Family rows part 2

by Lyn Robinson

Despite his arguments with his brothers Adam was well in control by the time he rode over to the main house to put in a day’s work, before riding into town for his date with Lady Dinah. He took his evening clothes with him and changed in his old bedroom. Ben saw him come down, very smartly dressed and knew that he wasn’t heading home but he was beginning to learn and he made no comment.

Adam was in town in good time and collected flowers for the lady before picking her up at the International. As before he had booked one of the booths of the main dining room but this time he didn’t arrange for the food in advance. This was a woman of very decided opinions and she should help to choose the menu.

Adam was prompt but she wasn’t ready and he sat sipping brandy for nearly half an hour in the sitting room of her suite before she emerged. The wait he assured her had been well worth it, she was magnificent in heavy gold brocade, her hair piled high and disdaining all jewellery apart from a beautiful emerald pendant which rested just on the cleavage of her large white breasts. The dress cut low enough to show them to advantage and the pendent trembling intriguingly with each breath that she took.

Adam had no difficulty in showing his appreciation of the way she looked. She was a very beautiful woman, even he had to admit, as lovely as Carole in her own way and with a sensual aura about her that Carole had never had. Adam kissed her hand formally, “Very lovely Dinah.”

He led her down to dinner, acknowledging Suzanne Fauré with a nod where she sat in the far corner. He knew as he did so that for better or worse he had made his choice. He would risk Lady Dinah’s quick intelligence; she was the only plausible mistress for him. Adam ordered wine and they sat close together, sipping wine and debating the relative merits of the various dishes on the menu. Eventually the choice made, Adam ordered and then sat back and toasted her beauty.

Dinah smiled, “At least I don’t have to worry about adding extra height when I dress my hair while I’m with you Adam Cartwright.”

“It suits you, magnificent, Lady Dinah.”

“Why so formal, my closest friends call me Di.”

Adam took her hand and kissed it, “Di it shall be.” He showed no sign of relinquishing the hand that he’d captured and Suzanne finishing her meal saw and went out with a touch of a flounce. She knew she’d lost to the English girl, not understanding how any man could choose the bigger woman against her own petite elegance. Worse than that the large fee on offer wouldn’t come her way, even though she wouldn’t be out of pocket on the trip.
Adam saw her go but didn’t give the slightest sign that it meant anything to him.

As the hors d’oeuvre arrived Adam let go of Di’s hand and settled to entertain her. They didn’t rush their meal but, as the previous day, time seemed to go very fast. They had enough in common to never lack a topic of conversation and their sense of humour was in tune. Adam found he was able to actually relax and enjoy himself. Di knew all too well how to keep a man happy, it was a skill she’d been born with and it was no act from Adam. He was thoroughly enjoying himself, even able to forget for a little while his brothers’ hurt faces. Despite his apparent relaxation Adam kept very tight hold on all he said. He was well aware that she would pick up on every nuance of what he said or how he acted. It was gone eleven when they finished and Adam escorted her back to her room. He didn’t wait for an invitation but went in with her and accepted a brandy. He sat down on the sofa and patted the seat next to him, “Come here Di.”

She was very willing and when he lifted his arm up she came and cuddled close to him, lifting her face for his kiss. Adam did as she obviously wanted but then pulled away, “Maybe I’d better go.”

She knew enough not to rush him and moved away to the other end of the sofa, “Stay a little longer Adam.”

Adam sat down smiling ruefully, “Like a kid at his first dance!”

“Hardly” she smiled gently touching her lips, still feeling the pressure of his lips.

“I just don’t want to rush anything Di. I only saw you for the first time yesterday.”

“No need.” She sat back at peace, sure in time she would have him firmly hooked and she redirected the conversation into less dangerous channels. Adam offered to show her some of the beautiful land away from the raucous hustle of Virginia City and she accepted enthusiastically. Adam didn’t want to push too hard, let her work for it; she’d believe him more readily. Thus he claimed that work would keep him busy the next couple of days but agreed to pick her up around eleven on Friday morning to take her for a picnic. That pleased Dinah and she willingly agreed. Then to his surprise Adam realised it was gone 1 a.m.  and he got to his feet, “I must get home or I won’t be fit for work tomorrow.”

Dinah moved close to him as she went to see him out and Adam didn’t find it any great hardship to do what she obviously wanted. He pulled her very close, crushing her body against his and kissed her, a long lingering kiss. Then he pushed her away, turned and left, pulling the door shut behind him.

Inside Di touched her lips and smiled, this was a man well worth the chase, regardless of any fee. If she was any judge he was already more than half hooked, he wouldn’t put her out of his mind easily. She headed for bed very content, much as she enjoyed sex, she also loved the game. Adam was a man who wanted her but she’d have to fight his conscience first. She would win, she had no doubt, but the more he fought the more respect she would have for him and the sweeter the victory. Adam hesitated at the top of the stairs and looked back at her room, slowly rubbing his fingers over his lips, she was quite a girl. He was well aware that he was being watched and had little doubt that word of every move he made would get back to Hearst and his associates. Then, as though forcing himself to leave, Adam turned abruptly and taking the stairs two at a time headed for Blackie and home.

Adam was right Hearst was very pleased at the reports he got, this one looked much more promising. Lady Dinah had already reported that she was going riding with him on Friday. Hearst wasn’t the only one informed, nearly the whole town knew of Adam’s dinner with yet another beautiful stranger and the length of time he spent in her room afterwards. They were quick to believe things had gone further and faster than they had and were already pointing Lady Dinah out as Adam Cartwright’s new mistress. Dan and Roy discounted most of that but Roy had seen them together with his own eyes; seemingly wrapped up in each other as Adam used to be with his wife. Roy debated whether he ought to tell Ben but Dan cautioned him, “Ben won’t take it well and it ain’t our business to tell him.”

“He’s bound to hear, it’s all over town.”

“Yeah, but I’d let someone else stick their necks out!” Dan advised.

“Maybe you’re right at that. Adam’s a grown man and he has a punishing right if he get’s annoyed.”

Dan laughed, “True but I wasn’t even thinking of him. Ben’s been known to lash out when he’s hurt.”

On Wednesday Ben was relieved to see Adam over fairly early and not drinking. His son was very quiet, obviously not wanting to talk, but he left the brandy alone and as he cleared some contract work, he looked to be closer to his efficient self. Ben left him strictly alone, leaving Adam to come to him if he wanted. Adam worked steadily, not even breaking for food just asking for coffee and sandwiches, until gone 9 p.m. The main contract was drawn and he passed it over to Ben for checking, keeping the conversation firmly to work. “I’ll finish the two railroad contracts tomorrow. Any queries on this and you can tell me then.”
“I have to go to Sacramento in the morning.” Ben reminded him

“Oh yeah I’d forgotten, well leave a note on the desk, I’ll be over.” Adam pulled on his coat and grabbed his hat, then with a curt nod he was gone. Ben let the papers drop, his son hadn’t as much as wished him a good trip. Maybe Adam was working better but he was still a long way from his normal self.

On Wednesday Jess had redeemed his promise to Adam and had gone looking for Hoss or Joe. He would have preferred to see Hoss, scared the quicker Little Joe would see through his act. However Hoss was out working, pushing himself hard setting up the lumber camp, doing more than he needed to personally in an attempt to stop the thoughts that he couldn’t bear. It didn’t work, hard as he pressed part of his brain seemed uninvolved, free to think round and round in fear for the brother he loved.

Joe was at home, completing the ordering of supplies he’d expected Adam to have done. He was worried too and more than a little angry, but so far he hadn’t come up with the explanation that Hoss feared and although anxious and cross with Adam he still felt that his brother would come down to normal in time. His wife and young son lightened his mood and he was making the most of their company, knowing that on Friday he was due to ride up and help José move the cattle to their summer pasture, once the branding was complete. In some ways he’d be glad to ride out, fed up with all the paperwork but he was loathe to leave Nita and their son.

Having failed to find Hoss, Jess knocked at Joe’s door. Sue had been able to tell him that her younger brother-in-law was at home. Nita let him in and offered coffee. Jess smiled “Thanks Nita. Is Joe in?”

“Yes in the study.”

“It’s sort of important.”

“Come through I’ll bring you both coffee. I’d bet he’ll be glad of a break.”

Jess nodded, although he was equally sure Joe wouldn’t want to hear what he had to say. Joe looked up as Jess came in and rather surprised, he put his pen down and walked round the desk. ”Well hello Jess. Come and sit down. What can I do for you? Is Nita getting coffee or would you rather have a drink?”

“Coffee will be fine. Sorry to disturb you Joe but I wanted a word.” Just then Nita brought in two cups of coffee and a plate of cookies. Neither man said anymore until Nita left. Jess ate a cookie and sipped his coffee, finding it hard to start. Joe could make a guess as to why he was there but left it up to the other man to start.

Eventually Jess put his cup down and walked over to the window, “I don’t know how much you’ve heard Joe, I know you’ve been over on the west shore. Maybe it’s none of my business but you know how much your brother means to me.” He broke off staring out.
Joe bit his lip but just murmured “Go on.”

Jess turned to face him, “I’m known as his friend and noone says a hell of a lot to my face, but even so I’ve heard things that just don’t sound like Adam. What the hell’s going on Joe?”

Joe sighed heavily, rubbing his hand across his mouth and squeezing the bridge of his nose, a severe headache starting up but he knew Jess well and trusted him. “I only wish I knew Jess. There’s something wrong for sure, but Adam’s not talking. I don’t know if Carole really understands or not but she’s not talking either. I take it Adam hasn’t said anything to you?”

“I’ve hardly seen him since he got back after that tree fell.” Jess said, stretching the truth.
Joe got to his feet, “I need a drink. Join me?”

“Maybe I will.”

Joe poured two brandies and standing staring at the picture over his mantle, down to the point from the far side of the lake, he said, “Would you mind telling me just what you have heard. Apart from Carole, Pa and Hoss, you and I know him better than anyone. Maybe between us, we can make sense of this.”

Jess found it very hard not to tell Joe the truth there and then, the pain and worry was so very clear in Joe’s voice and all for a lie, but he’d given Adam his word and the reasons were still strong. Instead he did his best to do as Joe asked. Joe was bound to hear one way or another and maybe it was easier from him. Most of what Jess told him, the drinking and gambling was no more than Joe’d heard from Dan and Roy, even his father. Jess lay rather more emphasis on Adam taking two different women for meals. He claimed as was true that he’d been to town that morning and that the main gossip was the beautiful brunette Adam had dined with before going up to her room for more than two hours and that the Frenchwoman he’d dined before was furious. Joe turned in consternation at that, “Who is she?”

“English aristocracy from all accounts, Lady Dinah Marchbrook, maybe he knows her?”

Joe thought hard but the name didn’t mean anything to him and he’d met all Adam’s friends, close ones anyway, when he went to Europe with him after Marie’s death. “Even if he does, why not bring her home or arrange a party, not this way ....” He broke off, worried just how much it would hurt Carole when she heard.

Jess said, “You know Virginia City Joe, gossip always exaggerates, hell they had him off with some woman when he was hurt. Ready to believe the worst at the moment. Don’t mean anything.”
“He doesn’t have to ask for it.” Joe said with a touch of bitterness. “Thanks for telling me Jess. I’d only heard of the French one. A high class whore according to Dan.”

“Adam’s too fastidious to fall for that sort, so maybe you’re worrying over nothing.”

Joe shrugged, “I just find it hard to believe he can treat Carole this way, it’s not like him.”

Jess tried to calm him down, “Rows in marriage can blow up mighty fast, even be bitter for a while and just as quickly be forgotten. Maybe that’s all it is.”

“I hope so.” Joe agreed, “If I learn anything I’ll let you know. Will you do the same?”

Jess promised, knowing that he’d already broken that promise and hoping that once things came out Joe would forgive him for what he’d just done. He excused himself and headed home, knowing that Adam was right it had been necessary, but very glad it was over.

Joe tried to settle back to work but he couldn’t and wandered over to see Carole and the kids. She was preoccupied with the children and didn’t want to talk but at least the kids were the same as ever and gratifyingly pleased to see their Uncle. Slowly Joe relaxed and unable to face telling Carole what the gossips were saying, praying she never had to know, he went home and got on.

Adam treated himself to a night off and when he got home soon after nine, he curled up on the hearth rug, his head on Carole’s lap, the doors all locked and windows shuttered he could be himself. Carole wanted to know more about Dinah, knowing that her husband had chosen his mistress but she had the sense not to ask. For one evening Adam was able to forget everything and just relax and enjoy his own beloved wife.

That night for the first time in weeks Adam slept really well and woke up fully refreshed. He would have liked to work at home but that didn’t fit the image so after an hour with his children, he kissed Carole passionately and headed for the main house. At least in his father’s absence he didn’t need to act and could work fast and get home. His good intentions weren’t fulfilled, mid-morning there was a knock on the door. Sean Dale, the youngest cowboy from Jess’ ranch was there with a message for Ben. When Adam said that his father was away, Sean passed over a note from Mr Ballard to give Ben.   Adam nodded and the boy left. Adam knew Jess was well aware that Ben was away and guessed correctly that the note was for him and Jess had chosen this indirect method of contacting him, not wanting his own hands to know how involved he was with Adam. The note was short and to the point, “Large package arrived and telegram, needs answer. Can you call by?”

Adam looked at the mass of papers on his desk and sighed, so much for an early night. Still Jess wouldn’t have sent for him if it wasn’t important. He knew he couldn’t settle to routine work until he knew what Jess had so he left his work and went out to the stables. There he ordered Kirk to saddle a nondescript chestnut mare and when Kirk queried why he wasn’t using his own black stallion Adam curtly told him just to do as he was asked. Kirk had known Adam most of his life and usually offered advice freely whether asked or not, but he sensed for once that it was better to shut up and rather to Adam’s surprise quietly saddled the horse. That brought home to Adam more clearly than anything else how effective his acting had been over the previous weeks. Adam hated the effect it had on men that he’d called friends for years but he put that to the back of his mind and made good time over to Jess’. He kept to little used back ways and didn’t see a soul. He pulled up in the trees and watched the yard for five minutes but the only figure in sight was Jess himself. Depending on his friend to have got rid of his hands, Adam rode up openly.
Jess saw him coming and waved. He quickly confirmed Adam’s expectation and told him to come on in. Lisa had a meal waiting and she’d made enough for three as Jess had expected Adam to act as soon as he read the note. Adam went in and accepted coffee but he was eager to see the telegrams and the package.  The package was from Rey, the rest of the papers that he’d promised from Monterey and the Carmel Mission with a note to say he was on his way to San Luis Obispo. Adam put that to one side to read later and took the telegram. It was from Holmes and was short and to the point, “Do you need less 48?”  Jess didn’t understand and Adam hoped that was true of others too, it seemed all too clear to him.

Adam explained, “In 1848 many laws changed round here. After the Mexican war this area became American. Oliver wants to know if I want legal detail prior to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that made this America.”

“I see, so what’s the answer, do you?”

“Very definitely. I don’t know what he can dig up but it may be vital. We have been on the Ponderosa since April 1846; any claim predating us must be earlier than 1848.”

“But if it wasn’t part of the United States then?”

Adam smiled, “That’s why Jamie is in Mexico.”

“Okay so you’re ahead of me, that ain’t exactly unusual. Write out what you want to say and I’ll ride in after lunch and get a telegram off.”

Adam smiled a little ruefully at his friend, “I’m sorry to be such a nuisance Jess. You have enough on your plate establishing yourself here, without my problems taking up so much of your time.”

Before Jess could say anything Liza intervened, “Don’t be silly Adam we wouldn’t have this ranch without you. Of course Jess has to help. I just wish that there was more we could do.”
Jess nodded agreeing with every word that his wife said and it was written all over his face.
Adam relaxed and pulled Liza down on his knee giving her a hug and kissing her cheek before offering his hand almost formally to his friend. “Thank you, with such good friends, how can I fail?”

Adam ate Liza’s dinner with good appetite and sent Jess off with a three word telegram, “Please, vital, Ballard.” It was going to John Chance in Boston and shouldn’t mean anything to anyone. Then taking his large package Adam tried to think of an easy way for Jess to let him know he had something. Without involving anyone else it was difficult and he could only suggest leaving word with Dick at the livery stable. From now on he expected to be in town most days and Dick could pass word quietly.

Jess had one further piece of news; Steve Fallon was due on Saturday and was coming straight to his ranch so Adam promised to come by late Saturday evening. He would collect whatever Steve had brought, so that he could read it over and then meet up with Steve on Sunday. Adam wasn’t expecting anything urgent and said that barring emergencies he’d see Jess on Saturday. Then he headed home, taking precautions so that he wasn’t seen.
Adam went straight back to the main house and left Kirk to see to the mare while he went in to get on. Hop Sing hustled in to offer food but Adam curtly refused “Just coffee.” He could see the hurt on Hop Sing’s face and in many ways it was even harder to be rude to the old Chinaman than his own family. At least he could console himself that he was doing all this for the sake of his family. Adam sipped his coffee and by sheer will power forced himself to concentrate on the contracts. He had to ensure that they were as watertight as usual, although slightly more verbose than was his wont.

Eventually he was able to tidy up his papers and stretching he got his gunbelt, coat and hat and taking Rey’s package headed home. Carole had already fed the children and was about to put the twins to bed. Seeing Adam they clamoured for Daddy to read them a story and Adam lifted one on each hip and bore them up to bed. Mark and David were adept at getting the last possible bit of attention from Adam on the rare occasions during the summer that he was there to put them to bed instead of Carole and it was more than three quarters of an hour before he finally extricated himself.

Carole was sitting by the fire darning the knee of David’s trousers where he had torn it falling over earlier. Adam stopped on the stair and watched her in the firelight, highlights in her hair glinting as her head bent over her work. Suddenly Carole became aware of his gaze and looked up, “What are you doing there?”

“Enjoying the view. I swear you get more beautiful every month, despite my antics.”

“What in these old clothes?”

“Far more beautiful than any other woman could be.” Adam moved over swiftly and lifted her chin, “I think it’s your eyes and all the love I see in them.”

Carole lent against him as he kissed her forehead, “Well that’s true anyway, I know you love me and you know you have all my love.”

Adam kissed her passionately, “My darling I was so lucky when you came west and you know you have long had my heart.”

She smiled freely knowing what was worrying him, “I know and that will still be true even when you are in bed with Lady Dinah. It’s alright darling what we have can’t be affected by a mechanical bodily function.”

“You have to be sure?”

Carole reached up gently stroking his cheek and then kissed him, “I’m sure, as you said once before we’ve been all through this. What is she like?”

“More intelligent than the Frenchwoman with a sense of humour. Very sensual and nearly as beautiful as you.”

“You sound as though you like her.”

“Under other circumstances I think we could have been friends. I think you would like her too. But then I wouldn’t have taken her to bed and unless I miss my guess she could never be satisfied with less from a man. I shall have to watch myself, she’s far quicker than the French girl but at least people will believe I could be infatuated with her.”

Carole bit her lip, wondering whether this one might actually come to matter to her husband. She was quick to hide the thought but not quickly enough. Adam tilted her face up gently and kissed her, “I made love to women before we met, cared for several but never as I love you, the mother of my children, my partner for life. Nothing can ever touch that. Certainly not a woman who is a slave to her own body. If the French girl was a high class whore, this one is closer to a courtesan. I’m sure she doesn’t do it for money but she needs men and no single man could ever own her. She doesn’t have the love to give that you do, less in her whole body than you have in your little finger. That’s why despite her looks she’ll never have a fraction of your beauty.”

Carole read the deep love in his eyes and knew she had nothing to fear. Dinah wouldn’t touch the real Adam anymore than the rapists had reached her. Whatever his body did as long as his heart was so clearly hers she had nothing to fear. Adam had meant to read Rey’s papers but they could wait and he picked Carole up and carried her to bed.

Hoss had got home late for supper that night and Sue though he looked tired and drawn. For once Hoss wasn’t hungry and was only picking at his food. Sue fed Johnny and settled him down and then went back to find her big husband sitting staring unseeingly at the fire, his expressive face showing all too clearly that his thoughts weren’t exactly pleasant.

Sue considered him for a moment and then moved over behind him and started massaging his shoulders. “Why don’t you tell me about it darling. You’re going to make yourself ill if you carry on like this.”

Hoss turned to look up at her, “I’m not sure I want to talk.”

“I think you need to.” Sue gently kissed his forehead, “Let me try and help.”

Hoss sighed heavily but he knew she was right he couldn’t carry on as he had the last few days. Hs wife was a nurse maybe she could give him some answers. He pulled her down on his lap and stared out over her head, not wanting even his beloved Sue to see the deep hurt in his eyes as he spoke. He said, “I went to see Adam early Tuesday morning, wanted to know why he wasn’t at Marie’s party.” He hesitated but Sue just waited for him to go on, she had been virtually certain that Adam was at the bottom of Hoss’ mood. Hoss carried on “He said that Marie was too young to know and I told him that Carole wasn’t. Asked if he’d done it deliberately to hurt her.” He shook his head sighing heavily, “I was wrong I know, shouldna said anything, specially that. Didn’t mean to. It just come out. Tried to explain that it was just ‘cos they both mean so much to me but it didn’t make no difference. I ain’t never seen Adam more furious and he ain’t ever been anywhere near as cross with me. Told me to get out and leave him alone, not to go back without an invitation.”

Sue was shocked by that, she knew just how much the brothers meant to each other, but she did her best to hide it, cuddling closer “Darling I’m sure he didn’t mean it, not once he’d calmed down.”

“I ain’t so sure Sue but that’s only part of it.” Hoss bit his lip and for a moment he couldn’t go on. Sue could feel the tension in him but she just waited for him to go on. Hoss leant back staring up at the ceiling, eventually he said, “Reckon you’re probably right that he will calm down, I sorta thought the same. I went up to the lake to try and think things through, work out why he was acting this way. There are two graves up there. Not family, close friends of Adam’s, Ross and Delphine. Think I told you once Ross was mentally ill, killed Delphine and forced Adam to kill him. Adam took it real hard but he said just at the end Ross was like he always was, a gentle kind man, not the killer he’d become but he thought it was ten months earlier. The way Ross acted, not at all like he normally did.” Hoss fell silent not daring to put his fears into words.

Sue pulled away and turned to study his face, seeing the naked fear there. “You don’t think that Adam is mentally ill surely?”
Hoss couldn’t answer but the truth of her accusation was clear on his face. Sue went over to get them both a brandy while she considered his suggestion. Her immediate reaction had been that it was nonsense but Hoss was obviously deeply worried and he needed more than that from her. She thought hard about exactly how Adam had been reacting and decided her first thought was right. She pulled a chair close and handed Hoss his brandy, “Come on love relax. Let’s talk this out.”

Hoss sat up straighter and took the brandy. He studied her face, “You think I’m wrong?”

“I’m sure of it.” Sue said positively and she saw a flicker of hope cross his face. Hoss asked “Why? God knows how much I hope you’re right but ....”

Sue kissed him gently, “I have seen mental illness Hoss. All too frequently and there’s so little anyone can do for them. There are certain signs, difficult to explain, a vagueness, an emptiness in their eyes that they all have in common. Adam doesn’t show any of those signs.”

“Noone guessed about Ross for months, just his character changing, like Adam’s seems to be.”

Sue shook her head “I don’t think it is. I don’t know what Adam is up to and I can’t pretend to think of any explanation for his recent behaviour. But I am sure of one thing, there is a reason and everything that he’s doing is carefully planned under his control.”

“That don’t make any sense Sue!”

“I know but that’s because we’re missing some factor, some piece of information which would make sense of it.”

“You’re saying he’s deliberately setting out to quarrel, alienate himself from his whole family even his wife.” Hoss looked at her in disbelief.

“I’m not sure how much Carole knows.” She said speculatively. Hoss couldn’t believe what Sue was suggesting and she backed away from it. “The other possibility is that Adam and Carole’s marriage is in real trouble and everything else comes from that. You know how close they were, if there really are rows that bite deep it wouldn’t be surprising if Adam reacted badly, lashing out every other way.”

“They’ve always seemed so perfectly suited.”

“I know and even if there are rows they might well get back to it. You’ve always trusted Adam before why not do so now. He said to leave him alone and Carole has said the same. Leave them to work it out and try not to worry.”

“Easy to say.”

“I know darling but one thing I am very sure of, there’s nothing wrong with Adam’s brain.”

Hoss was relieved at his wife’s insistence that he was wrong. He still wasn’t one hundred percent convinced that she was right but at least he managed to put his fear to the back of his mind for now. She didn’t realise how close she had been to the truth and assuming that her husband knew his brother a lot better than she did she put that theory to one side. Hoss managed to sleep that night and was even hungry when it came time for breakfast.
Hoss picked Joe up once he’d finished eating. They were going to help with the roundup for a couple of days, oversee the branding and check the calf tally before Hoss returned to the lumber camp while Joe saw the cattle up to their summer pasture.

Adam knew exactly what his brothers would be doing and he intended to throw down the gauntlet, taking Dinah close enough to them to be seen. It would then be up to his brothers whether they reacted then or later. He’d warned Carole that he might be late back after two days he needed to show his face round town, to reconfirm his growing reputation.

Adam had decided to ride into town and hire a buggy there. He would also order a picnic, it meant arriving in town earlier than he liked but would look better if anyone was checking up on him. He could hardly have his wife prepare a picnic for his prospective mistress. Adam was in town by nine and his arrangements were completed faster than he expected leaving him with an hour to kill before he was supposed to collect Dinah. Adam headed for Marye’s brokerage. John Marye had fulfilled Adam’s orders and sold off several blocks of shares, at rather better prices than Adam had expected. John offered coffee and Adam accepted sipping his coffee while John totted up the sums he had realized so far and made out a bank draft for the total less his commission.

Adam considered the draft, with his poker winnings he decided he had ample cash on hand for all likely contingencies and so he told John to hold off selling anything else for the moment. Adam could see all the questions that John had too much sense to ask whirling around his head but just took the bank draft and left.  For now he wasn’t intending paying it in and, while he was unobserved on the stairs, he slipped it in a secret slot on the back of his holster, a hiding place he’d often used before.

Still with a little time to fill Adam went into the General Store and bought an attractive parasol to protect Dinah from the sun in an open buggy. Then he went to collect firstly the buggy and then the picnic basket, prepared to his order at the International Hotel. He left a small urchin on guard and went into the Hotel expecting a long wait as on the previous occasion.

This time to his surprise Dinah was ready, an attractive but much more sedate deep emerald dress showing off her dark hair to advantage. This time she had allowed her hair to fall round her shoulders but even with a high neckline the dress was so close fitting and she had such an aura that Adam was conscious of nearly every man turning to look as he drove her out of town. He didn’t flatter himself that that had anything to do with him, although he was equally sure that the whole town would soon know what he was up to.

Once well clear of town Adam was able to relax, not needing to concentrate on driving and started to point out the main features of the land. He had no intention of taking Dinah to the Lake, that place was too important to him but there were plenty of other beautiful spots.
Adam drove over to the canyon where the breeding horses were kept and introduced her to their two best stallions. Di, like most members of the English aristocracy, had been brought up with horses. She was a good rider and reckoned herself a good judge of horseflesh. She was most impressed by what she saw, very different from most of the cowponies she had seen around Virginia City.

Adam took her to a spot overlooking the canyon for lunch and relaxed over the food, answering her questions about the horses and his ranch. That gave him an obvious opening and he told her about the cattle, at that moment being branded before going up to the summer pasture. As he had expected she asked to see the operation and he hesitated, just long enough to give the impression that he was worried about being seen by his family and then he agreed’

Dinah was pleased with the progress she was making. He was obviously very attracted physically not that she’d had any doubts on that score but more importantly he was slowly making more public commitments to her. She had been well warned that he was clever and she mustn’t try and rush him but if she could keep on edging him to more and more public appearances with her, the rumours would start. Faced with a situation where everyone assumed he was having an affair she was sure she could nudge him into actually having one. Once she had him in her bed she was supremely confidant that she could keep him occupied for the few weeks that were required. She had gone into the job with her eyes open, cut off by her family for one too many scandals, she badly needed some money of her own. She enjoyed men but liked to be free to leave when she wanted and to do that she needed money. Hearst was paying enough to give her that independence for several years. It had come as a very pleasant surprise to find that the man she was required to seduce was both physically attractive and so charming that he was a pleasure to be with.

Adam knew exactly where his brothers and José would be working and he drove over there, taking his time. She was intrigued by the flume which was clearly visible and Adam explained its use. He boasted a little of how he had designed it and the company now building them in California, called ‘The Cartwright Company’ in recognition of his work, even though he wasn’t involved. She was impressed as he had intended, sure things would be better in some ways if she didn’t think him too easy a mark. Almost despite himself Adam enjoyed the praise she heaped on him.

Then the branding camp was in sight and Adam was relieved to see just José and a couple of hands. Even though he intended to throw down the gauntlet to his brothers he would rather not face them directly just yet. Inevitably they would soon hear what he had done but it might be easier  if they heard second hand and he would far rather face their undoubted anger on his own not in front of Dinah. Eventually he planned on family rows becoming public to convince Hearst that his plans were working but not yet.

Adam pulled up alongside the spare horses in a makeshift corral and carefully helped Dinah down. She took his arm and walked very close to him an air of possessiveness about her that José didn’t miss. Adam saw the flicker of concern on his friend’s face but then it was gone and putting down the branding iron to reheat José came gracefully to his feet.

Adam introduced the tall elegant vaquero as their ranch foreman, José Bettencort, to Lady Dinah Marchbrook. He said lightly that she was a visitor from England and he was showing her a little of the ranch. José relaxed at that, maybe he’d been wrong about her attitude. Adam frequently had parties of visitors from England reciprocating some of the hospitality he’d found there. José wasn’t proof against her beauty and he enjoyed answering all her questions about the herd. He was proud of ‘his’ cattle, identifying himself totally with the Cartwrights, equally proud of them. Adam stayed in the background and watched amused as José succumbed to Di’s charm. The susceptible vaquero would do all that was needed in passing word to his brothers.

Dinah even accepted a cup of coffee from the communal pot and, if it was far stronger than she was used to and unsweetened, she made no complaint. Anymore than she protested at the idea of burning a mark into the calf’s hide. Adam had known plenty of American women, even some locals, who protested at the barbarity and came close to fainting. Dinah was made of sterner stuff. It struck Adam that in many ways she had a touch of barbarity herself. Born in the wrong time and, despite her looks, in the wrong sex so many of the things that she did, frowned on in a woman were admired in a man.

Eventually Adam moved forward, putting his arm round her waist, “It’s a long drive back to town and if we are going to make it in daylight we’d better be going.”

José didn’t fail to notice how she almost melted her body back against Adam, but for the moment he was just envious, wishing he stood in Adam’s shoes. Dinah offered her hand, thanking him for a pleasant visit and José bowed very correctly kissing her hand and hoping she enjoyed her stay in Nevada.

Adam helped her into the buggy and as he did so he could see two horsemen approaching. Cochise was unmistakable as was the large form of his big brother. Adam had no wish to see them and he didn’t wait just nodding to José, “I’ll be seeing you once the herd’s in the high pasture.” He set the buggy horse in motion and drove out while his brothers were still a couple of hundred yards from the camp.

Neither Hoss nor Joe has missed Adam’s presence or failed to notice he was with a totally strange woman. From a distance they could only get a vague impression but she certainly looked very attractive. Hoss stopped Joe going after his brother, “Hold on let’s see what José has to say first.”

“He’s supposed to be completing the ordering of supplies and those three contracts.”

“Yeah I know but we promised Pa not to make it any worse while he’s in Sacramento.”

Joe accepted that and dismounted in the camp. Hoss saw to both their horses while Joe poured out coffee. José came over to join them and to satisfy his curiosity. “I didn’t know Adam had visitors from England staying.”

Joe looked up at that, “He hasn’t.”

“Got one anyway and a real beauty Lady Dinah Marchbrook. Only just left.”

“Yeah we saw them.” Joe hesitated, “What’s she like José, I haven’t met her yet.”

“Brunette, very lovely.” José’s hands marked out the curves. “Friendly too, not too hoity-toity to talk to a mere cowboy. Inquisitive wanted to know all about the place.” He laughed, “Carole had better look out, I think she’s taken quite a liking to Adam.”

Hoss came over to hear that and he put a warning hand on Joe’s shoulder seeing him tense up. Luckily some men brought in three calves and José went back to work. Joe looked up at his big brother, concern very obvious on his face. Hoss said, “José didn’t mean anything by it, he knows how close Adam and Carole are. He was only funning.”

“What’s the expression Hoss? Many a true word spoken in jest.” Joe said bitterly.

“I can’t believe that.”

“Well what the hell is he doing? First some French whore and now this one, as though Carole and the kids don’t exist. Ignoring the work piling up. It just ain’t like him.”
Hoss had no answer he still had his own fears but with Sue’s certainty he was wrong he could keep them locked away. If Joe shared them he didn’t want to know and if Joe didn’t he wouldn’t burden his brother.

Joe tried to settle to work but he couldn’t seem to concentrate and at supper he only picked at his food before pushing the plate away. Hoss hadn’t missed that and he put his own down. “Joe you ain’t no use to anyone like this, go see Adam talk to him. I’ll take care of things here.”

“I’ve already tried that, didn’t get anywhere.”

“So have I, he just lost his temper with me, but here you have one specific thing. Who is this girl and what was he doing out here? You might as well try you ain’t gonna sleep tonight if you don’t.”

Joe acknowledged the sense in that and he got to his feet saddled Cochise and headed home, leaving Hoss to finish his own food and Joe’s. Joe decided to head straight for town, whatever José thought he knew this one wasn’t staying on the Ponderosa, so presumably she was staying at one of the hotels in town. He was guessing it would be the biggest and fanciest, so he’d start at the International.

Adam had taken Dinah back to the hotel and he accepted an invitation to join her for coffee in her room. She was far too canny to push him too far too soon and made no attempt to keep him there for the evening. She made it very clear that she had had a wonderful day and would like to see more of the area.  Adam hesitated, “I have some work to do that can’t be put off, but if you like I’m sure I could arrange a trip down one of the mines, maybe on Monday.”

”That would be fascinating.”

“Well I’ll have to check but why not join me for dinner on Monday anyway?”

“With delight.”

Adam finished his coffee and got to his feet but she rose too and almost without conscious thought, on his part at least, she was in his arms, pressing her body against him, kissing him a long passionate kiss. She broke away, “Just a small thank you Adam, for a wonderful day.”
Adam was all too conscious of her heaving bosom and he let his gaze rest frankly on it for just a moment too long before kissing her hand, “Until Monday.” Adam walked slowly out of the hotel knowing that it was far too early to hope to collect Steve’s papers from Jess so with an inward sigh Adam headed for the Bucket O’Blood. Even though he’d taken the bait it was far too early to stop work on his new reputation and anyway he might be able to use it later to gain time to think.

In the saloon he ordered a brandy and told Don to live the bottle. Almost at once he was greeted boisterously by four poker players. They were men who wouldn’t have dared approach this, the most remote of the Cartwrights, a few weeks back but now greeted him almost as a bosom buddy. Adam sighed again once this was over he might find it a lot harder to lose these hangers on than it had been to acquire them. Mentally he pinched himself, now it was beginning to work was not the time to become careless. He headed over to join them at the poker table with every sign of eagerness.

Joe reached town some time after Adam and his first stop was the International Hotel. He couldn’t think of any clever way to find out what he wanted to know so he asked the desk clerk Potts out right. They had known each other a long time but even so, despite the fact that he never liked Potts, Joe wasn't prepared for the knowing leer that went with the answer. “Sure do and if you’ve a message from yer brother she’s sitting just inside the door having dinner.” Potts licked his lips, “Alone tonight, sure have to admire Adam’s taste, she’s a real beauty.”

Joe would dearly have loved to smash his fist into that knowing face but he knew that would just make maters worse. “No I just wanted to check I had the right hotel. My sister-in-law has an invitation for her.”

“I bet she has, to go to hell!” Potts cackled.

Joe did his best to look as though it didn’t matter, “Don’t be ridiculous, we have mutual friends in London.”

Potts wasn’t going to let Joe off that easy, he was enjoying seeing the high n’ mighty Cartwrights fall.  “If they all look like her ain’t no wonder yer brother’s always so keen to go to England.”

Joe decided that he was only making matters worse and he turned on his heel. He couldn’t resist a glance in at the dining room and there was only one woman on her own who could possibly be Lady Dinah. He had to admit to himself that José hadn’t been wrong when he described her. She was very lovely, a superb figure and even from the door Joe was aware of the almost physical aura of sensuality around her.

Joe turned away and went down to the Palace, ordering a whisky for once, needing to wash away the nasty taste in his mouth that talking to Potts had left. At least Adam wasn’t with her now and his next job must be to find his brother. He had just decided to check the livery stable to see if Blackie was there when he saw Dan coming in. Not wanting to talk to the reporter, Joe drained his glass and walked out just nodding to acknowledge Dan’s hello. Dan took in the empty glass and hoped that whatever was wrong with Adam wasn’t catching; he couldn’t face two of them snubbing him.

Almost the first thing Joe saw as he went into the stables was Adam’s black stallion and if he was in town so was Adam. From all he’d heard the most likely place seemed to be the Bucket O’Blood so Joe headed down there. Looking over the batwings he could see his brother in a poker game at a table near the back of the saloon. Joe pushed his way in determined to speak to Adam.

Don McBride was quick to notice Joe coming in. He had known Joe for many years; Joe’s first wife had been under his care before her marriage. It was very obvious to Don that Joe wasn’t in a good mood and he saw Joe’s gaze settle on his eldest brother. The last thing Don wanted was the brothers coming to blows in his place and with Adam’s precarious hold on his temper recently, that seemed all too likely.  Don moved swiftly to prevent it, coming out from behind his bar, he moved over to Joe “Good to see you boy it’s been too long, come have a drink.”

Don led Joe over to the bar, “What will you have Joe, beer or whisky?” To his relief he saw Joe relax a little and even grin appreciation of Don’s quick move, knowing the reasons for it. “Just a beer Don and you can stop worrying I’m only waiting for Adam, not about to start trouble.”
“On the house Joe.”

Joe settled down with his beer at one of the tables watching his brother. Slowly he moved over to lean against the wall and watch the poker game. Adam had noticed Joe the minute he came in and hadn’t missed Don’s move. He didn’t need two guesses to know why his brother was there but Joe could wait. The longer he had to wait the worse his temper would be and the easier to con him. To all outsiders Adam was totally oblivious of Joe’s presence, although Joe knew very well that his brother was aware of his every move. Joe knew that he was pushing his luck approaching Adam in his current mood and he was prepared to wait until his brother was ready to leave rather than make it any worse.

Adam was soon cursing his brother; well aware that Joe was watching him closely he had actually to drink the brandies he ordered. Sleight of hand to spill the drinks was usually easy but not with his little brother’s eagle eye on him. He didn’t order quite as many as he had got into the habit of getting, but he didn’t dare change his habits too drastically.

With a lot on his mind Adam wasn’t paying very much attention to the poker game but as so often recently his luck was in. Although he lost more pots than he won, nearly all the big ones came his way. Joe watched puzzled, Adam had always been good at poker, often winning that little extra to finance something special on their trips away. Normally he became totally absorbed and thoroughly enjoyed it, although only playing for a couple of hours. Now when he was spending more and more time playing, his façade of enjoyment wasn’t sufficient to fool his brother. Joe knew his brother wasn’t really involved in the game, if anything he looked bored. Yet as the evening wore on Adam continued playing, just demanding another bottle of bandy, having knocked over and spilt the last quarter of the one he had.

Joe still spinning out his second beer would dearly have loved to force his bother to leave, to tell him he’d had more than enough and to stop making a fool of himself but he couldn’t do it. That was for private discussion not here in a crowded saloon. On the other hand he decided he didn’t have to stay and watch any longer and he drained his beer, pushing his way out of the saloon.

Adam was relieved to see him go, Joe had forced him to drink far more than he wanted and h still had to go and collect the papers from Jess. He didn’t realize, although he wouldn’t have been surprised to learn, that Joe had only gone as far as the livery stable. He had stalled Cochise next to Blackie and now piled himself some straw against the side of the stall and proceeded to make himself as comfortable as possible while he waited for his brother to collect Blackie.

Adam didn’t want anyone associating his movements with his brother’s so he forced himself to sit on for another half an hour before an opportunity arose to pull out. It had been a high biding hand and Adam won it with a full house jacks over threes. He scooped the pot up, “That’s my lot for tonight fellas but I’ll be back give you a chance for revenge.” He grinned and turned expansively to Don sending the bottle of brandy flying. It was only about half empty but virtually all of that was on the floor where the rest now fell. Adam laughed, it didn’t matter and he passed Don $50 to buy drinks all round before weaving his way a little uncertainly down the street.

Not all of the weaving was an act although Adam wasn’t as drunk as he was pretending, he was by no means sober. He went into the stable and was rather clumsily saddling Blackie when he became aware of Joe getting to his feet. With a trip to Jess’ before he could head home for bed Joe was the last person he wanted hanging around and there was a real feeling of anger in his voice as he said, “Oh God you still hanging around.”

“We need to talk Adam.”

“I thought you’d already read me your lecture. I’m going home, come or not as you like.”
Adam mounted and began to force Blackie through the streets, still crowded even after midnight on a Saturday.

Joe quickly tightened Cochise’s cinch and followed, he had enough sense not to try and force Adam to listen in the middle of the busy street but as they got out onto their own road, he pulled up alongside. “You’re going to have to listen to me sooner or later.” It was like talking to a brick wall Adam totally ignored him but Joe had waited all evening and he wasn’t about to give up now, just staying close to his brother.

Eventually Adam reined up, the turnoff he was taking for Jess’ house was less than a mile ahead and it would save time if he could get rid of Joe now rather than ride home, pretend to go in and have to come out again later. He was more than a little drunk and wanted his bed but he was ready for his little brother. “Alright Joe, it’s late and I’m tired, have your say and get it over.”

“What were you doing out at the branding camp today?”

“Either you saw me or José told you, so you know what I was doing.”

“You were supposed to be finishing those contracts and arranging supplies.”

“The contracts are finished and the girls re making themselves useful arranging supplies.”

That shocked Joe, “You mean you pushed your work onto Nita and the others.”

“Mainly my own wife and she’s not moaning.”

“I’m surprised you even remember you have a wife and you’re never there to know how she feels.”

Adam tensed up at that and Blackie danced away slightly reacting to his master’s mood, “Don’t push your luck too far Little Joe. I put up with a hell of a lot from you because you are my kid brother but there are limits.”

“You put up with a lot from me!” Joe said in outrage, “You’re the one who barely has a polite word for anyone except any attractive woman who catches your eye.”

“Oh now we come to it. Just because I treated myself to a few hours break and showed a visitor a little of our countryside, you find it necessary to chase me to town and lecture me.”

“Some visitor!”

“Lady Dinah is very charming and I knew her cousin at Cambridge, It does no harm to be polite to visitors.”

“Then why not invite her out to meet your wife? First it’s that French whore you took to dinner, now this one. What the hell is wrong with you Adam? I thought you loved Carole.   All these women have to offer is good looks and availability; you never used to chase whores.”

“Watch your tongue Joe.”

“Look I care for you and I hate seeing you make a fool of yourself like these expensive dinners for a whore. You can buy them for a few dollars if that’s what you need.”

“Lady Dinah is a charming intelligent woman.”

“Adam see sense.” Joe pleaded “She’s a whore not worth Carole’s little finger.”

“How dare you, you’ve never even met the lady.” Adam moved Blackie closer, anger clear on his face.

Joe ignored the anger, “She’s using you and the whole town is laughing, Adam Cartwright involved with a whore. English and extravagant yes, but a whore.”

Adam, more drunk than he realized and unable to counter his brother’s accurate comments reacted rather than thought and he lashed out. He caught Joe accurately on the side of his chin with the left handed punch and he had enough weight behind it to knock Joe out. Joe fell heavily from Cochise and lay unconscious on the ground. Adam quickly dismounted and with an order to Blackie to stand he ran round to his brother. He felt for Joe’s pulse but it was good and strong. Adam sat back on his haunches once he’d checked his brother’s inert body, no broken bones and Joe was already beginning to stir slightly. Joe would be bruised and maybe stiff but he wasn’t badly hurt.

Adam decided that Joe would be alright and Cochise wouldn’t leave his master so his own best plan was to get away now and head for Jess’. He hated leaving his brother unconscious but with Joe not seriously hurt maybe it would work out for the best, building on the reputation he’d established. It was an almost physical effort to pull himself away from Joe but once he’d remounted he pushed Blackie into a lope wanting to see Jess and get home.

Jess was still up waiting for him but at nearly 2 a.m. the bunkhouse was in darkness so Adam walked Blackie in and left him in the barn. Jess had coffee ready for him and Adam was glad of that. “Sorry to be so late Jess and I’m rather drunk.”

Jess took his elbow and gently forced him into the nearest chair. “So I see and practically exhausted as well. Drink your coffee and try and relax.”

Adam was so tired that he was cold and he cupped both hands round the mug. Jess saw the slight bruising on the knuckles of his left hand and touched it gently, ‘What have you been hitting?” He didn’t expect that question to produce the look of near despair that it did but it was quickly explained as Adam said, “Not what but who, I hit Joe.”

Jess knew that his friend had half expected to come to blows with his youngest brother at some stage but not this early in the game. Knowing how close Adam and Joe were he could see how it had upset Adam and decided his friend might be better for talking “When Adam?”
“Less than half an hour ago. Joe saw me with Dinah; I took her out to the branding camp, on purpose to stir things up. I didn’t actually talk to Hoss or Joe but they were riding in as we left and José must have filled them in. Anyway Joe followed me into town. I kept him hanging around for ages, thought I’d out waited him but he was in the stable, waiting with Blackie. We argued on the way home.” Adam broke off sipping his coffee, staring into the cup his thoughts obviously unpleasant.

Jess went and fetched more coffee his back carefully turned, he said “Go on Adam.”

“Joe said, what is perfectly true that I’ve been making a fool of myself, that the whole town is laughing at me, caught by a high class whore. I know it’s true, it’s what I want but I can’t explain that to Joe and I couldn’t argue against him, so I hit him.”

Adam nursed his left hand as Jess turned in some surprise. “I only hit him once caught him by surprise but he was out cold. He fell from Cochise but as far as I could see he was just bruised.” Adam got to his feet and went over to the window, too restless to settle and unable to face even such a good friend as Jess. “I left him Jess. Unconscious on the ground. Cochise was with him and he was beginning to stir but I left him.”

Jess went swiftly over to him and gripped his shoulders. “Come on take it easy. Joe’s doubtless back home by now being fussed over by Nita.”

“Yeah, anyway I’ll ride back that way make sure he’s okay. What really worries me Jess, I didn’t plan it. I just lost my temper.”

“Take it easy will you. You said it yourself you’re drunk. Anyway you were always planning to force Joe into a fight.”

“But I didn’t, I forced myself into one.”

“Adam stop being so hard on yourself, its hell of a job you’ve taken on and you’re under a strain, not surprising you blow up occasionally. Once Joe knows everything he’ll understand you know he will.”

Adam rested his aching head against the window. “I’m alright Jess just very tired and as you said I’m drunk. Let’s get to business and then I’ll go home. I need Carole and my bed.”
Jess saw the sense in that, “Steve Fallon came by at suppertime. He seems a nice guy, very concerned about you and the whole family. He’s also got his head screwed on and won’t drop any hints to anyone else.” Jess went over to the desk and brought out a large packet of papers. “He left these for you and said that if you were in the Bucket O’Blood tomorrow about 4 p.m. he’d come find you.”

“Your suggestion?”

“Yeah, seemed easiest if he found you, so I told him that you’d been using the Bucket recently.”

Thanks Jess that will be the least noticeable way to do it and gives me a chance to read this lot.”

“I think you’d better go and get some sleep old son or you won’t be fit to take in anything. Do you want me to ride back with you?”

“No need Jess. You have already done far more than I have any right to ask.”

Jess shook his head, “Don’t be stupid Adam. You know I’ll do anything I can and at the end I’ll still be deep in your debt.”

“Well don’t you talk nonsense then. We’re friends and as you once said, that’s all that needs to be said.”

Adam was warmed by Jess’ insistence on helping and collecting the papers he headed back to Blackie. He mounted stiffly and walked his stallion out only pressing the horse once well away from the bunkhouse, He headed back the long way round just to make sure that Joe wasn’t still there, knowing that he wouldn’t sleep unless he did. Joe was long gone but just to be sure Adam checked that Cochise was in his stable before taking Blackie in and stabling him. He promised his horse a better grooming in the morning but for now he was too tired and drunk, everything was too much bother.

Carole had intended waiting up but she had had a very long day, with Anne teething and fractious and she had been determined to complete the work Adam had had to leave her. She had left the door open but she was fast asleep and looked so peaceful that Adam wouldn’t risk disturbing her. He went through to the spare room and too tired to even bother undressing he lay down and was asleep almost instantly.

Carole was downstairs and the children had finished breakfast when Adam came down the next morning, still heavy headed, a distinct hangover. Carole managed to shush the kids and let him have his coffee in peace. Adam couldn’t face food and he took his refill into the study and began to work through the thick bundles of papers Steve had left for him. Steve had got copies of both the newspaper accounts and the verbatim court records from the San Diego case. He had even managed to make a copy of the land grant under which the claim had been made and a detailed physical description of it. Adam was very impressed, it gave him exactly what he needed; he couldn’t have done better himself. There was some additional information from San Diego, other land judgments made by the same judge were noted plus notes on all the judgments he’d made which had been overturned by higher courts with the reasons. Steve obviously hadn’t found any other claims under land grants in San Diego but he had details of three in Santa Fé. One was authenticated back in 1850 and the other two thrown out and again he had details including physical descriptions. Adam didn’t have time to do more than read through everything quickly once. He made a list of points to check with Steve but there weren’t very many, more a general chat. Steve had done an excellent job, knowing enough law from the years as Federal Marshall to know what was important.

Carole placated the children and slipped into join Adam with fresh coffee late in the morning, “You look tired darling.”

“Yeah well you’ll hear all about it no doubt.” Adam pulled her down on his lap burying his face against her hair for a moment and then told her exactly what had happened the previous day, culminating in his blow to Joe. Carole could see just how much that upset and worried him and she did her best to reassure him. She had actually seen Joe early that morning before he was even awake and Joe had seemed fine greeting her as always. Adam was relieved to hear his brother was alright, although he had been fairly sure there wouldn’t be any physical harm. It was leaving Joe that really hurt but with Carole’s support he was able to hide his feelings even from her and relaxed a little. He was better able to recheck his notes once more before heading for town to see Steve.

Joe hadn’t been out for very long when he came round to find Cochise nuzzling him. For a minute stiff and sore Joe lay still wondering what on earth had happened. Slowly as his head cleared his memory came back and Joe pulled himself to his feet leaning against Cochise, hardly believing what he did remember. He could see Adam hitting him. He had been pushing hard and although Adam hardly ever hit his brothers it had happened when they were younger, albeit hardly ever with a closed fist, but he found it virtually impossible to believe that his brother would leave him alone unconscious. He rested his head against Cochise trying for the millionth time to work out what was wrong with his brother. Eventually he mounted up and headed home. He was stiff and tired but he felt he had failed and that really hurt. Yet again he’d failed abysmally to get through to Adam.

Nita was surprised to see him back, she could see that he was tired and had a severe headache, a clear bruise on his jaw where Adam hit him. Joe didn’t want to talk and she quickly recognized that and didn’t push him. Joe was glad to soak in a hot bath and then head for bed. He couldn’t bring himself to tell Nita what had happened. He didn’t want her to think badly of his brother, even when Adam was behaving badly.

Nita went along with his reticence and just made the most of his unexpected presence. She gave him a good breakfast and was able to send him off looking considerably more cheerful than when he got home.

Joe needed to talk to someone and although he couldn’t tell his own wife he was eager to talk to Hoss. He reached the branding camp mid-morning and it didn’t take much to persuade Hoss to take a break for coffee and cookies, provided by Nita.

Hoss could see from the expression on Joe’s face that something was wrong and the brothers moved well away from the main camp onto a small knoll with their coffee. Hoss hadn’t missed the bruised slightly swollen jaw that his younger brother was toting. He gestured at it, “Who you been fighting Joe, looks as though you lost.”

“That’s what I want to tell you. Adam hit me.”

“I think you’d better fill me in on everything.” Hoss glared at his little brother, “We promised Pa not to make matters worse.”

Joe shook his head, “I know and I guess I pushed too hard. I lost my temper and so did Adam.”

“Maybe you’d better start at the beginning little brother.”

Joe did exactly that and told his brother everything that had happened since he left the previous day, finishing with “I came round and realized that Adam had just ridden off and left me there, unconscious and alone.” He sighed heavily, “It wasn’t him hitting me that really hurt. It’s happened before and from his point of view I guess I was asking for it, but leaving me.... I found that hard to believe.”

Hoss got to his feet finding it almost as impossible to believe, “You sure Joe, I mean if you were stunned?”

“I’m sure Hoss. I don’t like it one bit better than you do, but he left me.”

Hoss swallowed hard and almost without wanting to he asked tentatively, “Joe do you think Adam’s sick?”

 Joe didn’t understand, “What do you mean?”
“I was up by the Lake. I saw Ross and Delphine’s graves and got to thinking. Ross’ character changed.”

Joe protested “No!”

“It would explain why he’s behaving so strangely.”

Joe got to his feet, facing his brother angrily, “Hoss I don’t believe it. Its nonsense, noone has a better brain than Adam.”

Hoss wouldn’t look at his brother staring at his feet, “Mental illness don’t take account of whether you’re an idiot or a genius.”

“How do you know?”

“I’ve bin doin’ some reading. Hell Joe I don’t like the idea one bit better than you do but I can’t explain his behaviour any other way. God I have prayed that I’m wrong. but if I’m not then we’d have to face that fact before we can help him.”

Joe bit his lip and shook his head, “Even if, there ain’t noway to help him. All Adam could do for Ross was kill him.”

For a few minutes both brothers were lost in their own thoughts not able to find any words for what they feared. They had moved closer together for mutual consolation and stood staring out over their beloved ranch. It was a superb view from where they were, up towards the lake, but scared and worried about Adam neither of them took in what they were seeing.
Eventually Joe asked, “Have you said anything about this to anyone else?”

“Just Sue. I didn’t ever mean to say anything to you. If you’d thought the same the confirmation would have scared me and if you hadn’t…. Well I’m sorry, now you’ll sit and worry same as me.”

Joe punched him gently, “I’ve been doing that anyway, trying to make sense of it ever since Adam cut himself off from me. What did Sue think?”

Hoss’ face lightened slightly “She said I was wrong that she’d seen plenty of mental illness, all too much, and Adam doesn’t show the same signs. Something about empty eyes.”

“Why don’t you believe her Hoss? She’s the nurse and we’ve trusted her often before.”

“I only wish I could Joe but I can’t get it out of my mind and Adam’s acting so odd….”

“I told you I’ve been thinking. I can remember two occasions when he was a bit like this. The only other time he cut himself off was after that cave-in. You remember when he and Philip were trapped in the Ophir?” Hoss nodded and Joe went on, “Okay stupid question, neither of us will ever forget the hours it took to dig them out and you were right in there. After that he was so scared of the mine, knowing someone would have to go back down and set that new shoring that for a few days he cut himself off. You remember he couldn’t put the light off in his room, brought the mine back too vividly.”

“He wouldn’t let Pa or us in, just wanted to be left alone.”

“That’s right and he cut his mind off too, guess he didn’t want anyone to sense his fear.”
“So what is he scared of now?”

“I don’t know Hoss; maybe he’s physically ill and doesn’t want us to know.”

“No I don’t buy that, even if it explains why he’s cut himself off, don’t explain all the drinking and gambling. Anyways he looks okay, mite tired but that ain’t surprising when he’s never home.”

“I know Hoss I didn’t say I had any answers.”

“You said two occasions, what was the second?”

“Maybe it’s more to the point. When he was engaged to Laura and just before he got engaged, he was pretty bad-tempered and erratic in his behaviour. Like I was when I first met Marie, torn in two ways wanting one thing and yet commonsense telling me it wouldn’t work, would cause trouble.”

Hoss thought about that for a few minutes, he could remember all too clearly just how moody both his brothers had been and they had both lashed out verbally at him. Joe was right in some ways Adam’s behaviour had been similar, even to drinking too much and more frequent trips to town. “What are you suggesting Joe?”

“I’m not really sure. Maybe he’s just restless again, wanting to get away, go East even Europe who knows. This time he can’t, he’s tied, wife and family dependent on him. What he wants pulling him one way, conscience and responsibility the other.”

Hoss thought about that “I suppose its a possibility but he ain’t exactly showing much sign of acting responsibly at the moment. Guess that’s what scares me most. Adam’s always taken more than his share, blamed himself when I can’t even see why and yet now ….” Hoss broke off not wanting to put his thoughts into words again but Joe knew exactly what he meant. He gripped Hoss’ arm forcing his brother to look at him. “I’m with Sue, I can’t believe that he’s mentally ill. This will pass, a few weeks and whatever is upsetting him he’ll work it out and come back to normal.”

“I sure hope so.”

“I’m positive Hoss. All we can do is bear with him now, try to do as Pa asked and not make matters worse, not that it’s easy!” he said with feeling, touching his sore jaw. “Then when Adam settles down, show him he’s still our brother. This will become as remote and unimportant as the rows Pa and I had over Marie. At the time I thought we’d never get over those but we did in a matter of weeks.”

Hoss cold only hope his brother was right, he felt a little better for talking it over. At least Joe had, while taking him seriously, not agreed with the possibility he dreaded. Hoss tried to accept that both his wife and brother were right and at least pushed his fear to the back of his mind. He went to finish his coffee only to find it was stone cold and poured it away, suggesting it was time they got back to work.

Adam reached town just after 2 p.m. He had several routine jobs to do, both for the ranch and for himself. He was just finishing up the last of them when he bumped into Marcy in the General Store. Adam was on edge but he had known her for years and it would possibly arouse attention if he didn’t stop to talk for a minute or two as he normally would. It quickly became clear to Adam that she had engineered the meeting deliberately, but so cleverly that at first even he hadn’t been sure. Marcy said nothing more than she would normally do, a general conversation of acquaintances, not friends, which anyone could have overheard. Only Adam was aware that she had slipped a note into his pocket and after a couple of minutes they separated to get on with their own business, just one of a myriad of encounters which took place every day in Virginia City. Adam wasn’t sure if he was being watched or not. He was sure he wasn’t being followed but on previous form Hearst probably had several men just keeping an eye on places he frequented and taking news of his movements back.
Adam completed his list of jobs and headed down to the Bucket O’Blood, one place that he was sure Hearst would be watching. On the way he managed, unobtrusively, to transfer the note Marcy had given him from his pocket into the mass of routine papers he was carrying. He went into the bar and got himself a beer and a brandy chaser before going over to a table in the corner to begin the job of sorting and putting the papers away in his saddlebag, making occasional notes of follow up jobs that he needed to do. He made it very clear that he wasn’t enjoying the task and acquaintances knew him well enough to steer clear. Left alone in a carefully selected position, where noone could actually overlook the papers he was reading, Adam was able to check Marcy’s note. It was short and not very informative “Imperative meet, sewing 3 p.m. Monday M.”

Adam couldn’t help worrying, scared one of the women who were taking such risks for him was in trouble. Something had to be wrong for Marcy to risk putting anything in writing. He was mainly concerned about Margaret. Her determination to get a copy of the grant under which they were claiming had scared him from the beginning. If she had been caught, not only was she in danger but Hearst might suspect the truth and revert to his original plans. There was nothing Adam could do until the following day when he presumed he was to meet them at Jess’. If he tried to contact then he would only risk putting them in more danger so he had to wait.

Adam destroyed the note, shredding it up, and tried to concentrate on the routine work but without very much success. He didn’t have very long to wait before Steve came into the bar and with every assumption of surprise and delight came over to Adam. “I thought I’d miss you this trip, didn’t have time to come out to the Ponderosa.”

The friends shook hands and Adam got two more beers and sat down to chat. Adam saw one of the strangers move closer and guessed he was Hearst’s man. For a long time the old friends chatted in general as they usually did and eventually Adam saw the man who had been listening head back to the bar for more beer. Dropping his voice slightly Adam said, “Okay let’s get to business, just keep your voice down and keep it light.”

Steve nodded and Adam went on, “First I collected everything last night and I don’t know how to thank you. You have done a superb job everything I need.”

“No need for any thanks, I was more than happy to help. Pay back just a little of what I owe you.””

“You don’t owe me anything.”

“That’s a matter of opinion. Without your help I’d have been dead years ago. I wouldn’t have made that transition from gunman to lawman.”

“I didn’t do anything.”

“Don’t underestimate what you did Adam. I never have. There are few people willing to look beyond a fast gun.”
“I was one of them too.” Adam said a little ruefully.

“Hope you still are, this just might end up needing one.”

Adam shook his head, “I doubt it for once I think I’ll be able to be a lawyer only.”

Steve sipped his beer, “I’m sure you have questions, let’s get them over and we can relax, stop playing a role and just enjoy ourselves.”

Adam agreed with that and settled back in his chair as he cross questioned Steve on all the details he’d found to query. He had no need of his notes and concentrating hard he was confident he could get all Steve’s answers down on paper later. The main details he needed were on the physical look of the documents that Steve had copied for him. Steve had learnt to be observant as a lawman and under expert questioning he remembered more details than he would have thought possible. It didn’t take very long as he had written a very full report. Half an hour later Adam put his last question, “Anything at all you saw that you didn’t bother writing down but niggled at the time, however minor?”

“Just one thing, all of those grants had seals. Three had very old ones, Spanish I guess all dated 1810 or earlier. Two of them were very similar but the third, on a grant that was thrown out, was much clearer, sorta cut deeper, far sharper. Difficult to be sure but I got the feeling someone had made a much later copy.”

“Thanks. I’ll see if I can get hold of an original for comparison when we come to court.” Adam changed the subject totally and the friends spent a pleasant evening reminiscing.
Adam was still on edge, worried about the women and about Joe, so he decided to do some of the preliminary work, before heading home rather than upsetting Carole. Several of the law books that he needed had already been ordered and Dick had some of them. Along with the detailed documents that Steve and Rey had provided and the documents he had collected personally from Sacramento, there was plenty for Adam to get on with. He knew he needed to immerse himself in the relevant law so that nothing that was sprung on him would come as a surprise and he’d have the answers at his fingertips. Most of his expertise was in mining and contract law but he had done work on land deeds to ensure the Ponderosa was secure. Until this arose he had been confident that noone could touch the Ponderosa, that their deeds were totally secure, having spent long hours looking for loopholes long before he qualified.
Adam found the study of law soothing, if occasionally rather frustrating as he struggled with the archaic language, which many lawyers seemed to feel was the only way to safeguard their true intentions.

Dick had been pleased to see him and provided coffee and a good light plus the books Adam needed, including several that Adam hadn’t even realized had arrived yet. The parcels of papers that had already arrived were safely stored in the trunk and once Dick had disinterred them he took himself to bed knowing Adam wanted peace and quiet to work. Adam did check around outside quietly but Dick had done a good of blacking out and soundproofing the room so he went in more at ease.

Once the door was locked Adam was able to concentrate, firstly on noting everything Steve had said and then on the law. For the next three hours he worked steadily making his own notes of all the main points covered in the law books he had so far. The extent of jurisdiction of the States compared to the Federal Government and the specific arrangements made after the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to ratify and confirm existing rights or not as the case might be. He was expecting more detail from Oliver once all the precedents had been checked but by 2 a.m. he was confident he at least knew the broad outlines of the relevant laws and had some idea where he needed more details. Eventually Adam got to his feet and stretched, he was stiff and tired after sitting for so long in one place. The even breathing from behind the curtain had been testimony for a long time that Dick could sleep through both a bright light and the rustle of papers in his room.

Adam carefully locked everything away and slipped out into the alley. He went down to the Palace for a brandy, glad of the warmth of the spirit to fight his tiredness before walking openly into the stables to collect Blackie and head home. There were enough saloons in town for people to assume he’d been somewhere else in the hours that he’d been missing. But he had to face the fact that if he was going to do it regularly it would be sensible to ride a slightly less conspicuous horse than his black stallion. For tonight, tired out, he was grateful to half doze and allow his horse to take him home.

Carole had managed a sleep earlier in the evening and she was still up, worried about Adam wondering whether he was still upset over his interactions with his youngest brother the previous night. She was relieved when he came in to find him calm and reasonably cheerful although very obviously tired. She took him straight to bed and half an hour later he was asleep snuggled up against her, but for a long time Carole couldn’t sleep. She prayed over him that he would have the strength of mind to get through the next few weeks without being too badly hurt by those he loved, as he fooled them for their own safety.

Adam was very determined not to worry Carole if he could avoid it and until he heard something definite from Marcy he said nothing about the meeting. He spent the morning at the main house and as Carole already knew that he was dining with Lady Dinah, he let her think he was going straight to town. Adam sent a message to Lady Dinah postponing their trip down the mine for a couple of days but confirming that he would see her for dinner. He left Blackie at the main house taking a bay gelding, which didn’t even have a Ponderosa brand.

Adam took a roundabout route to Jess’ keeping in the woods and out of sight. It took longer but he had set off in plenty of time and at least it didn’t risk causing speculation that might have started if he was found on the main road. Jess was in the barn awaiting his arrival and had already taken all the necessary precautions to ensure he wasn’t seen by any of Jess’ hands. Adam was glad to see his friend for a moment first, wanting warning if there was any real trouble before he faced the women.

Jess knew his friend well enough to read the concern on his face and he smiled reassuringly, “Take it easy Adam, no trouble. Just advanced warning.”

“Who is here?”

“All three of them and Margaret is looking pretty pleased with herself. I’m not sure why, she says she can’t get the grant copy yet.”

“Let’s go see the ladies. How do I ever repay what I owe them Jess?”

“They see it the other way, partial repayment of debts due, so I shouldn’t even try.”

Adam followed Jess inside where Liza hurried over to kiss him and then went to get him coffee. Adam moved on through to the dining room where Marcy, Michelle and Margaret were sitting over coffee. The three women all looked up as he came in and smiled at him. As Adam joined them Margaret looked anxious, “Are you alright Adam? You look very tired.”
“I’ve been working late and I’m sure you have heard how debauched I have been recently.” he smiled at them, “In fact you three with Liza, Jess and my wife are about the only ones who know that I’m not really becoming a drunken gambler with womanizing on the side.”

Marcy took his hand, “Looks to me old friend that it’s taking its toll of you.”

“I won’t say it has been exactly easy, but neither did I expect it to be.”

“I hope I didn’t worry you too much with my note. I knew it was a risk but we all wanted a word with you.” Marcy said anxiously.

Adam smiled “I was a little worried, you all three mean an awful lot to me and I was scared someone had found out about one of you. Seems I was wrong you all look very lovely and untroubled.”

Margaret did her best to reassure him, “We’re fine Adam. Noone will take any notice of us, don’t forget we’re women and as far as Hearst is concerned women are just useful servants or pretty baubles to show off.”

“By the time we’re finished with him he may change his mind.” Adam said with a grin. “Well ladies what news so you have for me this time? I hope it’s not as big a shock as last
time. I’m not sure I’d survive another shock like that.”

Marcy smiled, “I’m just the errand girl. I haven’t got anything else, except the buggy to bring us out.”

Michelle added “And a friend when we’re bored, a go-between when we need one, to say nothing of a source of marvelous teas.”

Marcy smiled affectionately at her; she had become very fond of the French girl and of Margaret over the last few weeks. Michelle went on “I asked Marcy to get word to you. It seemed important at the time.”

“What’s happened now?” Adam asked.

“Well they give up on Suzanne Faure, she is sent home tomorrow. They think you like the English girl more. My husband he is not popular they thought a femme français would do more. Hearst is not pleased, he say if you are so restless without your mistress it should be easy, but for three days you do not see this English woman.”

“What is he thinking of doing?” Adam asked anxiously.

“My husband and the others, they are scared by the violence, argue for more time, but Hearst is not sure. He says a woman like her, two weeks is enough. If she fails to get you in her bed in the next week they think again.”

Adam smiled ruefully, “Sounds as though my decisions are being made for me. I had about decided to go with Lady Dinah, my French is decidedly rusty and I didn’t want the extra strain but I was trying to slow things down for a week or two. Dinah is rather too astute for my liking. Looks like I’d better step up the pace.”

“They feel once she has you in bed she controls you, for the time they need.”
Adam lent forward and taking her hand kissed it. “Bless you Michelle. That warning is just what I need. Now I know how fast I have to act.”

Margaret spoke up, “Adam I was glad I had another chance to speak to you. I’m no lawyer and maybe what I have learnt doesn’t matter but it feels like it might be important.”

Adam sat back and Liza refilled his coffee, “Any information can be useful at this stage Margaret, I am just collecting.”

“Well I can’t get a copy yet. The original is in Denver and won’t be brought out for a couple of weeks. When it does I shall get you a copy.”

“Don’t take any risks Margaret, I shall see it eventually anyway, they’ll have to disclose it before the trial.”

“They know that but it seems it is legal to give you only a shortened version or at least that’s what Hearst’s lawyers say, They can leave out the preamble and some of the other standard bits.”

Adam whistled softly “I suppose that could be argued, thanks for the warning. They’ll hope I’ll base my rebuttal on the missing parts and then be thrown in court when the original is complete.”

Margaret nodded, “Exactly! That’s why I think it’s so important you have an exact copy and I can get it for you without any risks so don’t worry. I always have all Hearst’s most important documents in my care. He feels that noone will look for them in the luggage of a mere female secretary.”

Adam bit his lip, hating to let her take any risks yet knowing how important it was. His feelings were obvious to all of them and Marcy said, “You might as well relax and stop worrying Adam. There’s no way you’ll stop her.”

Adam had to grin, “I’ve no doubt you’re right Marcy! Alright Margaret go ahead but please don’t take any risks. I couldn’t bear it if I save my family from danger by endangering you, any of you.”

Margaret smiled, “Promise Adam no risks.”

“If you do get a chance to look at the original deed, I could do with a detailed physical description of the seal on it. Seems they may vary, fakes slightly different from the authentic ones.”

“Sure. I may even be able to sneak it away for you to have a look yourself.” she grinned “I’ve already promised no risks.”

Adam had to laugh but then Margaret went on, “The other thing is the one I’m not sure about. They were talking about the legal strategy they intended to use. The area of the grant covers more than just the Ponderosa, not your west shore lands but nearly everything this side of Lake Tahoe. It also includes a small ranch to the south of the Ponderosa. I haven’t been able to find out the name of the ranch yet but I’m still trying. They intend to claim that one too, but in a separate case before the same court. They want to have that one heard first and intend to pay very high compensation for the other ranch. Hearst says that it’s in financial trouble and will be more than eager to settle for compensation way above its nominal selling price. Does that make any difference?”

Adam was taken aback by that news and he got to his feet too restless to settle. He paced around for a minute or two, assessing the news. It had obviously come as a shock to him and Jess, very aware of his moods, offered a brandy. Adam accepted gratefully and stood sipping it, staring unseeingly out of the window. Slowly he became aware that Jess and all four women were watching him in silence, very worried. He turned round putting the glass down,
“Sorry everyone it’s alright.”

Jess asked “How big a problem is it Adam?”

“If I hadn’t known in advance it could have beaten us. The court takes an uncontested case and almost inevitably finds for the plaintiff. That gets the grant in as an accepted document. Then I come along and ask the court to reverse itself. No Judge likes doing that, so whatever I have the Judge is inevitably biased against it.”

Jess nodded that made sense but the question remained, what effect would it have now that Adam knew. He asked his friend and Adam smiled, “Margaret has saved us again. There’s two ways depending which ranch is involved. There are several possibilities. If it’s a friend than we can just ask for the two cases to be considered as one, the grant is the same. If not then I can ask the court for an injunction to make them take all contested cases first. The Judge will have to grant it or any decision he makes will be thrown out by a higher court. Trouble is I wouldn’t have thought of doing it as a matter of course and the Judge doesn’t have to act unless one or other side requests it.” Adam moved round behind Margaret and kissed her forehead, “Thank you again Margaret that was vital information. Bless you.”

As Adam relaxed everyone else did and he spent another hour in companionable gossip picking up a few more scraps of information but nothing as important as he already had. Then it was time for him to go and change before picking up Lady Dinah, while Marcy drove the others back to the hotel.

Adam found Dinah almost ready and he led her down to the dining room but this time he drew the curtains round the small booth. He found the time passed very quickly, she had plenty of questions about his beloved ranch. He had to be a little careful the way he answered. He couldn’t hide his love of the ranch but he tried to leave the impression that some of the responsibilities and work which were piled on him came hard and that as they mounted, there were times when he would dearly have loved a break. He was reasonably effective in doing so and Dinah took more or less what he wanted from the conversation.
Slowly their conversation became more general and Adam told her that he had arranged to take her down the California on Wednesday afternoon and then perhaps she would join him for dinner again. Dinah was a little hesitant and Adam smiled “Do you have something else planned instead? Tell me I can only say no.”

“It was just that there is a performance of Hamlet at the theatre, I’d like to see it.”

“Why didn’t you say? I’ll get tickets.”

“I wasn’t sure if you could or even if you’d want to, it’s rather public.”

“I do what I want in this town. I’m often the subject if gossip even when I do nothing and I’m a long way past worrying about it.”

“Your wife?”

Adam pokered up at that, “and said curtly, “My wife is my business. I don’t discuss her or our relationship with anyone, not even my own family.”

Lady Dinah backed off at that, she respected him for his stance but it confirmed her opinion that things were seriously wrong in Adam’s marriage. She hadn’t liked Hearst’s very clear orders that she must move faster and get him in her bed but she needed the money to keep her independence and so had agreed. As the evening went on she began to think the task wouldn’t be beyond her by the deadline Hearst had set. She was still a little on edge, bearing in minds the warnings she had been given of just how clever Adam was.

It was just before eleven when Adam took her back to her room and in the privacy of the room she was rather more forward than she had been. She made it fairly clear, although trying not to be too blatant, that she was available to him. Adam wasn’t ready to go the whole way yet, although from Michelle’s warning he would have to soon. He needed a little more time but he was prepared to hold her and kiss her as she obviously wanted. Adam made no move to go further and she could feel the tension in him and backed off a little.
Dinah settled down next to him, sitting very close, knowing that he was aware of her body she let it talk for her and allowed Adam to lead the conversation back to safer generalities. Adam was aware of her body but for now he felt no desire at all and just prayed that when it came to the point he would be able to do what was expected of him. He found it hard to stay alert and the last hour seemed forever as he tried to keep things light and yet show he was attracted in a way he didn’t feel. By 1 a.m. he felt he’d been there long enough to keep everybody gossiping and happy. He kissed her, “I must go. I have an early meeting in the morning.”

Dinah made no attempt to stop him and Adam pulled her close and kissed her as passionately as he could. It seemed to satisfy her and Adam promised to be back to see her on Wednesday. He finally got out and headed for the stable. He slipped in the back and as he had ridden the unbranded gelding, he risked going into Dick’s room confident noone would know when he actually left. He felt unclean and unsettled and he wanted to work for a while to clear his head before going home to Carole. He was finding it harder than he had expected to carry through the role he had chosen. He worked for a couple of hours and the routine and concentration needed to make sense of the legal papers calmed him. Eventually tired out he headed home and slipped into bed next to his wife.

Carole stirred and moved closer into his arms. The desire which all Dinah’s efforts hadn’t kindled flared instantly and Carole moved even closer. She was fully awake now and just grateful that he was totally hers. Afterwards Adam told her a little of what he’d done and learnt today. He tried not to worry her but Carole knew him too well and read between the lines. She didn’t push him and eventually he fell asleep in her arms.

Adam had to get up early but Carole had calmed him and he had slept well even though he’d only had a few hours and he felt much better. There was an important meeting of the Bank of Nevada directors and Adam was due to represent his family. He had a dual role to play, firstly to ensure that nothing was done that was against his family’s ideals and best interests and secondly he had to achieve that in a way which would lead those present to pass word that he wasn’t at his best. He was on edge as he rode into town but noone would have guessed as he headed into the Palace for a brandy prior to the meeting. He ordered three, drinking enough to make his breath smell while most of it went over him or on the floor. He was just a little late for the meeting and took his seat, barely acknowledging greetings from the rest of the board. His bad temper and the smell of alcohol were both noted by the other men as Adam had known they would be.

There was little either contentious or particularly relevant to the Ponderosa in the first few items on the agenda and Adam just sat apparently barely even listening. Unlike his normal copious note taking, to ensure that later there could be no dispute, he just occasionally jotted down a figure. In fact as he wasn’t taking notes he was concentrating very hard, confident in his ability to make a detailed summary later. It was the last two items which affected them most, one to curb small loans and prevent renewal where there had been any late payment of interest, was a continuing fight. The Cartwrights were the only ones interested in the small loans where a lot of time and effort went in for minimal return. Adam was confident that as so often before he would get his own way once everyone had had their ritual moan, the way he had written the constitution practically ensured that. The last item could, in theory, hit them more directly. It was a purely technical change but would have the effect of withdrawing low cost loan on timber cutting, terming them high risk agricultural projects rather than lower risk industrial projects. Adam was prepared to argue that one strenuously, the crop was already grown and couldn’t be affected by weather so the risk was not the same as a wheat field. He wasn’t sure that most of the directors realized what a small change in wording would mean in practical terms. He very much doubted that either Jim Fair or John MacKay realized that it would put up the cost of timber to their mines. Once they did he expected their support. The meeting went pretty well as Adam had expected and if he gained his way by rather more direct, on occasion even rude, speeches rather than his normal carefully reasoned approach, at least he got his own way. It had the desired side effect of getting them talking and he redoubled that effect by refusing to stop for the social drinks afterwards, instead he went back to the International.

Adam was in luck Dinah was just back from shopping and very willing to join him for an impromptu buggy ride and picnic. Adam drove down the main ‘C’ street and was pleased to find his timing was immaculate, Most of the other directors were just leaving the board meeting and none of them missed him driving past with the beautiful brunette. While most of the men didn’t blame him and were even jealous at his success, that wouldn’t stop them passing the news round that he’d been grumpy and eager to get away, only to turn cheerful as he went out with his mistress.

Adam took her up to the shores of Lake Washoe and they lazed in the sun with the picnic the hotel had willingly provided, while champagne cooled in a stream flowing into the lake. Adam kept it light and in a rather zany mood, glad the board meeting was over, soon had her laughing. Shortly before they left Adam initiated the lovemaking for the first time. She was very willing and molded her body to his, relieved that he had not only come to see her unexpectedly but seemed to want her. The previous night after he left she had begun to doubt her own attractions. Adam pulled away eventually and helped her up, claiming a family meeting which he had to attend, making it very clear that he’d infinitely rather not bother.

In fact as was normal after a board meeting his brothers would expect a report, probably informally at Adam’s house with Ben away in Sacramento. Adam was going along with routine in making the report, wanting a chance to check on other development and reassess priorities, but he had already notified both Hoss and Joe that the meeting would be at the main house. Short notes, abrupt, carried to them by one of the hands, not at all the normal way Adam contacted them. It made sense to have a meeting before Joe went with the herd to the high pasture, branding practically complete, while Hoss went to the west shore to set up the lumber camp there. Johnny with a lot of help from the other experienced hands was going to handle the other camp but this year nearly half the lumber they had contracted for was being provided from the west shore.
Hoss and Joe had ridden home a couple of hours earlier, both taking the chance of a couple of hours with wife and child. Hoss in particular was going to be a long way away for most of the next couple of months. Sue had spent the morning with Carole completing some paperwork ordering spare equipment for the mills. Nita had joined them for part of the time but it didn’t matter whether the blonde was there or not Carole was very remote. She was perfectly calm and polite but she treated the other two girls almost as strangers, only anything like her normal self with her children. When Sue told her husband Hoss remembered Carole’s reputation as an ice maiden when she first came to Virginia City. Then she was reacting because she had been hurt by a man, now it was his own brother who was hurting her. Hoss had been jealous of Adam’s perfect marriage for a while; it had seemed to take his brother away from the tight knit family group he’d grown up with. Gradually Hoss had realized his mistake and despite all the troubles over the last few years he had never been happier than he was now in his extended family. He had thought all the others were too and couldn’t understand what Adam wanted that was worth giving up so much.

As the brothers walked over to the main house, taking the time to talk, Hoss said as much to Joe. Joe had had a similar report from Nita and had spared half an hour to go and see Carole.
He’d got the same reaction, although the kids had been delighted to see him, Carole had seemed to have to make an effort to even be polite and obviously wanted him to go. The brothers were both on edge, wondering what sort of mood Adam would be in and that was a feeling they weren’t used to and didn’t like.

Hoss and Joe arrived first and Hop Sing brought them coffee, telling them firmly that food would be ready in an hour. They had expected that but couldn’t really settle as they awaited Adam. Hoss sat down to check over his plans for the lumber camp but Joe was far too restless to settle and was pacing around, checking the window every few minutes. “Where is he? He said 4.30 and it’s nearly 5 now.”

“Won’t help put him in a good mood if you’re fussing at him ‘cos he’s late.’

“I know but that meeting must have finished hours ago unless something is seriously wrong.”

“He may have had other business in town.”Hoss said mildly but Joe took it the wrong way.
“That English whore!” he said bitterly.

Hoss got up at that and went over to his little brother, forcing Joe to look at him “As Pa would say, let’s keep this in the realm of discussion. He could have been called in at the mines or John Marye’s, anyone of a thousand thing could and often do hold him up in town.”
Joe sighed heavily, “Yeah I know Hoss. I’m sorry I’ll try not to push but it’s hard. I’m just not used to watching what I say to Adam.”

Hoss put his arm round his younger brother’s shoulders, “I know but we did promise Pa and he’s probably right, least said soonest mended.”

“Yeah but I’d dearly like to knock some sense into him.”

“Get in line! Anyways he’s too damned good at looking after himself; just end up with us all bruised and sore without having any effect.”

Joe had to accept the likelihood of that and then some forty minutes late Adam appeared not hurrying his black stallion. By the time Adam came in it wasn’t worth starting before the meal. Joe had just poured coffee for himself and Hoss but when he offered it to Adam his brother shook his head going over to pour himself a large brandy, taking in his brothers’ disapproving looks he said “ I‘ve earnt it, boring meetings and blasted paperwork.”

Hoss asked, “Anything serious to hold you up. We expected you a bit earlier.”

With a distinct touch of defiance Adam grinned, “Yeah a beautiful lady. We went for a picnic after the meeting. I’m sure you’ll hear, the whole town seems to have nothing better to do than gossip about me, with every encouragement from my family!”

Adam downed his brandy and poured another one as Hoss put a restraining hand out to Joe pleading with him silently to say nothing despite the provocation.

Hop Sing saved Hoss for the moment bustling in to lay the table and call the brothers to dinner. The meal was eaten virtually in silence, Joe barely touching his food but his brothers ate well despite the atmosphere. Even Hop Sing was aware of the tension and collected the plates without comment; even Joe’s where his favourite stew was barely touched.

Once the table was cleared Adam got the various papers from his saddle bags, the written notes of the bank meeting now completed and the real reason for his late arrival. He passed the notes first to Joe and then Hoss. Adam was businesslike dealing with each item in turn and his brothers concurred in most cases with what he wanted. The calf tally had been very high and the ice cutting had gone on longer than normal although just about finished now, just three high ponds still usable giving the usual lucrative return on the flume at this time of year. Joe had one sour note, fences had been cut and timber rustlers had been at work down on the southernmost edge of the ranch. Adam took detailed notes and seemed almost his normal self as he pressed for details, in particular whose land adjoined them at the spot where the incursion had been made. Joe told them all he knew and said that he’d sent Stevens with three men to keep watch. They were under strict orders to take no risks, if they couldn’t deal with it or felt that they might not be able to then they were to send for help. Adam agreed with what Joe had done but he couldn’t help wondering if this tied in, maybe with the other ranch that they were planning on claiming. It could be Troy’s ides  to cause trouble between the two ranches in advance of the writ being served, thus ensuring that they wouldn’t act in tandem. He wished he had more information but until he did he could only make doubly sure that no wild accusations were tossed around at any of their neighbours. He was most insistent on that point rather to Joe’s and Hoss’ surprise, dwelling on it for a time far out of proportion to its importance as far as they could see.

Adam’s attention to the rest of the current business was perfunctory, with half his mind on what Joe had said. He was quite prepared to leave his brothers to cope. He had more than enough on his plate, even though his brothers weren’t ware of it and felt he was getting off lightly. Twice Joe bit back angry comments and once halfway through a complaint, Hoss’ nudge in the ribs stopped him. To make it worse he didn’t think Adam had even hard the first half. By a little after nine the brothers had run over all the current work and allocated jobs for the next three weeks. Adam got up and stretched poured himself a brandy, downing it in one “It’s still early I think I’ll go for a ride.” He turned and went out without so much as a goodbye and Joe said furiously, “Back to town no doubt, either to that whore or a poker table.”

Hoss watched his brother leave in the direction of town and had no doubt that Joe was right. He didn’t like the thought but he couldn’t stop his eldest brother doing what he wanted. He packed up his papers, “Come on Joe maybe Adam has lost his appreciation of wife and home but that don’t mean we can’t enjoy it.” Joe agreed and the brothers headed home to their respective wives.
Adam pushed hard on the way to town but he left Blackie in a small barn back of Roy’s house and slipped into Dick’s room for four hours hard work. He finally emerged moved Blackie to the street and let himself be seen round the saloon for half an hour acting a lot more drunk than he was before finally heading home to bed.

Adam hadn’t forgotten his promise to take Lady Dinah down the California, Most important visitors to Virginia City went down one of the main mines but it was rare for a woman to go
down or to even express a wish to. In many of the mines the miners worked in near if not complete nudity and that in itself prevented ‘decent’ women from approaching. However the California adopted the opposite approach, soaking up the sweat in a coverall and on occasion allowed women down. Their different approach seemed to pay off in less sickness amongst the men. Adam had spoken to Jim Fair at the bank and gained a begrudging permission for him to take Dinah down. As a large stockholder Jim knew Adam couldn’t be prevented but he didn’t like women in the mine on principle.

Adam collected Dinah as he had arranged shortly after 3 p.m. and with her on his arm eased his way carefully through the crowded streets to the California. Dinah was intrigued by the steam emanating from the main shaft and she was more than a little alarmed to hear that they had to go down through it. Jim was waiting for him, more polite than was his wont, because he wanted a reciprocal favour from Adam. He wanted Adam to deal with a query from the Government that he didn’t really understand.

There was only one changing room but it was deserted at this time of day. Adam stood guard while Di changed into the closest size of overalls that they could find. The overalls were almost too small, normally shapeless they fought a ‘just’ winning battle to contain her magnificent breasts, even though too big elsewhere. Adam and Jim both eyed her appreciatively before going in to change themselves.

Adam led the way into the lift, warning her to be ready for the give of the spring as they came to a stop and then took her down to the first working level some 500 feet under the Earth. Even here it was very hot but Dinah seemed oblivious of the heat as Adam described just what was going on and the reason for everything she could see. Dinah was most impressed not only by the extent of his knowledge but also by the number of men he seemed to know personally, often stopping for a word about family or housing, never lost for a name. Adam could put on an act for family and friends, be rude and arrogant to colleagues where explanations and apologies could be made later but not here amongst the working miners. He was almost a hero to them after all his efforts in the aftermath of the fire and for the first time Dinah saw him just being himself, no act at all. Adam realized that but he couldn’t change it and anyway didn’t know just how false an impression he had been achieving even for her. Dinah had found Adam very attractive physically from the start and that was always important to her but now she found herself actually liking him too. That was rare for Dinah, who didn’t think much of the male sex in general, however much she enjoyed their company.

After touring the 500 foot level Adam took her right down to the 1800 foot level, so very different with its square set shoring and far increased heat. Dinah was fascinated both by
the forest of timber and the vein so clearly visible in the walls of the tunnel. Jim had been annoyed at staying in the background and now with Adam rather more tense, hating these deep levels he took over. Still wanting that favour from Adam, he made it very clear just how involved Adam had been in the design and installation of the shoring and to Adam’s disgust also regaled Dinah with the story of Adam and Hoss being trapped in the mine a couple of years earlier. Adam didn’t want her prying into his personal life; the only way he could cope was to keep her separated from his family. Luckily Dinah knew men well enough to recognize his near anger and deftly changed the subject. She claimed that she had seen enough and needed to get out of the overpowering heat and back to the surface. Adam was never loathe to leave a mine and readily agreed.

Adam stood guard again while she showered and changed. Then he swiftly changed while Jim kept her amused. Dinah was more curious about Adam than she had been now that she’d seen an example of his work and seen the attitude of the miners to him. Jim was hardly the most sensitive observer but he could appreciate her looks and it was easy to answer her questions about Adam. She only had a few minutes but got the impression of a very different man from the one Hearst had described. Jim respected Adam and was prepared to praise his ability, something he did for very few people. Adam came out to join them and was surprised by Jim’s friendly attitude. He assumed that it was due to Dinah’s good looks and approachability but soon found he had underestimated Jim. Jim insisted that they come back to his office for coffee and once there the reason became very clear. Adam found himself landed with a long questionnaire and detailed report required by the Federal Mint in Washington. He cursed Jim but had to admit that he was probably the most suitable person to complete it, too much law for the miners and too much mining knowledge and geology for the lawyers.

As he escorted Dinah back to the hotel Adam made it clear that the job he had just been handed so casually would take him anywhere from 15 to 20 hours of concentrated work. He sighed, “Jim Fair is all too prone to passing these jobs over, from the mines and from the Bank, but my family is even worse. They get involved in all sorts of things but when it comes down to it, the legal and financial work all comes my way. I get very tired of it sometimes.”

Dinah was very sympathetic but Adam didn’t push it, leaving her to assume she understood his general disaffection with life on the Ponderosa, He took her for afternoon tea and over it answered all the question about the mines and the history of mining in Virginia City that she hadn’t found time for earlier.

Pleading a tight deadline on the job that Jim had given him, which was no more than the truth Adam excused himself and went over to the Bank to work in one of the small conference rooms. The job wasn’t quite as hard as he’d led her to believe and three hours hard work completed it apart from a few figures. Most of the facts and figures Adam had at his fingertips. Not wanting anyone to know that he was at his efficient best Adam packed things away, going over his notes from the law books for another hour and then just after seven packed everything away, pronouncing that he would have to finish it the following day. He had a cast iron excuse to go to the livery stable as he collected his evening clothes. He had booked a room at one of the smaller hotels so that he had somewhere to shave and change. Then he was ready to go and collect Dinah and take her to the theatre as he had promised.

Adam hadn’t just got seats, he was ready to brazen it out, almost seeking publicity, knowing he had to bring things to a head before Hearst panicked and moved against his family. To ensure that everyone knew he had booked the main box overlooking the stage and in full view of everyone in the audience.  It had taken him considerable effort to say nothing of bribery to get the box from James McCormick a newly made gold millionaire who had bought it to impress his wife. Luckily neither McCormick nor his wife were educated and Shakespeare bored them so a healthy profit to spend n something more interesting was sufficient. They had already had all the prestige they could from the box and although it was fun to dress up and parade around in fine clothes and bow from the best box, that had begun to pall when allied to the tedium of sitting through interminable performances.
Dinah was most impressed as Adam led her into the box. She had half expected him to ‘forget’ not wanting the publicity but she appreciated his determination to do what he wanted and ignore everyone lese. She was also impressed by his knowledge of the play. In fact it wasn’t a very good performance and both of them had seen far better, Adam told her a little about his long time friendship with Edwin Booth, who made a far better Hamlet than the one on the stage.

Certainly the audience seemed less interested in the play on the stage than Adam’s presence in the box, alone with someone other than his wife. Adam was all too aware of the attention he was provoking but noone watching him could have guessed. He appeared totally at his ease enjoying the play and the company of a beautiful woman.

After the play finished Adam joined Dinah in her room for a late supper and a nightcap. This time he initiated the love making, going a little further caressing her than he had before but still unable to bring himself to take her to bed. After an hour or so he pulled away and with an obvious excuse he left abruptly. Dinah was sure that she nearly had him, just the last twinges of conscience causing him to leave. She was well satisfied, confident that he’d be back.

Adam was relieved to get away; he was finding it far harder than he had expected to do what was required. He felt dirty and very restless and rode up to the Lake on the way home. He stood staring down at the tiny grave of his premature daughter and slowly he regained his certainty. Whatever he had to do was worthwhile if it prevented any of the other children joining her by the Lake. Eventually he headed home tired out, needing his own bed and the comfort of his wife,

The following day Adam had a routine trip to make, up to the mill, the main lumber camp and the mine, He had to pay the men, collect paperwork so he could assess bonuses and check on the current progress. It was his normal trip for this time of the year and he was grateful for the routine, it gave him time to think get the law he’d been studying sorted in his own mind before he progressed further. He had taken some notes with him to check but most of the time didn’t even need them He was going to be out over night but hoped to be back reasonably early on Friday before he headed back to town.

Even out on the ranch it was obvious that much of the gossip had reached the men, even the small community of miners. There wasn’t anyone with the nerve to speak directly to Adam, about it but he could read the speculation in their eyes. The only person to say anything directly was Jack Catfish at the sawmill. He was an old friend but even he trod very carefully and only spoke indirectly. “Adam we are long time friends. You are usually wise but this path you tread, it does not seem to bring you happiness. You are tired, pay a heavy price, maybe time to think again?”

Adam put his hand on his friend’s shoulder, “I have my reasons Jack. Everything will work out in time.”

“But Adam ....”

“I listened because we are long time friends but no more, don’t interfere.”

Jack was a fatalist, an Indian, although he had been at the ranch so long everyone, including himself, had long forgotten that fact. He had had his say and now he would let Adam go his own way. Adam felt more at peace with his old friend sitting in silence by the campfire than he had for weeks.
Adam got back early on Friday morning and for a while he had his work cut out placating his children until eventually they wandered off on ploys of their own. Despite pushing hard to complete his jobs and going very short of sleep Adam looked far more rested and relaxed than he had been, His tour of the ranch had done him good and Carole was relieved to see it. At first she just kissed him and got coffee allowing him to enjoy the twins and Marie but as the kids left she refilled his cup and collected a letter that had come for him from Sacramento. She hadn’t opened it but from the postmark thought that it might be important. It had come with a mass of business mail and shouldn’t have attracted any attention. Carole wasn’t sure why she felt it was important, maybe it was the feminine handwriting. Adam didn’t recognize the handwriting but didn’t waste time speculating, he opened the letter and turned straight to the signature. “Its from Liza Campbell, she said she would send work if she heard anything.” He scanned the letter rapidly, it wasn’t very long but Liza had managed to obtain one vital piece of information. She let Adam know that the Judge who had sat in San Diego finding for the land grant would be sitting in Sacramento for two weeks or so from June 11th. The man Judge Harris was a well known Federal judge and Adam believed him to be a fair man but he was very strong on historical precedent. He would stay within the letter of the law but would be amore affected than most by claims of prior right. Liza also warned Adam that Judge Harris had been notified of an important land use case which would be brought and had been asked for priority for the case. So far no details had been lodged and none were needed legally until a fortnight before the start of the legal session but Liza thought it was far too big a coincidence for it to be any other case. Judge Harris had granted priority to the lawyer requesting it a man called Almon Frary. Liza closed with a promise to send more news if she heard anything.

Adam read it twice and then passed it over to Carole. “At least we know how long we can expect to have to keep this up, only just over seven weeks.”

Carole finished the letter and looked up anxiously, “Can we get all the information you need in that time?”

“No way to be sure my love but our friends have bought us a heck of a lot longer than the two weeks the law demands. I’ve already got more than I could have hoped for in what ten days say from when the writ will be served here. Jamie will find anything there is in Mexico and I am sure Johnny will get us anything from Europe. So many good friends, we can’t lose.”

“Do you know this Almon Frary?”

Adam shook his head, “Its possible Dick might, anyway I will get someone to check him out but he’ll only be a front man. It will be some big name lawyer, maybe James Pratt; he handles a lot of Hearst’s legal work or Chauncy Nicolls who won the San Diego case.” Adam sat back and thought hard, “I can think of two other land law specialists, John McAlister and Thomas de Long but they may bring in someone from the East or Denver. It doesn’t really matter; it’s the evidence we can find that will tip the court one way or the other.”

Carole came over and kissed him, “Noone is a better lawyer than you my love.”

“Flattering if not exactly true but in this case the outcome means more to me than to any paid lawyer so I’ll hold my own whoever it is.” Adam got to his feet, “Pleasant as this is I’d better go to town or I might lose my reputation.”

“Don’t forget Pa is due back today.”
“I hadn’t. I’d like to avoid him if I can but it really doesn’t make a lot of difference.” Adam pulled her close “Easy my love, we know it’s only an act and we’re well on the way now. I know it will get worse but we only have to survive until June we can cope.”

Carole snuggled close to him, “Of course we can. I love you my darling and I know whatever happens your heart is mine and mine alone.”

Adam kissed her hard and then with an almost physical effort he pulled away, “I’ll be late darling, don’t wait up for me.”

Again he rode the bay gelding and slipped into town unnoticed. Dick was in the barn and took the horse giving Adam a chance to warn him that he would be using Dick’s room during the afternoon. Adam had some routine chores to do and started by heading down to the telegraph office. He had decided to get Steve to check out Frary for him and sent a coded telegram asking for his help again. The telegraph was well used to coded telegrams and made no query about the jumbled letters. Adam blessed the foresight which had led Steve to suggest taking a code with him in case there was anything else he could do to help.

Adam had just finished and was about to head for the bank when he heard his name called from across the street. Turning he quickly spotted John Chance and went over to welcome his friend back. John was pleased with life his mission very successful. He had left all the books and papers that Oliver Wendall Holmes had given him at Jess’ as they had agreed. Jess had concurred in his wish to see Adam and pass over a few tidbits verbally. They were known as friends and there was no reason not to meet. Adam had hoped John would be back soon but hadn’t known exactly how long it would take him. Delighted to see John, Adam bore him off to the Washoe Club where they could talk in peace and for once stuck to his more normal beer. Even in the couple of hours John had been in town before going to see Jess, he had heard plenty of gossip. He had cross-questioned Jess closely and learnt more details so he was quite relieved to see Adam looking a lot better than he had feared.

Adam managed to book one of the small dining rooms and having arranged for a meal to be brought, he shut the door and relaxed with his friend. John quickly filled him in on all the documents and books he’d brought and passed over both verbal and written messages from Oliver and his wife Fanny. Oliver had had his staff working flat out checking every legal precedent throughout the United States but he had refused to submit a bill. Time enough to worry about that when Adam won his case. Adam was delighted knowing that noone was more thorough than Oliver and he would have the time to familiarize himself with everything. John said, “Jess says not to bother coming out to the ranch, he’s collecting stores this afternoon and he will deliver everything to Dick.”

Adam was touched at that thought, it eliminated another risk. Slowly he relaxed as they chatted more generally but as he did so some of the strain and tiredness began to show. John went and collected two more beers and when he brought them back Adam was rubbing the bridge of his nose, “You look mighty tired Adam.”

“Not too much time for sleep, I’ve been busy. It’s hardly the first time.”

“That’s not all. I know you too well old friend, I know why you thin k its important to put yourself at odds with your family but I also know how much they mean to you.”

“No lectures John.” Adam said lightly. “It’s only for a few weeks I heard today the case will come up early in June.”

“You’ll win.” John said with certainty.

“With so much help and so many good friends I can’t fail. Now let’s change the subject, did you get a chance to look around Washington?”

John accepted that Adam didn’t want to talk and allowed Adam to have his way, spending a pleasant couple of hours passing on news of mutual friends that he’d met up with back East.
John had to get back to work, Bill had been carrying the work in his absence, very willingly, but it was a lot for one man. He made Adam promise to let them know if there was anything more they could do and took a copy of the code in case. In any event he wanted to know when the case came up; they would come along and offer moral support. Adam gave his word and tried once more to do the impossible and tell John just how grateful he was. John clapped him on the back and shrugged it off. He owed Adam far more than a couple of weeks of his time, a long standing friendship and current wealth thanks to Adam’s generosity.

Adam went out with him and then headed back to his routine chores. He intended finishing those and then spending time with his books before taking Dinah out for dinner hoping to get away fairly early and avoid another nightcap. His plans were thrown into total disarray as he saw his father striding down the street towards him. Adam stopped and waited, Ben’s whole demeanour proved that he wanted to talk and wasn’t going to be ignored.

Ben had arrived back in town about an hour earlier, determined to find out what was being said in Virginia City, all too many garbled rumours flying around in Sacramento. He had managed to catch Roy in his office and made it clear that he wasn’t leaving until his old friend filled him in. Roy didn’t really want to tell Ben but knew him well enough to know he had no choice. Ben was all too aware that hardly anything went on in town that the sheriff didn’t know about.

Roy poured coffee for them both and then went to stand over by the window. “You ain’t gonna like it Ben. I don’t know what’s got into that boy of yours but he sure ain’t acting like himself.”

“I know that much Roy and I only wish I knew why but I need to know what’s been going on. All sorts of rumours flying round Sacramento. You know better than most how much is true.”

“Too much.” Roy said with a sigh and then giving way he sat down and told Ben just how much Adam had been seen with Lady Dinah, his drinking, gambling and the snubs he’d handed out to old friends. Even details of his odd behaviour at the board meeting had reached Roy and he passed them all on. He finished up, “Several of us, Dan, Philip, me a few others have tried to talk to him Ben but we can’t get near him. I jest don’t understand, up until a few weeks back I’d have said there weren’t noone in this town more reliable than Adam, or anyone I had a greater respect fer, but now ....” He shook his head, sighing deeply.
Ben straightened his shoulders, “I think I need a stiff drink and then I’m going to find that son of mine and whether he likes it or not he’s going to tell me just what is so wrong!”
Roy wished him luck and watched him leave with considerable relief. It was an hour he’d hated and hoped never to have to go through again.

Ben hadn’t even got as far as the saloon when he saw Adam across the street and headed straight over to his son. Adam tried to greet him as though there was nothing out of the ordinary between them but Ben pushed aside his enquiries on how things had gone in Sacramento. “Come down to Beth’s old house. Roy has lent me the key. It’s time we talked.”
Anything was better than a discussion in the middle of the street and Adam agreed without argument, well aware he had to let his father have his say. They headed up to Beth’s house in virtual silence, the expression on both their faces sufficient to stop acquaintances even wishing them good day.

Ben let himself in and went through to the living room. Knowing Roy wouldn’t mind he poured two brandies, passing one to his eldest son. Adam took it and went over to the window, staring out, his back to his father. Ben sighed inwardly but it had to be done and he went over forcing his son to turn and face him. ”Adam I know you are a grown man and I accept you have the right to a private life of your own. But that doesn’t change the fact that you are my son and I love you very much. I can’t let you go on the way you are without trying to help.”

“I’m perfectly alright Pa.”

“That’s just not true Adam. You have done your best over these last weeks to alienate most of your friends, Men who like and respect you, find they are snubbed or ignored. That’s just a minor part, you have a wife and family that I believed meant the whole world to you. I still do, you have had more happiness with them in the last five years than most men find in a lifetime. Why do you risk it Adam? What has this English Lady Dinah to offer you that Carole can’t?”

“I see, you’ve been listening to gossip.” Adam allowed his anger to show but Ben kept hold of his son’s shoulders preventing him from turning away. Ben said, “It’s virtually impossible to avoid it Adam. Even in Sacramento. I had to know what was being said so I gave Roy a bad hour when I arrived home.”

“So I’ve been showing an English visitor round, it’s hardly the first time. I knew her cousin Charles at university.”

“Sure you’ve had visitors but they have stayed with us and Carole has helped to entertain them. You may not want to take me into your confidence Adam but don’t treat me like a fool.”

Adam looked up and met his father’s gaze for the first time. “Please Pa just let me work it out.”

“You said that weeks ago and I have tried to do as you asked but you’re not getting anywhere on your own. Sometimes it helps just to talk things out and you are still my son. Much as I love Carole and the children, you come first. Anything you said wouldn’t go any further.”

Adam could see the compassion, the worry and the love in his father’s eyes and he would have done a lot to remove that worry but not at the expense of putting his father in an impossible position with his other sons. This was one burden he had shouldered alone and must carry for the next few weeks. “Pa I know you mean well but you can’t help. Not now, not in this.”

“Adam please listen to me. I know I can’t force you to talk but you can’t go on like this. You’ve argued with most of your friends and both your brothers. Even more you risk something infinitely precious. Carole loves you very much, be careful before you risk all she has to give for anything else. I know you Adam and you are loyal in friendship and especially in love. You can’t find happiness if you aren’t true to your own principles.”
“Sometimes things happen Pa. Noone wants them to but they do. We can’t prevent them but have to go along, doing the best we can. In time things pass.”

“What happens to Carole and your children while you are carried along by the tide of events?”

“She will understand in time.”

“I don’t understand Adam, All of this, these last weeks you are not acting like yourself at all. Please think about what you are doing. I won’t pester you, I’ve had my say, all I ask if think hard. Is anything worth the harm and upset you’re causing?”

Adam pulled away from his father “I hear you Pa.”

Ben could see from the closed expression on his son’s face that he hadn’t got through to Adam but he’d said that he wouldn’t keep pushing. He just couldn’t understand why his son was behaving like this, Adam had never done it before. He could only pray that in time Adam would come down to normal and hoped that his son wouldn’t pay too heavy a penalty for his erratic behaviour. He was sure that Carole still loved his son but she would only put up with so much humiliation. She had proved herself principled and strong willed long before she even met Adam.

Adam could see the confusion and pain he was causing but he very carefully kept himself withdrawn. “If you have finished Pa I have work to do and just so you don’t have to hear from gossip I am taking Lady Dinah to dinner this evening.”

Ben had no answer to that and stood back letting Adam leave. Adam spent some time at the bank and then slipped away to the livery stable to spend three hours checking just what Oliver had sent him. He could only do a preliminary check in the time but he was very impressed at the thoroughness and order of the papers. Everything was clearly explained, its relevance noted and detailed summaries as well as verbatim copies attached. He was ready to go and get changed at seven, a basket of flowers carrying his dinner invitation had already been sent to Dinah by messenger.

Dinah was waiting for him but she had ordered the meal delivered to her suite. Adam couldn’t argue as she claimed that he looked tired and she thought he would appreciate a quiet meal, He pretended to be delighted and settled down to enjoy the meal. He spun it out as long as he could knowing what she was expecting, He couldn’t face it not after his meeting with his father and rather against his will he told her a little about it, She was quick to see it worried him and decided against trying to push him. She was sure her best chance of holding him for the agreed two months was to allow him to dictate the pace, whatever Hearst said. For now he was still coming to terms with his own conscience, she was used to that, such men made the best lovers. That he would come round in time she had no doubt, confident in her own attractiveness.

Adam had a much more pleasant evening that he’d expected on finding she’d ordered the meal and when he rose to go soon after eleven, she made no attempt to stop him. Thankful for her easy companionship Adam pulled her close and kissed her more passionately than he had so far and with an easier conscience. Dinah watched him go well satisfied that she had made the right decision.

Adam slipped back into the stable and spent three more hours working over the law books. He was tempted to work through but tired out decided to head home and think through all he’d read first, let it fit into place before he went into any more detail. In fact he was so tired he was barely awake enough to direct his horse home and fell into the spare room bed about 3.30 a.m. not even bothering to undress, just loosening his belt and pulling his boots off.
Carole found him the following morning and she just closed the door and left him to sleep, keeping the children away. Sure that if he couldn’t even be bothered undressing Adam must have been desperately tired and needed his sleep. She had seen Ben the previous evening and knew him well enough to know that not only had he seen Adam but that he’d argued with his son. She kept herself to herself and faced with her withdrawn attitude Ben couldn’t pry, He made it clear that he’d be available anytime if she wanted to talk or if there was anything he could do to help but went no further. Carole thanked him but as it was obvious that she wasn’t going to take him up on the offer, at least for now, Ben went on home.

At home he found the detailed reports all his sons had left on the current position. Joe was on the way up to the high pasture with the cattle and expected to be back on Tuesday, while Hoss was over on the west shore. His big son wouldn’t be back even for a long weekend for another couple of weeks. Although all his sons were away and, despite Adam’s behaviour, it seemed that the affairs of the ranch were doing well, good reports and ahead of schedule on all fronts.

 When he’d finished going through the papers Ben poured himself a brandy and then called Hop Sing in. he asked his old friend what he had heard, what was going in between his sons. Hop Sing knew all too well the bad feeling between Adam on one side and Hoss and Joe on the other but he wouldn’t give any real details. The brothers were still talking, trouble it would pass as it always had before. Ben didn’t press him but he had seen that Hop Sing was worried, however much he tried to hide it. Tired after his journey and the row with Adam, Ben headed for bed although for a long time he was unable to sleep.

Adam was awake just after eight and after a quick breakfast he headed back to town to spend the whole day going through the documents that Oliver had sent him. he made no attempt to see Dinah, only finally emerging near midnight, He went to the Bucket O’Blood and had three large brandies, but wouldn’t be inveigled into a poker game, before heading home.
Adam rode home via the Lake, knowing that he had to act the following night if he was to beat Hearst’s deadline. Looking back he felt that he had taken the idea of sex far too lightly, In the past before he met Carole he had known many women and enjoyed making love on a fairly casual, although not  a one night stand basis. He’d never had to pay for it and didn’t believe that he had ever hurt anyone. At first the thought of making love to another woman hadn’t worried him but as it became more imminent, he found himself doubting his physical ability to carry though something he found increasingly repugnant. If he didn’t all the time and effort the worry and hurt he’d caused would all be wasted so he knew he had no choice. The reasons were as important as ever and he couldn’t put off the final step any longer.

Eventually Adam went on home to Carole and slipped in next to her not wanting to make love just to hold her close and know her love for him. She could feel the tension in but slowly he relaxed and she drifted asleep in his arms. Adam barely slept as he cursed everyone who forced the choice of being unfaithful or risking injury to those he loved on him. He was up early having only dozed and he spent two hours with his children before telling Carole that he wouldn’t be home. She knew what it must mean but made no comment, just holding him close and assuring him that she loved him very much, Adam left hurriedly before he could change his mind. This time he rode his black stallion to town, all his decisions long made.