was he right Adam?” Harris asked, feeling happier with Adam’s opinion than that of an unknown lawyer however much he was recommended.

Adam nodded “Quite right, pay up now and in a few hours the way things are going you’ll be an independent Bank again.”

“Pretty dependent on the Cartwrights.”

“Temporarily only Harris, you know that.”

“I’m not worried about you four.” smiled Harris, “Do you want some coffee.”

“Please but no rush, get the money off first.”

Harris said “I’ll have someone start counting could you check the figures for me, just how much am I liable for?”

Adam did that, but it was impossible to be completely accurate with the current position so confusing. He could only make an educated guess at it and it was worth a few thousand dollars to ensure that they were legally safe if there was pressure later for a full accounting. Harris accepted his figures without question and got the money together and with three men as guard he sent it over to the California branch and then he concentrated on trying to keep the people inside the bank reasonably orderly.

Joe was well satisfied with the situation in the Bank of Nevada. Both Fair and Mackay were there already but although a number of men had withdrawn their cash, there wasn’t any crush in this Bank with few smaller depositors as yet and the larger depositors trusting in the known strength of the mines which backed the bank. Fair seemed oblivious of the panic in the streets but Mackay was very worried, having unleashed a monster that he couldn’t control and now seeing the disadvantages the Cartwrights had warned him about. He had been able to ignore the warning, with only a limited imagination, but he wasn’t a cruel man and now he could actually see the effects it upset and frightened him.

Joe had little sympathy it was too late now to try and change things, but matured over the last few years he kept his thoughts to himself and chose his words carefully to make sure he didn’t make their future working relationship more difficult. Once he had all the details of the current position and had spoken to those he knew best in the queue, throwing the weight of the Cartwright name behind the Bank, he edged back out.

So far only one man had left but several were looking uncertain and he knew it was about the most he could hope to achieve.

Having missed dinner Joe’s stomach was reminding him fairly forcibly that it was way past food time. He decided to go and collect something for both himself and Adam, but as he forced his way down the street to one of the cafes he picked up a rumour which made him forget all about food again and he changed direction. He was beginning to get the hang of moving in this huge crowd, big enough to have the strength to push and tall enough to see where he was going and yet agile enough to slip through small gaps he did well, Few people had any real idea where they wanted to go and anyone with a precise destination in mind was at an advantage. Joe headed down to the telegraph office and it was a good thing that he didn’t want to send a wire as half the town were trying to contact someone in San Francisco to find out what was happening. Luckily the manager recognised Joe as he edged his way along the wall and sent one of the boys over with Ben’s telegram, which he’d been about to send out to the ranch. Joe took it and catching the man’s eye he acknowledged it with gratitude. He scanned the message quickly and was about to go out. Several other people recognised him and seeing that he’d had news came over to see what he knew. Joe hesitated momentarily but there seemed little point in avoiding the issue, news was arriving from down below all the time. “Alright if you’ll just quieten down. My father has sent me definite news.”

The row in the office subsided as that penetrated and Joe realised that it wasn’t only the ones close at hand who were listening to him but he had made his decision and raising his voice he took advantage of his temporary public platform. “You all know there’s trouble. As far as we are concerned here in Virginia City, both the Bank of Nevada and the Virginia City Bank are sound, so we are more fortunate than most.”

“Are they? Harris is tied up to the Bank of California.” came from the back of the crowd.

“Wrong tense” Joe said, “He’s fulfilled all his commitments to the Bank of California and is now an independent again even though he may not know it yet. I’ll guarantee that his bank is sound. Unfortunately the Bank of California isn’t, it has been forced to close its doors.”

That announcement backed by Ben’s name, although no real surprise, was accepted finally as the truth. It had seemed impossible but Ben wouldn’t have sent word unless he was certain and he was so well known his word was believed. Joe might be the youngest of the Cartwrights but gradually it had been accepted in town that he was no lightweight and could speak for the family, in the same way as Ben or Adam. His words about the other banks made some impression as he had been so positive, but the main discussion was about the California closing its doors. Joe got away as soon as he could and hurried back to rejoin Adam. Ignoring the outraged protests he shoved his way into the Bank and back to Harris’ office. Adam had seen him coming and was waiting, Joe passed the telegram “Ralston’s shut the doors.”

Adam read it swiftly and then perching on the desk reread it more slowly. Joe poured out two brandies and passed one to Adam who was pale, Adam sipped it gratefully “Silly isn’t it Joe. We’ve been expecting it for weeks and yet it still comes as a shock. Seemed so impregnable.”

Joe was staring out over the street at the crowds still seething around outside, “To all of us, just hit you harder because you’re not fit. I’m going to send out for some food.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Don’t be daft Adam, its going to be hours before we can go home and you missed lunch, starving yourself won’t help anything.”

Harris had heard the news and as Joe came out he asked for confirmation. Joe said “The Bank is all yours again; you can take it as certain. I’ve had a telegram from my father with certain key words known only to us.”

Adam cam to the door “The branch here must follow suit soon and I’m sure they’ll have been notified by now. Do you want me to draw up a legal paper notifying them of your withdrawal from the contract, having fulfilled your part?”

“I’d be grateful Adam.”

Adam went back and settled down, glad of a job to concentrate on and taking care to ensure Sharon had no comeback. Joe made arrangements for food and then looked out at the even greater frenzy outside as the Bank’s normal closing time approached. He turned back to Harris. “Panic is growing. It might help if you could stay open.”

“What do you mean Joe?”

“Announce that the Bank will remain open until everyone who wants their money has got it, even if it takes until midnight. You have the resources or I can get them for you.”

“If I close I have two days for sanity to prevail.”

“Maybe more likely leave Roy with an impossible panic and riot, with the bank broken into.”

Harris wasn’t sure and looked longingly at his office but he wouldn’t disturb Adam, he wasn’t fit enough. Joe pressed him “Do you want this hanging over you all weekend? If we can convince them we really can pay, then the panic will fizzle out here at least.”

“Most of it is your money.” Harris said doubtfully

“That is not the point.” Joe said almost angrily “It’s your Bank you are the manager and the expert. All I want is to prevent a riot.”

Harris frowned seeing the sincerity in Joe’s eyes and then the pushing shouting mob. He was no longer a young man and in the last five years the town and his bank seemed to have grown too much for him. He was tired and worried and it was getting beyond him, maybe Joe was right. Suddenly, seeing the similarity between the two brothers, he decided to let Joe have his head, knowing that if Adam had suggested it he would have agreed. “Alright Joseph. You’ll have a better chance of making yourself heard than I will. Do whatever you think best.”

Joe heard the resignation in the older man’s voice, “I know it’s been one hell of a day Mr Harris but it will be alright, don’t worry.” With that Joe moved forward and jumped up on the counter. “If you’ll just hush a minute I have an announcement” He had to shout it out three times at the top of his voice but eventually he made an impression. Adam had heard his brother’s voice and intrigued he’d come out too and heard Joe tell the crowd that things would move a lot faster it they would form orderly queues had let the clerks do their job. He explained that there was no rush the Bank would remain open just as long as anyone wanted to get their money out.

Harris saw Adam nod approvingly at his brother’s words and he relaxed a little, maybe he had made the right decision. Adam saw how worried he was and came over “Sensible move.”

“It was your brother’s idea.”

“Joe often has some good ones.” Adam smiled reassuringly at him and then concentrated on Joe as some one called out, “How long before you run out of cash?”

“We can pay you all off long before that happens. It may take until midnight or so but we have the time and the money. You can spend the time worrying about where you can keep your money safe. The thieves are already having a field day in San Francisco and it won’t take long for them to start here with all this cash on the streets.”

“You’re bluffing.”

Joe just grinned at the big miner, who accused him, “I won’t argue Macey but maybe you’d like to come back about midnight and I’ll accept your apology.”

A storekeeper who had known Joe all his life edged forward slightly, “You saying my money is safe Joe?”

“I am. Our money remains in the bank. It’s safe. The Bank of California has failed but you’re fortunate with your account here. Adam is drafting the legal documents now, breaking all ties between this bank and the California. This is sound.”

Several men began talking quietly to each other but with no more questions Joe went outside to make the same announcement there. The crowd broke to let him through, there was no pushing any longer, even the noise was muted as men discussed what Joe had said. So muted that Adam could hear his brother repeating the same thing outside, to a somewhat more sceptical audience as they hadn’t even succeeded in getting into the bank yet, but at least the tension eased somewhat. The Cartwrights kept their word so if Joe said the Bank would stay open most people accepted that much.

Inside Adam was about to go back to his legal documents when the same storekeeper who had questioned Joe spotted him and called out, “Adam was Joe telling the truth?”

Adam moved forward where more people could see him and said lightly, “My little brother doesn’t lie, he’s no good at it. This bank is sound, your money is safe.”

The man stared at him for a long moment and then satisfied with what he saw, he turned away, “That’s good enough for me, I don’t want to sit up all night protecting my cash.” He walked out of the bank with the crowd breaking for him and several men couldn’t meet his gaze. Slowly two more men turned away. That was the beginning of the end of the panic for the Virginia City Bank, slowly the mob began to fade away and within a quarter of an hour people were coming in to deposit the money they’d withdrawn so eagerly just a short time earlier. Harris watched almost in amazement but he rejoined Adam in the office as Joe came back in again. The document breaking all ties with the Bank of California had been delivered and with all he could do finished Adam looked very tired.

Joe was serious as he came in, glad to see things back to normal here but worried by some of the scenes outside, Adam waited for his brother to report but Harris was almost effusive as he thanked Joe for his idea which had changed the climate of opinion here. Joe shrugged off the thanks from the overwrought man,

“The bank is sound so it only hurried the final outcome. You settled that with my father weeks ago.”

Adam asked quietly “What’s happening Joe?”

“The Nevada Bank is safe, like here, a few people who got their money out of the California drifting in to put their money in. Taking Roy seriously he’s got all his men out issuing warnings about carrying large sums around, at least he did have. But the California here has now closed its doors too and there’s a full scale riot going on. People trying to break in, though God knows what they think they’ll find. I thought I’d fill you in and then go offer Roy my services, he’ll need all the help he can get.”

Adam frowned but he knew Joe was right, the sheriff needed help and under normal circumstances he would be the first to offer. “Alright Joe, just be very careful.”

“Crush is easing off, I could find someone to go home with you.”

“No I’ll wait for you. Watch your back Brother.”

Adam watched his brother go out, very tense and tired but Joe hadn’t been gone five minutes when it struck Adam that they really ought to reciprocate and let his father know the position here. He went over to the window looking at the crowds still milling around and had to acknowledge that he didn’t dare try and go himself. Harris asked what was wrong and when Adam explained offered to go himself or send one of his clerks. Adam accepted gratefully and wrote out a brief telegram relying heavily on the code words they had drawn up. It wouldn’t make sense to anyone else but should reassure his father, they had at least succeeded in mitigating the disaster.

Joe found several other long time residents had rallied to Roy and the reasonably disciplined force succeeded in breaking the rampaging mob into smaller sections with noone willing to take on the lawmen,

Slowly things began to calm down although there were a number of individual fights. Eventually Roy decided that they had done all they could expect to achieve for now, although he wasn’t looking forward to later in the night when people had drowned their sorrows in booze. Joe looked round the streets which were a lot clearer, “I’ve got to take Adam home, he looks whacked now and I won’t let him go alone, but I’ll come back if you want?”

“You look tired too Joe. Take him home and stay there, we’ll cope. You have done enough I’m grateful.”

“If you’re sure Roy.”

“There’s plenty of men in town Joe, you have a ranch to run and a brother to look after.”

Joe had collected a few bruises and he wasn’t sorry to give in to Roy and go home. Adam was very glad when Joe came back to join him. He had been very anxious about his brother even if he wouldn’t try to stop him and logically with Roy and the others Joe was unlikely to come to any real harm. Sore and tired, his head throbbing, Adam found it hard to be logical and he couldn’t face food although he was glad of coffee with brandy in it. As Joe came in Adam studied his brother’s face seeing a few bruises, “Rough?”

“Hectic for a while but it’s quietened down for now. Are you ready? Time we headed home.”

“Sure. What are the streets like?”

“Clearer but its still going to take us a while to get out of town. I’ve got the horses out front.”

Adam nodded and taking their leave of Harris the brothers edged their way out of town, not talking. Adam could see that his brother was tired and bruised but he’d taken no real harm. Joe was worried more about Adam than himself, his brother had kept up well but he looked very tired and it was a long ride home. It took half an hour to edge clear of town and as they finally got clear Joe turned to look back, “Hate to think what it’s going to be like tonight once they’ve drowned their sorrows in the saloons.”
Adam looked at him anxiously, “You’re not going back are you?”

“No. I did offer but Roy said he’d cope, that with Pa away and you not fully fit I already had enough on my plate.”

“He’s right Joe you look exhausted now.”

Joe sighed, “Not very pleasant. We stopped a part of it but some of them, men I’ve known for years, I barely recognized them, more like animals than men.”

“You’ve seen mobs before Joe they’re never pleasant.”

“I know. Guess I’m just tired, just so unnecessary, if the Irishmen, Sharon, Mills and the rest had rallied round we could have stopped it.”

“As Hoss said you can’t change the world. Human nature is as it is and nothing would make that crowd work together apart from some great profit.”

Joe nodded “True and many of those who have been hurt had speculated, trying to get something for nothing but...”

“Come on Joe, we’ve done all we can and I’m tired let’s get home.”

Joe accepted that and the brothers pushed on home, where the three girls were waiting anxiously, Carole scanned Adam’s face as he came in but although tired and depressed he didn’t look too bad. He put his arm round her and pulled her close, burying his face in her hair and it was left to Joe to explain “The Bank of California has closed its doors both here and in San Francisco. There was a run on the Virginia City Bank but it held on and its safe, so is ours.”

Nita gently touched the bruises on his cheekbone “What happened Joe?”

“Riot when the Bank closed its doors, I had to help Roy.”

Carole looked up scared and for the first time in hours Joe smiled easily, “For once he showed some sense, stayed in Harris’ office.”

Adam raised his head commenting mildly “I am here you know.”

Carole pulled away “And quite obstinate enough to get into a fight when you’re not well enough.”

“Not through choice.” Adam protested, even without a fight he was tired out and couldn’t face food, so after a glass of milk he headed up to bed, leaving Joe to fill in the details of what had happened.
Adam slept late and well aware he had overtaxed his strength the previous day he didn’t even suggest accompanying Joe when his brother said he was going back to town to check the news. Joe was surprised but Adam just gestured at the pile of messages on his desk, “I’ll make a start on this lot before it gets any worse.”

“Don’t overdo it.”

“Stop fussing and go find out how Roy coped without your experienced help.”

Joe had to grin at the gentle sarcasm in Adam’s voice and leaving Carole to stop his brother pushing too hard, he headed for town. It was a hot sultry morning and he could only hope it wasn’t building up for another electric storm, if it did he would have to hurry home. So far it was just very hot which had been half the problem the previous day. It made it more tiring for everyone, especially with so many people jammed together and fraying tempers aided the panic.

Virginia City wasn’t the only town which was hot that morning. San Francisco was if anything worse, close to the ocean it was very humid and Ben used to the clear mountain air found it hard to sleep after the tensions of the day. He was up before dawn but even then it was blazing hot and there was still noise indicating trouble coming from the City. Ben couldn’t even guess what the day would bring, with the failure of the Bank now an accomplished fact someone would have to start picking up the pieces. There would be no work done until people had some idea of what was going to happen to the Bank now and Ben had to accept that, like everyone else in town, he would have to wait for information, sift the rumours and try to work out which were true. It wasn’t a situation he liked but the eventual outcome affected him as much as anyone else and he had people in Virginia City relying on him for an accurate assessment of the situation. Ben washed and drank two cups of coffee, in a black mood at the prospects for the next few days. Both Will and Laura knew him well enough to leave him in peace and kept the children away. When Ben announced that he was going back to Flood’s saloon Will didn’t even suggest going along, his Uncle could look after himself and he had his own contacts and sources to tap. They arranged to meet for lunch when they could pool what they had discovered.

Ben walked down to the saloon, despite the heat he felt the need of some exercise to clear his brain, fend off some of the cobwebs threatening to overwhelm him. When he got to the saloon it was already crowded despite the early hour with everyone equally eager for news. Ben was privileged and joined Flood and O’Brien in the back office which was at least less smoky than the main bar if no cooler. As the owners of the main rival bank they were at the centre of the best web of contacts in town and hardly five minutes went by without some message arriving. Even so it was impossible to get a clear idea of what was happening from the sheer mass of information which was so often contradictory.

By lunchtime Ben had had enough of the speculation and wasn’t sorry to leave the bar and go to meet Will. He was surprised to find his nephew in a very good mood obviously very amused by something, very different from when they parted. Will had booked a table and he’d ordered drinks, so Ben sat down and waited for Will to explain. Will waited until the waiter had taken their order and then he grinned, “I don’t know about you but I’ve wandered around in ever increasing circles, getting rumours from all manner of people, one half of them contradicting the other half.”

“About sums up the morning although I’ve done it the lazy way and had the news brought to me.”

“We should have stayed at home.”

Ben frowned maybe it had been largely wasted time but that didn’t seem to be Will’s point. Will grinned

“Laura’s got more accurate information than we have. She sent me a long note, knew we were lunching here.”


“Remember Meg’s husband is Mills’ cousin.”

“Of course. I tend to forget John isn’t like the rest of that bunch, quiet young man.”

“A very good lawyer, seems his cousin has discovered that and he’s eminently reliable and being in the family trustworthy.”

“I didn’t realise, all we hear from Meg these days is about babies.”

“I don’t know how much he tells her normally but seems he came home for some papers in a furious mood.

He doesn’t like to see anyone thrown to the wolves quite as blatantly as they’re throwing Ralston. Once he’d gone Meg came to see Laura to get it off her chest.” Will passed his Uncle Laura’s note. Laura had managed to put down fairly succinctly all the relevant points that had emerged from Meg’s impassioned outburst, furious at the orders D.O. Mills had given her husband, even though she was realistic enough to know where the power lay and that John with his way to make had no choice but to go along.

Laura sent word that there was to be a meeting of the Bank directors that afternoon at which Ralston was to give a full report. He had spent the morning mainly with Sharon and Sharon had taken over everything Ralston still possessed in trust for the creditors. Even though most of it had already gone, the Palace hotel Sharon had taken earlier in the year but now he had also taken Ralston’s Pine street Mansion, his ranch the Belmont, his race horses and his large if miscellaneous collection of art, every last possession. Just what the directors would decide Meg wasn’t sure but from what his cousin had said they wouldn’t be at all sympathetic to Ralston, despite the way he had made them all millionaires. It was that attitude which had so infuriated John.

Ben knew Sharon would be one of the leading voices with perhaps the only other major one Mills himself. He didn’t know Mills that well but from what John had said it was unlikely he would help Ralston and Ben was very sure that Sharon wouldn’t. They all knew Sharon’s capacity for holding a grudge and Ben very much doubted if he had ever forgiven Ralston for forcing him to bow out of the Senate race two years ago in favour of Jones, even though he now had the coveted seat. For a few minutes he and Will discussed the news and then did their best to forget it at least temporarily and concentrate on their meal.

Ben returned to the bar after lunch to find Flood and O’Brien had also had word of the meeting and Flood made no secret of the that fact that his informant was on the Board, so they could expect to hear details fairly soon after the meeting broke up, although he still refused to name the man. Ben could expect details from John too but only in a general way, attitudes not facts and figures. They expected the meeting to last a long time and tried to settle to sort out some of the problems the Bank collapse had inevitable caused, both for their own Bank and the mines. In fact it was only three quarters of an hour before a sealed letter arrived.
Flood read it rapidly and then said, “Ralston has resigned.” He passed the letter over to Ben and O’Brien who read it together, Ralston had given the directors a succinct but complete report. He owed $9 500 000 but he claimed that if he were given a chance with what Sharon held in trust he could muster assets of $4 500 000 and that if the directors would keep their confidence in him and approve the reorganisation scheme he had worked out he would have the Bank of California back on its feet within a reasonable time and all the creditors would be paid in full. The details of the scheme didn’t matter, the Board had asked him to leave the room so that they could discuss it and as soon as the door was shut Sharon had been on his feet and moved that Ralston be forced to resign. That had been carried unanimously without discussion and D.O. Mills had gone to Ralston’s office to inform him that his resignation was demanded immediately. Ralston had signed the paper and left the Bank.

What happened next was obviously in the hands of Sharon and Mills and they had adjourned the meeting and gone back to Mills house to discuss it in private. It didn’t come as a surprise but Ben couldn’t help feeling sorry for Ralston. For a while he joined in the speculation as to what Sharon and Mills would do, obviously putting all the blame onto Ralston. Their financial moves were more likely to be orthodox in his absence and their only priority personal profit. In the end Ben decided to go and send some telegrams it would be surprising if there was any more definite news that day. Maybe by Monday things would be a little clearer and he had Flood’s promise to send word of any major developments to Will’s house.

Ben found the telegraph office was still very busy as word of Ralston’s resignation spread but a few minutes after his arrival this was forgotten as word of a more final nature spread. Overwrought, tense and angry Ralston had gone down to his favourite beach, Neptune beach on the Golden Gate Strait. There in his own bathhouse he changed and as he often did, he took refuge from the steaming humidity in the cold waters of the Ocean, swimming out as always towards a sternwheeler lying a few hundred yards off shore and then beyond it towards Alcatraz Island. He was a strong swimmer and often took refuge in the water when badgered by too many people. Whether he had deliberately overtaxed his strength or whether the strain and tension in the heat had proved too much for a body that had aged without him being willing to admit it, noone would ever know. They did know that his body had been washed back onto the beach just a few minutes earlier. The crowd in the telegraph office was stunned by the news and Ben was able to move to the front. Having spoken to a man who had actually seen the body and was still shaking from it Ben could be sure that the story was true, not just another rumour. He sent word to his sons and to Dan and then sickened by what had happened returned to Will’s house.

The following morning it was obvious that San Francisco had gone into mourning, doing a complete turnabout from calling every imaginable curse down onto Ralston’s head, he had become almost a saint again, although not with those who had lost their savings. Maybe there was some sense in that as he had largely made San Francisco and with him died part of the genius of the City. In some strange way this one man’s death, marking as it did the end of an era, even overshadowed the fall of his main achievement the Bank which had precipitated it.

In Virginia City Joe had been delayed longer than he had expected on first going in. Roy had had quite a bit of trouble overnight and the mood in town was still ominous as though it could explode at any time. By the time he had talked to Roy and Dan, John Marye was looking for him and then Harris, Fair and Mackay all wanted a word. Everyone wanted to know which way the Cartwrights were going to jump next. Joe was evasive he didn’t want to commit them to anything and he was waiting for word from his father but at least he was able to confirm to his own satisfaction that the Banks were safe and Roy had control of the town. He was about to head home late in the afternoon with a feeling that he had wasted the day, when a boy came over from the telegraph office with Ben’s telegram. Having read about Ralston’s death Joe couldn’t face discussing it with anyone and he went straight down to the livery and collected Cochise, the expression on his face enough to stop anyone troubling him. Dan was by Cochise, he had heard from Ben too, he took one look at Joe “You’ve heard.”

“Yeah I want to get home Dan. It didn’t have to end this way.”

Dan moved back, “I’ll see you Joe.”

Joe nodded and mounting up headed home. Once clear of the traffic he stopped to reread the telegram and then feeling rather sick he pushed Cochise on home. Adam had been very busy but he was pleased to find that he could cope without the deathly weakness of exhaustion and he’d got things well under control. Nita was on edge knowing that Joe hadn’t intended to be so long and there had been trouble in town the previous day. Carole did her best to calm the younger girl down, Joe was perfectly capable of looking after himself and there were probably a lot of people wanting to talk to him and find out what the Cartwrights proposed to do. Nita still wasn’t convinced but Carole gestured at Adam quietly reading through some papers. “You know them Nita, don’t you think Adam would be fretting if anything was wrong and anyway there are plenty of friends in town, they would send word.”

The first part of that statement did more than anything to reassure Nita, she knew how they reacted to trouble and if Adam wasn’t worried she had no need to be. Even so she was very relieved to finally hear Joe ride in late in the afternoon. As she went to the door she was worried by the look on his face, “What’s happened, is Pa alright?”

The anxiety in her voice penetrated to Adam in the study and all four adults were on their feet looking very worried as Joe shucked his gun and hat. He tried to force a smile but it didn’t really work and he put his arm round Nita. “Take it easy all of you. Pa’s fine, nothing that affects us, but he sent word. Ralston was forced to resign and now he’s dead. Drowned.”

Adam moved swiftly over to his brother his hand out for the telegram “Show me.” He read it twice and then went into the study and poured two brandies. Joe followed him in while the three girls were left to speculate how it would affect the future, only Nita had actually met Ralston and she didn’t know him.

Both Adam and Joe had dealt with Ralston over business in the last years and although disapproving of much that he did, they were able to appreciate his dream for San Francisco. In some ways they were alike, all working to make a seemingly impossible dream blossom in the wilderness. For so long he had been a power to be considered in all their calculations and now suddenly not only was his power gone but the man himself. Joe drank his brandy and then perched on the desk, Adam probably knew Ralston better than any of them except maybe Ben, he had handled many of the important negotiations over the last years. “Adam do you think it was deliberate?”

“Suicide?” Adam slowly shook his head, “I doubt it, I don’t think he was that sort of man, He was a very fine swimmer and it would have been a strange way to choose. More likely accidental. If it is half as hot down below as it is here, then a tense, overwrought man pushing himself too far in the heat, After all he wasn’t young. Guess we’ll never know for sure but he deserves the benefit of the doubt. Anyway does it really make any difference?”

“I might sleep easier.”

“Nothing to do with us Joe.”

“Isn’t it? We didn’t stop them.”

Adam sighed “Did you sleep at all last night little brother?”

Joe frowned, he hadn’t in fact slept very much, troubled by his recurring nightmare and worried by what he’d seen in town but he didn’t see the relevance of it “Not too well, so what?”

“It’s only when you’re well overtired that you try to take the whole weight of the world on your shoulders! We did what we could. We are not responsible for Ralston or his downfall anymore than we are responsible for those who lost a fortune speculating in the market and then killed themselves. Blame Sharon for starting the speculation and then causing the crash, selling short, or the Irishmen for ensuring the bank failed but don’t blame yourself for not being able to achieve the impossible. You accuse me of doing it often enough.”
Joe didn’t answer, going over to pour himself another brandy but Adam made sense and slowly he calmed down a little, but he was still very sombre. It was such a waste, whatever you felt about Ralston there was no doubt he’d achieved a lot for California and indeed for the Comstock. They were all subdued at dinner and Joe took Nita home straight after. She managed to calm him down and very tired he slept well and by Sunday he was able to concentrate on the immediate problem of when to move in.

Joe was eager to do something, to make some move, and although Adam was sure that it was too early yet to be effective there was no reason why they shouldn’t start picking up some stock. It was virtually valueless at the moment and couldn’t drop any lower. Until people had got used to the idea that Ralston had gone there wouldn’t be any real upsurge but the first moves had to be made quietly anyway. Adam was even more determined to get a large slice of the profit that was going to be made. He wasn’t letting Sharon and his cronies have it all after the chaos they had caused. Joe agreed whole heartedly but he wasn’t sure if their father would be expecting them to move yet.

Adam doodled on his pad, listing the cash still dispersed around various banks. It was still too early to pull any out of the banks in town but there was plenty more and finally he made his mind up, “Get John Marye and Roy Naylor to start. Slow but sure and just the mines we’re sure of. Say up to a million, it’s going to buy a huge amount of stock if we move slowly. It may be too early but if we move now we might beat Sharon and the rest to the punch, So make sure they keep it low key and keep our names out of it. Once we’ve got that we’ll tell Pa, he’s free to move up to the same amount in San Francisco, that’s what we agreed.”

“We said that we’d wait for word to start.” Joe protested.

“Unless there were counter indications locally. Pa left us free as long as we don’t exceed the million to start with.”

Joe accepted that and planned to go into town the next day. Make their move while the markets were still stunned by Friday’s events. He settled to make a list of the mines they were interested in and passed it over to Adam for his agreement. Adam hesitated over the Chollar-Potosi but left it on and then, rather to Joe’s surprise, he added the cause of all the trouble the Ophir. “Put a limit on it but even though it was way over priced it’s still a profitable mine and I told you before I have a sentimental attachment to that mine. At least let’s get back to the position we were in before all of this, replace the stock that Pa and I sold.”

“Fair enough Brother.” With that Joe firmly put work away and took Nita out for an hour while Adam and Carole took the children for a picnic. They asked Sue to go along but she thought the family might enjoy being alone for once and refused. She was missing Hoss who had decided against coming home for the weekend but she knew that he had completed all the scheduled cutting for the west shore and only had another two or three days of tidying up before he could leave the west shore until spring. Although he would be taking over responsibility for the main lumber camp from Joe she could expect to see a lot more of her big husband. The camp was much closer and with a good trail, cutting down travel times.

Adam feeling much better and reasonably free of pain thoroughly enjoyed a quiet few hours with his lovely wife, watching the antics of three excitable children, and with Carole relaxed just because he was so much better. Very sorry for all those who had suffered due to the fall of the bank, those who really mattered to him were safe and his beloved ranch was safe so Adam for a few hours at least was able to forget all about it and enjoy himself. Relaxed he didn’t even think abut work that night just chatting to Carole and having an early night, which proved more important than he could ever have dreamt.

Ben found it difficult to settle in San Francisco, but sure that his own family were fine, he was able to relax with Will and Laura. They took advantage of some cancellations at the theatre to go and see a light musical show which at least took their minds of the recent events and relaxed they all slept well. Monday would be time to start picking up the pieces.