Family Rows part 4 by Lyn Robinson

Ben sat up by the lake for hours, he was furious with his eldest son but equally with himself. He had done exactly what he had warned the rest of the family not to do and driven Adam even further away. He knew he shouldn’t have tired to talk to his son then and there, he should have gone home and calmed down. What was even worse neither of them had kept their voices down and by now the whole town would know what had been said, a story which would lose nothing in the telling. The town gossip would make it even harder for Adam to back down and come home, even if he wanted to. Ben tried to see things form Adam’s point of view, he couldn’t miss seeing that Dinah was very lovely and presumably a very accomplished lover, just the sort to take as a mistress if a marriage really was finished. He knew from others that she was intelligent and well educated and much as he hated the idea, Ben was beginning to believe in his son’s infatuation. She had come along just when Adam, was bored and restless, his marriage rocky, and she had bewitched him.


Ben knew that he had to go and warn Carole that he had driven Adam even further away but he dreaded doing it. He certainly couldn’t tell her just what he had seen which had lost him all hold on his temper, but he needed to talk to someone so he went to Hoss’ house.


Hoss was feeling very much better, his concussion just about cleared although he was still stiff and sore, resting quietly at home. He was pleased to see his father ride in, still too headachy to do much paperwork he was restless, needing to help. Sue had just taken Johnny up for a nap and Hoss was alone. He grinned as Ben came in but that quickly faded as he took in the expression on his father’s face. “Whatever’s wrong Pa?”


“Is it that obvious?”


“Yeah. You look as though you’ve just lost the Ponderosa.”


“No, it’s far worse. I’ve lost Adam.”


“Is he hurt?”


“No, not physically anyway but I’ve done what I warned you all not to do. I’ve driven him away. He says he’s fed up with us all fussing and is going to live in town for the time being.”

Ben broke off and then meeting his son’s worried gaze, he confessed, “It’s all my fault I lost my temper.”


Hoss went and poured two brandies, he felt the need of one and from the look of his father so did Ben. He passed one over, “Come and sit down Pa, tell me exactly what happened. You’ll feel better when we’ve talked it out. Old Adam gotta temper too, even if he means it now, he ain’t gonna once he calms down,”


“I wish I could believe that.” Ben sighed deeply but he did move over to the fire and sit down, emotionally drained, he felt cold and exhausted. He had come to talk to Hoss, but now he was there he didn’t know where to start.  After a few minutes silence Hoss prompted him,


“Where did you see Adam, in town?”


“Yes. You know he had leased an office below John Marye’s?”


“Yeah Nita told us, maybe it makes sense, a base in town.”


“I don’t think it’s necessary but if it was what he wanted I wasn’t arguing. The first time I popped in he wasn’t there.” He told Hoss how he’d met Adam and Dinah on the road and just how animated Adam seemed then. He admitted showing his anger and contempt, furious that after all Adam had said he had to do in town he was spending his time driving his mistress round the countryside. Then he went on “I went into town this morning and popped in again.” He fell quiet and Hoss reached out to grip his father’s arm. “Tell me Pa you gotta get it off your chest.”


“I know son. I knocked but got no reaction. I heard Adam’s voice and I should have waited, known someone was there.” He bit his lip.


Hoss said, “I take it this English woman was there?”


“Yes, not just there. She was standing on the desk in front of him, virtually naked, doing a striptease.”


Hoss gulped, totally taken aback, “What?”


“I admit I was shocked. Oh I’ve seen strippers, but not in my son’s office in the middle of the day.”


Hoss stared into the fire, embarrassed, “What’d you do Pa?”


“I ordered Adam to meet me at the Washoe Club in five minutes and got out. I was furious; I should have left it until I’d had time to think.”


“I’m not surprised Pa. Did Adam come?”


“Eventually and waiting didn’t improve my temper.” Ben got up leaning on the mantle, staring into the fire as he told Hoss virtually verbatim what had transpired between Adam and himself.


Hoss wasn’t particularly surprised. Their father was not straight laced but that sort of behaviour was going too far and he knew all his family had fierce tempers when they lost control. He listened in silence until Ben finished with how he’d stormed out. Ben turned to face him, “We were in one of the private rooms but we weren’t exactly quiet and the main bar was crowded. The whole town must know. Adam won’t back down, I’ve made it impossible for him to do so. I’d be the first to condemn anyone else for acting like that but ....” He broke off, rubbing his aching eyes.


Hoss went over to his father and put his arm round the older man’s shoulders, “Pa once before you told me you’d done it all wrong, disowned a son.”


“Little Joe.”


“Yeah. That worked out and within months we’d all forgotten there was even a row. This will work out too. You know in his heart Adam loves us and this ranch and he learnt years ago that he ain’t happy anywhere else. He’ll come back, not this week maybe but he will come back.”


“I hope so.”


“If you just calm down Pa, I think you’ll know I’m right.”

Ben still didn’t look convinced but Hoss was right about one thing, he did feel better for talking it over with his big son and gaining his understanding. Somehow he had to tell Carole the result of his meddling and Adam’s decision to stay in town, even if not the reason for the row. Then he needed to go home and write a note to go out to Joe. His youngest son needed to know and this was one thing he couldn’t send over the telegraph.


Hoss watched his father, seeing the changing expressions, “Do you want me to warn Carole Pa?”


“No that has to be my job, I owe her at least that much.”


“It ain’t your fault Pa. It’s all of a piece with the way he’s been acting for weeks.”


“I didn’t help.”


“So you’re human, you lost your temper, I’ve done it a time or two, caused even more trouble if you remember. Anyways if’n Adam is gonna stay in town, he’ll need some clothes and things. I’ll try and talk to him when he comes, maybe make him see sense.”


“I doubt you’ll be successful but I’d be grateful if you’d try. At least make Adam see that one of the family is not against him.” Ben straightened his shoulders and got his hat, “I’d better go and see Carole.”


“Come back for supper Pa. Don’t go home alone and brood.”


“Hop Sing is expecting me. I don’t want him going off to San Francisco in a tantrum.”


“I’ll come over after I’ve eaten.”


“No you’re not fit enough. If I need to I will come back but I have the accounts to do. I’ll get on with some work, easiest way to forget trouble.”


“Make sure you do come if’n you need us. You know you’re very welcome.”


“Of course I know that Hoss.” Ben smiled fairly freely. “You’ve already done your share son, thank you.” He gripped his son’s shoulder, “Don’t worry, you’re right, in time it will all work out.”


Ben walked Buck over to his oldest son’s house; he knew he had to see Carole. In some ways he wanted it over but he also wanted to delay, not knowing what to say to her, maybe he needed to delay, to think. Even when he went in, he couldn’t talk to her at first. He had to placate thee exuberant children and even Anne determined to get her share of attention, held out her arms to her grandfather. Ben was grateful for his grandchildren and he relaxed a little listening to their prattle.


However Carole had seen his face as Ben crossed the yard and knowing what Adam had been planning she could make a good guess at his errand. If Adam could carry it through she had to do her part and she hid her feelings behind the shell, which was slowly growing stronger again, just as it had after she left Addison. She watched her father-in-law relax with the children and waited until they had calmed down and then suggested the twins take Marie out to play; it was time for Anne’s nap.

She busied herself putting the baby down while Ben sipped coffee and talked about nothing in particular. Carole could see the tension growing in Ben and she was far too fond of him to want him to suffer, “Pa what’s wrong? I can see that something is.”


“I was in town this morning and I....” he bit his lip.


Carole sighed “Adam?”


“Yes, we had a row.”


Carole risked Adam having changed his mind, hoping to make Ben feel better. “Did he say anything to you about staying in town?”


“You know?”


“Oh he has threatened me that he would move to town several times recently.” She forced a rueful laugh, “Seems I have turned into a nagging fishwife!”


Ben moved over to her and put his arm round her shoulders, “I don’t believe that for a minute Carole. Maybe it might help to talk it over.”


“I can’t Pa. I know you only want to help but it’s between Adam and me, noone else. What happened in town?”


“We had a row. I said some things I regret and when he said he was staying in town, I told him we wouldn’t miss him in his current mood. Unfortunately we had both lost our tempers and weren’t exactly quiet so the whole town will know what was said. It makes it very difficult for Adam to back down.”


Carole kissed his cheek, “Don’t blame yourself Pa. It was going to happen sometime and you were just the catalyst, the last straw. It really isn’t anything to do with you, it’s between us and for a while maybe it will be easier if we are apart.”


Ben frowned but he couldn’t help himself, “Carole don’t answer if you don’t want to, but do you still love my son?”


Her face softened and Ben had his answer even before she spoke. Carole could lie to her family about some things to protect them but she couldn’t lie about this, “Oh yes Pa I love him. I always will, I don’t think there is anything he could do which would change that.”


“Then he will come home; come back to us his normal self in time. I still believe that he loves you, Adam has his faults but disloyalty isn’t one of them.”


“Pa, try not to worry about us, I said before we will sort it out and only we can do it.”


“Bless you child, don’t worry about me, just remember that I’m there, anytime I can help, in anyway.”


“I know Pa.


Ben decided he had better get on home and he kissed Carole, gently touching Anne’s sleeping head before going on home, feeling surprisingly easier in his mind since seeing his daughter. He had thought Adam’s decision was on the spur of the moment but according to Carole his son had virtually decided anyway. His conscience easier, as he no longer carried the weight of driving his son away, he was able to think more clearly. When he had coffee Ben sat and drafted two notes, the first a short note to Hoss, telling his son about Carole’s reaction her reiterated conviction that things would work out and that she still loved Adam.


The second note was more difficult. He had to let his youngest son know what was happening, but with Joe in no position to ask questions he also had to try and reassure him.

It took three drafts before Ben was even vaguely satisfied. He had given Joe full details of both the arguments and Carole’s reassurances. Deciding that it was the best he could do Ben called Red in. The cowboy was now fully recovered from the explosion at the flume but still taking it easy round the ranch house. He was very willing to deliver both the notes and Ben told him to take his time there was no particular urgency.


Adam had quickly realised that word of his quarrel with his father had spread round town and that people he didn’t even know were talking about his move into town. He knew Virginia City very well and wasn’t particularly surprised at the reaction but it did emphasize that for the next few weeks he had made his choice and there was no going back.


Word had reached Hearst very quickly and he called in Troy and Grandison. The three men were delighted at the open rift between Adam and his family. Hearst was just anxious that it didn’t become a total break. He wanted Adam in court, a distracted, upset, worried man, but a man that he knew. Given a total break the Cartwrights would bring in an outsider and with plenty of money, that stranger would be a specialist lawyer and totally unpredictable. Troy was quick to reassure Hearst that word had it Adam was still handling the legal and financial business of the Ponderosa, even though he was now doing it in town and with minimal consultation. That suited Hearst but he told Grandison to take a message to Dinah, warn her not to let the split get any wider.


Margaret had been quietly working at her desk in the corner of the room, unnoticed by the three men but as they left she jotted down details of their meeting. She got a chance to slip out an hour later and slipped the note to Marcy for delivery to Dick.


Adam got the note early the following morning and it encouraged him to tell Dinah that he had some work to do, accounts to settle, payroll to make up. He arranged to meet her for lunch but for now he needed to get some work done. Obedient to Hearst’s orders Dinah made no protest and Adam was able to collect the two law books he was working on and carry them into his new office. He covered the desk with accounts and then concentrated on the land law; his saddle bags ready to slip the law books in if anyone came. He had slipped the lock so that he couldn’t be surprised and with the break made he could only do his very best to prove his course of action both necessary and effective. In fact now that he had cut free Adam was able to forget about all the problems and all the pain he was causing his family and to concentrate effectively on the legal problems he faced. He took two hours to take Dinah to lunch and then returned to his office until gone six. He spent about half an hour on the finances that supposedly occupied him and the rest on the legal details. By the evening after a solid days work Adam felt as though he was finally getting to grips with the land law.


Throughout the evening as Adam wined and dined Dinah, laughed with her and even made love to her, only a small part of his mind was with her. Most of his thoughts were on the legal niceties and historical basis of land law. Adam had always had the ability to do two things at once, usually without anyone else noticing that only a fraction of his attention was there. He had the distinct feeling that this ability might prove a life saver over the long weeks ahead. Certainly Dinah didn’t guess that she only had a small fraction of his attention and she thoroughly enjoyed herself.


It had started out as a job, a way to earn money to be independent, but now she found herself looking forward to the prospect of sharing her bed, her room, everything with this man for several weeks. She had always needed men but this rare man she actually liked and enjoyed being with, out of bed as well as in.


Joe was the last to hear of Adam’s decision to leave home and live in town. Sue had told Nita about it and that Ben was sending a note to Joe. Nita, still furious with Adam for his attack on her husband and his neglect of Hoss, was inclined to say good riddance. At least this way Carole knew where she was and wouldn’t be continually waiting, upset by his non-appearance. Sue wasn’t so sure, but events seemed to be proving her theory wrong, although she was still sure that there was nothing wrong with Adam’s mind.


Joe saw Red ride in and immediately jumped to the conclusion that there was more trouble. His fear wasn’t exactly allayed by Red’s comment that he had brought word from his father. Red tried to reassure him that nothing was wrong and Mr Cartwright had told him it wasn’t particularly urgent. Joe sent Red to get food and grabbing some coffee he moved down to his favourite seat, looking across Lake Tahoe to the point where his Mother was buried, before opening his father’s letter.


Joe read the letter twice before putting it away and staring across the Lake. He could see where his Father was forcing himself to be optimistic and certainly it was good to hear that Carole still loved his brother, but he hadn’t really had any doubts about that. It was Adam’s feelings he was beginning to doubt. None of it altered the basic fact, whoever was to blame and that didn’t matter now, Adam had taken yet another step away from them all, even the ranch. The thing Joe dreaded above all else, he still remembered all too clearly those long months when Adam had gone to Europe, intending never to return. Joe had never realised just how much his brother meant to him or how much he relied on Adam until he had gone. He found it hard to believe that Adam would go again but he feared it and this made it seem more likely.


The hardest thing to accept was that he couldn’t do anything. Hoss was going to talk to Adam try to dissuade him and in his current mood Hoss with his gentle placid reliability was the only one Adam might listen to. Joe knew full well that if he tried to intervene the chances were it would end in another fight, just making things even worse. The only way he could help was to do his own job to the best of his ability and that meant remaining on the West Shore. His mind made up Joe went back to work, trying to forget by keeping busy.


During the day it worked well, the West Shore still a more complicated operation despite their growing expertise. The nights were more difficult and Joe found it hard to settle, despite all his hard work and growing exhaustion. It was still the illogicality which bothered him. He didn’t always agree with Adam or even understand why his brother felt as he did but he could usually see the logic of Adam’s position. His eldest brother had always been far more logical than Joe, until now!


On Sunday Dinah expressed a wish to go to church and Adams slipped on his smart evening suit and with Dinah demure in a high neckline long bronze walking dress he waited for the buggy he’d ordered to come over. Dick brought it and took the chance to tell Adam that Jess was coming to town later in the day and wanted a word. Adam quickly changed his plans. He had intended picking up a picnic and going for a drive after church but as he’d said nothing to Dinah it wasn’t difficult to change.

Dinah still attracted attention, her dress close fitting showed off her figure and although she was on the way to church she couldn’t help exuding sensuality, which virtually all the men they passed reacted to. Adam was hoping that none of his family were in town. The only real possibility was his father and he didn’t want to face Ben for the first time after their row in public. He had deliberately left their arrival to the last minute and seeing no sign of any Ponderosa horses he was fairly confident that the rest of his family were fully occupied elsewhere as was normal at this time of year.


The pew which was by tradition the Cartwright’s was empty as he’d expected and he led Dinah to it. Adam didn’t show by as much as a flicker that he was conscious of the reaction provoked by their arrival. However he didn’t miss a thing. In fact he was quietly amuse by the interested looks Dinah got from most men along with the outrage and anger shown by the general stiffening of the female congregation. They reminded him of a pack of wolves with a stranger in their midst, all the hackles up.


Dinah had also seen the reaction, more or less what she had expected, but she studied Adam anxiously. She would be moving on in a few weeks and the town’s reaction meant nothing to her but Adam had lived here since before the town was founded. Its reaction must be more important to him. At first she found it very hard to read his reaction at all but there was something. Then suddenly she realised with astonishment what it was, he was amused. Meeting his gaze she saw the laughter in his eyes. Hardly the right mood for a church service but undeniable. It was the last reaction she had expected; yet again this man had surprised her.


Adam acted with propriety throughout the service even though his thoughts were elsewhere. He said one fervent prayer to his God and had no doubt that he would be forgiven his inattention. At the end Adam made no attempt to hurry away, stopping for a chat with the preacher and introducing Di. All around he could hear the outraged murmur of the town ladies, incensed at his temerity and eventually Adam had to take Di off to the buggy and drive away quickly so that he could give way to the bubble of laughter in him.

Di watched smiling as Adam mopped his eyes after finally giving in. Adam grinned “They reminded me of nothing more than dogs or even pigs, with their hackles raised.”


“We shocked them.”


“And they will relive and enjoy every minute of it. Heck at least two of those so self-righteous women worked in saloon before their husbands struck it rich. Not that that means anything but at least one was no better than a cheap whore and helped her man cheat.”


“Reformed characters are always hardest on everyone else, it doesn’t matter.”


“Of course not. I don’t give a damn about the town’s old biddies and you could never fit in with them, even if you were staying around.”


Suddenly serious Dinah asked “What do you mean Adam?”


“Don’t let’s fool ourselves Di. You’re not exactly a one man girl, giving up the world to stay in the back of beyond for the love of a man.”


“Maybe not.”


“I’ve tried the faithful bit, five years and a bit. Came to the conclusion that I’m not made that way either, I don’t think many are, the domestic routine becomes a bore. You and I, we won’t last as a pair. In the end neither of us is going to want to and I’ll probably go meekly home, but for a few weeks, a few months maybe, we’ll live higher and faster than the rest. Love and play hard and no regrets when it’s over. Isn’t that what you want?”


She nodded slowly “I guess so. I have dreams of the domestic bit but somehow I can’t ever see myself settling down.”


Adam pulled her close and kissed her. “You won’t you were born to bring excitement and glamour into the lives of many men. The lucky few, like me, who actually possess you for a short time and even all the others who look on with envy. At least you give them something to dream about.”


Dinah was entranced by this idea of her life and after an enjoyable lunch, she made no protest when Adam claimed a meeting and left her alone at the hotel. Adam slipped down to the livery stable and settled to work, knowing that Dick would bring him word when Jess arrived.


Adam had made the move into town with his eyes open, knowing that it would restrict his movements and his free time. That just made it vital to use every minute that he had to the best of his ability. Adam had always been able to cut out everything else and concentrate on the job in hand to the exclusion of all else. He needed that knack now more than ever before. In the three hours before Jess arrived he got through work that would normally have taken even him a full day and it was almost a relief when Dick slipped in to say Jess had just ridden in.


The hard work had taken its toll and Adam felt exhausted as he finally broke off, with a severe headache. Dick could see and said, “I’ll put your things away, just leave them. Is there anything else I can do?”


“Write a formal note on these two references if you would. Like I showed you before.” Adam passed over two large books with the places marked. The notes were to pass to the Judge at the trial, to remind him tactfully of precedents that he’d probably never heard of. Adam knew the kid would take great care to précis the facts accurately and write it all out neatly. A very necessary but time consuming job, which he was thankful to have help in. Dick was delighted to be asked, his first efforts must have been alright and with his final aim of becoming a lawyer he couldn’t think of a better model than Adam, even his own boss Jamie almost hero-worshipped Adam.


Adam thanked Dick for his help and went out to find Jess brushing down his horse, making work for himself as an excuse to stay in the stable until; Adam arrived. As Adam came over, Jess put the brush down and wiped his hands, all the time considering his friend carefully. “You look worn out.”


“I’m okay just been working hard for the last couple of hours. I fancy a beer come down the Palace with me.”


“I thought you only drank brandy these days.”


“I’ll have a brandy chaser and contrive to spill it. I’m getting adept at that. Old Charlie would be licking the floor if he knew.”


Jess smiled as he visualized the old drunkard following Adam around licking up brandy beneath him. Then more serious he said, “I rode by the Ponderosa yesterday, thought it was time I paid a visit, see how Hoss was. I heard about your row with your Father.”


“Don’t have to go that far to hear, the whole town is talking about it. You know I was planning to move to town, I engineered the row quite deliberately to give myself an excuse.”


“That’s why you weren’t out to let off steam.”


“More or less. I guess I’m not very popular at the moment.”


“I got the impression that Hoss and Sue are more confused than angry. Nita’s pretty furious with you; she’s still not forgiven that fight you had with Joe.”


“At least Joe wasn’t too worried.”


“You’ll win her back as you did before. What exactly did set off the row? Hoss obviously knew but he wasn’t saying.”


“That was because of Sue and Nita.” To Jess’ surprise Adam’s eyes sparkled, an imp of mischief showing, but that was explained as Adam told him how he had arranged for Ben to witness Dinah giving him a strip show. Jess gave a grunt of laughter and Adam grinned. “It’s all very well but it may well be the most difficult thing to talk my way out of at the end of this!”


The friends had nearly reached the saloon and Jess felt in his pocket, “Here you’d better have these.” He passed over several letters and a telegram. Then they went into the Palace and with two beers and a brandy for Adam moved over to one of the back tables. Dan was sitting scribbling in his usual corner and beckoned them over but Adam pretended not to notice. Jess shook his head at Dan and joined his old friend in the corner, “Dan will get to feeling hurt if you keep snubbing him like this.”


“He’s a wily old bird and he knows me too well. I daren’t risk spending time with him. I’ve already told Doc more than I ever intended. I know he’ll keep it quiet but there are too many people in the know already. I can’t take any more risks. He’ll come round.”


Jess wasn’t arguing, relieved to find his friend more at peace with himself than he had expected. Adam entertained Jess with a description of the reaction he had received at church and then under cover of glancing through the newspaper he skimmed through the letters and telegram Jess had given him, while Jess got more beer. There was a long letter from Oliver Wendell Holmes, covering another couple of legal points which had struck him since John left. Also one from Liza Campbell in Sacramento with a few more details of the time allocations proposed for the court hearings next month and one from Johnny Rey with details of his latest researches. Adam smiled as he read it. The old lawyer seemed to have taken a new lease of life and was thoroughly enjoying himself, tracking down all possible facts for Adam.


The telegram was from Jamie and was enthusiastic, he had one more check to make with arrangements made to do so and then he would head home, another fortnight at most. Adam was pleased to hear it, anxious to know what Jamie had found and needing qualified legal help to do rather more than Dick could manage. Every big case engendered huge mountains of paperwork, all of which had to be prepared. He wasn’t going to allow Hearst or Huntingdon the luxury of time by any technical mistake which might give then the opportunity to appeal.


As Jess came back over Adam put his letters away and folded up the newspaper, taking the chance to relax with about the only person who knew everything that was happening and could understand. Jess was close enough not to need words between them, closer than anyone outside his immediate family and under current circumstances closer than them. Jess could see his friend slowly relax over the next couple of hours as they just chatted generally and knew that it was relief for Adam not to have to put on an act for a while, as he did with virtually everyone else.


Eventually Adam had to get back but he felt much better just for the chance to relax. He took Dinah out for a meal and then back to her room. Dinah was determined to get satisfaction; she had found his whole attitude intensely exciting throughout the day and wanted to be loved. Adam found her seductive and athletic and he had to work hard to match her desire and inventiveness, His body reacted to her skilled touch and on one level he enjoyed their love making but on another level he sat and watched as though from outside himself and was vaguely disgusted. He found that after a while he could cut himself off and begin to plan what needed doing next while still exerting himself with the one single aim of exhausting her. It seemed to take forever but the time finally came when she snuggled down on his shoulder. “You’re a wonderful lover Adam.”


Adam held her close until her even breathing testified that she was asleep. Then very carefully he eased out of bed. She moaned slightly in protest but subsided back into sleep as Adam tucked the blankets round her. Adam spent a few minutes washing and dressing, watching her carefully but she seemed fast asleep and he knew from previous experience that once settled she wouldn’t stir until late in the morning. Adam knew that it was a risk to leave the hotel but he felt it was a risk he had to take. If he was to spend hours during the day and the evening with Dinah, he had to find time to work somehow. He was intending to let all routine ranch business slide until he could be sure that they had a ranch to run, which would give him some time. The rest had to be stolen from the night hours while Dinah slept. Adam reckoned over several weeks he could manage on an average of three to four hours a night and he intended to sneak out most nights.


On this first occasion he waited carefully to be sure she was asleep and spent a few minutes in two different crowded saloons on ‘D’ street as a cover if he needed it. They were off the beaten track, certainly not his usual haunts and he thought it unlikely that anyone would report on his presence unless he personally instigated it. He slipped very quietly into Dick’s room and used the shaded light as Dick was asleep. He worked solidly for nearly five hours, leaving a note for Dick of two books to collect and where to find them, before slipping back into the hotel just before dawn. Dinah was asleep and barely stirred as Adam slipped in next to her. Adam allowed himself two and a half hours but he was still up and dressed before Di stirred. Adam had already ordered coffee and poured her one as she pulled herself up on her pillows. She seemed to have no idea that he had been out during the night and certainly Adam looked rested, as though he’d had a night’s sleep.


Adam joined her for breakfast to give her a chance to query his absence if she was going to but she made no comment. Adam finished his coffee “I’m going to the ranch to collect some clothes and books. Any chance of some closet space when I come back?”


Dinah smiled, she didn’t exactly travel light but she promised to clear some room for him. She was glad he was getting more things; it proved that he’d meant what he said about staying in town. It wasn’t just a decision made on the spur of the moment and gone back on as fast.


Adam was quite light hearted on the way home, whatever the reason for his visit it gave him the opportunity for some time with Carole and the children. He knew that she would be expecting him and would have his things ready packed but to outsiders he would be bound to spend some time sorting and packing. He half expected either his father or his big brother to try and talk to him, dissuade him from such a fundamental break but he’d face that if he had to.


Carole had done exactly as Adam had expected and with everything ready he could romp with the kids and then give her all his attention for a couple of hours of peace, which did him more good than a month of sleeping normally. Carole knew that he would hardly, if ever, be able to get back again until the writ was served and things came to a head. Still that should only be another four weeks, if their information was correct. She knew Adam would have to bear the brunt of the pressure to bear alone and could only trust in Jess to help him, about the only one free to do so.


Adam was more concerned about Carole left alone to face the pity from his family for a month but Carole was insistent that she had the easy job. None of them would intrude if she made it clear she didn’t want them to and their pity was aimed at a mirage that didn’t exist. She was used to periods alone with the children and just as so often before Adam was away fighting for the ranch, even if his tactics had to be different. At least she didn’t have to worry that he would be shot or hurt physically this time. On the other hand she was very worried at the toll on him emotionally and mentally but as it was too late to change their minds now, she said nothing about it. She just asked him to keep in close touch with Jess, who had promised to keep her informed.


Adam held her very close and promised to do so, even if second-hand news would be a very poor substitute for the warm loving woman he held in his arms.


Just then there was a knock on the door and husband and wife sprang apart, almost guiltily. It was Hoss and as he looked from one to the other he came to the erroneous conclusion that he had interrupted a quarrel. “Adam I saw Blackie out front. Could you spare me a few minutes before you leave?”


Adam could guess just what Hoss wanted but he was obviously not getting away until Hoss had had his say. He recognized the stubborn expression on his big brother’s face. In many ways Hoss was the most placid and mild member of the family, but he was strong willed, even though his little brother had always been able to con him and just occasionally that showed through. When it did Hoss usually got his own way. Adam looked at Carole for a long moment and even his brother, who knew him so well, couldn’t read his expression. However to Carole it was crystal clear, they had said all that there was to say and much as Adam hated to go, staying would only prolong the agony. So he would go with Hoss, hear him out and then head to town. She understood and nodded so slightly that Hoss didn’t even notice.


Adam said, “Better be right now then. I’m just about to go.”


 “Walk out back? I think more clearly in the open air.” Hoss asked, not daring to go into the study that his brother had thrown him out of, too many memories there. Adam understood his feelings and even agreed with them, he nodded briefly “As you like.”

Adam followed his big brother out, seeing the tension in the very way Hoss moved. He would have liked to dispel it and could have done so in just a few words but those words had to remain unsaid. Hoss led the way up beside the waterfall at the back of his own house and sat down on a big slab of rock by the side of it. Adam joined him there and then waited for Hoss to speak. Now he had his brother there Hoss found it almost impossible to start. He wanted to beg Adam to tell him what was wrong and somehow to help but he knew that wouldn’t get him anywhere. Eventually staring into the water he asked “Are you really moving into town?”


“Yeah. Just collecting a few things.”


“You can’t Adam. Your kids, Carole, the house you designed and built, you can’t leave all that for .... I don’t know what.”


“You know damn well or at least you think you do.” Adam let a touch of anger come into is voice. He knew he had to somehow convince Hoss and that was going to take the best acting job he had ever done. Hoss was surprisingly perceptive with those he loved. Adam went on

“You think I’m leaving it for Di, for my mistress.”


“Aren’t you?”


“Oh in part maybe, she’s quite a woman. I’ve never known anyone else like her but it’s more than that Hoss. Things were wrong between Carole and me, long before Di even arrived in town.”


“I know there’s something wrong, Why won’t you tell me or Pa, someone? Maybe talking it out will help.”


“Not this time Hoss. Time might I don’t know but for now, for all our sakes, Carole and I are better apart.” He had no problem sounding as though he meant that, because he did, although hardly for the reasons that Hoss believed.


Hoss bit his lip, not knowing what to say, “And your children?”


“The gossip won’t reach them here and they are too young to understand anyway. They are used to me being away. Let things settle and maybe in time we can pick up the pieces. Meanwhile why should you begrudge me the consolation Di can give?  Is it so unreasonable?”


Hoss asked tentatively “It can only make matters worse if you flaunt her Adam, why not be a bit more discreet?”


“Not easy with a woman like Lady Dinah, she’s a mite noticeable! Anyway you know the town gossips, they pick up on everything I do, even when it’s innocent. I won’t hide in a corner, we’ve survived scandal before.”


Hoss knew that he’d failed but at least Adam seemed logical even if Hoss disapproved of what he was doing and his fears for his brother’s sanity seemed ill-founded. However wrong he believed Adam was, he was still the older brother he loved and Hoss gripped Adam’s shoulder. “Just remember one thing, we’re here if we can help. You’re my brother and whatever you do can’t change that. I love you and anytime I can help I will.” The depth of his feeling was obvious on his expressive face and Adam was more moved by that than anything else that had happened. For a moment he almost lost control and he held Hoss close and then, not daring to speak unsure he was capable of it past the lump in his throat, he turned and hurried away. Adam brushed the unbidden tears almost angrily from his eyes and went back to his wife. He kissed Carole fiercely and then fled to town, fighting for control.

In that brief minute, as Hoss totally penetrated his defences, Adam’s guard dropped sufficiently for Joe on the far side of the lake to feel his brother call to him for the first time in weeks. He got an odd collection of confusion and pain but far more important and dominant was the love Adam felt for them all. Joe put down his axe and walked away, needing to be alone as he tried to unravel the message and send back his own love and reassurance. Within five minutes the shutters were down again, Adam back in control had cut himself off again, but for Joe those brief moments of contact were priceless. He became totally convinced that Adam had cut himself off deliberately for whatever reason but more important his brother still cared as deeply and that being so they couldn’t fail to sort all this out eventually.


By the time he reached town Adam was fully in control and after delivering his things and spending an hour with Dinah, he excused himself for a meeting at the bank. The directors all eyed him with considerable interest, with all the rumours that were rife round town. None of them had the nerve to say anything directly to him, having far too much respect for both his fighting ability and his use of sarcasm. Adam had far too much to do to waste much time on the meeting and for once he rode roughshod over their susceptibilities, pulling them back to the point of discussion whenever they slid off at a tangent. It was the first time most of them had seen him take control as he would often do at home, particularly if his father was away, and they were both amazed and outraged as all the business of the day was completed in under an hour, rather than their normal four or five hours. Business complete Adam excused himself, leaving them to commiserate with each other about his treatment of them.

Adam slipped into the livery stable and used the time he’d won to good advantage, only returning to the hotel mid-evening for a late dinner. Dinah was slightly worried and annoyed that he was so late but with his clothes hanging in her closet, she had done all that was asked of her and more. She knew men far too well to jeopardize the position she had gained by cross-questioning him about his every move.


Adam had counted on that reaction and made no attempt to tell her where he had been. She was a mistress not a wife and should accept his presence when he was there, leave him in peace about what he did when he wasn’t. Not that he intended to leave too many large gaps unexplained, he could invent excuses, few people had any real idea what he did normally anyway, outside his immediate family. The last thing he wanted was a worried Hearst to start having him followed.


Just as the previous night Dinah showed herself eager for his lovemaking and then slept peacefully, allowing Adam to slip out and carry on with his work until near dawn.

That evening Hearst approached Marcy and asked them if there was another suite and a single room available in the hotel, from Friday week for about three weeks. He expressed satisfaction with the service he had received as well as the privacy and said that he had recommended their small hotel to a business colleague Collis P. Huntingdon. Mercy was swift to assure him that they would be honoured and said that she would book it in immediately. She managed to hide her amusement at the irony of his thanks and that was made easier by the idea of Huntingdon’s arrival. This, the most remote of the railroad kings, had quite a reputation and she was nervous, scared that he would see all the things that Hearst had missed.


Marcy wanted to warn Adam but decided to check with Margaret first and see if she knew why he was coming. Margaret had slipped into the habit of going along to see Marcy for afternoon tea, provided she wasn’t needed and Michelle often contrived to join them. The women’s meeting was accepted by Hearst and seemed an innocuous, normal way for women to waste time. This meant they had no problem in exchanging information without rousing suspicion; they were just women and couldn’t possibly do him any harm. That afternoon Michelle couldn’t make it, helping her husband to entertain. Margaret, like Marcy, was full of information and wanted to pass it on to Adam as soon as possible.


Margaret had also heard that Huntingdon was arriving but she knew that he was bringing three men with him. The first Keane was his usual associate, the general dogsbody without whom he rarely moved. The other two were both lawyers and according to Hearst the best land law specialists in the country, one from San Francisco, Edward Haslam and the other James Cullen was from New York. Both men had worked for Huntingdon for a number of years negotiating rights of way for the railroads where necessary and dealing with the vast amount of real estate that Huntingdon had bought in his own right.


Margaret knew little more about them than that, she could only go on what Hearst had to say. Perhaps even more important she had found out that the grant papers under which they were claiming and the front man, who was actually making the claim, were both arriving in town within the week. She was still determined to get a copy for Adam and knew that he was anxious to start checks on the front man the opposition was going to use. So far all she had was a name Giacomo Sauvinet, but no idea where he came from or anything about him.

The ladies really wanted to talk to Adam but that might not be possible, they knew he couldn’t afford to take any risks over the next few weeks. Marcy decided to send word to Liza and see if it was possible to arrange a meeting out at the ranch, but in the interim they both wrote down what they knew to pass onto Adam via Dick.


Margaret said that she would be able to slip it to Dick, knowing that Marcy had a lot to do at the hotel and with nothing urgent from Hearst. She decided to check on the possibility of hiring a buggy for Thursday afternoon as a cover for her visit to the livery stable. However as she went in she saw noone who knew her, a nondescript woman aged beyond her years by a hard life. She was confident that noone would notice her or remember if they did.

The stable was virtually empty, only Dick tidying up at the back and he had only slipped out to see who had come in. He had been helping Adam but he recognized Margaret and hurried over “Adam’s here if you want to talk to him.”


Margaret, glad of the opportunity was about to say yes when an unshaven tall man came in. Margaret didn’t know his name but she had seen him visit Hearst. She quickly changed what she had been about to say, praying he hadn’t heard Dick, “No I don’t really need to see your boss. I just want to book a buggy for Thursday afternoon. That quiet mare I had last time if possible.”


Dick picked up on her lead and telling the newcomer that he would be with him in a minute, he took her over to the desk and fiddled around getting out a book while Margaret got out the notes she and Marcy had written and slipped them to Dick. She said “I need the buggy to go out to Mr Ballard’s ranch on Thursday; we are doing some sewing for charity.”

Dick did a superb job of pretending to be the polite but bored stiff assistant. He went over to deal with the stranger but he followed Margaret as she left. Dick was fairly sure the man hadn’t heard his initial comment but he was worried about Margaret and hurried to tell Adam.


Adam looked up from his books and seeing the concern on the youngster’s face, he put his pen down and lent back in the chair. “Lock the door and then tell me what’s wrong.”

Dick did exactly that, telling Adam what had just happened and passing over the papers Margaret had left. He finished “I don’t think he heard what we said and she did a very smooth job of covering but he sure looked as though he was following her, or maybe checking up on this place.”


“Go out and make sure that he’s not still hanging around.”


Dick did as he was asked and Adam swiftly read through the notes Margaret had left. He wasn’t exactly thrilled to hear that Huntingdon was coming; he disliked the man although he had considerable respect for his expertise. When Dick came back in to say there was noone around now, Adam got him to repeat his story in detail. Adam was sure that Margaret hadn’t been expecting trouble but it did look as though she was being watched. She had dropped a pretty pointed request for him to arrange a meeting at Jess’ on Thursday and Adam decided the risk had to be taken. He needed to talk to her and make her drop this crazy idea of copying the grant claim. If she was under suspicion and they found out it could cost her life.

He quickly wrote a note to Jess so that Liza could arrange the meeting and he would slip out to the ranch. He knew Jess would ensure the hands were elsewhere. He asked Dick to take the note out and fill Jess in on what had happened so that Liza could warn all three women to be extra careful. Dick promised to go out as soon as he got off and Adam forced himself to try and concentrate. It was difficult he owed all those who were helping him a great deal and he hated the idea of them taking risks. Still the only justification for all that he had done and the risks everyone was taking was for him to win this case at the first hurdle, so convincingly there could be no appeal. Somehow he managed to cut himself off from all other worries and ploughed on through the legal jargon. There would be time to make further plans and worry about the women later while he wasted time with Dinah.


Eventually he had to go and show his face again but at least he had the consolation of achieving fair progress. Adam had a bad headache after two very short nights and decided to go over to the Bucket O’Blood and have a brandy to try and relax. He was just crossing the street when he heard someone call his name. Tense and uneasy Adam turned, wondering who the hell it was, only to see it was Bill. Adam gave a sigh if relief and waited for Bill to catch him up. Bill considered him “You look tired old friend.”


“Just a little, I was going for a drink anyway, join me?”


“Sure. Some good news anyway, the flume is back in operation. My men are just tidying up the camp and when I get back we’ll be moving out.”


Adam ordered two beers and a brandy chaser to maintain his reputation and led the way over to a quiet window table. “Thanks Bill you have taken one load of my mind, repairing the flume. I just didn’t dare spare the time.”


“You know you’re very welcome Adam. We owe you a hell of a lot more than a few days of our time.”


“You don’t owe me anything.” Adam insisted.


“There’s a lot we owe you and if there is anything we can do John and I will be more than willing. One thing we did talk about before I came over was the trial itself.”


Adam frowned “What do you mean Bill?”


“Look you’re doing all this to protect your family right?”


“You know I am.”

“Well from the first time you open your mouth in court they’re gonna know they’ve been conned.”


“I haven’t thought that far ahead.”


“We did and we wondered if we could help. John bought a small ranch outside of Sacramento last year. It’s really just a base to go back to between jobs but it could be a safe place for the children during the trial. We have a set of men who have been with us for a long time and we can trust them to act as bodyguards. Then you can fight knowing that they are still safe.”


Adam was taken aback at the offer, he hadn’t dared to think that far but Bill was right he would have to make arrangements. For the moment he was too choked at the offer to make a coherent reply and Bill noticed that, patted his arm “I’ll get two more beers.”


By the time he brought them back Adam was much more in control. Bill said, “Just say if you want us to and we’ll organize it Adam. We can arrange it so that you don’t need to worry about your family, any of them.”


“Bill I would be so grateful. Don’t ever talk of owing me anything ever again, now I owe you.”


Bill took the hand almost formally “Way I figure it we still owe you but guess it comes down to one basic fact. We’re friends.”


“If I get through this and win it’ll be for one reason only. So many friends have helped.”


“You’ll win Adam and the only reason so many friends help you is that over the years you have helped so many of us.”


Adam was warmed by the very obvious affection and concern on his friend’s face. He was very grateful for the help Bill and John had already given and even more for the thought behind this offer. He couldn’t put it into words but he didn’t need to, Bill could read it on his face. Bill grinned “Take it easy old buddy, only a month. I know that’ll be rough, try and get some sleep, it does help. We’ll have everything ready for you.”


“I’ll cope. You try and thank John for me will you. I’m sorry we’re messing up your summer but I need the help.”


“No matter, told you before you’re very welcome. Be nearly over when I see you again, must get back.” He got to his feet and gripped Adam’s shoulder, “Take it easy, don’t let it get to you.”


“I’ll see you in Sacramento.” Adam forced a smile and watched his friend leave, very grateful for his help but drained by first fear and then gratitude. Adam drank the brandy, for once glad of it and then with an effort got to his feet and went back to Dinah. By the time he was back at the hotel he had the mask firmly in place and was a light headed escort bent only on entertaining his lady in the ways she liked best. Although he slipped out later, Adam only worked for a couple of hours, before acknowledging that he was worn out and going back for some sleep.


Hoss had planned to head back to the West Shore on Wednesday and take over from his little brother but in the early hours of Wednesday morning, as Adam was retreating to bed, his plans were thrown into confusion. Hoss was woken by Sue moving restlessly and as he reached out to her to see what was wrong, he found to his horror that she was running a high temperature.


Hoss quickly got up and dressed, fetched cold water to bathe her down and for cold compresses. He seemed to be moving as though in a dream, so scared for her, wondering what was wrong. Slowly as he bathed her face, Sue settled down a little and eventually woke up. She opened her eyes, but promptly shut them against the light.


Hoss moved the lamp and shaded it. “What’s wrong my love? Should I send for Doc?”


Sue gratefully took a drink. “I ache all over. Kam Ling was saying that there was flu in Virginia City, in the Chinese quarter. I think I’ve got it.”


“I am calling Doc.”


“No. at least wait until the morning. All he can tell you is the same as I can. Fresh air, plenty of fluids and keep warm.”


Hoss did what he could, remembering several years earlier when all three of his family were down with flu. Adam being rundown anyway had taken it particularly badly. They had had the same advice then from a nurse, Evangeline Woodtree, who had served at Scutari with Florence Nightingale. Several men had been very ill then but everyone had recovered and memories of those days calmed Hoss down enough to at least wait until dawn before acting.

It was just before dawn when Hoss heard a frantic hammering at the door. He hurried down to find Pak Tsien, nearly hysterical; his lovely blonde mistress had called for him, because she was burning up. It wasn’t much of a stretch for Hoss to realise that Nita like Sue had the flu.  For a minute he stood still his own head thumping, unsure what to do for the best, then he forced himself to think. “Pak Tsien, you calm down. Go get yourself dressed and then take a note to my Father. I’ll go and get Carole to help.”


Hoss swiftly wrote a note to his father, explaining about the flu and asking him to send someone for Doc and send word to Joe. Then he called Kam Ling to keep an eye on Sue while he went over to wake Carole. If Carole was surprised to see him so early, it was quickly explained and she told him to call Kam Su so that he could be ready to listen out for the kids, while he got dressed. By the time Kam Su was awake, Carole was ready and she headed over to Nita, allowing Hoss to go back to Sue.


Carole found the young blonde very feverish and restless thoroughly sorry for herself, aching in every joint and scared. Carole sponged her down, opened the windows a little for some fresh air and then lifted Nita to rest against her and persuaded her to drink some milk. Nita desperately wanted her husband and her thoughts were about evenly divided between desire to see Joe and fear for her son. Carole did her best to reassure Nita but she couldn’t convince herself that she had achieved anything very much. She was very relieved to hear her father-in-law’s voice from downstairs, just as young Adam started to cry, wanting his breakfast.

Carole called down “Pa we’re upstairs.” Ben hurried up and taking in the worried expression on Carole’s face he put an arm round her shoulder. “Easy young lady we’ll cope. You alright?”


“Yes I’m fine but the baby...”


“I’ll look after Nita; you go wash up and then feed young Adam. It’s flu, there are half a dozen cases in the bunkhouse. We’ve seen it before and we’ll manage.”



“I sent a message to town before I left and I wired Joe. He’s handing over to Tom Seton and Wilson on the West Shore and then heading home. He’ll be back late today.”


“You know Sue has it too?”


“Yes Hoss sent word. Easy Carole, you take Adam and Johnny home with you, remove than from the infection and let Hoss and I worry about your sisters. Can you manage the six children?”


“Of course I can.”


“I’ll be over later, once we’ve got everything organized, help you and get Doc to check you over.”


Carole smiled, “Pa I can manage.”


“Good girl” he said lightly, kissing her forehead and let her go to wash before collecting the babies. By the time she got back Anne was demanding food too but with Kam Su’s help she placated and fed the three hungry babies. At least all the children seemed fit. They had barely dealt with the babies and thought about the older children when Hop Sing arrived. He had waited to get confirmation from Joe that he was on his way and then come to help his family as always.


Carole was glad of the help, overtired by events over the last few months; Hoss’ early morning call has shaken her more than she liked to admit, even to herself. She knew with six children under five she had her work cut out and was glad for the steadfast Chinese pair.


Joe was badly shaken when he was woken up by Chris Santeé to say that his Father wanted him on the telegraph. As it was still before 5 a.m. Joe jumped to the conclusion that it was bad news. Ben told him as gently as he could but it wasn’t easy by telegraph and he had to break it to his son that his infinitely precious wife was ill, delirious and calling for him. Like Hoss Joe remembered the previous flu epidemic, indeed he knew personally just how weak and ill it made you feel. On the other hand noone had died, unlike other epidemics Joe had lived through such as the diphtheria onboard ship. That memory gave him the strength of mind to spend half an hour going over the work in hand with Santeé, Wilson and Seton. By the end of that time Joe was sure that the three men between them could keep things moving perfectly well for at least the next week. He tried to tell them how grateful he was but all three combined to send him home where he was needed.


Joe rode out, making good time with Cochise fresh and a good road all the way from the ranch to the West Shore now. He was very thankful that over the last few years they had found several men who could take the extra burden of responsibility that went with being in charge. It always seemed so impossible to thank them and Joe didn’t realise just how much a permanent job with additional wages for responsibility and a secure future meant to some of the older hands. Santeé and Wilson in particular had been through several years of temporary summer jobs, paid off in the winter when younger men were kept on, forced into the mines to live, until they had reached the haven of the Ponderosa.


Doc went out early to the Ponderosa. He already had the start of an epidemic in the Chinese community in town but thus far it was contained within that closed community. He wasn’t particularly surprised to find that it had jumped to the Ponderosa. The Cartwrights, all with Chinese housemen, had far more to do with Chinese community than most of the white men. Often they were the only source of protection open to the Chinese, although Roy always did his best.


Doc had heard of a new treatment that had been found effective, both in treating and preventing flu by use of quinine, long known as a treatment for malarial fever. When he had first heard about it he had ordered a substantial supply and it did seem to help so he took some with him to the ranch.


Ben had settled Nita as comfortably as he could and fed her some willow bark tea as Hop Sing advised, reassuring her about her baby. Eventually she dozed off into an uneasy sleep and Ben called Pak Tsien to watch her, while he went over to check with his big son. Sue was also dozing and Hoss seemed reasonably calm but scared that the others would catch it. Remembering the last time when he was the only member of the family to stay fit.


Ben had had the same thought and he suggested  “For ease of nursing maybe we ought to consider bringing the two girls together. If any of the rest of us catch it, it could prove difficult nursing in two houses particularly with all the children to look after.”


“Yeah I thought the same. Joe’s is a mite bigger. If you heat up one of the spare beds I reckon I can wrap Sue up warmly enough to carry her over without doing any harm.”


“Alright son. Try not to worry too much. I know flu makes you feel rotten but it’s not fatal.”


“I know Pa, don’t forget I had you, Joe and Adam down with it before.”


“I suppose we’d better send word to Adam.”


“Mood he’s in I’m not even sure he’ll care.” Hoss said bitterly. “Sometime way he talks, it don’t even feel like my brother.”


“You’re not still worried about his sanity are you?”


“Not really. Last time we spoke it was rational enough. I didn’t like it but ....” Hoss broke off

“Anyways you’re right we have to tell him.”


“I’ll write a note, send one of the hands in with it, once we’ve heard what Doc has to say.”


“Could ask Doc to tell him.”


“I think with flu in town Doc has enough to do and anyway I’d rather not publicise the rift in the family more than I have to.” Ben sighed heavily and then changed the subject. “I’d better check if Carole needs anything, she’ll have her hands full with six young children and then I’ll get back to Nita.”


Ben wasn’t surprised to find Hop Sing there helping out, but with the two Chinese helping Carole had no problems, glad of something to take her mind off her other worries. Ben left her to get on, promising to bring Doc over to check the children before he left, Then Ben went back to Nita who was awake again, very feverish and unable to get comfortable. Ben bathed her aching head and fed her a little more tea, while Pak Tsien went to make broth for the sick ladies.

Nita tried hard not to fuss but she felt so ill, she couldn’t help moving restlessly, wanting her own husband. However kind Ben was it wasn’t the same. Ben tried to reassure her, Joe was on his way home.


Ben was glad when Doc finally arrived and he took him straight up to Nita. Hoss was still settling Sue in the spare room immediately opposite. Doc examined Nita but he could only confirm what they already knew, she had flu. He sat down by the bed. “Well Nita you are going to have a miserable few days and there’s not a great deal I can do to help. I have some tablets which will help a little. Otherwise, its fresh air, plenty of fluids and rest.”


She forced a smile. “I’ll be fine. It’s Adam I’m worried about, could he catch it?”


“Babies don’t tend to. Anyway he’s a Cartwright and if he should he’ll soon throw it off.”


Nita relaxed a little at that and took the quinine tablets Doc gave her before he went over to see Sue. Sue already knew what was wrong and was calm even though she felt rotten. Doc gave her the same tablets and told her to take it easy, let Hoss do the worrying. Sue was also worried about her baby but Doc couldn’t fool her as he had Nita. It was true enough that babies didn’t often catch flu but those who did all too often succumbed to it. Doc did tell her that the quinine tablets seemed to prevent people catching the flu and he had brought a supply for all the Cartwrights which should help. Sue relaxed, trusting her family to look after her son.


Ben went down with Doc to check what he really thought but Doc was fairly reassuring. There hadn’t been any deaths amongst the Chinese, even when fairly young children were involved and the quinine seemed to help, both those who were already suffering and in preventing others catching it. He passed over a supply of tablets and reiterated his advice on nursing the girls, backing Hop Sing’s use of the willow bark tea. He did warn Ben that although the fever should drop in three or four days, the aftermath tended  to leave victims weak and finding everything far too much bother, often rather depressed and with women weepy. It wasn’t anything to worry about and would clear up after a couple of weeks provided they took it quietly. The only real worry was if there were any complications, usually chest infections and if there were any signs of one than Doc wanted to be called. Ben thanked him for coming so swiftly and asked him to check the children just to be on the safe side. Doc did but all he could say was that they were all far too exuberant to be heading for sickness. Then he had to get back to town.


Ben went home to collect some clothes and some of the paperwork that needed doing and to send a note to Adam. He found it difficult to compose and that in itself felt very strange. He hated being on such bad terms with his eldest son that he couldn’t talk to him. He wanted to tell his son what was going on without making him feel guilty if he didn’t immediately come home. Ben still blamed himself for driving Adam into town and he couldn’t afford to make matters any worse. Eventually he sealed up the note, not totally satisfied but unsure how else to phrase it.


In fact Adam wasn’t around when the messenger Ben had sent arrived in town and he could only hand it over to the desk clerk to wait in Adam’s pigeon hole. Adam was over at his new office, working hard with the door locked and blinds drawn so that it wasn’t obvious anyone was in. At least he was able to settle down and get on with his work.


Joe made good time from the West Shore and he got home mid-afternoon and headed straight into his own house. Ben was working in the living room and got up as his son came in, “She’s sleeping at the moment Joe.”

“Has Doc been?”


“Yes, confirmed they both have flu. Quite a lot around in the Chinese quarter. Doc says that everyone has recovered so don’t worry too much.”


“I know Pa, but I have had it myself and I can remember how rotten I felt.”


“Nita feels pretty sorry for herself too but it’ll pass. Go on up Joe, I’ll bring some coffee.”


“Thanks Pa.” Joe headed upstairs and once he’d checked that his wife was still asleep he went across the corridor, more to check on his big brother than to check Sue. Hoss was just sitting by her bed, Sue was also asleep. Hoss, tired after an interrupted night wasn’t attempting to do anything but seeing his young brother he got to his feet and came out into the hallway. “Hope you didn’t mind me bringing Sue here. We thought it’d be easier for nursing, especially if anyone else got it.”


“Don’t be daft you big galoot, of course I don’t mind.” Joe considered his big brother


“You’re not sickening are you Hoss? You don’t look too good.”


“Just a mite tired, an interrupted night. If you remember I was the only one who didn’t catch it before.”


“That don’t make you immune brother.”


“Yeah I know, but I’m alright. How about you, must have been a bit of a shock.”


“A little but at least I knew what flu involved so I can be sure she’ll be fine.” Just then Ben brought coffee and both of his sons were glad of it. Joe had a quiet word with his father,


“Keep an eye on Hoss, wouldn’t be surprised if he’s sickening too. I just want to go and have a word with Carole, see my son.”


Joe went over to Adam’s house and found Carole very busy with the kids. She was pleased to see him and asked after Nita. Joe forced a smile “Sorry for herself but she’ll be okay.” Joe went over and picked up his son. “At least this young man looks fit and well.”


“Doc says all the children are, but he’s given me quinine tablets to feed them to try and stop them catching it.” She smiled “I gave them one each, it wasn’t popular. They taste revolting.”


Joe laughed “I know Pa forced one on me,” he went over and separated the twins, who were fighting “You sure you can cope with all these kids?”


“I usually do Joe. The babies are easy and this terrible trio are mine anyway.”


Joe nodded “I guess you do, still if there’s anything I can do to help just ask.”


“I will Joe I told you that before.” She put her arms round him and kissed him “Just to know that I can, makes everything so much easier.”


Joe knew that she didn’t only mean the kids and he held her tight for a moment, before going back to Nita. By early evening it was obvious that Joe had been right Hoss was coming down with flu too. Between them Ben and Joe bullied him into bed, gave him some willow bark tea and fed him another quinine tablet. Hoss was lucky he seemed to have taken it very lightly and protested that he didn’t really need his bed.


Ben insisted that Joe go and get some rest, his son had had a long ride, then he’d be fit enough to spell his father later. Joe couldn’t help commenting that under normal circumstances Adam would be there to help too. Ben had been thinking the same but it didn’t help to discuss it and he sent Joe off to bed.


In fact Adam didn’t even know that anyone was ill. He’d put in a solid day’s work and when he went to collect Dinah for dinner he found her bubbling over. With him busy she’d had too much time to herself and feeling bored had cast around for something to do.  She had had the bright idea of holding a party, that Friday night and had already arranged to take over the Hotel’s main dining room and found a band. She had issued invitations in her name and Adam’s and although a few people had turned her down most, out of curiosity and respect for Adam’s money, had accepted. She seemed to think it was a brilliant idea, they would show this town what a real party was like. Adam was furious but he managed to hide it, admitting to himself that it was difficult to see the difference between this and flaunting her at the theatre, even though it was very real to him.


Adam found it had one distinct advantage; she was so full of what she had arranged wanting nothing from him but a blank cheque that he didn’t have to entertain her. Apart from the obligatory couple of hours attention in bed, he was able to think about what he needed to do next; an occasional yes, no, that’s a good idea, enough to keep Di happy.


It bore fruit the next day too, with only a little over twenty four hours before her party she had plenty to arrange and didn’t really want him underfoot. Adam spent an hour at the California on routine business and then headed for his office. He wasn’t in the world’s best temper, Jim Fair had announced his intention of being present the following night. Far worse he had greeted Adam as a fellow erring husband, only expressing  surprise that he had chosen such a public display. As Jim had been notorious for adultery for the last ten years, Adam hated being classed in the same way. He admitted to himself that he had brought it all down on his own head but that didn’t improve his temper.


Adam slowly calmed down as he buried his head in the law books. Time seemed to go very fast and Adam was surprised to find it was past 2 p.m. He was planning to slip out to Jess; knowing the girls were waiting for him. He had intended to get lunch first but without time for that he grabbed some jerky and headed out, sure that Liza wouldn’t let hi starve.


Adam slipped into the barn where Jess came over to meet him. Jess had sent all his hands to work well away from the house  but he was slightly concerned as Adam was later than he had expected, Having seen his friend Jess was even more concerned “You look worn out are you getting any sleep?”


“Some.” Adam said lightly. “I was working forgot the time and missed my lunch. Do you think Liza could feed me?”


“Sure, come on in.” Adam led the way and went over to tell Liza that his friend was hungry. Adam stood stock still as he took in the room, only Marcy was sitting at the table. He lost colour and bit his lip, worried what it meant as he’d expected all three of them and remembering Dick’s report he was scared Margaret had compromised herself.


Marcy could see the fear on his face and she was quick to reassure him. “There’s no trouble Adam. It’s just Hearst he’s panicked by the reports of flu in town.”




Jess frowned at Liza “You hadn’t heard Adam?”




Jess poured a stiff slug of whisky into a coffee and passed it over to Adam. “Started in the Chinese quarter in town, hadn’t spread very far outside that but from what I’ve heard it’s reached the Ponderosa. Hoss, Sue and Nita all have it.”


Adam turned away to stare out of the window, grateful for the spirit “When?”


“Yesterday. Doc was out but from what Kirk said when I saw him earlier, it’s not too serious. Uncomfortable but it’ll pass. Doc hasn’t lost anyone.”


“I’ve had flu; I know what it’s like.” Adam rubbed his hand across his mouth and then squeezed the bridge on his nose, fighting for control as he stared out of the window unseeingly. “Why didn’t they even bother to let me know?” He couldn’t help himself sounding very bitter. He knew he had deliberately cut himself off from his family but he found it hard to accept that with his brother and both sisters ill, noone had even told him.


Jess went over and gripped his shoulders, “You alright Adam?”


Adam swallowed hard and got a firm grip on himself “Sure.” He turned and sat down, asking Marcy what she meant by Hearst being panicked by the flu. Marcy was glad to see him sitting calmly, sipping his coffee and she said “Seems Hearst if very scared of all sorts of illness. He heard about the flu and immediately took over the whole hotel. It’s good for Jeff and I of course, he’s even paying for the meals we might serve otherwise. He doesn’t want any of his associates out in the town, bringing back flu, so Margaret and Michelle have been told not to leave the hotel. Jeff and I are only allowed out on sufferance as someone has to get supplies and we’re not allowed anywhere near him.”


Adam forced a smile, thankful the other two women were alright. “Figures, it won’t just be him. You said Huntingdon is coming and he’s notorious for his finicky ways and fear of illness. When is he due?”


“A week today and according to Margaret he has three men coming with him.” She explained everything that Margaret had managed to find out.


Adam wrote out telegrams which Jess promised to take up to Reno and send off. They were to friends who should be able to tell him these men’s backgrounds, expertise and hopefully any weaknesses. All were in a well established Ponderosa code and hopefully wouldn’t raise any alerts.


Then Marcy went on to fill in the details that Margaret had managed to obtain about the grant. Adam tried to get her to talk Margaret out of taking the risk of copying it but he didn’t think he had got very far. Marcy was insistent that there was no risk, she was sure that Margaret wasn’t under any suspicion. Hearst took his secretary far too much for granted. Margaret had also managed to find out a little more about Giacomo Sauvinet. Apparently he came from an old established, but currently broke, family from near Santa Fé. She had picked up a rumour that he had been in real trouble, but not exactly what, and she didn’t dare to push too hard.


Adam bit his pen, trying to think how to find out more about Sauvinet. Someone had to go to Santa Fé and there was no possible way that he could do it. In the end he decided to try and get some help from yet another old friend. The man he had in mind Tony Canmore was a lawyer and had taken on the job at the Bank of Nevada on Adam’s recommendation. He was sure that Tony could find out all he needed to know, if he was willing to leave his family and got to Santa Fé at short notice.


Adam put that to the back of his mind for now and again begged Marcy not to take any chances or to let Margaret or Michelle do so. He was against anymore meetings out at Jess’ or messages to the stables, a slightly unlikely place for them to be. Marcy, more realistic said


“We have to have someway to pass word Adam. If you don’t like this can you come up with something better?”


Adam got up and paced around the room, she was making sense but he was haunted by the fear that one of these wonderful women, who were helping him, would pay a heavy penalty. There had to be a safer way and then it came to him and he sat down grinning broadly.

“Marcy, Liza how would you like a whole new wardrobe, at my expense?”


Jess frowned, not at all sure that he liked the sound of that even from Adam but Adam was quick to see and punched his friend’s arm “Easy old buddy. I’m not moving in on your wife! I have a very old friend, a friend of the family. She has already helped once and I am sure will continue to do so. The dressmaker Elizabeth Bowen, She’ll take messages and you two can talk. If necessary I can slip in the back door and she’ll keep me out of sight.”


Jess nodded “Sounds a lot safer for the girls, if you’re sure you can trust her?”


“That I am sure of and I know she’ll keep it from my family, just as you have done.”


Marcy smiled “With all the money Hearst had been paying me, he won’t think it strange if I spend some. In fact I can well afford to buy my own clothes.”


Adam kissed her forehead, “Sure you can but at least let me do this much to say thank you.”

Put that way both women accepted and promised to go and see Elizabeth as soon as possible although Adam would have a word first. Adam felt happier about that contact and relaxing a little ate the food Liza had prepared before going back to town. He wanted to keep busy, not wanting to have time to think about his family’s rejection, however much he had rejected them on the surface.


Adam rode into town and made his first stop at the Bank of Nevada. He was in luck Tony was working in his office. Tony put his pen down as Adam came in but Adam knew him well enough to see that his presence made his old friend uncomfortable. Adam perched on the desk, “Tony we’ve been friends a long time but if you prefer me to go I’ll understand.”

Tony got to his feet and poured two brandies “Don’t be daft Adam as you said we’re friends.”


“I’ve come to ask a huge favour of you. I’ll understand if you can’t do it. I wouldn’t ask if I could think of any other way. All I ask is that you keep this talk quiet, it stays within this room.” Adam knew he had phrased that badly but thoroughly overtired and upset by his family’s attitude, he had a severe headache. He didn’t realise just how much his need and the intensity of his feelings was showing on his face,


Tony was very puzzled but he gave his word, nothing they said would go any further. He had been confused by Adam’s behaviour over the last couple of months, it had seemed out of character for the man he thought he knew and had always greatly respected. However he had had to believe what his own eyes had seen; now he sensed he was getting an explanation.


Adam sat down more comfortably in a chair, at least Tony was listening. He outlined the threat to the ranch and the measures he was taking to get ammunition to fight it in court. Tony was stunned, “I hadn’t heard even a rumour.”


“You weren’t meant to, even my family don’t know apart from Carole and I couldn’t cope without her support.”


“But why not? You said yourself you need help. You four have always acted together.”


“This time the price for that looked like being too high.” Adam went on to explain the two ways suggested to distract him, either a mistress and consequent family arguments, or death or maiming of one of the girls or one of the children, maybe more than one. A risk he couldn’t take.


Tony went and poured himself a very large brandy. He found it hard to believe anyone could go through with that threat but Adam’s behaviour proved that he believed it. It certainly explained everything he’d done recently but Tony asked “Why not send the girls away with the children and you four can look after yourselves.”


“I thought of it Tony, don’t imagine I like being estranged from my family, looked at with contempt by old friends, but it’s too risky. These men Huntingdon and Hearst in particular have tentacles everywhere. I don’t know where would be safe and away from us we can’t even protect them. We could fort up on the Ponderosa but a determined attack finds a way. I know that from experience and I have to win. The ranch means too much to us, losing it would about kill Pa. This way I have time to gather my defence, before they are even aware that I know of the threat.”


“You’re paying a hell of a price Adam.” Tony offered his hand formally. “Anything I can do, name it. It’s your’s.”


“Thank you Tony. I did warn you I’m asking a lot and I know I have no right to ask.”


“Rubbish, we’re friends. You’ve helped me often enough and even more helped make Virginia City a fit place for my wife and child. What can I do?”


“I need someone to go down to Santa Fé. The land grant is being claimed in the Giacomo Sauvinet. All I know is that he came from an old established family near Santa Fé and that he is rumoured to have been in trouble. I need to know a lot more.”


Tony nodded “About him and this trouble and even more important the family background, who could have got a land grant here and why, or preferably why not.  Any holdings they had then and now and why wait until now to claim.”


“That’s about it.”


“Any idea of the date on this supposed grant?”


“Not for sure but best guess is the early years of this century. Prior to 1821 it’ll be a Spanish grant but in the next 25 years Mexico made land grants. I’d guess it would have to be earlier than 1830 if it’s one of them. There were very few in the 30’s at all and the cluster granted in the early 1840’s to try and buy loyalty as the Americans began to appear were all on the coast as far as I know.” Adam sighed “For now its guess work. Eventually I’ll get a copy but ....”


“Okay so I concentrate on the early years but make sure I know in outline the rest.”


“I can do better than that, another old friend has collected most of the details from Santa Fé for me and I can give you a note of the information he found. So it’s really the family and anything else that he missed.”


“Okay that will save time.”


“You mean you will go?” Adam asked almost disbelievingly.


Tony gripped his shoulder, “Did you really doubt it? My wife has wanted to go to San Francisco to visit her sister, who has recently moved out here. I’ll go with her as far as Reno to throw anyone off who might be interested and then head south. Good excuse to avoid the women’s talk! I should make Santa Fé in about four days. Say a week to check around and I’ll be back in about a fortnight. Is that time enough?”


Adam swallowed hard, a lump in his throat at this instant rearrangement of his life that Tony was prepared to do in order to help him. “Yeah I have a deadline of the 11th of June, That’s when it comes to court.”


Tony grinned “You’ll win Adam, this place need your family on the Ponderosa too much for God not to help.”


“I don’t know how to say thank you.”


“Don’t even try. You said it all when you came in, we’re friends.”


Adam had to get on and he accepted that still feeling he should say more, not realising how clear his feelings were on his face. He promised to drop the notes round to Tony’s house first thing in the morning.


Then Adam headed to the dress shop and just caught Elizabeth before she shut. He went in openly, a beautiful satin evening cape in dark emerald sufficient reason for his visit. Adam was very clear that the cape was just an excuse. This time Adam briefly explained the threat to the ranch and to the family. As he came to a stop and drank the coffee she had poured him Elizabeth came over and put her arms round him, “Being you, you couldn’t have done anything else. Of course I will help, anything at all, you’ve already paid a heavy price.”


Adam relaxed, “So many friends helping I can’t fail. What I need now is a meeting place for two of them, Liza Ballard and Marcy.”


Elizabeth knew them both well and quickly promised to make up several dresses for each girl and charge Adam. She would take messages if necessary and suggested putting one particular hat in the window if she was holding anything so that Adam would know when to pop in. She gave him a spare key to her back door and showed him where she would leave things for him, in a hatbox at the bottom of a pile. Adam was very grateful and kissed her,


“Bless you Elizabeth” and then taking the cape he headed back to the hotel.


As he went in the hotel clerk called him over, “Message for you Mr Cartwright. I’m very sorry it came yesterday but got put in the wrong pigeonhole. I do apologize.” Adam took the note and recognized his father’s writing. He was very relieved to see that his family hadn’t neglected to tell him and assured the clerk that it didn’t matter, He couldn’t go out to the ranch but he did spare time to go over and have a word with Doc. He was in luck Doc was working in his office and he put his pen down and came to let Adam in. He took one look at his old friend and poured a large brandy. “Doctor’s orders Adam You look as though you need it.”


“Thanks Doc.”


“I can guess why you’re here but you really don’t need to look so worried.”


“How are they Doc?”


“Pretty sorry for themselves, especially Nita, she wanted Joe but he was still on his way home when I was out there. Hoss was okay then but I heard he had gone down with it since.”


“Will they be okay?”


“Sure. Adam you’ve had flu, you know it makes you feel rotten and depressed but this seems to be a mild strain and I haven’t had any fatalities, even amongst those who were sickly to begin with. And very few complications.”


Adam breathed a sigh of relief. “Doc will you keep me in touch?  I daren’t go out to the ranch but I need to know.”


“Alright but I still think you ought to tell your family what you are up to.”


“I can’t Doc, not yet and you gave me your word.”


“I’ll keep it you know that but you just take care of yourself. I’m only the Doc around here and you know better than me but you look worn out, rundown and a prime candidate for flu yourself.”


Adam laughed “I don’t have time to be ill Doc. You just keep an eye on my family for me.”

Doc patted his shoulder, “Just take it easy and try and remember even you need some sleep.”

Adam smiled but he had to get back and he hurried out, thankful that so far his children were alright, he found Dinah very busy with the details of her party and Adam entered into the spirit of it making arrangements where she was struggling. His name and the Cartwright money cleared all the outstanding problems much to Dinah’s delight. She celebrated in the only way she knew how.


Adam near exhaustion after the fears and tensions of the day made no attempt to slip out. He had achieved a fair amount that day and he had to admit Doc was right he was short of sleep. He was beginning to feel that he understood the law and until more information arrived there was a limited amount he could usefully do. He settled to sleep, which proved very useful over the following days.

Ben stayed over at his youngest son’s house, splitting the nursing with Joe, trusting Hop Sing and Kam Su to give Carole any help she needed. Joe had taken over from his father and sent Ben to get some sleep when Hop Sing appeared in the early hours.  Carole had been woken very early as Mark became restless. It hadn’t taken long for her to decide her young son had flu. With an effort she remained calm and washed him down to cool the fever, feeding him willow bark tea and then tucking him up in a new clean bed, well away from the other children. She placed a cold compress on his forehead and with him resting a little easier went to check the rest of the kids, leaving Kam Su to watch Mark.


Marie was very restless and obviously going to join her brother but David seemed fine. Carole carried her young daughter through to join Mark without actually waking her. Carole settled her daughter as best she could and then feeling tired and harassed she spared five minutes to wash, dress and collect some coffee. Hop Sing took one look at her and went and fetched the brandy decanter, pouring a healthy slug into her coffee, Carole didn’t protest, glad of the warmth of the spirit, wondering how to cope with two sick children and four others, three only babies.


By mid-morning the situation had got worse as Anne showed every sign of flu and Carole overtired was close to panic. Hop Sing had taken word to Ben and Joe and leaving him to watch the adults they both came over. Carole wasn’t too worried about Mark or Marie, both strong healthy children, and she was sure they would throw off the effects of flu rapidly. However Anne was another matter, still so little, with hardly the best start in life, her illness terrified her Mother. Joe put his arm round he and did his best to calm her down. After all Anne had shown just how strong she was, surviving those first few weeks. Even as he spoke


Joe frowned feeling the fever emanating from Carole’s body. He looked up anxiously at his father “Pa, Carole has it too.”


Carole pulled away, “No I’m just tired.”


Ben came over and felt her forehead, “Tiredness doesn’t give you a fever young lady. Joe’s right, bed for you right now.”


“I can’t the children.”


“You’re not the only one capable of looking after children.” Ben frowned as he tried to work out the best way of handling things. “Joe I think we’d better get Carole and the three sick children over to your house. Leave Kam Su to look after David, Adam and Johnny for now. Hop Sing and Pak Tsien can help me and I think you’d better go to town. We need Doc to look at the children, especially Anne and Adam needs to know.”


“He hasn’t reacted to that note you sent.”


“I know but this is a bit different Joe, his own wife and three of his four children. Whatever’s wrong between him and Carole, it can’t be important enough for him not to come home now.”


Joe nodded “I guess you’re right.”


“Easy with him, Joe doesn’t make it any harder than you have to. You know what his kids mean to him.”


“I know Pa. I’ll just see if Nita’s awake and then I’ll go.” Joe spent ten minutes reassuring Nita that their child was fine but admitted he had to fetch Adam as Carole. Mark and Marie had all caught it. Joe didn’t mention Anne, hoping that she was still trusting in Doc’s half truth that few young babies caught it. Then he headed for town. Unsure where his brother would be, he stopped off at Doc’s house first and told him of the latest victims, asking for his help.


Dan was with Doc checking the latest news about the epidemic, which was slowly breaking out of the Chinese quarter. He was able to tell Joe that he had seen Adam go into his office beneath John Marye’s earlier on Dan stopped Joe momentarily “Have I got it right Joe, All three girls, Hoss and all of Adam’s kids except David have succumbed?”


“Yeah and Pak Tsien didn’t look too good when I left, I won’t be surprised if he’s in bed by now.”


“Three sick kids and three healthy, you sure got your hands full.”


“That’s why I must see Adam.”


Dan nodded moving out of Joe’s way but as Joe left he spoke to Doc. “Seems to me what they need is a woman for the kids, someone they know.”


“Of course they do!” Doc said testily, “Now if you’ll stop wasting my time stating the obvious I’ll get out there.”


“Sorry Doc but I’m not really wasting time. Aleysha Purcell was bemoaning her fate the other day. Wayne has taken the boy off on an extended hunting trip and glad as she was to see them on terms she was at a loose end. She’s an old friend of the Cartwrights.”


“Risk she’ll catch it too.”


 “No more than here in town, way you told it just now, people dropping like ninepins all over.”


“True and they could certainly do with her help.”


“Come by her place before you leave. I’ll go and have a word.”




“Doc she can’t volunteer until she knows that she’s needed.” Dan hurried over to Aleysha’s and as he expected she was bored on her own and more than willing to help out when Dan explained the situation. Dan was glad to be able to help his old friends, however indirectly and decided to drop by Adam’s office seeing Joe’s pinto outside, to tell Joe what he’d arranged.


Dan was surprised to hear angry voices as he approached. All too well aware of Adam’s strange recent behaviour, he knew Adam’s love for his children better than most outsiders and hadn’t contemplated Adam doing anything except rush home. Joe had been just as sure and he’d tried to break it as gently as he could, that not only his wife but all his children, except for David, had the flu.


Adam had been very surprised to see Joe and his first move had been to hide the law books he had been working on, knowing how observant Joe was and equally that Joe knew the current position too well. Joe would know the subjects he was studying had no current relevance to his knowledge and the last thing Adam needed was a suspicious younger brother. Only then did Adam sit back and consider his brother, lack of sleep and worry etched on Joe’s face. Adam assumed that Joe was worried about his wife, although their big brother and Sue would come a close second.


Slowly Adam took in what Joe was saying, not only Carole but his children, even Anne young as she was, were ill. For a moment Adam was on the verge of giving up, this was too much, why did God let it happen, but then as though she was standing in front of him he could hear Carole. “You handle things in town, the law and her; I’ll look after our family and our children. It will soon be over my love.”


Joe stared at him, wondering if Adam had taken in what he’d said as there was no reaction.

“Adam did you hear me?”


“Sure. What do you expect me to say Joe?”


“I’d expect you to be worried and come straight home with me now.”


Adam got up and went over to the window. He wanted nothing better but Dinah had arranged a party for this very night. If he walked out on her so publicly, even for the sake of his own children, Hearst was going to read it that she didn’t have him in her web as she claimed. Adam knew that as clearly as he could see Joe and knew that if he did what every fibre of his being demanded of him and went home, then he would have wasted all his efforts over the least weeks. The obvious outcome would be that it wouldn’t only be flu hurting his family. Adam stared out of the window unseeingly, not even aware of his brother as he searched for the strength to stay in town.


Joe couldn’t understand his brother’s reaction and after a couple of minutes he moved swiftly across the room and forced Adam to look at him, “What on earth is the matter? We ought to be getting back.” As he turned his brother Joe was taken aback by the naked pain on his face but Adam swiftly put the shutters up again and Joe let his hands fall seeing his brother’s withdrawal.


Adam found the strength from somewhere, he wasn’t sure where. “I can’t come home just now.”


Joe showed his shock “But Adam ....”


“I have commitments here in town Joe. I can’t just drop them.”


“Your wife and children are ill, isn’t that a prior commitment?” Joe asked angrily.


“Flu isn’t exactly lethal,” Adam said, “I’ll be out when I can.”


“Leaving someone else to look after your family here and now.” Joe said bitterly.


“You mean you don’t want to?” Adam asked.


Joe flared up, “You know I don’t mean that but I remember too often in the past when you’ve told me that an uncle is not the same as a father. Times when you’ve driven yourself to the edge of collapse, given up everything, for those children. Now you can’t even spare the time to come home and see them.”


“That’s my business.”


“For God’s sake Adam what’s the matter with you?”


“I told you Joe, I’ll come when I can.”


“You’ll come with me now, if I have to drag you home,” Joe said in a sudden fury, thinking how drawn and upset Carole had looked when he left, but that was enough to lose Adam’s hold on his temper. Almost in a reaction at the effort it had taken to say he wasn’t going home he was glad to take it out on someone. He glared at his brother “You have never in your life been big enough or strong enough to take me. What makes you think you can do it now?”


Joe furious said, “Maybe I have never had so much reason before. You’re coming home it I have to tie you up and take you home over your horse.”


“No.” Adam said and almost contemptuously pushed Joe away. That was the final straw for Joe who went for his brother, determined to do exactly what he’d said and take Adam home by force.


Outside Dan heard the fight start and he hurried in to see the brothers both fighting with complete seriousness. Dan yelled at them to stop but they were oblivious of him, only aware of each other, both needing to release pent up emotions with physical activity. Dan managed to grab Joe as Adam sent him across the room. He held onto Joe “That’s enough Joe.” Joe struggled but Dan held tight, “Come on enough.”


Adam lent on the table, fighting for breath, his brother had landed enough blows to hurt. He made no attempt to follow as Dan hustled Joe outside, supporting him as his legs tended to give under him. Joe lent against the window, slowly recovering, not even aware he was the centre of many interested eyes. Dan damped a handkerchief and Joe mopped his face up, a swelling already half closing his right eye. Dan asked “You alright Joe?”


“Yeah but Adam has to come home with me.”


“You can’t make him Joe. Don’t go back in, another fight won’t change anything.”


Joe sighed heavily. “I suppose you’re right but what’s wrong with him. I just don’t understand.”


“I don’t know Joe but you can’t force your brother to do anything. I came round to tell you that Aleysha is going out with Doc to help with the kids. She’s on her own at the minute and pleased to be useful.”


“Thanks Doc but what those sick kids need is their father and nothing would normally keep him away.”


“Joe leave your brother alone, he’ll come to his senses in time. You go on home, you’re needed there.”


Joe knew Dan was right about one thing there was no way he could force Adam to go home but he just didn’t understand. His head was throbbing after the fight, but it was tension and anger not the blows which caused him to feel ill. He felt he had failed his family, especially Carole, and he mounted Cochise to go join Doc, feeling sore, tired and defeated.


Dan watched Joe ride down the street his defeat written in the very way he sat the saddle. He could understand Joe’s feelings and he decided to try and talk to Adam. There was still time for his old friend to catch up his brother. He went back into the office to find Adam staring out of the window. Adam was very shaken both by the news and by the way he had taken the shock out on his brother. He didn’t like himself very much at the moment. He watched Joe leave, his whole form eloquent of his feelings and Adam knew he’d hurt his brother far more by his attitude than with his fists.


Dan asked quietly “Are you alright Adam?”


Adam turned “Yeah I’m fine, but I’m very busy, so if you’ll excuse me....”


“Give me five minutes Adam.”


“I can guess why Dan. Please don’t say anything, we’ve been friends a long time and I’d like to keep it that way.”


“But Adam....” Dan broke off as Adam very deliberately got his accounts out and started making notes.


Dan shrugged, he’d told Joe he couldn’t force his brother, maybe it was time to take his own advice. “Have it your own way Adam.” Dan sighed heavily but he left Adam alone. Adam waited until he’d gone and then locked the door. Sinking down in his chair he buried his face in his hands, close to breaking down. The mere thought of his wife and children ill and being unable to go to them made him feel physically sick. It was sheer will power that enabled him to push the thought to the back of his mind and settled back to work. Slowly the work calmed him and he put all his trust in his father and brother. However they felt about him he knew they would take every care of his wife and children.


Soon after 4 p.m. Adam had to leave his work and go to keep his promise to Dinah. She was very excited by the prospect of the party, not that she cared about any of those who were coming but she enjoyed the organizing. There was very little left for Adam to do except change and he had to listen as she spoke about their various guests. She was very cynical about just why people were coming and her opinion of many of them would rapidly have changed their minds about attending. Adam had to admit that in many cases her initial judgment on their guests was remarkably accurate if rather harsh, She had no sympathy for social climbers and fools, born with great advantages, well-educated and beautiful, she had little time for those with less.


Adam found the only way to get through the evening was to watch Dinah as she subtly insulted and snubbed many of their guests without them even noticing; some of them people he had cordially disliked for a long time. He carried his part of with considerable suavity, just too remote for anyone to dare say anything to him directly. He saw contempt in too many eyes but he ignored that, he found it harder to ignore the envy and the almost jovial hints dropped by men he knew to have had mistresses themselves, especially Jim Fair.  Certainly Dinah looked very beautiful and he could see the lust in many men’s eyes and the envy of his position. Dinah enjoyed being the focus of attention even if Adam didn’t. For Adam the party seemed to last forever, he played his part well but only a little of his brain was engaged, all too much of it free to worry about his beloved wife and kids.


It was nearly 1 a.m. before the last guest left and even then Dinah expected Adam to take her to bed, Adam forced himself to perform but luckily she was tired after two busy days and quickly fell asleep. Adam immediately got up, dressed and slipped out. He collected Blackie and pushed hard for his own home.


It was gone 4 a.m. before he reached home and slipped into his own house first. There were no lights on and he checked the nursery first, David, Johnny and Adam were all sleeping peacefully and for a moment Adam stared down at them. Then he kissed his son tucking the blanket a little tighter before slipping out again. He assumed from what Doc had said that all the sick were together, probably in Joe’s house and he went over there.


There was a light on the landing and several doors were ajar. His father heard him on the stairs and came out to see who it was. If he was surprised to see his eldest son he didn’t show it. “Carole’s in the end room, the children in here.” Then he moved aside to let Adam in. Adam knelt down by his youngest daughter’s cot. She was burning up and very restless but as those so familiar arms held her she calmed down a little. Adam picked up the bottle that his father had been trying to feed her and offered it to his daughter. With her safe in his arms, he went over to Mark and Marie. Both of them were feverish but not as bad as Anne, He kissed them both and only than turned to face his father.


Ben could see the ravages of emotion on his eldest son’s face, the long delay in coming to his children had cost him dearly. Adam asked “What does Doc say?”


Ben smiled “He thinks they will be fine. Says kids often have a high fever, but it goes down as quickly as it comes up. They are all strong and will be fine.”


Adam didn’t look at all convinced and bent his head over his young daughter, “Carole?”


“Why not go and see her for yourself? She’s much the same as Sue and Nita, miserable for now and worried about the children but she’ll be fine.”


Adam shook his head, “I won’t disturb her Pa.” He had somehow got to keep up the masquerade however hard it was. He bent over Anne who was at least feeding quietly and that would give her strength.


Ben gripped his son’s shoulders, feeling the tension in him “I’m glad you’ve come Adam.”


“I told Joe that I would when I could. I hope I didn’t hurt him too much.”


“A good black eye but that’s about it.”


“Yeah well he got a few good ones in too.”


“Will you stay Adam?”


“I can’t Pa. I must get back to town by daylight, but please look after my children.”


“You should know that you don’t even have to ask that.”


“I do care Pa, it’s just circumstances.”

“I guess you’ll explain when you can.” Ben said slowly, “You’re still my son and when you want help I’ll be here. I’ll take care of everyone.”


Ben watched as Adam changed his daughter and settled her down to rest, more comfortably. Then Adam gently wiped down both Marie and Mark, wrapped them up warmly, before kissing each in turn. He got to his feet “I must go Pa. I’ll try and get back tonight but....”

Ben could see the agony of mind clear on his son’s face as Adam tore himself away from all he loved to return to town. For the first time Ben became totally convinced that whatever was going on, it was more than marital rows and a mistress. He knew the depths of Adam’s feelings for his children and no mistress, however seductive, would be able to pull him away from them. Ben couldn’t imagine what was going on but he could only wait for Adam to enlighten him when he was ready.


Adam pushed hard on the way back to town, all too aware that he had stayed too long and ran the risk of being seen in town. Luckily Dick was awake and he took Blackie allowing Adam to slip through the alleys and in through the kitchens. Only the early workers were in, and all of them were Chinese and with one word he could be confident that they would keep his secret. One of them showed him up the back stairs and he slipped into Dinah’s suite unseen. Swiftly he stripped and crawled back into bed in near exhaustion.


Dinah had stirred as he’d left and somehow she senses the emptiness of the room and knew that she was alone. She had only dozed since and woke as he returned but not wanting to cause a row, she pretended to be asleep as he got in next to her.


Adam was very cold when he got into bed, more from his exhaustion than from the cold night but within two hours he was sweating freely, his temperature rising rapidly. Dinah woke again as he tossed restlessly and feeling his forehead soon realised that he was very feverish. She got up and got dressed, whatever else she was Dinah was no coward, but she didn’t know much about illness and she was worried.


Dinah got some cold water and washed his face before persuading him to drink a little water. Her attempts to help proved successful and Adam’s eyes flickered open. He forced himself to sit up “I must get up.”


“No you’re not going anywhere, you have the flu.”


“I can’t.”


“Don’t be silly Adam, you’re ill, I’ve sent for the Doctor and you have to stay in bed at least until he has been.”




Dinah shushed him and kissed his forehead, “Here drink this. I’m sure you must be thirsty sweating like that.”


“If you stay here, you’ll catch it.”


“I’m not worried Adam, I never get ill.”


“Neither do I.” Adam said ruefully, “Not usually.” He felt far too weak to move and closed his eyes against the bright light, every joint in his body ached and he felt sick and ill.

Doc came over half an hour later. He confirmed Adam had flu as he had warned and very run down, he’d taken it badly. He banished Dinah from the room while he examined Adam but found his patient interested in only one thing, how seriously ill were his children and would they recover. Doc was able to give him a reasonably optimistic report, they were strong and this particular version of flu, although very contagious was not proving fatal, even amongst young children. Adam studied Doc’s face but slowly relaxed, he had always believed he could trust Paul and would do so now.


Doc was in fact more worried about Adam than he was about his children, Adam had had pneumonia before which had left a slight weakness and he could hear slight sounds of congestion already. Worn down by the events and the lack of sleep of the last few weeks Adam had taken it badly. He gave Adam some quinine and told him to drink as much willow bark tea as he could and otherwise to rest.


Then he went out into the outer room where Dinah was waiting. He hesitated for a minute but Dinah offered coffee so Paul sat down. Doc sipped his coffee and considered her, wondering if there was anything behind the beautiful face. Eventually he said, “Adam has this flu that is doing the rounds. It is very contagious. I can arrange nursing at the hospital.”


“No I’ll look after him.”


“You could catch it too.”


“If I do then you can take both of us to your hospital, but I don’t usually catch things. Tell me what to do and I’ll tend him.”


“He has taken it badly, he must be kept quiet, use cold compresses to try and keep the fever down and get him to drink plenty of fluids. Willow bark tea for the fever and water, milk if he can take it. Don’t let him out of bed. I know Adam and he is a bad patient always trying to deny his illness and do more than he should.”


“I’ll look after him Doctor.” Doc stared at her reading the real worry and compassion beneath her more usual look. “Alright Lady Dinah. If you have any cause for concern, let me know. He’s a very good friend of mine.”


“Certainly Doctor and thank you. He will recover?”


“Oh yes Adam is strong. He has survived many things that would have killed most men, but I’ll pop in tomorrow morning and you can call me before if you are worried.” Doc got to his feet and glanced in again on Adam. Adam was breathing rather harshly so Doc went over and slipped a couple of pillows behind him to raise him up and aid his breathing. Adam had begged Doc not to say anything to his family, convinced that if they knew he was ill they would take him home and he was in no state to stop it. He was so scared just how Hearst might interpret it. Doc bent over to him before he left, “You have my word Adam, your children will be fine and I won’t tell anyone that you’re ill.”


Adam forced a smile, “Thanks.”


“I’ll be back tomorrow and I’ll check your family first, on condition that you rest, drink all you can and try to sleep.”


“I’ll be good.” Adam promised, if he was honest with himself sleep was all that he wanted. If he opened his eyes and lifted his head the room swayed round him and he ached far too much to move willingly.


Throughout the day Dinah nursed him, as his fever steadily mounted, this man had come closer to touching her heart than any man she had ever met. She felt the tension in him as she nursed him, Adam was near to delirium and all too aware of all the things that mustn’t be said. That combined with his fear for his wife and children, his brother and their wives, prevented him relaxing into sleep.


As the afternoon wore on Adam’s fever steadily mounted despite the cold compresses and the tea Dinah managed to get down him and slowly even his iron will gave way and he began muttering in delirium.  At first he spoke of his children but as the night drew on he lost all touch with reality. Dinah couldn’t make much sense of what he said but she did pick up the overall trend of his thoughts, his fear for his family and his love of them. She slowly came to understand that while she thought she had been using him, he had in fact been using her. For a short time she was furious but slowly she began to see the funny side. She had even more respect for him as she realised just how cleverly he had used her and she compared him with the men who had hired her, the scales were very heavily weighed in Adam’s favour. She knew that she couldn’t let him down and admitted to herself that she had fallen in love with him, not as many women seemed to do but perhaps as deeply as she was capable.


All she could do for Adam was to try and hold him quiet, use the cold compresses and he was getting more and more restless. She was close to sending for Doc again when finally Adam fell into a restless sleep.


Meanwhile at the ranch Ben had been able to cheer up both Carole and his sons with news of Adam’s late night visit. They were all kept busy with the victims of the flu, even with Aleysha’s help.  At least none of them were any worse. Nita and Sue were beginning to show signs of recovery, able to eat a little broth, their temperatures dropping. The children seemed hungry, despite the fever and Joe decided that if they wanted food it would give them strength and so he fed them. He was thankful that his brother had come home to see them, even if only on a flying visit. He had no idea that his brother was the latest victim of the flu, Adam had become so used to shielding his mind from his family, he was still doing it as he fought against revealing thing better kept secret.


Adam had slept for a couple of hours but then he was tossing around very restlessly and Dinah had a job to hold him still. The flu had reacted on his chest and his breathing was harsh and painful. Dinah was very worried but Doc had promised to come back so she decided to wait. As dawn broke Adam opened his eyes. He was aware he had been talking but not what he’d said. He knew there was so much to do that he forced himself to try and sit up but the room swayed round him.


Dinah moved quickly to support him, “Take it easy Adam you have to rest.”


“I’m alright.”


“No you’re not, you’re burning up. Drink this.” She helped him to sip some tea and then she bathed his face. ”Try and rest, you’ve been very restless all night.”


“I was talking.”


“Yes from time to time but you didn’t make much sense, don’t worry about it.”


Adam relaxed a little and had a drink of water. He kept thinking of all the things that needed doing but he couldn’t even focus so it was a waste of time to try. He let Dinah settle him back on his pillow and she sponged him down which made him feel slightly better. He rested more easily but wouldn’t give in and go to sleep, scared he might again drift into delirium and very worried about his family, he had all too much time to think.


It was after lunch before Doc came back to the hotel. He had been out to the ranch to find all his patients on the mend. Anne was very fretful but he wasn’t seriously worried even about her. She had always been a self-opinionated little madam, and not feeling well was very vociferous in letting everyone round her know it. Marie and Mark were both on the mend although still aching and restless and the three women improving. Hoss was feeling much better and had even insisted on getting up, although just sitting by the fire. He kept his word to Adam and let no hint of his illness drop.


Ben had been disappointed and more than a little surprised when Adam hadn’t reappeared the previous night, He was convinced that his son was up to something and asked Paul if he saw anything of Adam. Paul didn’t like that turn of events and was evasive, “On occasion, if I see him I’ll tell him that everyone is on the mend.”


“How about Anne?”


“That little madam will make everyone’s life a misery for a few days yet until she feels better and has her own mother back, but she’s on the mend. No need to worry.”


“Thank God for that.” Ben smiled with heartfelt relief; she had seemed so small and weak.


“I must get back to town Ben. You look as though a rest this afternoon might make you feel brighter. Don’t wear yourself out or you’ll be the next victim.”


“I’ll be careful.”


“No need for me to come back unless you’ve any cause for concern. You know as well as I do how to nurse convalescents. Send word if anything worries you.”


“Sure and thanks Paul.”


When Paul arrived at the hotel, Dinah explained why she was so worried, her patient so restless, delirious, his breathing harsh and painful. Doc promised to talk to her before he left but first he had to examine Adam. He found Adam wasn’t showing any signs of recovery, indeed he was far weaker and if anything his fever was higher than the previous day. At least for now Adam was in his right mind and Doc was able to give him reassuring news about his family. For Adam the best news was that Doc didn’t feel the need to go out again. It cut him off from news but at least it meant he didn’t need to worry. If there had been the slightest reason Doc would have continued his daily visits, the Cartwrights were his oldest friends. Adam relaxed a little at that which eased his breathing a little but it was still ragged.

Doc examined him and then sat back very stern, “You take any risks at all Adam and this is going to develop into pneumonia and you know what that means.”


All too aware of the crucial work awaiting him over the next weeks Adam promised faithfully to obey all Doc’s orders. Then he asked “Is there any chance of getting someone in to relieve Lady Dinah overnight? She insists I need nursing all the time and she’s going to make herself ill.”


Doc frowned, “With so many people ill it will be difficult.” Then as he took in Adam’s expression he asked “What is the real reason Adam?”


“I think I was delirious last night, talking. Di said that I wasn’t making sense but I’m scared to sleep in case I start talking again. Too many things mustn’t be said.”


“You have to get some sleep Adam, it’s the best, just about the only, cure.”


“I know but.....” Adam couldn’t explain but at the thought his breathing became far worse. Doc bathed his forehead and gave him a dose of laudanum. “Try and relax Adam. I’ll find someone you can trust. You rest now.”


It was all that Adam felt fit for and with the drug he did doze off, but Doc knew it wouldn’t hold him for long. Doc went out to join Lady Dinah “He’s taken it as badly as anyone in town. It will be a couple of days yet before he begins to mend. You can’t cope on your own or you’ll be our next victim. I’ll have the hotel bring a separate bed for in here and I’ll send a nurse to take over during the night.”


Dinah was very tired after a night without sleep and made no protest at that. She took it for granted that a nurse could be found for an important man like Adam Cartwright, no matter how many sick there were in town.


Doc was more worried just where he could find an available nurse, but he knew he had to. He knew Adam’s iron will, he’d seen it demonstrated all too clearly as Adam fought for his youngest daughter. Adam was quite capable of fighting off sleep, for fear of saying anything, long enough to end up critically ill. The only trouble was finding someone to help.


Doc was about to head over to the hospital when Jess came over to him. Dick had thought that Adam looked terrible when he came back from visiting his children and as Adam hadn’t reappeared since, he wondered if he was ill and had told Jess. Jess asked “Doc, have you seen Adam?”




Jess shrugged “Just that I wondered if he was alright. Didn’t look too good last time I saw him.”


Doc still hesitated and Jess tried again, “We’re very close friends Doc and sometimes he’d want me to know, even if his family isn’t to be worried.”


Doc considered the young rancher and the intense anxiety he showed and decided to risk it. “You’re right Adam has this flu and he’s taken it badly.”


Jess sighed “Guess it’s hardly surprising, he’s been on mighty short rations of sleep for weeks now. Where is he?”


“Lady Dinah is nursing him in her suite.”


Jess showed near panic at that and Doc guessed that Jess had a clearer idea of what was going on than he did himself. Doc added, “Adam’s been verging on delirium and he’s scared of giving away more than he wants. He’s asked me to find him a nurse overnight but it’s difficult with so many people sick.”


Jess was very insistent. “You have to help Doc. I can’t explain but it could literally be a case of life or death. I’d do it or get Liza to, but it would be far better if we can keep out if it. Please Doc you can’t imagine how important it is.”


“Take it easy Jess. I don’t know what going on and I don’t want to, but I’ll do what Adam asked. Whatever he’s up to it’s costing enough anyway.”


“Thanks Doc. I only wish I could help more but ....”


“There’s one thing you can do. Carole and all the kids except David have flu. Adam is far more worried about them than himself, even though he’s taken it the worst. I’ve been going out to the ranch and reporting back to him but they don’t need me anymore. If I go out again I’m just going to worry Ben and the others but that means Adam can’t get any news. You could drop by and check on them. Let me know and I can tell Adam. One advantage of being a doctor, I can order everyone else out and get privacy.”


Jess gripped Doc’s hand, “Of course I will and thanks Doc, I can’t explain but Adam needs every friend he has just now.”


“I’ll get Sister Cecily to look after him, she’ll keep everything quiet and I’ll help when I can.”


“Thanks Doc.”


Carole knew that Adam had been once to see the children but not her. She could understand why, with his father there and even in her head understand why he hadn’t been back. However weakened and depressed by flu she found it hard to accept, not having any idea that he was ill.  When Adam cut himself off from his family it affected her too. She found herself snapping at Aleysha and her family when they were only trying to help and to look after her. She apologized to Joe after nearly snapping his head off and Joe sat down on the bed and took her in his arms. “Don’t be silly Carole I’ve had flu, I know just how depressed and irritable it leaves you feeling. It doesn’t matter, my shoulders are broad.”


Carole relaxed in his arms, very fond of her brother-in-law but she couldn’t help wishing it was her own strong husband.


Adam forced himself to keep control all day, not daring even to doze and Dinah was well aware of the tension in him which she couldn’t ease. He was still burning up but meekly took all the fluids she offered, resting with his eyes closed against the light but awake. Adam found it hard to think of anything except his children and Carole, even the court case faded into insignificance in comparison. It seemed a very long time before night drew in and Doc reappeared with Sister Cecily. Adam watched them as they came in and it was a real effort not to allow the relaxation to show as he realised he could finally give in and sleep.


Doc came over and felt Adam’s pulse “A dose of laudanum and a long sleep for you Adam.” he gave Adam the drink and then suggested he settle down, Doc had already introduced Lady Dinah to Sister Cecily and the little old nun had just accepted Dinah, neither condemning nor condoning. Dinah was tired, unused to the heavy work of nursing and she was pleased to leave Sister Cecily to cope and get some sleep,

Sister Cecily expertly remade Adam’s bed after sponging him down and Adam settled back more comfortable and relaxed just to know he could sleep. The sister bent over him. “You sleep now, anything you say will be as safe as if it were in the confessional.”


“I’m sorry I dragged you out but ....”


She wiped his forehead “We owe you and your family a lot more than a little nursing.”


“My family mustn’t ....”


“Sleep Adam. I told you nothing goes any further.” Adam accepted that and almost as soon as he gave in he was asleep thoroughly overtired and weak. He did talk in his sleep once or twice but wasn’t quite so restless and got some good from his sleep. He felt rather more human in the morning, but when Doc came to collect Sister Cecily he made Adam promise not to attempt to move from his bed for at least a couple of days. He warned Adam that if he pushed too hard now, he would spend at least a couple of weeks flat on his back. Adam had to accept Doc was talking sense and for once in his life he promised to obey.


Dinah was up and she brought in her breakfast to join Adam. He still couldn’t face any food but drank some milk. She thought he looked rather better, not as feverish although still running a temperature. Doc had been reassuring and promised that Sister Cecily would nurse overnight again so she was able to put her best efforts into tending him during the day. Surprise at herself just how much she was capable of doing and perhaps even more that she was enjoying looking after him. Adam relaxed and let her look after him, even enjoying some of her caustic comment about the town personalities. He even felt confident enough that he dozed from time to time.


Doc hadn’t intended going out to the Ponderosa again but late in the afternoon Ben got worried and called Joe and Aleysha in to look at Marie Joe took the little girl in his arms and offered her some milk but fretfully she pushed it away and when it spilt, she began to cry. Joe slowly calmed her down feeling the increased fever in her again. Slowly he persuaded her to open her mouth and saw what his father meant, her throat was very inflamed. Joe gently settled the little girl back in bed and Aleysha looked after her. Ben and Joe left her to cope and went out. Joe sighed “I don’t know I guess we’d better call Doc back. It may be nothing serious.”


Then to their horror Carole came out of her room. Still weak enough to need the support of the wall “What’s wrong?”


Ben moved swiftly to support her “You should be in bed.”


“My children?”


Ben held her close “Easy Carole. Marie has a slightly inflamed throat that’s all. We were thinking of getting Doc, just to be on the safe side.”


Carole pulled away from him and ran into Marie. Joe followed and found her shaking having had a look at her daughter’s throat. Joe was sure that she was just going to upset the children and he picked her up and took her back to bed. By the time he reached it Carole was clinging to him hysterically, she was convinced that Marie had diphtheria and that she was going to lose her eldest daughter. Weak and ill she desperately wanted her husband and in her hysteria she cried out for Adam. Hoss hurried in from Sue’s room, worried by what he’d heard just as Ben had to slap her face to make her snap out of her hysterical sobbing. Carole clung to Joe, still crying but more naturally, and Hoss stared at them in horror, “Pa what’s wrong now?”


“Marie has a very sore throat, temperature up again; send someone for Doc will you.”


“Sure.” Hoss hesitated scared by what he’d heard, “Is it?”


Joe looked up “Take it easy Hoss. It’s not diphtheria I’m sure. I got too familiar with it to be wrong. Plenty of things give a sore throat.” He smiled and kissed Carole’s forehead “Flu leaves you depressed ready to think the worst but that don’t make it true.”


Hoss turned out to find Kam Ling and send him to tell Doc that he was needed again. Carole slowly calmed down a little and Joe persuaded her to drink some milk which Ben had laced with laudanum. His daughter was too weak to get herself in such state. Joe stayed with her until she slept and then went to join his father and brother. Marie was still very restless but Aleysha insisted that she could cope and suggested the three men went and got something to eat and check with Hop Sing who was looking after the three fit children.


Ben accepted the sense of that, worried about his big son, who still didn’t look very well despite being up and dressed. He could see the signs of strain on both his sons’ faces and he led the way into the dining room where Pak Tsien had food ready. For a few minutes the men ate in silence but then Joe pushed his plate away, still half full. Anger was very clear on his face and alone with his father and brother he could no longer hide it. “What the hell is Adam playing at? He knows the children are ill and Carole, yet all he does is one flying visit for half an hour. He should be here. I don’t care what arguments there have been, what reasons he has. Carole and those children need him.”


Ben sat back “Joseph try thinking. You know as well as I do, how much Adam’s children mean to him. You watched him nearly kill himself to keep Anne alive.”


“I know Pa that’s why I’m half coming round to Hoss’ idea.” Joe looked very bleak “The only explanation I can see is that he’s going mad.”


Ben shook his head, “He was sane enough when he was here. I don’t know why he had to go so quickly but he had reasons he thought sufficient. He was just about tearing himself apart having to leave them; that was very clear. Whatever the reason for his behaviour, it’s more than a breakdown of his marriage and a mistress.”


Joe shrugged “Easy to say but what?”


“For some reason Adam doesn’t want us to know but I’m totally convinced he’s up to something and when the time is ripe he’ll tell us and come back to us.”


Joe looked at his brother, “I’d like to believe that but I’m not sure. What do you think Hoss?”


“Sue thought much the same all along, now Pa agrees with her, guess I’m coming round to their way of thinking.”


Joe wasn’t at all sure. “Whatever the reason surely he could at least visit his own children when they are sick. Why doesn’t he?”


Ben shrugged “I don’t know Joseph but I do know that if there was any possible way to be here he would and that it’s tearing him apart not to be.”


Joe still unconvinced and thoroughly overtired didn’t even want coffee. Instead he went over to his brother’s house to see his own son, Adam’s namesake. He held his son and let him play with his father’s curly hair. Joe wandered into Adam’s study and stared up at the picture of the lake. That picture meant so much to Adam the spot where he’d buried both friends, step-mother, sister and his own daughter. Joe remembered that Adam had taken it with him when they travelled round Europe, remembered so many occasions when he’d been with Adam up by the Lake, some sad but many joyous. Those memories seemed to crystallise Joe’s thought and he talked to his young son “If big brother ain’t mad and I guess Pa should know, then he plans to come back. He wouldn’t leave this picture if he was going away, he’d need at least that much of the ranch. So if he plans to come back then Pa’s right and he’s up to something.” Ben had followed Joe over and he heard his son’s words, glad to see Joe visibly relaxing. Joe sensed his approach and he met his father’s gaze over his son’s head. “Okay so big brother is up to some ploy of his own. I can’t even begin to imagine what could lead him to act the way he has.”


“Neither can I Joseph, but unless I’m sadly mistaken we shouldn’t have too long to wait, Whatever he’s up to has been taking its toll. I doubt he can keep it up much longer.”


Before they could discuss it further they had a visitor as Jess rode into the yard. He tied up his horse and came over to Adam’s house, unsure who was around or where. Joe went to let him in, “Hi Jess come and have some coffee.”


“Joe. I don’t suppose Adam’s around?”


“No he’s in town.” Joe busied himself pouring coffee not wanting even such a good friend as Jess to see the family dissension.


“I heard that you had flu, so I came by to see if there’s anything Liza or I can do to help.”


Ben moved forward “That’s kind of you Jess but we are just about under control. The patients are all beginning to recover apart from Marie who has picked up a sore throat on top of her flu.”


“How about my god-daughter?”


“She’s recovering well, bemoaning her fate because she’s still uncomfortable but she’ll be just fine.” Ben hesitated “Do you see much of Adam at the moment?”


Jess shook his head, “Occasionally when I’m in town we’ll have a drink but....” he turned away to the window, scared Ben would read more than he wanted from his face. “He has a lot on his mind.” Jess bit his tongue, even as he spoke but he couldn’t help defending his friend even to his own family.


Jess changed the subject asking after Sue and Nita but with all three girls still in bed there was no way he could ask to see Carole. At least the news seemed fairly reassuring but with nothing he could do to help Jess didn’t stay long.


As he rode out Ben frowned “What did you make of that Joe?”


“Just come to try and help, he’s a good friend.”

“But he knew Adam wouldn’t be here.”


“So what? He’d help Carole equally willingly. I think you’re imagining things,”


“Maybe but I got the impression Jess knows more than we do.”


“That wouldn’t be difficult Pa, we don’t know anything! In fact I guess its likely if Adam is up to something and this is all an act, he must need some help and Jess is his best friend. By the same token if Jess knows he’ll never say until Adam gives him leave.”


Ben accepted that and headed back to Joe’s study to try and clear some work before Doc arrived. With so much upset and illness he was finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate on the routine work but with Adam doing no more than the minimum of financial and legal work, the normal running of the ranch fell heavily on the rest of them


Doc was surprised to get their message but he headed out for the ranch as soon as he could. He prayed it was nothing serious, his old friends already had enough troubles. He went to Joe’s house and as he let himself in Ben came out of the study and Joe in from the kitchen.

Ben said “I’m sorry to drag you out again Doc but Marie has a very sore throat, her temperature up again. Carole is convinced it’s diphtheria, despite anything we can say and she’s been hysterical at the idea. She’s just not well enough for it.”


“That’s okay Ben I told you to call me back if you were worried. Let’s have a look at the little girl.”


Ben led the way up to the children and Doc sat down by a fretful Marie. Carole had heard his voice and despite legs that really didn’t want to work she forced herself along the corridor to her children. Joe was the first to spot her and he moved swiftly across to help her over to a chair, staying by her, his arm protectively round her shoulder. He could feel the tension in him as she watched Doc.


Doc persuaded Marie to show him her tongue and he felt her glands which were swollen. Then he smiled reassuringly at Carole. “Take it easy young lady. Its certainly not diphtheria. In fact she has tonsillitis on top of her flu. No wonder she’s fretful but it isn’t serious.”


Carole stared at him as though she could read the future on his face and slowly relaxed, he had never lied to her and wouldn’t now. Seeing that Doc turned to Ben to give him details on how to treat Marie. He suggested trying to get her to gargle with salt water, plenty of fluids, rest and in a few days she’d be far better. Then he turned his attention to Carole “Joe why don’t you carry Carole back to bed.”


Hoss moved forward and lifted his sister, “I’ll do it. Come on Carole lets get you back to bed.”


Doc shooed them all out once Carole was in bed, saying he wanted to examine her. However once they’d gone he just sat on the bed and took her hand, “Try and relax young lady. You need sleep and rest more than anything else. I promise you have nothing to worry about, all the kids will be bouncing around by the end of the week.”


“I’m alright.”


“Sure you are Carole but you have been under a lot of strain recently. It’s taken its toll.”


“I don’t know what you mean.”


“I think you do but you must rest.” Doc bit his lip unsure whether to tell Carole that her husband was ill or not. He had promised Adam not to tell his family but his instinct told him that Adam didn’t mean to include his wife. He knew Carole very well and was fond of her; sure she would never let her husband down. He made his decision “Carole I have something to tell you but it must be kept just between us.”


Carole looked puzzled, “What do you mean?”


“It’s about Adam. Your husband is just like you in bed with flu. That’s why he hasn’t made it back to see you and the children.”


Alarm flared on her face “How bad is he?”


Doc read the answer to his main question on her face. She was still very much in love with her husband. “Easy Carole he’s like you, sore and uncomfortable, weak and still a little feverish. A couple of days behind you.”


“Can you see him Doc?”


“Of course I can. One advantage of being a Doctor is that I can throw everyone out to examine my patient.”


“Will you tell him that the children and I will be fine in a few days? Tell him to please rest and recover, not to try and work, it can wait and lastly tell him I love him very much.”


“Of course I will young lady and I think you know that he loves you and the children very much.”


“Yes I know Doc. Remind him that it won’t be for long now.”


“I hope that’s true Carole. Seems to me not only you two but the whole family have paid a heavy price these last weeks.”


“I know Doc but not nearly as high as it could have been. Just tell Adam what I said.” As Doc nodded she said, “You’re sure he will be alright?”


“Positive so don’t you start worrying again.” In fact Carole felt much better just to know why Adam hadn’t been round.


Doc made Adam his first call back in town and delivered Carole’s message. Adam was relieved to hear from her and to know that she understood why he hadn’t been able to get back. Doc’s news and Sister Cecily’s presence allowed him to relax and have a good night’s sleep. In fact he slept through until nearly ten the nest day, the longest sleep he’d had since he was first warned of the land grant. He finally woke up headachy from the long deep sleep but his fever was down. Sister Cecily had had to go but she knew he was no longer feverish and left with a clear conscience.


At the house Carole had relaxed enough to sleep well and felt the benefit of it and both Sue and Nita had insisted they were well enough to come downstairs. Joe and Hoss relaxed seeing their wives downstairs and tending their own sons, even if Aleysha and Pak Tsien were hovering ready to help at the first sign of overtiredness. The atmosphere was less tense than it had been for a long tie and after lunch when the girls had gone back to bed for a nap, Ben commented on it.


Hoss nodded “I think I know why but I ain’t sure how.”


Joe frowned “That don’t make sense big brother.”


“It does Joe. We’ve relaxed because somehow we’ve come to the conclusion Adam’s gonna come back, just as normal, sometime. What I don’t know is how I’ve come to that conclusion. I just know its how I feel. He ain’t mad or anything and he’ll be back.”


Joe nodded “I agree I’ve begun to think the same which is weird when you think about it. He’s acting even more out of character, not coming to his children when they’re ill. I’ve seen him too often so desperately worried about them, forgetting his own needs totally in their’s.”

Ben poured out three brandies “But that is exactly why we feel this way Joe. We could accept marital rows and a mistress, just. It was always unlikely but it was happening and so we had to accept it, look for reasons. This is just impossible on the facts as we know them your brother would be here, tending his own children. I saw him and I know how much it cost him to pull away and go back to town. No woman, no matter how infatuated he was, would have been enough. He wouldn’t even have gone to Carole, much as he loves her, unless she was seriously ill if it meant leaving his kids. But he did it. There has to be a reason, something we don’t know and if it is sufficient to explain him leaving the children, equally it will explain everything else he has done these last few weeks.”


Hoss nodded “That makes sense Pa, but why won’t he tell us, work it out together like always.”


“I don’t know Hoss. I can’t begin to imagine what’s wrong but we can only wait for Adam to tell us in his own good time.” The brothers accepted that and felt more at ease over the whole situation than they had in weeks, able to concentrate on the outstanding ranch work.

Ben was still determined that Hoss took it quietly; although Hoss seemed to have thrown off the flu very quickly Ben didn’t want his big son relapsing. Hoss wanted to get back to the West Shore but Ben insisted that he leave it for another couple of days, the men would cope. Joe knew that it was past time he took a ride round the ranch and collect reports on their far flung operations and with the girls so much better he was prepared to go. The three men settled down to plant the next few weeks work in detail.


Dinah had just finished her breakfast when Adam finally stirred. She took him over coffee, glad to see his temperature was down. He felt cool and his eyes were much brighter. Adam hitched himself up on his pillows and gratefully accepted the cup. He was still weak enough for the room to tend to swim around him as he moved but at least he was able to hide it now and his joints didn’t ache nearly as much. Two more cups of coffee later he was even able to face some food.


Dinah was thankful to see him brighter but didn’t realize just how much of it was an act. She was determined to sort things out with Adam, she had found her feelings for him clarifying as she nursed him and she knew that no other man had touched her heart quite this way. She couldn’t face going on with lies between them. Once Adam had finished eating and refused more coffee she fixed his pillows and then sat down on the bed. “Adam where did you go when you slipped out at night?”


The question out of the blue hit Adam hard, far weaker than he was pretending; he lost all trace of colour and could only stammer “I don’t know what you mean.”

Having started Dinah could only plough ahead. “That last night after the party, you made very perfunctory love to me with your mind elsewhere and then slipped away for hours, coming back weak and ill.”


Adam licked his lips but stuck to the truth, “I’d heard my children were ill, all but my oldest son. So I went to see them.”


She seemed to accept that “Mmm I see.” Adam began to relax but far too soon. She smiled “That only covers the last occasion, how about the other night’s you slipped out for three or four hours. Where did you go?”


Adam stared at her in horror, wondering how much Hearst, Troy and the others knew, scared he had compromised his family. Then his bodily weakness took over and he fell sideways off his pillow in a dead faint.


Dinah was petrified at that and hastily got a damp cloth and wiped his face. Then she tried to force a little brandy into him but it was several minutes before her efforts were rewarded with any success and his eyes flickered open. Dinah kissed him gently “Easy Adam don’t try and talk.” She fed him some brandy and slowly Adam got control of himself.


Dinah was proposing to leave their discussion until he was stronger but she had gone too far for that and Adam grabbed her wrist with surprising strength. “You’re not going anywhere until you’ve told me exactly what you know and who you’ve told.”


Dinah could see the near desperation in his eye as he fought for the strength to cope with this new complication. Adam felt as though his head was in a steel band and he couldn’t think straight, but somehow he had to or one of the children might pay the penalty for his failure. He did his best to ignore the nausea churning up his inside and forced himself to concentrate and somehow outwit her.


Dinah felt more affection and compassion for him in that moment than she ever had for anyone else in her life and she was determined to help him. She smiled “I promise I won’t run away, but let me go. I think we could both do with another drink. Then I’ll tell you all that I know and what I’ve guessed.”


Adam let her go, physically he wasn’t in a state to do anything else, and if she wanted to she could beat him with one hand tied behind her back just at the moment. Dinah kept her word and brought over fresh coffee laced with brandy. She knew that she was only buying time as she tried to think how to explain to Adam what she believed and why she was effectively changing sides.


Dinah sat down on the bed and took his hand, “Try and take it easy Adam I promise there’s nothing to worry about and I haven’t told anyone anything. I didn’t realize quite how weak you are or I’d have left this for a few days.”


“You can’t leave it now.” Adam protested with an effort, his breathing harsh again with the tension.


“Just listen to me and try not to worry.” Dinah insisted. “I knew you had been out at night, although not where, I guessed at poker games and drink but I know now that I was wrong. I said that when you were delirious that first night that you didn’t make sense and in many ways that was true. But you said enough for me to know that while I thought I was using you, in fact the reverse was true.”

She broke off, seeing the near panic clear on his face and hastily fed him more brandy. “I told you to relax. Let me try to explain and then you can have your say.” She bit her lip “Maybe I ought to try and explain myself first. You see I don’t fit in. I like....” she sighed “I need sex but I don’t like men.”


Adam frowned, very confused, wondering what she was on about. Dinah smiled a little ruefully, “According to men women come in two categories. Sisters, mothers and wives, or those fit to be wives and they are chaste obedient and quiet, putting up with the sexual act in

order to bear an heir for their master. The other category are those women you have fun with, mistresses who enjoy sex, but whom you don’t respect. My problem is being born into the first category but by temperament fitting into the second. It’s funny but in this world a man who enjoys sex and is good at it is a bit of a rake and quite admired. A woman who is designed the same way by nature is beyond the pale, and even those men who enjoy her favours despise her. My God I learnt early that this is a man’s world.” She smiled down at Adam “I know you’re wondering what that has to do with anything. Well its the reason that I came in the first place and the reason I have in a way changed sides.”


She fetched fresh coffee “To keep to chronological order. I had become just a shade too daring, caused a little too much scandal and my loving parents decided that I’d be better out of London, or preferably out of the country. They were only prepared to pay my expenses if I promised to mend my ways. I hated that kind of dependence on anyone and I wouldn’t accept the rich old merchant prepared to forget the scandal for the sake of my title and to ally himself with one of the grand families. I was nearly desperate when this offer came up. Enough money invested sensibly to keep me near enough independent for life and all I had to do was to become the mistress of a man, I was assured was fairly personable. Not exactly a new role for me and I was told that if I achieved that I would be sufficient distraction to let them win an important court case. I was told that you were a lawyer and if I could separate you from your family that would be enough. I wasn’t given many other details and even now I don’t know what the case is about, but I have a shrewd suspicion that you do.” She broke off and studied Adam’s face but she couldn’t read anything in it and he simply said “Go on.”

“Well I came west as planned and I was warned that you were clever but I have usually found it easy to outwit even supposedly clever men. I guess I underestimated you but one thing was true. You were very attractive. I found it easier than I expected to make you my lover and an excellent lover you are, fun to be with too. I preened myself that I had played my part well, done exactly what was required. My employers were delighted with me and my independence seemed assured.”


“So what changed?”


“The very last thing that I expected. You didn’t treat me like dirt as so many men had done once they had their way with me. You acted as though you enjoyed being with me as a person, irrespective of sex. To my own surprise I came to like you, even to grow fond of you. I think that’s why when I first noticed you disappearing at night I didn’t say anything. I explained it away to myself that you had a reputation as a very heavy drinker and gambler and you had probably gone to a saloon.”


“Why are you telling me now?”


“Over the last few days I’ve realized just how fond I have grown of you. I won’t say I’m in love with you Adam because compared to many women I don’t think I feel the same emotions, but you are the first person for a long time who has come to matter to me and probably the only man. I listened to your ramblings in delirium and one thing was very clear. You are deeply in love with your wife and you love your children and the rest of your family almost equally. I finally came to realise that while I thought I was using you, in fact it was the other way round. It was a long night and I had plenty of time to think, compare you with the men who brought me here. They didn’t compare very favourably and I knew I couldn’t betray you. You’d beaten me, outwitted me fairly and I couldn’t take advantage of what you revealed in delirium.”


Adam didn’t answer, wishing he felt better and could think more clearly, unsure whether she was in earnest or if this was another form of trick. For a minute he was evasive. “Just what are you suggesting Dinah, I’m not sure I understand.”


“I think you understand very well Adam but you’re just not sure if you can trust me or if this is some sort of test. I think you knew about the last one, when I sent for you, dunned for money and without any.”


“If that’s true how are you going to prove I’m wrong?”


“I don’t know that I can but I’m not asking you to tell me anything. I’ll tell you what I have done and what I have come to believe is your position in all this. You can confirm it or deny it, or just say nothing. Either way I give you my word, what passes between us and what I have come to believe will not leave this room.”


Adam relaxed a little against his pillow and drank some coffee, watching her face closely and with growing interest.  She hesitated, unsure whether to name the men but eventually she said “I think you know the names of those who brought me here. For now I won’t name them, suffice it to say I was brought here to seduce you. I think you knew already why I was here and made it easy for me. There was I understood another woman on the same errand but I was determined you would choose me. I told you I needed the money.” She studied him “You did know I was here and why?”


Adam just raised his eyebrow but didn’t answer and Dinah went on. “For reasons of your own I believe you went along with me and allowed yourself to be persuaded to come and live in town. I think you deliberately set up that scene in the office to cause a row with your father. I became convinced that you were playing a part for your family but not for your wife. I get the impression she knows all that you do but what that is I’m not sure. I am sure that you love her deeply and although you have taken me for a mistress it isn’t because of any lack in your marriage.”


Adam shut his eyes for a moment, his head pounding, feeling totally confused and not knowing what to do for the best. Momentarily he wasn’t able to hide his feelings and Dinah kissed his forehead “Adam I mean it. I won’t do anything to harm you. I promise.”


Adam opened his eyes and hitched himself up on his pillows, studying her face, wondering whether he dared trust her or not. He smiled ruefully, it seemed a little academic at the moment she had apparently judged him all too accurately.


Dinah said “The only thing I haven’t been able to work out is why you’ve gone along with this charade. I would have thought, from what I’ve heard about you and your family, that you were more than capable of defending yourselves.”


She was surprised by the obvious pain on his face and Adam couldn’t help himself “We can but children can’t.”


“What do you mean?”

Adam hesitated and she lent over and kissed him gently. “I mean it Adam, you can trust me. I think we have gone too far not to talk this out now.”


Adam rested back and considered her, she already had enough to lead to disaster if she took her suspicions to her employers. He thought he could see compassion and real affection in her eyes and he had come to understand that she was a woman betrayed by her body but brought up to a high standard of values. Maybe his best chance was to tell her the truth and try to enlist her sympathies. He half accepted that she meant what she said and if it had only been his life at stake he wouldn’t have hesitated but there was a lot more. He was too weak to be very successful in hiding his feelings and Dinah took his hand. “I can’t prove to you that I mean what I say, only time can do that but I swear you can trust me. Why did you go along?”


“I don’t seem to have much choice.”


“Adam I told you, you are about the only man I actually like and as far as I am capable have come to love. I won’t betray you. I want to help. My employers are the type of men I like least and I have done all they wanted. It isn’t my fault they underestimated you so badly.”


Adam made his decision, “Alright I’ll trust you. You have guessed all too accurately. I did know, about you and the French girl Suzanne Fauré, and I chose to go along with my wife’s agreement. You’re also right I love her very much.”


“The rest of the family do not know?”


“No they are not good enough actors; they had to believe it was true. I couldn’t take the risk.”


“You still haven’t explained why.”


Adam swallowed hard, “That’s very simple. I didn’t dare not to. You said yourself you were to distract me because of a court case, If that distraction didn’t work I was told what the alternative would be.” He closed his eyes to hide the fear but she took his hand “What was it Adam?”


“You said my family could look after themselves and so we can but not the children or my wife and sisters.”


“What are you saying?”


Adam opened his eyes and met hers. “If I didn’t get involved with a mistress and all the family dissension that would mean, then the plan was an accident, maybe even a fatal one, to one of the children or one of the women. We have six children out at the ranch, my twin sons are not quite four, my daughter two and my youngest daughter and two nephews all under a year. I couldn’t take risks with their young lives or with our wives. My youngest brother lost his first wife in childbirth; none of us want to live through that sort of pain again.” He saw the shock on her face and slowly relaxed, sure he had made the right decision. She fought to find her voice “I didn’t know.”


“I never thought that you did, but you can see why I had no choice.”


She went and poured herself a stiff brandy, “Anything I can do Adam. I didn’t like Hearst and Troy anyway, but I didn’t know they were capable of anything like this.”

“I know from bitter experience just what they are capable of. Many years ago Troy had my youngest brother beaten so badly that he was blind for more than a fortnight, he was only just nineteen. Hearst had me shot only a couple of years ago. They will order killings and never hesitate even if they wouldn’t have the nerve to do it themselves. I know Huntingdon is involved too and he has tentacles all too widely so I couldn’t even send my family to safety.”


“How can I help Adam? Anything.”


“Will you tell me everything that you know about these men? It might help.”


“Of course.” For the next ten minutes she did her very best to comply but apart from a few minor details he didn’t learn anything new. It did at least have the effect of calming Dinah down again and get her thinking more clearly. Everything she said and the way that she said it confirmed Adam’s belief that she was telling the truth. Slowly he was able to relax and think more clearly as for the moment adrenaline was overcoming his weakness.


Slowly as she came to the end of what she could remember he said, “You realize you hare to keep up the act for them or it might lead to tragedy.”


“I know and I will.” She fetched fresh coffee “Why Adam? What is this court case? I assume you know.”


“Oh yes I know. They are after our ranch, a claim based on an old Spanish Land Grant as far as I know.”


“Can you win?”


“I’ll win; the Ponderosa is part of us, all of us. It would just about kill my father to lose the ranch so I have a much stronger will to win than they can possibly have. Anyway I have so many friends who are giving up their time and energy, even taking risks, to help me. There is no way I can lose.”


Dinah kissed him. “Adam you look exhausted, you can count on one more on your side but try and sleep now. Later we’ll think how best to sort things out for now just rest.”


It was all Adam felt fit for but before he closed his eyes he met her gaze and studied her intently as he looked for the truth in her eyes. Dinah felt as though he was looking down into her very soul, she had never seen such intensity in anyone else’s eyes but with nothing to hide she met his gaze, a slight smile on her face. For a minute Adam studied her and then as though satisfied he smiled, gave a slight sigh and closed his eyes and fell asleep almost instantly.


Relaxed, knowing he need no longer act in front of her it was a peaceful sleep and his mind at ease his body was able to get the rest it so desperately needed. When he finally woke up again about 3 p.m. he felt better than he had for weeks and very hungry. Although still weakened by the effects of the flu, he had thrown off the worst effects, his normal strength and resilience coming to his aid.


Adam got food and once he’d eaten, he settled back “You still mean what you said about helping?”


“I do. Anyone who could even consider harming young children just to win a court case, deserves all they get. What can I do?”


“It would be a great help if I could work in here.”


“Of course you can and noone will be checking up on you in here with me, they’d assume the worst.” She smiled at him “just one thing Adam. Although I know you are in love with your wife, I hope you might still consider some fun. You are a very good lover.”


Adam smiled “I feel better Dinah but not that fit yet. As you say we need to keep the image. My only trouble is that I might end up liking you too much but I guess I can take that risk.”

Dinah kissed him “Recover first dear and then we’ll see. Meanwhile can I fetch anything for you?”


Adam closed his eyes, he was trusting her but it was still possible it was a trap and he wouldn’t risk anyone else. There was very little of any use in his office. On the other hand the chance to get on couldn’t be ignored and he decided that the only thing he could do was to collect what he needed himself.


“Will you help me get dressed?”


“Adam the doctor said to stay in bed!” she said horrified, “Can’t I go?”


“No. It’s not that I don’t trust you but the person who holds my books and papers will only release them to me. I won’t be long and I’ll go straight back to bed.”


Dinah frowned but gave in and helped Adam, he was weaker than he thought and he found he needed her help to get his boots on. He was feeling dizzy, the room tending to swim round him but by sheer will power he made his way out of the hotel, keeping upright and walking straight. The livery stable seemed a very long way away but at least the sheer concentration needed to keep moving made him look very bad tempered and everyone moved out of his way. He had made about half the distance and was beginning to doubt his ability to make the stable, sweat rolling off him, when Dan came over to him. Dan could see that his old friend was ill and forgetting the events of the last weeks, he grabbed Adam’s arm


“What the hell’s wrong Adam. You’re ill, flu?”


Adam lent on Dan’s arm, breathing heavily everything swimming, “ I.....I could do with some help.”


“Come in and sit down. I’ll get you a beer.” Dan helped Adam into the closest saloon. Adam sank down at the nearest table, resting his aching head on his hand. Dan reappeared with two beers and looking very concerned “Adam what is wrong?”


“Just flu. I’m on the mend, maybe got up a bit early.”


“Well you’d better get straight back to bed, looks like a relapse to me. Should I fetch Doc?”


“No.” Adam said insistently, “Dan please don’t tell my family either.”


Dan frowned, “I wish I knew what you’re up to.”


“Please.” Adam pleaded “We have been friends a long time.”

“You seem to have forgotten that lately.” Dan said with a touch of bitterness, but seeing the evident pain on Adam’s face. “Alright I’m sorry Adam. I’ll do what you want. Is there anything else I can do to help?”


Adam had to admit to himself that he was going to be hard pressed to get back to the hotel, let alone go to the stable first. He had to trust Dan; it was only a few weeks before everyone would know anyway. He lent back in his chair, “Have you got paper and pen Dan?”


“Sure, what newspaperman doesn’t?”


“If I give you a note, could you take it to that young kid Dick Langton, works at the livery stable? He can collect some things for me.”


“No problem” Dan said very puzzled just why Adam looked so worried at the prospect. Adam found it hard to phrase an innocuous note, wondering how to get the books that he needed without totally compromising Dick He tried three times but crumpled up each one and put them in his pocket and in the end Dan said. “You said just now that we are friends. For once I’ll forget I’m a reporter, no questions, no comments. Just tell me what you want and I’ll collect it and bring it back here.”


“I’m not sure.” Adam rubbed his hand across his mouth unable to think clearly.


“Look I give my word. I won’t tell anyone and I won’t even ask any questions until you’re ready to talk. I won’t even hint at my suspicions to anyone, especially not your family.”


“What suspicions?”


“That you’re up to something.” Dan smiled “Just give me a note for the boy, telling him what you want and to give it to me. I promise I won’t read it.”


Adam nodded, events were getting away from him and he felt too ill to fight but he couldn’t help worrying. However he did write a note to Dick asking for several books and the last sets of papers from San Diego and from Oliver. He handed it to Dan “I have to trust you Dan. Please don’t probe, it could prove fatal.”


“You don’t have to threaten me, we’re friends.” Dan said in horror.


Adam shook his head “I wasn’t. Just stating facts and you wouldn’t be the victim.”


Dan was very puzzled but despite his illness Adam appeared much more his normal self than he had for weeks. “You have my word Adam. I won’t be long. You just rest easy and stay put.”


Adam felt fit for nothing else and he sipped his beer, quietly recouping his strength for the trip he would have to make back to the hotel


Dick was very surprised to see the reporter but Dan had Adam’s note and seeing the boy’s concern, he said, “I am a reporter but more importantly I’m also a very old friend of Adam’s. If you can find what he wants I’ll take him back to the hotel with his books.”


Dick hesitated “I’ll need to go and get them.” He didn’t want Dan to see where he had them.

Dan recognized the problem, “I have to go to the General Store and collect a couple of oddments. I’ll meet you back here in ten minutes if that gives you enough time.”

“That’s fine” Dick agreed and waited for Dan to go before slipping into his own room. He unlocked the trunk and made a parcel of all the things Adam wanted, carefully wrapping it so that noone could see the titles of any of the books. Dick destroyed Adam’s note as he’d asked and was waiting in the stable when Dan reappeared.


Dan accepted the package and hurried back to the small saloon where he’d left Adam. He half expected Adam to have grown restless and moved but he was still there, half his beer still undrunk, so weak that he’d been barely aware of the passage of time. Dan went over to him “Right I’ve got what you wanted. Now let’s get you back to bed.”


“I can manage.”


“Like hell you can. Come on lean on me I’m stronger than I look.” Dan called one of the ubiquitous urchins to carry the bundle and concentrated on supporting Adam. By the time they reached the hotel it was very obvious that Adam wouldn’t have made it on his own. Even with Dan’s help his legs felt like rubber and his breathing was harsh again, sweat pouring off him. Dan enlisted the assistance of the manager to help Adam up to Dinah’s suite. Dan paid the urchin 50 cents and took the bundle in, putting it on a chair. Then he turned to Dinah accusingly, “He should have stayed in bed.”


She raised an eyebrow “Have you ever tried arguing with him?”


Dan shrugged knowing she had a point and more gently asked “Can you manage to get him back to bed on your own or should I help?”


“I can manage now. Thank you for bringing him back. I did try to stop him going out.”


Adam opened his eyes, “I am here you two. Stop discussing me as though I’m not. I just need some sleep and I can get myself to bed.”


“Do you need Doc?” Dan asked.


“No, just some sleep and for you to keep your promise.”


“I will, don’t worry. Sleep well.” Dan let himself out and Adam with Dinah’s help got back into bed, snuggling down willingly under the bedclothes, cold after all the efforts he had expended. He was soon asleep and by mid-evening when he woke up he had slept off the worst of it. He was fit enough to insist on getting his books and to Dinah’s relief begin a little work.


Later in the evening Doc heard from Dan that Adam had been out and in a state of near collapse. Dan thought that Doc ought to check him over despite Adam’s insistence that there was no need so Doc headed over to the hotel. Dinah was pleased to see him as she was still anxious and led him through to the bedroom where Adam was deep in a law book. Adam sighed putting his book down “Don’t tell me Dan’s been fussing.”


“With reason Adam. I warned you it could be very dangerous to push yourself.”


“I’m fine Doc.” Doc grunted and examined his friend carefully. He sat back “Well you seem to have survived this time. I thought you’d agreed to be careful. I warn you, you have been pushing too hard.”


“Not from choice Doc but I will be more careful.”

“Stay in bed, at least for tomorrow.”


“Alright. Doc have you heard anymore from the ranch?”


“All recovering well although young Marie has tonsillitis on top of her flu, so she’s pretty miserable but she’ll be fine.”


Adam stared up anxiety flaring but Doc met his gaze, “I promise she’ll be fine.” Adam slowly relaxed. Doc got to his feet and confiscated all Adam’s books, piling them up on the dressing table. “Tomorrow Adam. You need to rest, no more work tonight, you’ve pushed your luck enough for one day.”


Adam was very tired and gave in without protest, settling down. Dinah was glad to see it and thanked Doc for coming. Once she had seen him out she looked in but Adam was already fast asleep.


Adam was awake early and feeling much better but he was prepared to work quietly in bed. He did need to let Jess know the new situation, not daring to put it into writing; he simply wrote a note asking Jess to meet him in the hotel bar the following morning. He asked Dinah to get one of the local boys to ride out and deliver the note. Most of the day he was content to sit quietly in bed and work, slowly sorting out the legal position to his own satisfaction. Whatever else went on he had to have all the facts at his fingertips when it came to court, so that he could answer everything that might come up. Dinah watched fascinated by a side of him that she had never seen. She glanced at some of the books and the notes he made but they were totally unintelligible to her, although she prided herself on a good brain. To her own surprise, she was perfectly content to sit and read a novel, while providing anything that Adam needed.


Adam felt well enough to do a reasonable job at hiding how weak and ill he still felt but the mask was knocked away in the late afternoon when a messenger arrived for Dinah. It was from Hearst and Huntingdon; they wanted to see her as soon as possible. For the first time since she’d known him there was near panic on Adam’s face and for a moment he was too weak to hide either that or the fear he felt. Dinah sat down on the bed and put her arms round him and felt a surge of affection far stronger than anything she was used to. “Take it easy Adam.”


“Do you think they’ve.....”


“Relax will you. There’s nothing wrong. There is no way they can know what we’ve said in here and I gave you my word, you can trust me.”


“Then why?”


“Huntingdon probably wants to look me over. I promise I’ll be very careful, they won’t get a hint.”


Adam knew that she had to go but he was scared at the idea. He disliked Huntingdon, indeed with his current involvement Adam was close to hating him but he did have a great deal of respect for him. Dinah was clever, as he’d found out to his cost, but with so much at stake he was petrified that she would let something slip. The more tense he got, the worse his breathing became and he was drenched in sweat, feeling absolutely dreadful by the time Dinah got back. She had only been about three quarters of an hour and was horrified to see the state he was in when she returned.

Dinah had the sense to get a damp cloth and wipe his face and then sat quietly by him “It’s alright, no suspicions. They are very pleased at the job I’m doing.”


Adam stared at her face but what he saw reassured him and slowly he calmed down a little and his breathing eased. Eventually Dinah was able to persuade him to rest.


Dinah had been on edge when she went over to see Hearst now that she knew what was at stake. She was scared that she would reveal her contempt of them but fortunately she had always felt contempt for most men and was well used to hiding it. She found Huntingdon sitting sipping a dry sherry in Hearst’s room. They were pleased with the progress she had made but wanted to know where Adam was as he hadn’t been seen for several days. Dinah relaxed as she realised that they were just worried in case he had gone back to the ranch and quickly put their minds at rest, telling them that Adam was in bed in her suite recovering from flu. Both men moved away from her at that and Huntingdon held a handkerchief to his nose but despite their inclination to get away from her and possible germs they had questions they needed answered.


Huntingdon wanted to know exactly what her relationship was with Adam, and even more important the relationship between Adam and his family, what did he have to say about them, how often did he see them. Many of the anecdotes she told him he had already heard but seemed to need her reassurance. Eventually satisfied he told her to keep up the good work, another month at most was all that was required and she would have earnt her money. Dinah found him very cold and was glad to get away from him, in comparison Hearst seemed easy to fool.


Despite the alarms of the day Adam slept well and when he insisted on getting up and dressed the next morning Dinah didn’t argue. He had a little more colour and at least the world had stopped spinning round him unless he tried to move too fast. He worked quietly for a couple of hours and then had to go down to the bar to meet Jess. Dinah was unsure he was fit enough but she bit back the worried questions and seeing that Adam kissed her. “I’m not leaving the hotel this time. I’ll be fine. Its sweet of you to worry but it’s not necessary.”

Jess had been surprised to get Adam’s note but he did as he was asked and decided to kill two birds with one stone and went via The Ponderosa to get the latest news before seeing Adam. At the Ponderosa Carole, Nita and Sue were just about fully recovered as was Mark, much to his twin’s delight. Anne was still a little fretful but well on the way to recovery and she was in her Mother’s arms as Carole opened the door to Jess. To his delight she held out her arms to her godfather and he took the little girl as Carole led the way into Adam’s study, very pleased to see Jess.


Jess kissed his goddaughter, “She looks better, how is everyone else?”


“Marie is still a little feverish with a sore throat; Aleysha is up with her at the moment. The rest of us are fine.”


“I’m going into town to see Adam, thought I’d take him the latest news and a note if you want to send one. It will go right into his hands.”


“That’s a kind thought Jess, I’ll write one in just a minute but let me get you some coffee first.” Carole hesitated but Jess saw “I can ride back this way and bring a reply, or at least tell you how he is.”


“I don’t want to be a nuisance.”


“Rubbish it’s no problem.”


Carole poured out two cups, “I would be very grateful it seems so long since I saw him.”


“Not long now.”


“That’s what I keep telling myself.”


“How are things here?”


 She frowned “I don’t quite know why but it’s a lot easier. The atmosphere has been terrible, so much so that I’ve been avoiding the family but now it isn’t. Almost as though they have guess what’s going on.”


Jess showed his alarm at that suggestion, “How?”


“Oh not exactly or anything like that, just a vague feeling that Adam is up to something. I don’t think it’s anything to worry about. They all have enough common sense to know if Adam puts on an act like this then he will have a very good reason and that it’s vital for them to go along. Anyway Hoss and Joe aren’t here. Hoss left yesterday to go back to the West Shore camp and he’s not due back for another two and a half weeks. Joe was leaving this morning for a swing round the ranch, check all the operations and pay the men. Barring emergencies he won’t be back for nearly a week.”


“How about you Carole? How do you feel?  That’s gonna be the first thing Adam’ll need to know.”


“I’m fine now, a little low on stamina and I’m going to bed early. Aleysha is staying to help out for a few days but please tell him I’m fine. I’m more worried about him I know he’s had this flu and he’s been pushing himself too hard for months.”


“I’ll check and I promise you I will tell you the truth. Now why don’t you write that note, say whatever you want it’s going straight to him.” Jess took the baby and his coffee over to the window and left Carole in peace to write. However in the end she only wrote a brief note, there were so many things she wanted to say that they were impossible to formulate in words on paper, so she settled for sending him her love, reassurances that she and the children were all fine, along with a plea not to overdo things.


Jess took the note and with a promise to return that afternoon he headed for town. He was a few minutes later than he had intended reaching the hotel but quickly spotted Adam at a small table in the corner, well out of the way with noone close. At least they would be able to talk without fear of being overheard, but Jess couldn’t help wondering just what was so important that Adam had risked an obviously prearranged meeting like this. As he took two beers over and joined his friend. Jess’ first concern was Adam’s health and he scanned his friend’s face anxiously, “How are you feeling?”


“Still a little weak but well on the mend. I’m just taking it easy for a day or so. It’s good to see you Jess. Sorry to drag you in like this.”


“That doesn’t matter but is anything wrong?”


 “I don’t think so but events are getting a bit out of my control and I thought it was important that you and the girls knew the new situation.”

Jess was totally confused by that, “What on earth do you mean?”


“Dinah knows exactly what I’m up to and why.” That blank statement took Jess by surprise and for a moment he could only sip his beer and study his friend, surprised that in view of what he’d just said Adam was apparently so calm. Adam smiled ruefully “I didn’t reckon on flu. I was delirious, said a bit too much and I always knew she was very quick witted. She put two and two together very efficiently.”


“Then surely you have no choice, go home, tell your family and barricade the ranch.”


“No it’s not necessary. Dinah has swapped sides. I told her why I had gone along, the threat to the children and she wants to help, anyway she can.”


Jess wouldn’t meet Adam’s eye, so scared that his friend believed what he wanted to believe and half convinced that Dinah, like most other prostitutes, would sell any man to the highest bidder. Despite his efforts to hide his feelings, Adam knew him too well and he said “I know there’s a risk that I’m wrong and she’s already told Hearst and Huntingdon. She had to go and see them yesterday afternoon, an official command. I don’t believe she told them but I do know the gamble I’m taking on my own judgement. I’ve been wrong before.”


Jess looked up at that, seeing the tension in his friend. “If you’re sure I’d back your judgement. I’ve seen you proved right too often when we have disagreed.”


“I don’t think she’s that good an actress Jess. She was horrified at what they had planned; you could see the contempt in her eyes. Anyway I think she is fond of me in her own way.”


“Well if they want to get at anyone they might find it difficult. Reason I was a bit late, I came in via your house.” Jess quickly filled Adam in on the news he’d picked up, firstly on the health of his family and then the future plans, before passing over Carole’s note. He left Adam to read it while he fetched two beers but even so when he came back Adam was obviously moved by his wife’s note and too weak to hide his feelings. Jess gripped his friend’s arm “Take it easy Adam, you’re not exactly fit yet, try not to overdo it.”


Adam gratefully took the beer, “I’m okay but my acting ability seems to be at a low ebb. Rate I’m going the whole town is gonna know I’m up to something. You say my family has at least guessed a little, I’ve ended up more or less telling Dinah. Doc knows a little and now Dan does too.” He told Jess what had happened two days earlier and rather ruefully concluded, “Rate we’re going I’ll be lucky if it isn’t in the newspaper by the end of the month.”


“Remarkable thing is that we’ve fooled so many people for so long or rather you have.”


“You’re beginning to sound like Lincoln at Gettysburg!”


Jess grinned, “What do you want me to do? By the way I promised Carole to ride home via your house, just to pass on any messages.”


Adam considered his friend affectionately “A very direct route, only adds what another 13 or 14 miles!”


“You know I don’t mind Adam.”

“That’s the nice part Jess I do know and I would be grateful it you took her a note. I miss her more than I can say. I hate this charade and in some strange way its worse now Dinah is helping, I’m scared of hurting her too.”


“Seems to me the one taking the biggest burden in all this is the only person you never consider – yourself!”


Adam smiled but changed the subject and asked Jess to have Liza use the message drop at Elizabeth Bowen’s to put the three Ms into the picture. He wanted to know any hint that Dinah’s new attitude was suspect, or as Jess added silently to himself that she was lying. He assured Jess that although he’d had to reveal a few things such as Jess’ involvement, none of the girls nor Dick were in anyway compromised. Then he concentrated on writing a quick note to Carole, mainly to reassure her that he was fine, recovered from the flu and perhaps more vital to tell her just how much he loved and missed her and the children. Jess insisted on helping Adam back to his room and then headed for the Ponderosa.


Ben was still staying with Nita, wanting to make sure that none of his daughters overdid it until they’d had a chance to recover their stamina. Working in Joe’s study he hadn’t missed Jess’ earlier visit to the ranch, seeing him return in the afternoon he went over to speak to him. Ben made a pretty good guess that Jess was acting as a go-between for husband and wife. When he went in Carole almost guiltily pushed Adam’s note into her pocket. Ben didn’t miss the sparkle in her eyes that hadn’t been there when he saw her at lunchtime, but neither did he miss the effort she made to hide it.


Jess had seen it too and he tried to distract his ex-boss’ attention from her, “I just brought a few things over from Liza”


“Forget them this morning when you were here?” Ben said gently and then seeing Jess’ confusion he smiled “Alright I won’t pry but if you should see Adam, give him my love and tell him to come home as soon as he can.”


Jess didn’t know what to say to that and was very relieved when Ben wandered off to play with his grandsons. Carole said “You see what I mean? He’s guessed something. I’ll be glad when we can tell them exactly what is going on.”


Jess kissed her and then had to get home, he still had a ranch to run, little though he begrudged the time to help his friend.


Margaret had been kept very busy ever since Huntingdon’s arrival. He had his own secretary with him but he was a man and saw no reason to do the more menial tasks such as writing letters when there was a woman around. Most of her work was totally unconnected with their reason for being in Virginia City. Both men had numerous other business interests both in common and separately. However one or two were relevant, one to a firm of Sacramento lawyers, who would handle the local arrangements and others to the land law specialists who would actually handle the court case.  Copies of those letters plus the names and addresses went down to Marcy to drop at the dressmakers. Then came the one thing she had been waiting for, the deed itself arrived, so that Huntingdon and his associates could check it over before it was taken to Sacramento to form the corner stone of their case.


Margaret unpacked it but only had time to read the date and the assignee before Hearst bustled in to collect it. She was on tenterhooks all afternoon as the men first pored over it and them left it on the table while they talked. She was scared Hearst would send it off to Sacramento that same day before she could get a proper look at it, but her luck was in. As dinner time approached Hearst, as was his wont, told her to tidy up the papers, indicating those papers, including the deed which were to be locked away in the safe. Margaret complied, taking her time and the men had gone down to dinner before she had finished. She locked up taking the key with her but she kept the deed and slipped into her own room. There she swiftly began to make a verbatim copy of the deed but with the preamble in Latin and the stilted language it took her far longer than she had expected. She had intended to slip it back into the safe, before the men came back from dinner but they returned while she was still only halfway through.


Margaret was scared that Hearst might take it into his head to check something on the deed or something else from the safe. He had another key, but it was too late to get the deed back now and anyway she hadn’t finished the copy. She could only pray he had other things on his mind and that she would be able to slip the deed back in the following morning, while getting things out for the day’s work.


Listening hard she was relieved to hear Michelle’s voice coming from Hearst’s room. If Michelle and her husband were in there poker was much more likely than work. Accepting that there was nothing she could do either way, Margaret concentrated on making an accurate verbatim copy and a full detailed physical description.


Margaret had finished and hidden away both the deed and the copy, but although it was late she was far too tense to go to bed. Despite telling herself that there was no point in worrying as there was nothing she could do Margaret couldn’t help listening hard, trying to interpret every word and sound emanating from Hearst’s suite. It was gone midnight when Michelle came out, on her own and Margaret frantically beckoned her over.


Michelle slipped into her friend’s room, taking in the signs of strain and pallor showing so clearly, “Whatever’s wrong Margaret? Does Hearst suspect?” Michelle had drunk quite a lot of wine as she suffered the boredom of being the solitary woman present but she had her wits about her sufficiently to keep her voice low.


Margaret shook her head, “No not yet. What are they doing?”


“Just as always, playing poker. Why?”


“I’ve got the deed, I’ve copied it but it took longer than I expected and they were back from dinner before I could put it back. Sometimes Hearst decides to work and it he goes to the safe and finds it missing.....”


Michelle smiled reassuringly, “He’s far too drunk to bother and anyway he’s winning, he’ll never stop or let the others do so while that’s true. Huntingdon went to bed over an hour ago.”


Margaret was very relieved to hear that, knowing that Michelle was right. Her knees felt weak and she sat down on the bed “Thank God.”


“Can you get it back in the morning?”


“No problem. I’ll slide it in with the fresh paper and then when I get the rest of the papers out of the safe I can slip it over.”


“Give me the copy and I’ll take it straight down to Marcy so she can get it to Adam.” Margaret got it from the drawer and clipped the physical description to it. Michelle hugged the older woman “That’s marvellous, just be careful putting it back.” and then hiding the papers in her shawl she went to find Marcy. She knew Marcy would still be around even though it was late; she always stayed up all the time her guests were around.


Marcy was delighted and promised to use the good offices of the dressmaker to pass it onto Adam the next morning. She had spent part of the evening talking to the two land specialists who had come with Huntingdon, Haslam and Cullen. Cullen was a cold man, never relaxing

But after he’d left Haslam had got quite drunk and started dropping hints about the big land deal they were going to pull off, provided that fool Mexican didn’t open his mouth too wide. Marcy assumed from what he said that he meant the front man Sauvinet and presumable he was the weak link in the chain. She had already written a note to tell Adam and added it to the papers Michelle passed over before finally heading for bed.


Marcy was Elizabeth’s first customer the next morning and she passed over a sealed packet “Its vital Adam gets these as soon as possible.”


“I have a signal; for him that there’s something to collect but I haven’t seen him around for several days. There’s a letter here for you from Liza, maybe that will explain why?”


Elizabeth continued automatically measuring Marcy for a dress while Marcy read the most surprising note. It was actually from Jess and was to inform her of Dinah’s apparent change of side. He emphasized that none of them were to take any risks in case it was a trap but also asked them to keep their ears open, anything that gave a hint either that it was indeed a trap of if not that she was under suspicion. It also explained why Adam hadn’t been around in bed with flu, although Jess said he was well on the mend. Marcy read the note twice in consternation. She wouldn’t trust Lady Dinah Marchbrook further than she could thrown her and she couldn’t help wondering if the two men were just succumbing to a pretty face. Certainly she would redouble her efforts to hear what was going on and between the three of them they should be able to find out the truth.


Adam was thankful for the opportunity to work quietly in Dinah’s room, without having to wonder if every sound he heard was someone coming and that he ought to hide his papers. He worked quietly all morning but he was feeling much better and decided it was time that he showed his face around town and give himself the chance to check local news.

Dinah didn’t even try to stop him, he looked so much better but she did offer to go with him, just in case he wasn’t as fit as he thought. Adam took her up on that, it was time he was seen around with her again, just to remind people of the scandal in their midst.

Adam led the way down past Elizabeth’s, eager to see if she had anything for him. The sign was in the window and as he had Dinah with him, he went in openly to buy her a new evening bag. Elizabeth was on her own and hurried over. She took Adam’s hands and studied him carefully. “I heard you had the flu, are you sure you should be wandering around?”


“I’m fine Elizabeth. I want you to meet my new friend Lady Dinah Marchbrook.”

Elizabeth was a good friend of Carole’s and she acknowledged the introduction coldly. She understood what Adam was up to and knew that he had Carole’s blessing but she didn’t really approve. Dinah recognized the coldness and turned away to look through some patterns, leaving Adam to talk to Elizabeth in private, Elizabeth kept her voice very low so that she wouldn’t be overheard and explained that Marcy had already been in and had not only collected the note from Liza but had left a package for him. She passed that over along with Marcy’s promise that all he asked would be done and then Adam had to leave.


Adam went as far as the telegraph office but there wasn’t anything for him so he slowly turned and went back to the hotel, more tired than he wanted to admit. He would dearly have loved to go home and check on Carole and the children for himself but he had to admit he wouldn’t make it yet. He was nearly back at the hotel when Dick hurrying down the street caught him up. Adam hesitated but seeing that the boy was bursting with news, he suggested that Dinah went on in, that he would join her later. Adam frowned at Dick who was showing all too clearly his own involvement with Adam and that might still usefully be kept quiet.

Dick had got over-excited but at Adam’s frown he remembered what was at stake and moved into the general store to buy some oddments. Adam decided that despite his tiredness he had to find out what Dick wanted and following the boy in he ordered some stores for the house and managed to tell Dick that he would see him in his room in half an hour.


Adam slipped into the back alleys and once he was sure he wasn’t being followed, he headed down to Dick’s room and let himself in. As he did so he found out just why Dick was excited, Jamie had returned from Mexico and had come to see his law clerk.


Adam was very pleased to see Jamie but still weak enough for even pleasant shocks to effect him. His knees felt like rubber and seeing that Jamie swiftly helped him to a chair,

“Whatever’s wrong?”


Adam smiled “Nothing, just recovering from flu. It’s good to see you Jamie and that kid of yours Dick has done a first rate job helping me over the last few weeks.”


“I’m glad to hear it. Now you take it easy and I’ll fill you in briefly on what I’ve found. Your contacts worked, Ramon was marvellous and there’s nothing that can hurt your case. How much it can help I don’t know. How long can you stay?”


“Not too long, half an hour at most, but if you give me the papers I can study them later. Just an outline report for now Jamie and make it as short as you can.”


Jamie knew that Adam wasn’t ungrateful just very pushed and he stuck to the real basics, before passing over all his detailed notes. Adam didn’t know how to thank him, in a strange country, not even speaking the language Jamie had done everything he had asked for him and more. Adam wasn’t surprised he’d had great faith in the youngster but it had been more than fulfilled. Jamie could read Adam’s feelings very clearly and he had all the thanks that he wanted, seeing the gratitude so clear on the face of his idol. Adam offered his hand, “Just thank you seems so little Jamie but I hope you know how much this means to me, to all of us.”


“Sure and you’re very welcome. What else can I do Adam? I am a qualified lawyer, can I clerk for you, write the notes? I hear that Dick’s been doing some.”


Adam studied the boy so nearly his adopted brother and still little changed from the red-headed freckled urchin so well known to many round Virginia City. “Trouble is Jamie too many people know you and I don’t want word getting to Pa.


“I could keep out off sight at Jess’. You know how time consuming the formal notes are. Make a list of what you want and give me the books and I’ll do them, bring them into Dick and get fresh orders once those are done.”


Adam accepted the sense of that, time was getting short and he could more profitably study the documents Jamie had collected for him than write the formal notes, which nine times out of ten would never be used. “Alright hang on here Jamie. I’ll get myself organized and send the first lot over later this afternoon. You’re right I need the help.” Adam got stiffly to his feet and took the precious documents. “I’ll need you to testify so just be very careful, for all our sakes.”


Jamie smiled “I will. You give yourself a chance to fully recover and between us, they won’t know what hit them.”


“Welcome home Jamie.” Adam squeezed the younger man’s shoulder before hurrying out to return to the hotel. Once there he undid the large package Jamie had brought. It included details of all the Mexican land grants on record in Mexico City, including the ones he already knew about along the Californian coast and the one in San Diego, which had led to a successful claim. According to Jamie there was nothing that he could find covering the Eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada but to his surprise Adam did find a claim registered in the name of Sauvinet. It was for land near Santa Fee and certainly nothing nearly as far north as they were.  Only when he had briefly scanned everything that Jamie had brought did Adam remember the package from Marcy. On opening it he found the copy of the actual deed. Despite all his pleas Margaret had gone ahead and Adam knew that it was invaluable but he couldn’t help being scared that she might have given herself away in obtaining it. The mere thought made him go so white that Dinah who had been sitting quietly reading hurried over and insisted that he had a brandy


Adam reassured her but he was barely aware of what he was saying as he studied the document for flaws. It purported to be a land grant to the same man Sauvinet that had the Santa Fé claim registered to him in Mexico. This was dated rather earlier in 1810 when grants were authorized in both Mexico and Spain and might be registered in either according to Oliver’s report. Certainly nothing for this area or that date had turned up in Jamie’s search and he could only await the reports from Europe.


Adam read the document twice and was left with the feeling that something somewhere was wrong but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Certainly as far as accepted history was concerned in 1819 the only people in Nevada were the Indians but that had always been a problem with the land grant. Ben had been one of the earliest white men in the land that was to become Nevada. Adam had long realised that the documentation Hearst and company were offering must overset accepted history. The fact that this did came as no surprise. At least he was finally getting firm facts on which to work and that could only help. For now he concentrated on getting the list of notes that he required and going downstairs found one of the urchins to deliver it to Dick at the stable


Eventually about eight o’clock Adam had to acknowledge that he couldn’t do any more, he already had a severe headache, so he packed everything away and took Dinah down to diner. She had earnt it and he promised to take her to the theatre the following night.


Joe had been quite enjoying his swing round the ranch; it was good to be out on his own with just Cochise to talk to, away from paperwork and rumour. Even so he found that word of Adam’s behaviour had spread to the far reaches of the ranch and although most of the hands didn’t dare ask him for the truth of the rumours he could see the speculation in their eyes. A few snide comments were dropped, not normally by their long time hands but by some newcomers, enough to raise Joe’s hackles. By the time he joined José up in the high pasture he had begun to lose all the benefits of his ride round the ranch, He was also losing the near certainty that he had had of a reasonable explanation of Adam’s seemingly inexplicable behaviour.

José knew that Adam had left home and was living in town with another woman and as ranch foreman  and an old friend he wasn’t dropping hints he was determine to ask outright. “What the hell is your brother up to Joe?”


Joe had fended off the casual half queries and ignored the speculative looks but this he couldn’t ignore. He couldn’t answer either because he didn’t know, so on edge and still overtired he did the one thing left to him and lost his temper. He told José in no uncertain terms that despite his long term position on the ranch Adam’s movements and behaviour were none of his business. With no way to vent his frustration at not knowing what his brother was up to Joe would have welcomed a fight. However José knew him too well and guessed all too accurately that what his friend meant was that he didn’t know either. So to Joe’s annoyance José backed off. “Alright Joe take it easy, you’re right it’s none of my business, just that Adam’s my friend.”


Joe sat down with a sigh and accepted coffee “I know and I didn’t mean to jump down your throat. I only wish I knew what the hell he is doing.”


“He will have a reason. Adam never does anything without good reason.”


“Yeah I keep telling myself that but when I try to find out what it is, I end up with bruises and black eyes. He’s not being forthcoming.”


“Maybe not only friends should mind their own business Joe, maybe brothers should too.”


“He’s made that abundantly clear, just isn’t like him.”


José tried to be reassuring, “He won’t leave this place, means too much to him.”


“I hope you’re right. I believe that too but.... Oh hell no point in talking in circles, I’ve been doing far too much of that these last weeks. What’s the calf tally? And how are you coping without my expert assistance?”


José went along with Joe’s change of subject and even his pretended light-heartedness but he could see that his young friend was still seriously worried about his brother. Joe was very uneasy and he knew José could read his feelings try as he might to hide them and he got up to go and make coffee, give himself the chance to cover up.


Hoss was out on the West Shore and alone he too found that his certainty that things would work out was vanishing. He couldn’t help remembering the bruises and cuts Joe had received and the coldness Adam had treated him to. It had one advantage as Hoss tried to bury his fears in work. He had got everything running very smoothly and even the paperwork was further on that it ever had been before. All the men on the West Bank could see he was troubled and many could guess why, plenty of rumours had reached them of the split in the family. However none of them dared say anything to the big man. In many ways the most approachable of the Cartwrights, he made it very clear that he didn’t discuss his private affairs. Hoss wasn’t sleeping very well and was losing weight, the only consolation was that Ben reported by telegraph  that everyone was just about fully recovered, all the children thriving, even Marie.


Jamie had met Jess several times on visits to the Ponderosa over the last few years and he’d been in touch with him over the last weeks. It had been Jess’ suggestion that Jamie came and stay for a while and work for Adam. Jamie had had no hesitation in accepting. He had waited until Adam sent over the work he needed done first and then packed up and headed for Jess’ ranch. Dick was remaining in town as the go between.


Jess was pleased to see Jamie back and for a couple of hours they chatted as Jamie filled Jess in on what he’d done and Adam’s reaction. Then Jess showed him to a spare bedroom and provided him with paper, pens and two tables to work on. Jamie was determined to make a start, he’d been shaken by Adam’s near exhaustion and wanted to do all he could to help. Jamie  had brought out Jess’ mail and amongst it was a long letter from Johnny Rey. He no longer practiced law but he knew all the lawyers in San Francisco and Adam had written asking for background on Edward Haslam. Rey knew all about him and had sent a detailed report. There were a variety of anecdotes of Hallam’s sharp practices and suggestions about his possible weaknesses. Rey had no great opinion of him as a lawyer and even less of his moral rectitude. Jess read the letter more than a little amused by some of the barbed comments. He would pass it onto Adam in a day or two when he next went to town. He had seen how much toll the strain was taking on his friend and the risks of being seen with Adam and coming under suspicion seemed less that that of Adam trying to carry on single-handed. Jess was determined to try and get in to see him at least every other day from now on.


Ben found it very hard to settle, he had returned home now that his daughters were so much better but on his own he couldn’t stop thinking about his eldest son. He tried to settle to work but even without Adam the normal ranch work was moving smoothly and there was nothing urgent enough to retain his whole attention. Eventually about 10 p.m. he abandoned all effort at work and pouring himself a brandy he sat down by the fire and thought back over everything Adam had said or done since his return from his unfortunate accident.


Somewhere Ben was convinced that there must be a hint as to exactly what Adam was up to. If there was such a hint Ben failed to find it but he couldn’t help feeling that there was an underlying pattern to his son’s behaviour, other than the obvious one. The one thing Ben did become sure of was that this couldn’t go on. He blamed himself bitterly for what he had said to Adam in town, whatever the provocation and he hated being on such bad terms with his eldest son. About 2 a.m. he made his mind up, he would go to town the following morning and insist that Adam talk to him. He would explain how he felt and apologize for his own behaviour. Even if Adam wouldn’t explain it should be possible for them to return to their own normal relationship. His mind made up Ben went to bed and for once slept well.


On the Saturday Ben put his decision into action and headed for town. Adam was feeling rather better, well enough to work hard and yet to hide just how much it was taking out of him. He wasn’t prepared for the note that was brought in asking him to join his father for lunch in a private dining room at the Washoe Club. Adam would dearly loved to have just refused, he might be able to cover his weakness from outsiders but Ben knew him too well. The only problem with doing so was the knowledge that his father was most unlikely to take a ‘no’ without forcing the issue. Adam was too aware that Hearst was having him watched and the last thing he needed was a report to go in that he was back on good terms with his father. Torn in two, not sure which way would lead to the least disastrous scenario, Adam gave in and accepted the invitation, praying he was doing the right thing. He found it hard to settle back to work, knowing that he had to somehow force another argument with his father, little though he wanted to.


Adam was almost glad when it was time to go over to the Washoe Club. Dinah had seen his tension and she put her arms round him and kissed him but she couldn’t think of anything to say and wisely said nothing.

Ben was waiting for him and had already ordered food, wine and brandy so that they could talk without being disturbed. He was determined not to allow himself to lose his temper, whatever Adam said and as his son walked in, Ben started by thanking him for coming.

Adam shrugged offhandedly, he had to try to put Ben off and the easiest way was to get him annoyed. Adam did come over and sit down and Ben studied his face in sudden concern


“Are you ill Adam?”


“No I’m fine.”


“You look very pale and drawn.”


“If all you’re going to do is fuss, I’ll leave now.”


“I’m sorry.”


“How is everyone at home? Recovering I hope.”


“Flu seems to have about run its course on the Ponderosa anyway. Carole and the children are just about fully recovered and so are Sue and Nita. Your brothers are both out, Joe doing the swing and Hoss on the West Shore. No more cases amongst the hands for several days.”


“Good.” Adam had decided to allow his father to do the talking, initially at any rate and he was sticking to monosyllabic answers where he could.


Ben found it heavy going, all too many subjects were taboo between them, a position he wasn’t used to where his sons were concerned. Eventually as Adam pushed the food away and poured himself more wine Ben decided to go straight to the point. “Reason I asked you to meet me was to apologize. Last time we met here I lost my temper and said a lot of things I didn’t mean and have regretted ever since.”


Adam just raised an eyebrow at that, certainly his Father had lost his temper but what he’d said had been very accurate and he wasn’t convinced Ben didn’t still mean them.


Ben noticed the reaction but he was determined not to let Adam get under his skin this time and he ploughed on. “I don’t know what you’re up to Adam but I am sure it’s something very different from the obvious. There are only the two of us here, please won’t you explain. You’ve carried this, whatever it is, alone for too long and the strain is beginning to tell, you look really ill.”


“Vivid imagination Pa.


“Have I Adam? I’ve known you for 36 years and I think I know what you are capable of. You once told Joe not to tell lies, because he wasn’t very good at it. I think for some reason you have become very adept at lying recently.”


“Thanks a lot Pa! Is that why you came, to apologize and then call me a liar?”


“What else should I call you Adam? Either a liar or you’ve become a drunk, a gambler and a philanderer. I don’t believe that anymore. It was a very convincing act but ....”


Adam interrupted sure that this had gone far enough. If Ben was to even hint to outsiders what he was saying in here, the all too accurate reading of events could still lead to disaster. If he couldn’t make Ben lose his temper then he would have to. He came to his feet, downing the brandy he’d poured in one, “That’s enough. You say you came to apologize and then you call me names. Well I don’t have to stay and listen, a few drinks and I’m a drunkard, one mistress when my marriage is over and I’m a philanderer, oh thanks a lot Pa. Keep your moralizing, I don’t need it. Try it on Joe and Hoss; they’re still under your thumb. I’ve finally grown up, found my freedom and I intend to keep it!”  With that Adam slammed out, far too weak for the sort of strain Ben had put on him. His only thought was to make it back to his hotel room before he collapsed. White with tension, to the intrigued bar it looked like fury and that was the report that went back to Hearst.


However Ben knew his son far better and he was even more convinced that he was right. There hadn’t been any real anger in Adam’s voice and certainly none in his eyes; it was an act he was putting on. As far as Ben could see the only possible reason was Adam’s fear that his father was getting too close. Whatever the reason Adam thought it was vital and Ben would go along for a little longer but before he left town Ben hunted out Roy and Dan wanting the latest gossip and still convinced that his son was ill.


Ben found Dan in his usual; seat at the Place and put the reporter on the spot with a direct question “Dan have you any reason to believe that Adam is ill or has been recently?”


The delay as Dan tried to formulate an answer, that wouldn’t betray Adam without lying to Ben, was answer in itself. Dan acknowledged that with a grin. “Alright I give in. he asked me not to say. He’s had this flu, quite badly according to Doc and he got up too soon and was just about collapsing on the street. I helped him back to the hotel.”


“That explains why he looks so pale.” Ben said with satisfaction, It also explained why he hadn’t been back to see the children. Having seen for himself that Adam was over the worst Ben was glad to know the reason. He pressed Dan for any other information but Dan had nothing new. Adam was living with Lady Dinah but the scandal was becoming yesterday’s news. When Ben dropped in on Roy he didn’t gain anything extra and decided that having got nowhere with Adam he would try the other half of the partnership, sure that Carole knew more than she was saying.


Carole was surprised to see her father-in-law halfway through a Saturday afternoon and for a moment alarm flared, but it was obvious that Ben was in too good a mood for anything to be really wrong. After placating the children Ben asked her to come into the study to talk. Then he gripped her shoulders “Carole this had gone on long enough. I saw Adam in town today and he’s beginning to look ill, tired and is obviously under considerable strain. I don’t believe anymore in this act you two have been putting on for everyone. There’s a reason for all this and I believe you know it. Its past time you told me, he can’t go on like this.”


Carole bit her lip, she wanted to turn away but Ben wouldn’t let her. She’d have loved to tell Ben everything but that had to be Adam’s decision and Ben’s presence here meant Adam wasn’t ready to talk yet. She had promised her husband her backing and she took refuge in her shell “I don’t know what you are talking about.” She consoled herself that if Liza was right, it could only be another two weeks at most and whatever the strain, she’d back her husband to cope.


Ben had to admit defeat and he went on home, even more convinced Carole knew what her husband was up to, but respecting her for keeping his secret.


Adam was completely exhausted by the scene with his father and it was a real effort to try and study the drafts of grants, which Jamie had copied, looking for patterns, flaws in the Sauvinet deed. He paid particular attention to the later grant to Sauvinet, comparing it in detail with the copy Margaret had obtained. The two were strikingly similar, too similar he became convinced. He tried other comparisons but no two land grants that he could find were so alike. That discovery with its implications was enough to ward off tiredness and he continued with the detailed comparison until nearly eight. Then Dinah reminded him that they were going to the theatre.


Adam would willingly have foregone that but he had promised and it was time he flaunted her in public again, so he went to change. At least the play was light-hearted, an adaptation of Rip Van Winkle by the popular playwright Dion Boucicault, which Adam’s old acquaintance David Belasco had put on. David had invited Adam for a meal afterwards with the stars and not wanting to turn the youngster down Adam had accepted.


Dinah enjoyed the meal and all the attention she got but Adam was moving through the evening just about mechanically, Tired out it was as much as he could do to keep his eyes open and make a pretence of polite conversation. When the party finally broke up about 2 a.m. he needed Dinah’s support to get back to the suite. Luckily she was stronger than she looked and managed to get him there and through to the bed. Adam collapsed on it without even undressing and was fast asleep instantly. Dinah pulled his boots off and loosened his belt, but otherwise just covered him and let him sleep. She had been able to see his growing exhaustion all evening. She smiled down at him while she undressed, wondering why this behaviour endeared Adam to her, when in any other man it would have infuriated her; leaving her high and dry, not fulfilling their only real function in her life that attention at the end of the evening.


Dinah left him to sleep late but even so Adam was up soon after nine and having done an hour’s work insisted on escorting her to church, just to ensure they were seen. On the way back Dick intercepted then and passed over a note before hurrying back to the stable.

Adam waited until they were in the privacy of the suite before undoing the note, in fact there were two separate notes. The first from Jamie and Jess to say that Jamie had finished the first set of notes and wanted the next and as Jess was coming to town he suggested sending them home with his host. Jess had added a rider to say that he would be in the Bucket O’Blood and wanted to talk. The second note was from Michelle to say that Sauvinet, and the two lawyers were leaving that afternoon for Sacramento to put the initial details of the claim in front of the court. Adam considered that carefully, it would take two or three days for the writ to be produced in a case this elaborate and probably a couple of days for it to be served this far from Sacramento. He estimated that by the end of the week the writ would be in his father’s hands and the final acts would begin. There was still so much to do and so many people he hadn’t heard from that Adam couldn’t help being on edge but on the other hand he was glad it was coming to a head. The nine weeks since he’d first heard of the threat felt like an eternity.


Adam kissed Dinah but explained that he had to meet someone. He promised not to be very long and headed down to the saloon. Jess had a corner table and was sipping beer chatting desultorily with one of the girls who had worked with Liza. She left as Adam came over and


Jess considered his friend accusingly, “You’re tired out.”


“Don’t start Jess, What do you have for me?”


Jess passed a package to him under the table “These from Jamie. He’s working real hard that kid, eager for more.”

Adam passed over the second list of questions he wanted filled out along with Oliver’s notes, which only needed the full texts appended. Jess tucked them away and passed over Rey’s letter and two from lawyers in New York, men Adam had trained with, who had willingly sent him word on Cullen. Adam yawned as he sipped his beer but he did remember to warn Jess that his Father was on the rampage. He was close to the truth and looking for confrontation and details. Having failed with Adam, his son predicted he would try first Carole and when he failed with her he might try Jess. Adam was more concerned that his father would spot Jamie than that Jess would give anything away. Jess told him to stop worrying he’d set up an early warning system for visitors, even if some of his hands were beginning to think he’d taken leave of his senses.


There was nothing else urgent and Jess had to get back but at least Adam seemed in reasonably good spirits albeit thoroughly overtired. Jess promised to drop by on Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest. Adam knew exactly why Jess was coming to town so often but isolated from his family he was very grateful for his friend’s company and made no attempt to dissuade him.


Monday brought confirmation that the case was now before the court in the form of a telegram from Liza Campbell. Seemingly innocuous she had sent it straight to Adam, just saying “It begins.” Adam was glad to know and after a solid days work he spent part of the evening entertaining Dinah in the way she liked best. He found it far harder now that she knew the truth but Dinah was a very willing participant and ensured he had no real problems.


The following morning Adam got a note asking him to attend a special meeting at the Bank of Nevada. At first he cursed it and then realised the note was from Tony Canmore and making his excuses to Dinah who was still in bed, he went over hopefully. Adam wasn’t disappointed, only Tony was there, he had arrived back late the previous night from Santa Fé and he was very pleased with himself. Sauvinet was well known round Santa Fé and not much liked. He had a reputation for welshing on bets and on friends. Attractive to women, he used them but didn’t help if they got into trouble. More relevant and important to Adam he had twice been in trouble with the law. Once for fraud, when the case was finally dismissed as his Uncle had made restitution and the other time for perjury. He and two other men had tried to lie about the rape murder of a young girl. The three men had tried to pin the murder on an innocent man to get their own friend off. It hadn’t been entirely clear just how involved the three perjurers were, rumour said they were rapists and murderers too but they bought enough time for the real killer to escape to Mexico, before proof that they were lying was brought before the court. An irate Judge had sentenced them all to a year’s hard labour for that but again Uncle had bought Sauvinet off.


Adam was delighted with Tony’s efforts all fully documented and it should be no problem with that ammunition to discredit Sauvinet as a witness, Tony passed over all the papers and then joined him in a celebratory drink. Adam was delighted his case seemed to be coming together although he was still anxiously waiting for word from Europe.


Joe had everything running so smoothly round the ranch as he tried to forget his worries in hard work that on Wednesday he decided to take a day off. He planned on taking the girls into town, they all deserved a break and he wasn’t in the mood to take no for an answer. Driving the surrey he escorted Nita, Sue and Carole in, leaving all the children in the care of their respective housemen. Hop Sing had come over to help Kam Su for the day and as Joe said all four Chinese were going to be very disappointed if they reappeared before suppertime


Carole hadn’t really wanted to come, she had been avoiding town since Adam moved out but she found it impossible to refuse Joe when he was in that mood and she did have some shopping she needed to do. Joe sensed her unease and did his best to keep things light-hearted as they drove in. Carole fell totally silent as Virginia City came into view, so much of it dominated by buildings Adam had designed, his presence was almost palpable. She wasn’t even sure if she wanted to see him or not, it had been so long, but here under their opponents’ eyes they would have to act. Adam had proved that he could do so for weeks but thus far she had only had to act for the family and was scared that she’d let him down in town.


Sue felt her tension and moved slightly closer trying to reassure her sister. Carole read the compassion in her eyes and relaxed a little, warmed by it even if Sue had no real idea what was going on. Then all too soon they reached town. Joe pulled up by the General Store and helped the three women sown. All of them had shopping to do and Joe was quite happy to carry things for them. The morning passed swiftly and Joe led them over to one of the smaller hotels for lunch, not risking the International while Adam was staying there. Over lunch the women planned their afternoon mainly involving material for baby clothes and a visit to the dressmakers for the latest patterns. Joe was happy to escort them over but proposed to leave them to it while he did some routine business at the stockbrokers and the bank. Sue wanted to slip into the hospital and see her old friends for a few minutes, so having dropped Nita and Carole off Joe took her over there, promising to collect her once he’d been to John Marye’s. Unable to help himself Joe looked in his brother’s office but Adam wasn’t there and almost relieved Joe headed upstairs.


Thus far there had been no sign of Adam and Carole wasn’t sure whether to be pleased or not but when Joe returned Nita was still busy and only Carole was ready to go to Elizabeth Bowen’s. Frowning Joe muttered about women and shopping but none of them took any notice so he escorted Carole down to the dressmaker’s promising to come back for his wife.

The timing couldn’t have been worse. Adam had no idea that any of his family were in town but after working hard all day he had packed up for a while and fulfilled a promise to escort Dinah over to see Elizabeth who was making a lacy white evening gown for Dinah. Dinah had had this strange urge for something almost virginal. Approaching from opposite ends of town and with the usual heavy crowds neither couple were aware of the other until they virtually collided in front of the dressmaker’s. Even then Dinah couldn’t understand the sudden tension in Adam as he faced the beautiful brunette with her handsome escort. Dinah eyed Joe and was quite taken by his looks if she hadn’t already got Adam she might have been tempted. Carole had never seen the woman Adam was sleeping with and she hadn’t wanted to but as she took in the sensual beauty she couldn’t help the stab of fear that Adam might be more involved than he wanted to admit and she blushed deep red. Both brothers were very pale, neither wanting this confrontation but as Adam went to walk past Joe grabbed his arm. “You can’t just ignore us Adam. For God’s sake this is your wife!”


Adam icily calm, removed Joe’s hand, “I know that, but the middle of Virginia City is not the place for discussions. Be more to the point if you remembered your own wife. Now excuse us we are busy.” and without so much as another glance at Carole he led Dinah into the shop with ostentatious care.


Joe was fuming but Carole close to tears, even though she knew Adam had no choice, very quietly asked to go home. Joe could see that she was upset with every reason as far as he was concerned and he quelled the desire to go in and teach his brother a lesson, partially because he knew he couldn’t do it. He very gently led her back to the surrey and then drove along the street to collect first Nita and then Sue. They were surprised but one glance at Carole was enough to suggest a reason.

Carole sat in silence, her shell up again and so obviously impenetrable that the other three respected her silence and let her off at her own house. Joe promised to bring her shopping over later once he’d unpacked and then headed for his own house. Only then could Sue and Nita succumb to their inevitable curiosity and ask exactly what had happened. Joe told them, still furious with his brother, who could publicly snub his wife like that. The three vented their anger in discussion but it didn’t really help.


In town Dinah hadn’t really needed Adam’s murmured explanation “Unfortunate. My wife and my youngest brother Joe.” She wasn’t entirely sure just how real the icy calm was either but Adam couldn’t let her know just how much that had hurt. He turned her over to Elizabeth and collected a couple of small items waiting for him before settling down in a chair to all intents and purpose a gentleman of leisure with absolutely nothing on his mind.


Word of the confrontation spread rapidly and Hearst was delighted to hear that Adam had snubbed both his wife and his brother. Everything was working just as he’d planned and in a little over a fortnight the Ponderosa would be his. More important the infernal Cartwrights who had dared to defeat and to judge him, would be ruined, not only their precious ranch removed but their precious family ties broken.


Adam managed to keep up the act until he had delivered Dinah back to the hotel but then he suddenly announced he had to meet someone and turned on his heel, leaving her startled.


Adam went down to the stable first to see if Jess had done as he planned and come to town. For once he was in luck Jess was closeted with Dick passing on some orders from Jamie. Jess took one look at his old friend and asked Dick for the use of his room. Dick nodded and let himself out and then Jess made a quick hunt finding a bottle of brandy and pouring Adam a large one. “Drink that and explain.”


“Nothing to explain.”


“Come on Adam this is me Jess! Remember I know you and something has happened to just about tear you apart. You need to talk, let off steam. Remember you warned me that would be my major role in this business.”


Adam relaxed a little and buried his face in his hands. Adam moved behind him and gripped his shoulders feeling the tension, “Easy Adam just tell me what happened”


“Nothing really.”


“Sure you get this uptight crossing the road, the traffic’s murderous lately!”


Adam smiled at that and relaxed a little, “Alright but really it was just bad timing.” He explained what had happened and the little that had been said.” I just hated having to treat Carole like that, pretend I didn’t care.”


“I can imagine old son but she knows you don’t mean it.”




“I remember you once told me that your Pa had pointed out Carole was equally as strong and able to bear things as you are. Seems to me you agreed. How many times over these last weeks have friends and family looked at you, treated you in a way that hurts?”


“I’ve asked for it quite deliberately, planned for that reaction.”


“Sure I know that, but don’t tell me it don’t hurt. You have survived, Carole will do the same” Adam had to admit Jess was talking sense and slowly he relaxed. Eventually he looked up and smiled, “You’re good for me Jess. I couldn’t have got through this far without you.”


Feeling rather better Adam turned his attention to work bringing Jess up to date sp that he could pass it onto Jamie.  The precise legal details Jamie needed were just what Adam needed to complete his regaining his composure. Jess was glad to see it although he personally found all the legal trivia very boring.


It was nearly two hours before Adam finished and he was amazed how late it was and hurried back to the hotel. Dinah had seen the tension in him and she was surprised to find him back so relaxed. Adam firmly put away his papers and took her out to dinner; he was far too tired to work constructively and knew that he needed a break. Things were coming to a climax fast now and Adam was on tenterhooks waiting for the writ to be served.


All day Thursday Adam waited finding it hard to settle to work. Most of the basic study on the documents that he already had was done and he didn’t want to formulate his precise case until he’d seen the writ and heard from Europe. There were still several minor notes to be made but he found it hard to concentrate


Dinah surprised herself by helping him, supplying food and drink and making out neat copies for him. Even more amazing she was enjoying it.


Adam had estimated Thursday was the earliest the writ could be served and as it would be served on his Father, it would take time before he heard. As the evening dragged on without word, he could only assume he had underestimated the time it would take to get the writ out.

Eventually he packed everything away and took Dinah to bed, She deserved something for her unstinting support.


Later as Dinah curled up next to him she said “I’m going to miss you Adam Cartwright.”


“I’ll miss you too.”


“Maybe but you’ll go back to your wife, the one woman you really love. She’s very beautiful.”


“I think so,” Adam said softly and then noticing the pain on her face, he added, “So are you my dear.”


“Maybe now but I’m not a very nice person and in time that’s going to show.”


Adam turned on hid side and cupped her face in his hands, “Don’t underrate yourself Lady Dinah. You have proved yourself something very special these last few days.”


“That’s you Adam. I’m scared that when I leave you I’m going to revert to the hard headed bitch I was becoming.”


“You’ll never do that Di. Give yourself some credit. It would have been far easier to give me away. I haven’t been much company recently.”

She laughed ruefully, “I’ve enjoyed it Adam. If anyone had told me I would I’d have laughed but I was so bored with the social round. These last few days I’ve felt useful, maybe for the first time.”


“Then carry on.” Adam said quietly. “Find some thing that you can enjoy, a job of some kind. You’re far too intelligent to do nothing.”


“It’s not the done thing.”


“Do you really care about that; be yourself. Force the world to accept you on your own terms. Maybe in time you’ll find a man you can really share your life with, but until then fight for what you want. Don’t let the world say you can’t do anything just because you were born a titled lady.”


Dinah looked at him in amazement, it was such a novel idea, although rebelling in some ways she had never thought of challenging that particular rule of her society.


Adam pressed, “With the money Hearst pays you you’ll have some independence and I owe you more than I can ever repay.”


“No.” she said in horror.


Adam grinned “I am a very wealthy man Di. I can match Hearst’s offer out of one month’s dividends from one mine and still have money left.”


“You don’t owe me anything.”


“I think I do, without your support, if you’d gone to Hearst, I could have lost so much. I’m not trying to buy that support I know I don’t have to but is there anything to stop me giving a friend a gift.” He smiled down at her and she could see the sincerity in his eyes.


Dinah clung to him and for a moment wished that things were different, Carole non-existent and she could have him permanently. Still she was honest enough with herself to know she could never stay in this isolated mining time even if it meant having Adam. She knew him well enough to know he wouldn’t leave.


Adam held her close and then took the opportunity to bring up something that was worrying him. “Hearst is going to know that’s he’s been tricked as soon as I open my mouth in court. I don’t want you around where when that happens.”


“He can’t blame me. I’ll have been fooled too.”


“Give him a few days and he’ll accept that, he won’t be able to believe you were astute enough to see something that he didn’t, but in the first day or so he might just hit out viciously.”


“What do you suggest?”


Adam said “Has he any plan for you leaving?”


“Hasn’t said anything to me.”

“Well next time you see him why not suggest that as I’m getting so dependent on you that before his court case comes up you should vanish. Tell him that that will be certain to upset me, distract me.”


“It makes sense.”


“It would also get you paid and out of the area before he finds his mistake.”


“I can’t just leave without finding out how you got on.”


“I can telegraph to you anywhere, if you let me know where you’re going.”


“I can’t just burst in on Hearst.”


“No but once the writ is served I’m guessing he’ll want you to go and see him, tell him my reaction.” That made sense to Dinah and she promised to do as Adam asked but then she began silently crying. Adam slowly became aware of it and gently wiped the tears from her face “What’s the matter Di?”


“The case comes to court in ten days or so?”


“As far as I know.”


“I’ll have to leave in about a week. I know you’ll be glad when it’s all over and for your sake I’m glad, but it’s been an idyllic time for me.”


Adam couldn’t think of anything to say, he’d hated what he’d had to do these last weeks and it had seemed never ending. Another week was far too long for him and she knew that. He wouldn’t lie and all he could do was to hold her close and let her cry herself to sleep in his arms.


Adam was almost relieved when he learnt that things were finally moving. Dick sent a letter over to the hotel to say that a man had come off the morning train from Sacramento and come straight to the livery stable, hiring a horse and asking for instructions to find the Ponderosa. Dick had got him talking and the man said that he had legal papers to serve. Dick could guess what those papers were and immediately sent word to Adam. Adam was relieved to know that it was on its way but he still had to wait until his father sent word to him. The quickest way to pass the time was to work but he found it hard to settle, knowing that he would have to do the best acting job he ever had if he was to convince his family that this was as big a shock for him as it would be for them. For a few more days they needed to remain in ignorance. He was planning on moving everyone to the safety of John’s ranch in a week’s time and would have to tell them the whole story the day before. Until then he needed to keep up the pretence. Hearst and his men would be keeping them under even tighter surveillance now that the writ was served. Slowly he settled to work, forcing himself to concentrate, this might be his last real opportunity. Over the next few days he would have to be seen making orthodox moves, most of which he had long since covered.


Ben wasn’t expecting trouble; he was overseeing the breaking of some horses to fulfil a contract with the army. Joe had gone up to the sawmill to check with Jack Catfish and was planning to join his father that afternoon to go over the accounts. Even when Ben saw a stranger in town clothes riding into the yard, he didn’t expect any trouble. He went over to join the man who asked “Ben Cartwright?”


“That’s me. How can I help you?”


“I’m serving this writ.” And he passed over a large impressively sealed envelope. “To be answered in front of Judge Harris in Sacramento on Monday 11th June.” He passed over another paper. “Please sign to show that you have received it.”


“What’s this all about?”


“I don’t know Mister. My job is just to serve them.”


“This is Nevada not California.”


“Read the writ, maybe it explains. Or go see your lawyer. I’m just doing my job.”


Ben signed the paper and went inside thoroughly puzzled. He sat down ay the desk and undid the writ. At first as he read it he couldn’t believe it. He wondered if it was some elaborate joke, a Spanish land grant in Nevada! Ben had been there since the very beginning, known it as a territory and then as a state and he had never heard of such a thing. A careful study of the document itself seemed to dispel that idea. It was official and he had been given a bare ten days to fight this claim on his precious ranch.


The first thing had to be to collect his family together and warn them. His sons were equal owners of the ranch and whatever family arguments they had to have their say, especially Adam; he was the lawyer of the family. His mind made up Ben went first to the telegraph and contacted Hoss on the West shore. Ben had no intention of saying anything much over the wires, but he asked Hoss to return at once, just emphasising that noone was sick or hurt.

Hoss couldn’t understand what was so urgent and his guess that it was something to do with Adam was well wide of the mark. He did do as he was asked and set off within half an hour. At least with so many worries on his mind he had been working very hard and everything was ahead of schedule, with even the paperwork so up to date that there was no real problem in handing over to the men to keep things going for the next week.


Ben decided that Joe would be back anyway before Hoss could get home so he made no attempt to send word to him but he did send a message to the three girls asking them to join him after lunch, leaving the children at home. They had as big a stake in the ranch as anyone and had a right to be there. That left the main problem, phrasing a letter to Adam that would bring him out to the ranch. He toyed with the idea of going into town to speak to his son personally but his previous efforts had not been conspicuously successful. He decided a note was the best way and he kept it simple “I have had a writ served, which threatens the ranch. We need your expertise, Vital that you come home as soon as possible please as time is very short.” Ben signed it and sealed the envelope and then called in Red “Will you take this into town and see that Adam gets it. It must go to him personally. Tell him that I am called a family conference this afternoon and would be grateful if he could come.”


“Sure thing Mr Cartwright.” Red rode out and headed for town and Ben sat down with a large brandy to reread the writ again, scared what it might mean. He had heard of the case which had been upheld in San Diego and tried to face the idea of losing his beloved ranch. He got up and went over to the window, staring out over the mountains, knowing that his big son couldn’t possibly reach home until the late afternoon, even with the good road that they now had. He felt very alone and scared with this writ coming out of the blue, not knowing whereto start in fighting it. His land had been bought from the Government but all those deeds so carefully vetted might mean nothing if the land grant was valid and the Government didn’t have the right to sell the land. Ben began checking his reference books but although there  were items about various treaties and land grants none of it was detailed enough to give him any hint as to the agreements on land. He could only hope that when Adam arrived his son would know.


The morning dragged past and when it came to lunch Ben barely touched his food. Hop Sing was worried but he knew his boss well enough to know when not to fuss and just brought fresh coffee.


Joe was the first to arrive back after a satisfactory morning at the sawmill. Jack as usual had things well under control and Joe was pleased to find they were ahead of schedule on all fronts. He had been able to relax over lunch with Jack an old friend who didn’t pry and was in a good mood as he came back. That lasted until he walked into the house; one look at Ben’s face was enough to tell Joe that there was serious trouble. Joe went over and poured himself a brandy, “Adam?”


“No, not this time, it may be worse. I’ve asked Adam to join us this afternoon, sent for Hoss and the girls.”


Joe turned and almost explosively demanded “What’s wrong?”


“I’ve had a writ served on me. Someone is claiming the Ponderosa on a Spanish Land Grant.”


Joe stared at him in utter disbelief, downed his brandy and poured another one. He went over to the window and looked up at the mountains “They can’t.”


Ben wordlessly passed over the writ and left his son alone to read it. For several minutes Joe just held it while he studied the view he knew so well, but he had to know the worst and feeling cold from the shock he went over to sit down by the fire and read through the writ. Five minutes later he looked up in horror, “Pa they can’t mean the 11th, that’s only ten days.”


“I know Joseph. I think it’s deliberate, sprung as late as they legally can.”


“Can they make us appear in California? This is Nevada.”


“I don’t know Joseph, maybe, this predates the State. I wish Adam would come he might know.”


Joe hesitated “Do you think he will come?”


“The ranch means as much to him as it does to us Joe.”


“I know that Pa but .... Maybe in his current mood we ought to get another lawyer.”


Ben frowned, “Joe we can’t”


“Pa I love Adam you know that but the way he’s been acting recently, well it’s erratic to say the least. This is such short notice and so important, help might be needed anyway.”


“Joe you know how much this ranch means to me but Adam means even more. If we don’t trust him in this, we might finally drive him away, anyway he’s the best lawyer I know and this case will mean more to him than to anyone else.”


Joe stared into the fire for a minute and saw images of so many occasions when his eldest brother had come to his rescue, all the years he had trusted Adam and slowly he nodded.


“You’re right of course Pa.” He straightened up “Alright we have a problem, a fight on our hands and we’re short of time. None of that is new, it’s happened before and we’ve won. We’ll do it again, working together as always. Four aces in every hand, how can we lose?” He even managed to grin and Ben felt better just to have his son’s support.


The next arrivals were the three girls; Sue had got her buggy out and collected Carole and Nita. They were puzzled wondering what was going on and expecting the worst. At first they were pleasantly surprised neither Ben nor Joe looked particularly upset, but by the time coffee was passed round they had all sensed the tension in the air. Carole had a pretty good idea what this call must mean and she was on edge knowing that she had to pretend that it was all as big a shock for her as it was to everyone else. She couldn’t let Adam down but the Cartwrights knew her so very well and she had no great faith in her acting ability.


Ben waited until they were all seated with coffee and then he said, “Reason I called you altogether was this writ which was served on me this morning, but it affects us all. Someone has made a claim under an old Spanish land grant and the territory claimed includes nearly all of the Ponderosa on this side of Lake Tahoe.”


Sue, Nita and Carole looked at each other, each girl trying to work out what it meant, how serious it was and what they could do to fight it. Carole was the first to speak, “Pa what will it mean?”


“First point is to make it clear what it won’t mean. It won’t leave us destitute. Even if we lose all the money we already have, the income from the mines and our other holdings will ensure we have enough money for the rest of our lives, with plenty left over to give the kids a good start.”


Nita asked tentatively “But the ranch?”


“If we lose....” Ben hesitated and turned away to the window. “We would have to leave the ranch; all we would own would be the west shore land, a few oddments to the north and part of the south ranch.”


Nita got to her feet, “We can’t. Not leave the Ponderosa.” Joe went over to her and took her in his arms “Easy darling we aren’t going to lose.” Nita rested her head on his shoulder, with his strong arms round her she could believe the Cartwrights were invincible.


Sue, badly shaken, knowing just how much the ranch meant to her husband asked “What can we do to fight it?”


Ben sighed “I’m not sure yet Sue. It’s basically a legal matter so we have to wait for Adam and hope he can tell us where to start.” Ben went over and poured five brandies “Come on calm down everyone and have a drink. I think we could all do with one.” He had just finished passing out the drinks when he heard a horse come in and went out, expecting to see his eldest son, but it was just Red. Red came over to his boss. “I saw Adam. He had a meeting but said that he would get out after it.”


Ben nodded, not about to let one of the hands see how annoyed he was. Even with a note that obviously spelt trouble Adam was still putting other things first and Ben knew the ranch business too well and knew that there weren’t any important meetings scheduled. He hated the idea that Adam was staying with Lady Dinah instead of answering the call for help. Ben stayed outside for several minutes until he was sure that he had himself under control and then went in to tell the others that Adam had been delayed and wouldn’t be there until late afternoon. Without more information they could only talk in circles but none of them could avoid probing the sore spot, Adam’s absence. Carole was very quiet and she had taken the writ and settled in a corner to read it.


Adam had a shrewd idea of exactly where all his family were at any given time and he knew that Hoss was on the West Shore. At the most optimistic estimate Hoss wasn’t going to get back before six and Adam aimed to reach the ranch about then. He knew that it would annoy his father, and probably Joe too, and with luck lessen their ability to see through his act. Adam was glad when it was time to get going, he wasn’t looking forward to this meeting and he knew all his family would be shocked and upset by the writ. It had been quite a while since Adam had been able to get Blackie out and let him stretch his legs and despite dreading the meeting he enjoyed the ride, looking round the ranch with a fresh eye. Just looking at it Adam grew in confidence, he couldn’t lose this case with so many good friends helping and so much information coming in, he couldn’t lose. He stopped up by the lake for ten minutes; he hadn’t been there for too long. The very land seemed to welcome him and Adam just knew it had to stay their’s. Slowly he pulled himself away and took a minute just sitting on Blackie, stroking his soft neck, preparing himself for the ordeal ahead.


Adam made his entrance with perfect timing, as he turned into the yard he saw his big brother approaching down the hill. Adam slowly dismounted and allowed Kirk to take Blackie into the barn. Hoss came into the yard and hurried over to join his brother, “What the hell is going on?”


Adam knew that his big brother was really worried when he swore like that but he could only shrug. “I don’t know I’ve only just arrived myself, why don’t we go in and find out.”


Ben was very relieved to see his two elder sons, now maybe he could find out just how much trouble they were in and he didn’t even comment on Adam’s belated arrival. Joe looked up as his brothers came in and Adam’s lips tightened as he read the contempt in his younger brother’s eyes. Joe had his own ideas just why Adam was late and he didn’t approve. Ben didn’t miss the interplay even though nothing was said but hoped it was a case of less said the better. It was the first time in quite a while that Adam had been in the same room as all his family but he barely acknowledged their greetings, not even going over to Carole, just nodding at her, although it took him an almost physical effort not to go and take her in his arms. He still showed sufficient signs of the flu and the strains of the last weeks for it to be obvious to those who knew him so well that he wasn’t fit, but noone commented. The tension in the room was almost visible and Ben intervened “Do you two want coffee or a drink?”


“Brandy.” Adam said “And more importantly some answers. What’s the matter?”


Ben went over and poured a brandy, he looked at Hoss enquiringly but his big son shook his head. Hoss had gone straight to Sue and she had provided him with coffee. Once he’d given Adam the drink Ben went and picked up the writ from his desk. “This is the trouble. It was served this morning. Someone is trying to claim the Ponderosa under a Spanish Land grant.”


Hoss looked up stunned but Adam’s immediate reaction was blunt “You’ve got to be kidding. There weren’t any land grants in this area.”

Ben handed him the writ, “Someone thinks there were.” Adam downed his brandy and went over to refill his glass before sitting down at the desk to read the writ. At least he didn’t have to act to show his interest in that, but it didn’t tell him anything he didn’t already know.


Hoss got up and went and poured himself a drink “Pa can they do this? We’ve got all the deeds, ain’t we?”


Adam answered him “Those deeds aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on if this grant is upheld. The Government wouldn’t have had the right to sell the land. At best we could claim compensation for the improvements we’ve made and return of the original price.”


Ben said “Adam you’re the lawyer. What can we do?”


“Give me a minute.” Adam reread the writ and then went over to the window apparently deep in thought. Ben went over to his son and gripped his shoulders. “Easy son.”


Adam turned “We don’t have much time.”


Hoss asked “How can they take us to court in Sacramento? That’s California.”


Ben agreed “I was wondering about that. Is it legal?”


Adam came over and sat down facing his family. He bit his lip “Alright a few basics. First the court has every right to hear this case. It predates Nevada as a state and the original treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo in 1848. The claim has to be from well before 1848 so Sacramento can claim jurisdiction. Pa did they say anything about who was sitting in court?”


“Yes, a Judge Harris.”


Adam looked up at that, “Oh no.”


Joe asked “Why?”


“There was a case in San Diego, a land grant upheld a while back. The sitting Judge in that case was Judge Harris.” Adam explained.


Ben frowned “You mean he’s biased?”


“I don’t know him but they have obviously planned this very carefully.”


“We haven’t got long, can we ask for a delay?” Ben asked


“I’d rather not.” Adam said, trying desperately to marshal his thoughts. It was an obvious move and he should have been ready for the suggestion but he wasn’t. He was convinced that it wouldn’t be allowed, this was too carefully planned. He went on “It’s a sign of weakness and if they’ve planned it to be heard by this Judge, they’ll have arguments all ready to prevent the delay.”


Joe asked impatiently “What do we do then?”


Ben signalled his youngest to quieten down. “Adam as we’re so short of time and this isn’t an area where you have special expertise, maybe we ought to get someone in to help.”


Adam’s replay was almost explosive “No!”


Hoss said quietly “Pa’s making sense Adam, just to help you.”


“The sort of person we could get at this notice wouldn’t be worth having.” Adam got to his feet and faced his family, "You all know as well as I do that we’ve been arguing for various reasons lately but that’s not important now. The only thing that matters is the ranch and is you’ve ever trusted me, I’m asking you to trust me now.” For a moment he gave up all attempt to act and just became himself, he had to carry then with him on this it was vital.


For a moment there was silence and then Ben looked at his younger sons, both of them nodded and Ben smiled “Alright Adam. You’ve got it.”


Joe added “You’ve pulled us out of trouble often enough in the past big brother. I’ll back you to do it again. Now what do we do.”


Adam let his breath out in a long sigh, his knees feeling weak with relief but he had to put his act back together for now. He went and got some more brandy, for once really wanting it and then sat down. “Right Joe will you take notes. The first thing we have to do is check over our own deeds and make sure we have watertight documentation with us for our own claim. Joe you can do that, everything in detail.”


Joe nodded, that was a part of the law he was familiar with and he could cope. Adam turned to his father “Does this guy Sauvinet ring any bells?”


“No, I’ve never heard the name before.”


“Me neither and I haven’t heard of any white men in this area at the date they are claiming. I’d guess he’s a front man and I’d like to know just who is backing him and who’s acting for him. I think that’s your job Pa, tap any and every source you can, here and in Sacramento. Who is he? Where does he come from? Any information you can get and ask around the old timers, especially the Indians. Is there any hint of an expedition, anything in this area so early? Earliest I know of was Jedediah Smith and maybe some of the Hudson Bay trappers, anything you can dig up, especially involving a Sauvinet.”


Ben accepted that, he had plenty of contacts but whether he would be able to find anything in such a short time he wasn’t sure.


Adam turned to his big brother “The hardest part is your’s Hoss.” Hoss frowned wondering what his brother meant but Adam just smiled “This is bound to take time, we may be stuck in Sacramento for two or three weeks, maybe even more. We are going to win and this ranch has to carry on. That means getting everything organised so it can run without us for say the next month.” He looked round, “I assume that we’re all going to Sacramento?”


There were nods all round, noone wanted to be left behind on this one and Adam went on “Your job Hoss, arrange everything so we have something to come back to.”


Hoss would rather have helped out in preparing the case but he was no lawyer and Adam was right, there would be a lot to organize. “Okay I’ll see to that and if there’s anyway I can help....”


“I’ll tell you.”

Nita said “Surely there’s something we can do?” her sisters both nodded, she spoke for them all. Adam nodded “We are going to need two or three copies of a vast amount of documentation , one for us, one for the Judge and possibly one for our opponents, Joe will have to sort out what we need but he is going to need help to make the neat copies. I know it’s very boring but it is essential.”


Nita accepted that but wanted to know what Adam was going to do. Adam said, with a touch of bitterness, “Don’t worry I’ll do my share.”


Joe was quick to intervene, “Nita didn’t mean it like that.”


Adam rubbed his aching temples and nodded “Okay. Well I don’t want other lawyers in court but I shall be hiring several to make record searches in Sacramento, San Francisco, Carson City and anywhere else I can think of. Also I am going to telegraph for a résumé of the San Diego case and I’ll get a couple in town to help me check on land law, make formal notes and precedents while I bone up on the law as it affects Spanish Land Grants.”


Ben said tentatively “We need to keep in close touch over the next week.”


“True but I need to borrow books and it’ll be easier to work in town. You know where my office is and you’ll probably be in using the telegraph most days anyway.”


“How long do you think we have?” Joe asked.


“I think we ought to plan on heading to Sacramento a week today, give ourselves a day or two to judge the atmosphere there. So we have a week. I don’t know about you but that doesn’t seem long to me, so I think I’ll get back to town and make a start. Okay if I take the writ Pa?”


“Sure. I made a copy this morning.”


Adam got to his feet and collecting his coat he walked out with just a nod of goodbye, leaving his family stunned. Carole was very pale, she would dearly have loved to go to him and she didn’t have to act to show that she was upset, she missed him so much. Almost as soon as he’d gone, she got to her feet, “I’d better get back to the children.”


Sue offered to drive her but Carole shook her head, “No, I’d rather walk. Joe anything I can do just tell me.” With that she pulled her coat on and walked out.


Hoss was worried both about the ranch and about Carole and he looked over at his father, “He didn’t even ask about the children Pa.


“We did rather spring a shock on him Hoss.”


“Yeah but even so.... and Carole.”


“She still loves him.”


Fine Pa,” Joe said bitterly, “But that just makes it worse. Can’t he see what he’s doing to her?”


“Calm down Joseph. We have a major fight on our hands and we have to work together to win it. Let’s try and shelve all other problems until we’ve done that and just maybe in working together we’ll solve them anyway.”


His sons accepted the sense of that and settled down to a detailed discussion on who to contact, where to go, what deeds were needed and what needed organizing so that each would have a clear idea of what to do the next day.


Adam stopped a mile down the road and led Blackie into the trees where he was violently sick. The unwanted brandy combined with the tension as he put on an act for his family and the effort of not going to his beloved wife had all mounted up on him. He gave himself ten minutes to recover and then headed for town planning out who to contact to make checks he had already done, but now the news had broken he had to be seen making the obvious moves, to stop anyone wondering just what he was really up to. It was a huge waste of time but couldn’t be helped.


In town he went straight to the Palace and ordered a large brandy. Dan was there and for once Adam joined him and he made no secret of the reason he was upset, the writ that had been served and the enormous job he had in fighting it. He was sure that whatever the journalist knew, when not under a promise of confidentiality, would soon be known by the whole town. Far from making a start Adam spent two hours bemoaning his fate before returning to the hotel for the soothing attentions of his mistress. Hearst was delighted when the news was brought to him, just as he had planned, Adam was handling the legal affairs of the ranch but not an Adam at his efficient best, indeed far from it.


Adam spent Saturday morning hiring lawyers both locally and at a distance to do record checks and law reviews for him, none of which he really gave a damn about. All the moves he had made so far were totally predictable to the delight of his opponents. Just before lunch as he left the telegraph office a note reached him from Dick and he headed down to the livery stable. The last major piece was falling into place; the messenger from England had arrived.


Adam was totally taken aback when he saw just who the messenger was. Johnny, Earl of Northumberland had taken the job on personally and for a moment Adam was speechless. Johnny moved forward and hugged his old friend “I decided I needed a break and if it was this important I’d come myself.”


“Oh God Johnny.” Adam’s voice broke and he could only hug his old friend. Dick suggested that they move into his room, a little more private and by the time they had done so Adam had won back to control. Johnny became very businesslike, not having missed the strain on Adam’s face, nor how close his friend was to breaking down. “These are all the grants issued anywhere within the area of the Mexican Cession before 1821. We had full cooperation from both the Vatican and Spain. Most of the grants were registered in both places, but a few slipped through the net and were only registered in one or other. I also have translated attested copies of the land law as it was under Spanish rule and I am available to testify, along with the two men in charge of the searches. They are already in Sacramento and will meet us there.”


Adam sank down on the bed, “Johnny I don’t know how to even begin to thank you. It’s so much more than I expected.”


“We’re friends.” Johnny said lightly as though that ended it as indeed for him it did. He knew Adam would do as much or more for him if it was necessary. “Anyway the important thing is that not one single grant is this side of the Sierra’s or north of the 35th parallel.”


Adam took the papers and to give himself time to get control he began skimming through them, even though he wasn’t taking in anything. Johnny knew him well enough to recognize that and busied himself making coffee and appropriating the whisky he saw he added a healthy slug to Adam’s. “Come on old son. Put those down, have a coffee and relax for a few minutes. Then you can tell me exactly what you have been up to, to get in this state and why I’m not allowed to contact the ranch.”


Adam did as he was told, recognizing the affection in Johnny’s eyes. Over the next half an hour he filled his old friend in briefly on exactly what the situation was. At first Johnny found it impossible to believe that anyone would really hurt young children for a court case but he could see that Adam believed it and he had a great deal of faith in his friend’s judgement.


“How much longer are you going to keep this from your family?”


“Until Thursday I think, once we’re on the move to Sacramento and staying at a friend’s ranch, they’ll have to know. Anyway by then I can more or less guarantee their safety for a few days at least.”


“No wonder you look like death warmed up. It must have been hellish for you and Carole.”


“I thought I understood what it would mean but I didn’t. If I had that decision to make again, I don’t know that I could go this way.” That was as close as Adam would come to revealing just how impossible he’d found the last months and even then he’d revealed more than he wanted and swiftly changed the subject. “You remember my friend Jess?”


“Sure I’ve been writing to him for weeks!”


“Sorry I’m not thinking straight. Until Thursday I think you’d better join his growing collection of houseguests. He’s already putting up Jamie, he was once nearly adopted brother, now a lawyer and he’s been helping. Went to Mexico to do the same job there that you did in Europe


“Sounds fine if Jess doesn’t mind.”


“He won’t mind. I couldn’t have got through this without him.”


“Where is the ranch?”


“Dick will take you out there, he’s Jamie’s law clerk been acting as messenger boy for reasons I don’t understand.” Adam looked up and smiled “I’ve had so much help so many good friends. I need to take this, study it properly and complete my case.”


“Just make it a good one.”


“It will be. This is one case I’m going to win so convincingly that noone will ever try to take the Ponderosa again.” There was a note of such certainty in Adam’s voice that Johnny didn’t doubt him for a second. Adam slipped out and asked Dick to take Johnny out to Jess along with the note that he had hastily written and then he headed back to the hotel with his last set of precious papers.


Dinah was pleased to see him but although Adam joined her at table she was well aware that he had no idea what he was eating and he very quickly settled down to read what Johnny had brought. This time his concentration was immaculate and after reading it through once he could have virtually recited everything verbatim. It was exactly what he wanted, a complete historical record of all land grants in the South Western United States. It showed how the forms had changed slowly over the years and without even checking the deed Margaret had sent he could think of several anachronisms in the language, at least one phrase which didn’t appear in any other land grant for nearly twenty years. Even ignoring the vital fact that this grant was not on record anywhere it should be Adam was confident he could prove that the document was a fraud. For now he bent all his efforts in documenting the claims he was going to make that the grant was not valid, fabricated at a later date, in fact just a fraud. His work went well and later in the evening he packed up his things and took Dinah out for a late supper. He felt fitter than he had for some time and it didn’t take much effort to entertain her especially as she recognized his improved mood and became livelier so that Adam even began to enjoy himself. They finished the evening in bed and Adam found that easy too. It was almost worrying but as she slept next to him he compared her with Carole and slowly came to the conclusion that far from lessening his feeling for his wife, this strange interlude had deepened them. On the thought that in five more days he would be able to return to his wife, he fell asleep more peacefully than he had in months.


His peaceful sleep did him good and he didn’t look nearly as strained as he had done. Adam grinned at Dinah as she commented on it, “Typical just as I’m supposed to look worried I don’t! I think I’ll get a job with Edwin when this is all over.”




“Edwin Booth, the actor, he’s a long time friend of mine. In fact he’s due to come for a visit in just over a month.”


“I saw him once in London. He’s a fine actor.”


“I think so but then I am biased, he’s one of my oldest friends.” Adam got up, “Come on let’s go and scandalise the church for one last time.”


Dinah giggled but as she got dressed she became more sombre. Adam’s comment was a reminder that her time was running out and she would soon have to leave the only man who had ever touched her heart. She was honest enough with herself to know that she wouldn’t meet Adam again once he left and to know that while she would miss him, he would just be relieved to get back to his family. She smiled wryly at her image in the mirror, not so long ago she had been very vindictive when a man left her, causing him considerable harm. Even though she had been bored with him and close to walking out herself. Now when leaving would really hurt she had only good wishes for Adam and she began to wonder if in letting him reach her heart she had allowed him to permanently change her. She was even seriously considering his suggestion that she find herself a career away from the social whirl which had been her world.


By the time Adam and Di were ready to go he was in such a zany mood that Dinah was quite concerned and warned him again not to let Hearst’s men see. She needn’t have worried, by the time they reached the lobby Adam was a different man, obviously with the cares of the world on his shoulders, even if his whispered comments proved his mood hadn’t changed. In the end Dinah had to ask him to stop or she was going to ruin his act by a fit of the giggles. Adam sat back and watched the scandalised faces round the church and he to look down to hide the sparkle of mischief in his eyes. Di couldn’t help but react in tune with his mood and they enjoyed their lunch in the main dining room with the curtains pulled round a private table, but as they sat over coffee a note was delivered to Adam. It was from Elizabeth Bowen and asked him to collect the hat he’d ordered for Lady Dinah.


Adam was sure that it had to be really important for her to call him so directly and he headed straight over there. Despite it being Sunday Elizabeth was in her shop and when Adam tapped she swiftly opened the door to let him in from the alley. She smiled “I’m sorry Adam but I thought it was important enough to risk calling you over. Michelle is here and she wants to talk to you.” She led the way though to the small fitting room where Michelle was sitting drinking coffee, As soon as she saw Adam she came to her feet, “Oh good. I have written the note but it is better we talk.”


“Alright Michelle, what’s the problem now?”


“There was a big meeting last night. Hearst and Huntingdon call all the men in. Troy, my husband and others. They were talking about the writ and your reaction, all of you.”


“That’s no great surprise. Did they believe the reaction?”


“Oh yes, they seen sure it’s all a big shock and you do what they expect. They laugh that you not have time to do it  properly but Huntingdon he is not sure. He say they should do something more, that your family are too used to scandal, so it’s not causing trouble now. He say they should do as planned before, one of the children.”


Adam blanched “Go on Michelle.”


Troy he was scared, he say it’s too close to the trial, that your family would know it was because of the case, want revenge. Maybe you’d find out who was behind it and they’d have to pay. Huntingdon said just have to make it look like an accident, so you couldn’t use in court. He say your twins on the run easy to get at, or the babies. He talk of a case in San Francisco when a baby is smothered in its cot, said it could be done again.”


“Dear God.” Elizabeth gripped Adam’s shoulder feeling the tension in him.


“Hearst he said it was dangerous and anyway Lady Dinah was his idea. He say to wait for a day or so and first check what she thought and if some of your family come in to town, see how they react. I thought you ought to warn Lady Dinah and your wife.”


“Are they going ahead with the accident?”


“Not yet, Troy too scared and Hearst not sure but you must be very careful, make sure the children all watched.”


“I will. Bless you Michelle and thank you so much for the warning, but please be very careful. Everyone is on edge now. When do you go to Sacramento?”


“Next Saturday by train. We are booked in at the Cosmopolitan Hotel. If I need to contact you can I do so?”

Adam hesitated but she was right it might prove necessary and he wrote down Liza Campbell’s home and work addresses and passed them over. “Please make sure this stays hidden and only use it in an emergency but I’ll make sure she knows how to contact me.”


“Don’t worry Adam we will take great care.” She reached up and kissed him, “You just make sure you win.” She had already been gone longer than she had intended and hastily slipped out and back to the hotel.


Elizabeth had tactfully kept quiet but she could see that Adam was virtually in a state of shock. She fetched coffee and a large brandy “Here Adam you look as though you need a drink.”


Adam looked up, the pain clear on his face and he couldn’t find his voice but gratefully accepted the brandy and sipped it as he fought for control. Eventually he sat up and seeing the compassion on her face “I thought it was nearly over, just a few days and I can tell them the truth.”


“What will you do?”


“Warn Di and Carole and then I guess I’ll have to engineer another public row, I expect Joe will be in town tomorrow so I guess I’ll try and force him into a fight. I prayed I’d never have to do it again and I just hope that he can forgive me.” The depth of despair sounded in Adam’s voice and Elizabeth put her arms round him “You know Joe will, he’ll understand and even more important he loves you.”


Slowly Adam won control of himself, “I’d better write a note to Carole, send it via Dick and Jess. Then I’ll see Di just in case Hearst sends for her today. Thank you for all your help Elizabeth, I just wish there was some way to repay you.”


“It’s not necessary; all I ask is that you beat them.”


“I’ll do that, there’s noway I’m going to lose this case.” Adam quickly wrote a note for his wife and a covering one for Jess and then he went through the back alleys to the livery stable and asked Dick to take it straight out. Then he headed back for the hotel. Dinah could see that something was wrong the minute he walked in but she was shocked as he told her that the threat to his children had been raised again. He warned her that Hearst was planning to call her in to give her opinion.


Dinah didn’t query the source of his information. She knew that he must have a spy in somewhere close to Hearst and didn’t even want to know who it was. She held him close

“You know I’ll do everything that I can.”


“I know dear, emphasize that I’m still on bad terms with my family, say that our meeting on Friday nearly ended in blows. I’ll do my best tomorrow when Joe comes to town to prove that.”

“I will and I’ll also suggest that I throw you off balance by staging a row and walking out on you as we agreed. I’ll say you have become very dependent on me since leaving your family. They may not believe that but it can’t do any harm, they’ll only think that I’m showing off.”

Adam pulled her close, burying his face in her hair, “Just be very careful Di, I don’t want you hurt either.”


“Oh I’ll head back to Europe out of range, as you said Hearst won’t believe I could see more than him, so he’ll think I was fooled too.”

Adam forced himself to concentrate on work but this renewed threat had come hard, just when he thought the end was in sight.


Jess got Adam’s note, not that it said much, just asking him to see Carole received the enclosed letter. Jess didn’t hesitate, Liza had been shy at entertaining a real life Earl but that had lasted all of ten minutes once she had met Johnny and he could leave her to look after Jamie and Johnny. He kissed her “I may be late. I sense trouble and if Carole confirms it I may need to go to town to see Adam.”


“You do that if he needs you, this has been an awful strain on him.”


“I know and I owe him so much.”


“And you love him.”


Jess shook his head and sighed, “Why does that sound so wrong about another man? But I guess next to you Adam means more to me than anyone else in the world.” Jess kissed her again, “Don’t stay up waiting for me.”


Jess headed openly to Carol’s, there seemed little point in subterfuge at this point. She was in Adam’s study making neat copies for Joe but hurried out when she saw Jess. She asked “Trouble?”


“I don’t know. Adam asked me to give you this letter as soon as possible.” Jess handed it over and Carole ripped it open. As she read it she lost colour and Jess instinctively put his arm round her and gently forced her into a seat. “What’s wrong Carole?”


Wordlessly she passed him the letter and buried her face in her hands. Adam had told her virtually verbatim everything that Michelle had told him and asked her to be extra vigilant with the children. He also warned her that he was planning to force a fight with Joe. Jess read it quickly, trying not to read the last paragraph where Adam proclaimed his love for her and the few days left before he could come home.


Without even thinking about it Jess sat down on the arm of the chair and put his arm round Carole’s shoulders holding her close. “Easy Carole, just a few days. Watch the children and noone will be able to get close enough to cause an accident. Enlist the help of Kam Su and the others they won’t ask questions but they’ll make sure noone gets near.”


Carole rested her aching head on Jess’ shoulder not even thinking about the unlikelihood of this dependency of a cowhand, even if he was now a rancher. Jess was Adam’s best friend and that was all that mattered. “I can watch the children, now I know that the risk is back I can make sure that they are safe for a week. I’m more worried about Adam. I think he expected the real trouble with his family was over and I’m sure this will have hit him hard. How did he look?”


“I don’t know. He sent the note out with Dick and a covering letter asking me to bring it over.”


“Oh I see.” The disappointment was obvious in her voice and Jess smiled and took her hand.


“I’d guessed it meant more trouble and warned Liza that I’d be late. I’m going to town. I guess you’re right and he may need to talk.”

Carole looked up at him tears clear in her eyes and Jess kissed her forehead. “It’ll be very late, probably after midnight but if you’ll risk your reputation I’ll come tell you.”


“I can’t ask you to do that.”


Jess grinned “You didn’t I offered. Anyways you’re not going to get any sleep until you know how he is so you might as well wait up for me.”


Carole clung to him for a moment “How would we have managed without you Jess?”


“Adam’s my best friend, closer than my brothers ever were. Take it easy and I’ll see you later.” Jess made good time on the way to town and headed straight to the hotel. He guessed that Adam would be there with Dinah as he wasn’t at the livery but risked going straight up. He knocked on the door and Dinah opened it, puzzled by the travel stained cowboy. She put on her most superior air “What can we do for you?”


“Is Adam here?”


Before she could answer Adam came over “It’s alright Di, This is my best friend. Jess Ballard meet Lady Dinah Marchbrook.”


Jess nodded in acknowledgement but his attention was on Adam. He could see that he’d been right, the tension was so very obvious. “Can we talk Adam?” Jess saw the alarm flare in Adam’s eyes and guessed his friend was scared that his warning had been too late “Easy Adam no trouble.”


Adam bit his lip but for a minute he couldn’t trust his voice. Di didn’t miss that and moved back “Come in. I think I will go down to the restaurant for a late supper.” Adam looked as though he was about to object but she kissed him “It’s alright Adam I’ll be fine, back in an hour. You talk to your friend.”


Jess watched her go, seeing the genuine affection for Adam on her face. He had wondered if Adam was fooling himself and she was just laying a trap but now he was convinced she was just about in love with his friend. He just wondered how Adam felt. For now it was important to persuade Adam to talk. He went and poured two brandies, “Carole wanted me to make sure you were okay. We both thought that news must have come hard.”


Adam sipped his brandy but with Jess he could relax, say what he really felt. “It did. I’d just about decided the end was in sight, guess I relaxed too soon.”


“Carole says with the help of your housemen she can ensure that noone will get anywhere close to the children “


“I knew that she could manage that as long as she got the warning in time but ....”




“Yeah I have to prove to them that I’m still on bad terms with my family. I know Joe will be in town and he’s the easiest to push into a public fight. I’ve done it twice and I can do it again.”


“But he’s your little brother and you hate hurting him.”


“Something like that.”


“Joe will understand,”


“I even know that but it doesn’t stop me feeling physically sick every time I think about it. I hate this lying and acting. If I’d known at the start what it would really mean I couldn’t have gone that way,” Adam buried his face in his hands, shaking with sheer tension. Jess moved behind him and gripped his shoulders, “Easy Adam, easy.”


“I’m alright.”


“Liar” Just try and relax, remember what you told Carole, only a few more days.” Slowly Jess felt Adam relax a little but there was still far too much tension in his friend and he didn’t know how to help. “You might feel better if you talk it out.”


“There’s nothing to say Jess, you know it all.”


“Just mounting up old son.”


“Probably. I hate being on bad terms with my family even though I know they are angry at a mirage. I just pray they’ll understand. Did I have the right?”


“Easy, we’ve talked this through before Adam. You know they’ll understand and yes you had the right. Just think a minute what you have actually done. You have taken all the worries and all the trouble on your own shoulders for weeks on end, just to protect the girls and the children. That can’t be wrong! A burden, a strain more than one man ought to be asked to bear, it’s all of those but not wrong.”


Adam was close to tears and Jess out his arm round his friend “Give way Adam, you’ve been under one hell of a strain for too long.”


Adam knew that Jess would understand and in many ways tears would have been a relief but he couldn’t, not yet. He had kept going this long and he had to keep it up for four more days before he could tell his family and share the burden. Until then he daren’t relax. Jess felt him fighting for control and didn’t say anything just staying close to calm him with his physical presence.


Eventually Adam pulled away and went and poured two more brandies, he smiled ruefully “Guess we could both do with this.”


As they sipped the spirit Adam said “Thanks for coming Jess I needed to let it out, to relax, and I think just now you’re the only person I could have relaxed with.”


“You’re still uptight Adam.”


“I know and I guess I have to stay that way, just a few more days. I can’t risk all we’ve achieved by giving in this close to the end.”


“Will you win?”


“I have so much ammunition I don’t think I can fail, all of it has come in during the last couple of weeks. Things I wasn’t meant to have time to discover, information from sources that were supposed to be closed to me. If I’d really only known on Friday they would have wasted their time distracting me because I couldn’t possibly have fought this case and won.”


“Just so long as you can do it now.”


Adam smiled and pointed at the large pile of documents on the table “Those will win it for me.”


“Are they safe here?”


Adam frowned, so much depended on those documents and although he had the essentials noted and testimony available, the exact copies were the most damaging testimony. Jess saw his concern and asked “Are you still working on them?”


“No. I think I’ve done all I can. It’s just the detailed presentation for the Judge left now.”


“Do you need to refer to any of these?”


“I doubt it I think I know them by heart and anyway if I do I can always confirm the odd fact at John’s ranch. Will you take them home?”


“Do you want me to drop them off at your house?”


“No that’s too far out of your way.”


Jess grinned “Well I sort of promised Carole that I would come by on the way home. She was a mite worried about you.”


Adam smiled and shook his head, “Good thing you have Liza or I might start getting jealous. Reassure my lovely wife that I am fine, now you have performed your magic and have her lock these away in my safe. They are very valuable, worth the Ponderosa.”


Jess was relieved to see Adam relaxing as he teased him gently and ten minutes later, with a neat parcel of all the valuable documents, Jess headed back to the Ponderosa.


Dinah had been watching for him to leave and went straight back upstairs. She had become used to Adam in his town clothes and had trouble visualizing him as a cowboy. Certainly the dusty cowboy in need of a shave seemed a very unlikely friend for her cultivated and civilized man. However as soon as she walked in the door she could see the change in Adam. Whatever the cowpoke was he had managed to get Adam to relax, where she had failed abysmally despite her best efforts. She soon noticed that all the documents were gone and queried it. Adam explained that as he had finished with them Jess had moved them to a safer place so that he would never have to carry them personally.


Dinah found that now Adam had relaxed a little he was prepared to forget work and she put her best efforts into enticing him into bed. He was one of the best lovers she had known, considerate of her desires and knowing that there would be few more opportunities she wanted to make the most of it. She knew she’d be able to replace him in her bed even if her new lover was less satisfactory but it was going to be far harder to replace him in her life. She was still surprised to find that despite the gap he was going to leave she was very thankful she’d known him. Somehow Adam had proved to her that just maybe she was a better person than she had thought she was and for that alone she would never forget him.

Meanwhile Carole was waiting very restlessly for Jess to return. She knew she had no real right to send him on such an errand at that time of night but with him offering she had been unable to turn him down. She knew his deep feeling for Adam which spilled over onto her, more apparent since his own marriage, as he became more assured in his relationships with the opposite sex. She had always been fond of Adam’s friend but these last few weeks she had finally come to understand just why the two men were so close and to feel a deeper affection for Jess.


It was nearly 12.30 when Jess finally got back and she had hot coffee well-laced with brandy for him Jess was glad of it as he as very tired but he was quick to reassure her. ”Adam’s fine. He was more than a little tense but he felt better for talking. He hates the idea of hurting Joe but I think I persuaded him that Joe will understand and in the same position would do the same.”


“Well done Jess, I don’t think Adam would have coped without you.”


“I’m sure he would have but it doesn’t do him any harm to blow off steam occasionally and he did warn me that would be my principle contribution.”


“To say nothing of messenger, collecting post, putting up visitors and calming wives.” Carole went over and for the first time she kissed Jess warmly on the cheek. “We can never repay what you’ve done, for us both.”


“Just a little of what I owe Adam.”


“No you don’t owe him anything and for a start you can forget that loan he made, that’s repaid. Not that it’s a case of money; no money could ever repay trips like this, when you’re worn out, just to reassure me. That trip was made out of love to and none of us can owe love. All we can do is be thankful for it. I know Adam loves you just as he does his brothers, these last few weeks I’ve come to feel the same way. Never talk of owing us again, there are no debts between family and you couldn’t be closer, you and Liza, if you were blood family.”


Jess was totally taken aback by that, it was the last thing he had expected but the sincerity was obvious in her voice and her eyes, her every expression. He didn’t even argue about the money, for now she was right, that was unimportant and he just held her close. After a minute he pulled away and got out the precious package of documents. “Adam asked me to bring those out. He said to lock them in his safe, they’re valuable may well be worth the Ponderosa.”


Carole said almost defensively “He’s going to win.”


“So he says and I’ve never known Adam to be wrong when he’s that confident.”


“You’re sure he’s okay.”


“Yeah holding on for Thursday  when he can come home and dreading fighting Joe tomorrow but he’ll cope with that and at least the end is in sight. He’s missed you more than anything, you and the children.”


“That’s mutual but as you say we can survive for four days.” Carole looked at her watch


“Less than that it’s well into Monday. You’d better get home Jess.”


“You sure you’re alright?”


“Yes thanks to you.” Carole frowned “Are you coming to Sacramento?”


Jess laughed “Yeah Liza and I both have an invitation to John Chance’s ranch. Guess it’s gonna be a mite crowded but I wouldn’t miss it for a million bucks, I’ve been working hard to make sure my ranch is fit to leave for a fortnight, mind you my foreman is real good and he’s managed for years so I guess he’ll cope for a  couple of weeks.”


“I’m glad. If we win this victory will be your’s as much as anyone’s.”


“A little less of the if’s Carole. Have more faith in your husband, - when we win.” On that note Jess kissed her good night and headed home. He had already decided that if Adam was forcing a fight with his brother the following day, then his place was in town ,ready to help if needed, When he explained to Lisa just how tense Adam was she was quick to agree.


Ben and Joe had been busy all weekends on their respective chores and in between discussing with Hoss just what had to be covered over the next weeks. All too many things had to wait for the end of the weekend and people’s return to work and they rode in together early on Monday morning. Ben had a number of telegrams written out and Joe wanted to get a written record from the court house and a copy of the register of their deeds notarized.


In town they separated and Ben went to send off his telegrams. In most cases he was waiting for at least acknowledgements if not information and he intended staying in town most of the day. Wanting to know how Adam was getting on he went over to the office Adam had leased only to find it barred. Two subsequent visits had the same result and by eleven o’clock when Joe came over to join him Ben was beginning to wonder just where his eldest son was.

Joe listened to his father’s near explosion and tried to calm him down “He’s probably working in some other law office. He said he’d hire help as time was short.”


“Even so, how are we supposed to keep in touch if we can’t find him?”


“Take it easy Pa. I have to wait for the notary until after lunch. I’ll find Adam get him to join us for lunch. Shall I book a room at the Washoe Club?”


Ben, with vivid memories of two disastrous meetings in the Washoe Club, shook his head. “No let’s just get a steak at the Bucket O’Blood; it’s usually quiet at this time of the day.”


“Okay by me. I’ll meet you there in an hour or so. I’ll see Adam first, try and get him to join us.” Ben nodded and watched his youngest son leave without the faintest premonition of trouble


Adam knew very well that both his father and his brother were in town. It was just as he’d planned but that didn’t make it any easier. He waited out of sight in his hotel room knowing that one or other would be checking his office in growing frustration. Then he got Di to dress up in her fancy riding habit that he’d bought and he took her downstairs, determined to parade her up and down until he met Joe. Dinah knew exactly what he was up to and as she recognized his brother approaching she played her part to the hilt. She was smooching almost blatantly, pressing her body against Adam’s and looking up at him.


Adam hadn’t missed Joe’s approach either but it would have taken a very acute observer to notice that not all his attention was on the lady. Joe already furious that Adam was wasting time with this whore, having asked them to trust him with their ranch was under threat, was the last person to notice. He forced his way through the crowds to his brother, anger already clear on his face.


Adam pretended not to notice him until Joe gripped his arm and then looked sideways at him and said impatiently “What do you want?”


Joe furious demand “What the hell are you playing at? You said yourself we’re short of time and we’re relying on you but you’re wandering around with no thought but this English whore.”


“Mind your tongue Joe.”


“What do you expect Adam? For God’s sake come to your senses.”


Adam fanned Joe’s anger by pulling Dinah even closer “There’s nothing wrong with my senses, I know beauty when I behold it.”


Joe said bitterly “So she counts for more than the Ponderosa?"


“I didn’t say that.”


“Your actions do. You said meet you in your office. We tried but here it is 11.30 and you hadn’t got that far. Too busy with the....” Joe broke off and laughed bitterly “I was going to say Lady but that’s hardly an accurate description.”


That was all the excuse Adam needed to land out and he had already ensured that Dinah would retreat to the hotel as soon as the fighting started. Adam hit out almost before Joe had finished speaking and to the gathering onlookers it appeared as he wanted, as an impulsive reaction. Certainly Joe already furious wasn’t at all loathe to fight and within seconds both brothers were hitting out hard, with as far as could be told no holds barred, Word quickly spread  round town that the Cartwright brothers were fighting and it was good fight for the onlookers. Adam had taught his brother well and although he had the advantage of weight and reach he was by no means having things all his own way. Joe vented some of the anger and frustration about the attack on the ranch on his brother and Adam with deep fear for his family had every incentive to make it seem real.


Ben still collecting replies in the telegraph office, heard of the fight and hating the idea of his sons fighting in the street he hurried out to confirm the reports. The fight wasn’t hard to find immediately in front of the General Store, two of his sons were going at it as though they really wanted to hurt each other. For a moment Ben stared at them almost in shock but then he pushed through the crowd, who were cheering on the fighters, and reaching the centre he tried to separate them.


Adam had seen his father coming and he hit out hard, sending Joe down for the third but maybe the last time. Ben grabbed his arm, but Adam hating what he was doing, very coolly turned and hit his father hard. He caught Ben right along the side of the jaw and his father fell. Adam wiped the blood from his own mouth, “Don’t interfere and tell Joe to mind his manners in future.”


With that he turned and walked away leaving his brother unconscious in the dust of the street and his father dazed and confused on the boardwalk. Adam kept his back straight with an effort and ignored all the looks and comments as he made his way back to the hotel. Dinah was waiting and she wordlessly helped him to clean up. He might have knocked his younger brother out but not before Joe had put more than one mark on him.


Adam was glad she was there to help him mop up and very thankful that it was over and done but he felt physically sick at the events of the last half hour. Yet again to save the weaker members of his family he had inflicted pain on the strongest and he didn’t like himself very much for doing it.


Jess had been in town since before ten but he had kept out of the way, just keeping an eye on Joe knowing what Adam wanted to do. He stood back and watched the fight even though he would have loved to break it up and then he had to watch Adam leave, seeing the tension in the very way his friend moved. Jess waited until Ben got himself under control and went to Joe. Slowly Ben managed to bring Joe round with the use of a bandana dampened in the horse trough and Dan brought over brandy for both of them. Jess waited until Joe was back on his feet and walking with his father’s help down to Doc’s for a check-up and only then did he head to see his friend.


Adam was up in the hotel suite and this time when Jess knocked Dinah welcomed him in at once. She excused herself to go and finish her shopping and left the friends alone. Adam was surprised to see Jess, “What are you doing here?”


“Well as I knew what you were planning I thought you might just need a little help.”


“I’m okay.”


“More or less. Joe has left his mark. You trained him well. More to the point Joe’s okay, up on his feet and unless I miss my guess, on his way over to Doc's for a check-up. Your father acting as escort.”


“You saw.”


“Yeah. He left himself wide open for you to force a fight and half the town saw.”


“You sure he’s okay?”


“Yeah I hung around to make sure. I thought that would be all that you wanted to know.”


“I didn’t want to hurt him but he’s getting very difficult to stop.”


“Easy Adam, he’s bruised but he’ll mend and talking of bruises, he managed to inflict a fair number.”


“It’s nothing I’m alright.”


“Sure you are Adam and so will Joe be by now. You didn’t really hurt him.”


“Was it convincing?”


“I don’t think that anyone in the crowd, apart from me with my inside information, would have doubted for a minute.”




“He was fine, a cut lip, that’s all. Mind you I don’t think you’re exactly popular just now!”


“Did they see you?”


“Nope, I kept well back.  Just take it easy will you. I’m sure that will convince even Huntingdon that there is dissension amongst the Cartwrights and with Carole and the Chinese all on the alert the children will be safe. All you have to do it write your case up for the Judge and try to relax, only three days to go.”


Adam lent back in the chair and shut his aching eyes and Jess went over to complete cleaning up the various cuts and bruises that Joe had inflicted. Adam bore his friend’s ministrations in silence, just very grateful that he was there and slowly relaxing because of it.

When he’d finished Jess poured them both coffee with brandy in it and sat down next to his friend, “Take it easy Adam.”


Adam managed a grin and it wasn’t entirely forced “What would I do without you!” For several minutes they sat in silence and then Adam straightened his back “Okay Jess I’m alright now, thanks for coming but maybe you’d better go.”


“You sure you’re alright?”


Adam gripped his friend’s shoulder, “You brought me the news that I needed. Joe is alright and this has to be the last time. I dreaded it but it’s done and in just a couple of days I can apologize and explain.”


“Try and get some rest, you look exhausted.”


“As you said I trained him rather too well.” Adam smiled almost freely “But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Go home Jess, go spend some time with your lovely bride. I’ve interrupted your summer far too much already.”


“You know you’re welcome.”


“Yes I do and both you and Liza have been marvellous but it’s just a waiting game now. Wait for Thursday to some when I can tell the truth. I’ll see you on Friday and we’ll all go to Sacramento, ready to win, with no more secrets.”


Jess gripped his friend’s hand “Amen to that, but if you do need me before you know where I am. Dick can fetch me in a couple of hours.”


Adam grinned “I won’t deny I have needed you all too often but the worst is over now. They’ve had their turn now it’s ours.”


Jess relieved to see him in control, left and headed on home not wanting to see Ben or Joe just now. He took an indirect route home via the Ponderosa and was able to tell Carole that the final fight was over and Adam in control, nobody badly hurt.


Meanwhile Ben helped his youngest son down to the doctor’s, furious at Adam both for the blow he had taken himself and for what Adam had done to Joe. Ben was more shaken than he cared to admit even to himself, he couldn’t remember the last time any of his sons had raised a hand to him and it came very hard from his eldest son. It wasn’t the first time his sons had fought but it was along time ago and he was shocked by the apparent viciousness of Adam’s attack on Joe. He had thought that he was beginning to understand what his son was up to but now he had to admit that he was wrong.


Joe was barely conscious and it was taking him all his time to put one foot in front of the other and hide how he felt from the watching crowds. At least that stopped him worrying about his brother’s behaviour.


Luckily Doc was in his office and he helped Joe through and up onto the couch. He started to clean Joe up and only when the worst was done did he enquire how Joe had come by his injuries. When Ben told him with more than a touch of bitterness in his voice Doc was shocked. Ben added “It’s not even the first time.” not realising just why Doc was so shaken.


Doc enquired “Is Adam alright?”


Joe raised himself on his elbow, “He’s bruised and sore too but I never could beat him. He’s okay.”


“You rest for a while Joseph.” Ben ordered.


“Pa don’t blame it all on Adam. I said some things that were better left unsaid, provoked him.”


“It’s alright Joe I’m not going to make bad even worse, I’ll stay away from your brother. Just let me see what answers I have and see the notary and then I’ll get you home.”


“Don’t worry Pa, I’m okay and Adam and I will work it out. He’s still my brother.”


Ben was impressed that his youngest son could still say that despite all his cuts and bruises and he went down to the telegraph office easier in his mind than he would have believed possible half an hour earlier. The gossip round town was all about the fight between the brothers but noone dared to speak to Ben about it. His expression showed all too clearly that his hold on his temper was precarious at best. Ben couldn’t help noticing the way everyone stopped talking as he approached. He knew that his family was the prime topic of gossip in town again and by the time he returned to Joe  he was in a cold fury, just wanting to get home.


Ben found Joe looking considerably brighter for a chance to rest and equally eager to get home. Joe recognized his Father’s mood but for now it seemed safest to say nothing or he’d risk an explosion. Ben called one of the town urchins over and sent him to get their horses; Buck and Cochise were almost as well known as their owners. Ben helped Joe into the saddle and led the way out of town, keeping the pace down; sure that his youngest son was more shaken by the fight than he was willing to admit.


Just at the moment Joe was more worried about the effect of his bruises on his wife and his big brother. Nita was still cross over earlier instances and she was going to be furious when she saw him. Hoss would react badly too, he still had a tendency to think of him as the little brother in need of protection. Joe hated the prospect of trying to explain Adam’s actions again, hating the dissension between those he loved, that made him consider just how he would explain and the more he thought about it the less he understood. He was sunk in thought but as they came to the split in the road Joe straightened up, “Let’s go to the main house Pa I want to talk.”


Ben didn’t argue, he could see the tension in his son and assumed he was more upset by the fight than he’d claimed earlier. Kirk was in the yard and took the horses but although he couldn’t help noticing the cuts and bruises on Joe’s face he had the sense not to ask questions. Hop Sing wasn’t so reticent and he said accusingly “You bin fighting again Mr Joe, bad.”


“It wasn’t my idea.”


“You win?”


“Nope Adam did.”


As Hop Sing took that in he went off to the kitchen muttering a stream of Chinese, stating his opinion of these fights between his family; before hustling back with salve of his own concoction, which he insisted on applying to Joe’s bruises ignoring Joe’s protest that Doc had already seen to them. Unable to stop him Joe waited patiently until Hop Sing had finished and then managed a grin at the disgruntled Chinaman as he went to fetch coffee.

Finally father and son were left in peace and settled down in front of the fire. Joe sipped his coffee “Pa there was some thing wrong in all that.”


Ben in outraged tones proclaimed that of course there was something wrong when Adam viciously attacked his own brother.”


Joe smiled “Calm down Pa, I know he hit you but I did take the brunt of it.”


“Does that make it any better Joseph?”


“No but I was thinking about it all the way home. Why did he attack?”


“You said earlier that you had in a sense provoked trouble.”


“Sure I said some things better not said but Adam has always been able to defeat me in argument. It’s worse since he trained as a lawyer but he’s always won verbal battles, never needed to resort to physical ones. So why now?”


“A guilty conscience maybe.”


“It’s possible but I don’t think so. It’s almost as though he had it planned.”


“I don’t understand what you’re getting at.”


Look Pa, he must have known we were likely to be in town and yet he was wandering down the street, almost flaunting her.”


“Why should he want more trouble? Especially now with this writ hanging over us.”


“I don’t know but I can’t help thinking it’s all connected some how.”


“That doesn’t make any sense Joe.”


“I know Pa but too many things Adam has done recently don’t make sense. Maybe they are all related.”


Ben thought about that but he couldn’t agree with his youngest son. He thought Joe was just making excuses because he didn’t like his brother attacking him. Much more likely he just lost his temper Joseph. We all have fierce tempers on occasion.”


“But that’s just the point Pa, he hadn’t. Look I may not understand what Adam’s up to at the moment but I do know my brother very well. There wasn’t any anger in his eyes. Sure he was upset and worried but it was almost....” Joe hesitated, “There was compassion not anger Pa. he was doing it because he had to but he hated every moment of it.”


Ben frowned, it seemed very unlikely but his sons did know each other very well. He couldn’t help feeling Joe believed what he wanted to believe but he did him the courtesy of taking what he said seriously. Ben tried to think back on how Adam looked but he couldn’t be sure, he’d never really met his son’s gaze, it was all over too fast. “I hope you’re not fooling yourself Joe because that’s what you want to believe.”


No Pa.” Joe spoke quietly but with conviction. “I’m sure but that’s not the problem. You know how Nita and Hoss are going to react to this. How do I convince them that Adam didn’t mean it? Hated hurting me.”


Ben shook his head “You won’t not for a day or so anyway. To be honest I’m not even sure you’ve convinced me. I hope you’re right but ....”


“Maybe you should have more faith in your sons, Adam as well as me.” Joe grinned a little lopsidedly. “But I guess you’re right I won’t get anywhere for a while.” He sighed “I suppose I had better go and face the music.”


“Do you want me to go and tell them first Joe?”


Joe shook his head, “No Pa, will you stop worrying it will work out, just lets play this down as much as we can,”


Ben agreed to do as Joe wanted, his son was bruised and shaken and if he wanted to keep it low key that was his choice. “I’ll come over later this evening Joe. We have some things to discuss. This writ still has to be handled and I’m getting very tempted to call in an outside lawyer before it’s too late.”


Joe shook his head “You can’t Pa. Adam asked us to trust him. He won’t let us down.”

Ben gently touched a bad cut by Joe’s left eyebrow, “It’s the Ponderosa at stake Joseph, are you that sure?”


Joe smiled “Yeah Pa I’m sure.” Ben had to accept that and went along but he wasn’t nearly as convinced as his son. In many ways he was delighted that Joe had the nobility of spirit to think that way about his brother, while still in considerable discomfort from the beating Adam had given him. However Ben still felt Joe might be fooling himself just because he loved Adam and couldn’t bear to think badly of him.


Joe could read the doubts on Ben’s face but for now he had got his own way and decided he’d better go home and get it over with. He pulled himself rather stiffly to his feet “See you later Pa and don’t worry.”


Nita was on the hearthrug playing with her son when Joe walked in. As she looked up the welcoming smile disappeared and her hand went to her mouth to stifle the cry. She scrambled to her feet “Joe...”

“Easy Nita I’m fine, just superficial.”


“How? Who?”


“Just a fight in town. Doc cleaned me up, no real harm done.” Joe’s instinctive evasion was enough for Nita and she said bitterly “Adam again!”


“Well yes but it was as much my fault as it was his.”


“How can you keep defending him when he seems to take delight in hurting you?”


Joe pulled her close to him, hating the bitterness in her voice but he spoke very quietly though with total conviction “Oh no you’re wrong Nita. I was there remember. Adam hated every moment of it; I think it hurt him more than it did me when he landed a blow.”


“Then why does he do it?”


“I’m not sure, partly I provoked it but I’m still certain there’s some reason behind all this that we don’t yet know, In any case he’s my brother and what we feel for each other can’t be affected by a couple of minor fights, anymore than it was when we were younger and fights were fairly common. You love me Nita and for my sake if for no other reason I’m asking you not to judge Adam too harshly.”


Nita kissed him gently “Alright Joe I’ll try. I still find it very hard to reconcile his behaviour recently to the man I thought I’d got to know over this last year and come to love.”


“That’s exactly the point darling. It’s impossible to reconcile it’s illogical but Adam isn’t, so I keep coming back to there being some factor that I don’t know, that will make sense of all of this.”


Nita shook her head disbelievingly but just encouraged him to sit down and take it easy.


Joe kissed her “I will in a little while but first I must go and tell Hoss and Sue and Carole. I’d rather do it myself so I can prove there’s no real harm done.”




“He was in town with me, in fact while trying to break it up Adam landed a couple of beauties on him and Pa was flaming. He’s calmed down now and he’ll be over later.” With that Joe went over to his brother’s, moderately pleased at how his wife had reacted, even though he was well aware that she was hiding her bitterness for his sake.


Hoss hadn’t been back from the mine very long and he was planning to ride out to the main timber camp and then the west shore. Sue was collecting him fresh clothes while he had coffee. When Joe opened the door and called Hoss yelled “In the kitchen Joe.”


 Joe went through as Hoss saw him the smile of welcome vanished and Hoss asked harshly “Adam?”


 “Yeah, come on through we need to talk.”


“I’ll teach him a lesson. Take on someone his own size.”


“Take it easy will you.”


“What the hell’s got into him Joe? He’s gotta be sick, attacking you like this.”


“Why?” Joe asked lightly “I did my share of fighting, he’s well marked too and I’m not sick.”


Before Hoss could answer Sue came down and studied Joe in horror. Hoss pulled her onto his lap and Joe grinned. “Easy. It’s very superficial In fact Adam did an excellent job, just enough to mark me well and make it look good without really hurting me and then a knockout.”


“That don’t make sense little brother.”


“I know Hoss but although I provoked him and in a sense it was my fault, it was more that I gave him an excuse. He hadn’t lost his temper and he hated every blow that he landed, but for some reason he had to put on a display for someone else.”


“That whore?”


“No she wasn’t there, hurried back to the hotel at the first punch. Just the general riffraff who always gather round a fight.”


“Joe you sure you ain’t just making excuses for him?”


“That’s what Pa suggested but I do know Adam very well and I can tell when he’s lost his temper. He hadn’t.”


“I’m not sure that don’t make matters worse.”


“All I’m saying is give him a chance to explain his side when he comes back. Don’t let’s drive him further away. At the least I said a lot of things better left unsaid and half the fault is mine. So don’t start taking my side against him, I don’t want that.”


Hoss promised and Joe got up to leave, he still had to see Carole and then had a lot of work to do but he stopped with his hand on the door, “Hoss please don’t worry. I am alright, just a few bruises and Adam and I will work it out between us.”


“Alright little brother. I’m heading out to arrange the timber operations, should be back Wednesday night. I’ll see you then, try and keep out of trouble till then.”


Joe went over to Carole’s house to tell her what had happened. He was in luck all the children were ‘helping’ Kam Su in the kitchen, apart from Anne who was asleep next to her mother in the study. Carole heard Joe call out and told him to come on in, assuming that he had some more work for her. Joe went through and shut the door not wanting to be disturbed by the children, Carole looked up and then put her pen down and sat back “Oh No Joe.”


“It’s alright Carole purely superficial.”


“And my husband?”


“He’s bruised but not as bad as me; he won like he always does.” Joe said lightly.


“I’m so sorry Joe.”


“No reason for you to be, except that maybe you haven’t been as honest with me as you usually are.”


“I don’t know what you mean.” Carole said defensively.


“I think you do.” Joe said and went over and kissed her on the forehead, “But I’m not going to pry. Just listen to me Carole. Adam forced me into that fight but it wasn’t because he had lost his temper. I know my brother too well for that. He planned it to impress someone else or.” He shrugged “I don’t know the reasons but I do know he hated every minute Carole and he was very careful. He did showy superficial damage, without really hurting me and then knocked me out. I don’t now what reason he had for that fight but I think you do. Sure I provoked him, gave him the excuse but he was looking for it. Either way Carole I just wanted to say I do understand Adam and there’s no need to worry.”


Carole got to her feet and gripped his arm “Joe I can’t say anything not yet, not now, please be patient.”


“Fair enough and I won’t say anything to anyone or even speculate aloud, but if you should be in contact with Adam tell him I understand.” Joe grinned and went back to his own house and settled to work feeling very much better. Carole hadn’t said anything but her whole attitude confirmed what he had come to suspect.


In town Adam had calmed down and settled to work but that evening a message came to the hotel for Dinah. Hearst wanted to see her and Dinah could guess why. She promised to be over in an hour and as soon as the man had gone she passed the note to Adam.


Adam read it quietly and then looked up “I suppose Hearst will have heard about my fight.”


“Of course he will, he probably wants to know what I think it means.”


Adam pulled her down onto his knee, “Be very careful Di.”


“Of course I will. Don’t worry. I might have the chance to suggest my disappearance from the scene.” She said it lightly but Adam could see she hated the idea. He held her close, “I didn’t want to hurt you Di.”


“It’s not your fault Adam. Everyone has been trying to use you, especially me. If I get hurt it’s my own fault I didn’t mean to fall in love with you.”


Adam was shaken by that, he had realised she was growing fond of him but this implied considerably more. He hadn’t set out to make her fall for him but to his horror that seemed to have happened and although in some ways he had grown fond of her as he had of all the others who had helped so much, all he wanted to do was go home to the one person he really loved Carole.


Dinah kissed him “Don’t start blaming yourself Adam. In a few days I’ll disappear from your life as abruptly as I entered it. I won’t forget you and for a while I know I will miss you but I’ve gained a lot from knowing you. I’d begun to hate myself, I had no self respect left, you’ve shown me that just maybe I’m not such a bad person.”


“You’re one hell of a lady Di, I owe you a lot.”

“No!” she shook her head decisively “We’re even Adam and despite everything we’ve had some fun.”


“That’s true.” Adam forced himself to grin, but then as she went out for her meeting with Hearst he could only sit and wait, worrying that she might make a slip.”


In fact if Dinah had realised just who would be there she might not have taken it so lightly. Hearst had called together everyone involved but of the eight men round the table Dinah was only conscious of three, Hearst himself, the ice cold figure of Huntingdon, who seemed to see right through her, and the contrasting choleric figure of Troy. The rest were nonentities in comparison.


Hearst was as usual the main spokesman, “We called you over to get your opinion of Adam’s reaction to the writ and to that fight he had today.”


Di considered them and then rather haughtily said “He was shocked by the writ although he seems half inclined to believe it is just a nuisance suit, that they will be able to buy it off. He keeps on, far too often, telling me that there weren’t any land grants in Nevada that the Spanish and Mexicans did not get here. I have had more unwanted history lessons of Nevada than I care to remember.”


“Is he handling the court case?”


“Yes. From what I could gather his father had suggested bringing someone in but he had exploded and gained the right to handle it. He is worried about it but he is still distracted when I want!” She smiled at them and all the men there could imagine why and were jealous of the imagined joys that Adam had.


“He has been round the lawyers in town?”


“Yes looking for particular law books. He doesn’t seem too sure about the law that applies in land grants. He keeps saying that the time is so short and he can’t get the information that he needs.”


“That’s good.” Hearst agreed and Huntingdon nodded. Hearst asked “Has he said when he goes to Sacramento?”


“Friday or Saturday I think, which means that my job is just about done. I want my money and then I want out.”


Huntingdon suggested “Why not go with him to Sacramento?”


“That wasn’t part of our agreement and anyway he won’t take me. He has made it very clear, at least some of his family are going and he won’t risk them insulting me!” She smiled

“Ironic isn’t it, but he won’t change his mind.”


“I see.” Hearst said dryly, “Seems you have outlived your usefulness to us.”


“There may be one thing I can do to help. Adam is, shall we say very involved with me. He believes I will be here waiting for him when the case is over. He has made it very clear that even if he loses he will still be a very wealthy man, from his mine holdings and bank investments. I shan’t be here, as you know I intend to return to Europe.”


“What are you suggesting Lady Dinah?” Huntingdon asked.


“I think that he would be very upset if he knew that I was leaving.”


“I’m sure he would.” Hearst agreed.


“So I suggest that I force an argument perhaps on Thursday, as public as possible to embarrass him and then walk out on him. I think that should cause some distraction, especially when word gets to his family and they can say ‘I told you so.’”


Hearst looked over to Huntingdon for a lead, the other men respectfully waiting. Huntingdon asked “Why should you?”


“I’ll find it very hard; I’ve grown fond of Adam.” Dinah smiled to herself having made the one true statement of the evening and said it in such a way that noone believed her.


“But you could force yourself for a suitable remuneration.” Huntingdon stated.


“If we could agree something suitable.” Lady Dinah said coldly putting on her most aristocratic manner. The desire for money was exactly what  Huntingdon and the other men understood and they never thought to question her reading of events.


Huntingdon agreed the principle and then left Hearst to handle the monetary haggling. Dinah got an agreement for an extra $10 000, in return she would engineer a public row and walk out on Adam. Then she left them careful not to show her elation. Treating these men with ice cold aristocratic disdain. They were delighted with it and congratulated themselves on finding exactly the right bait to distract Adam Cartwright and send him into court in less than top form.


Dinah was just thankful to get out of there; she had been worried that she would reveal more than she wanted. Adam meant so much more to her than any other man she had known, it felt as though that fact should be clear to everyone. Adam had been feeling uneasy all the time she was gone. He didn’t doubt her willingness to help but was just a little worried about her ability. He had a great deal of respect for Huntingdon’s ability to see further through most situations than other men. He was very relieved when she got back; it was very obvious that she’d been successful. Dinah came over for a kiss and then over coffee and brandy told Adam exactly what had been said and the $10 000 bonus agreed for a public row.


Adam smiled, ”I think we can arrange that my pet, the dining room here should be public enough. All I ask is if you slap my face don’t do it too hard.” She kissed him but went very solemn hating the idea of leaving him. Adam recognized how she felt but he could hardly wait to go home and it would be hypercritical to say anything so he changed the subject.


For that evening and the next two days Dinah tried to forget the future and make the most of Adam’s company, both in and out of bed. Adam went along willingly enough, she had done her very best to help him. He got up early and got three solid hours of work in on his presentation for the Judge. The back of the work was broken and he only needed to polish it over the weekend. During the morning and for an hour in the afternoon Adam made his public and futile visits to the land registry, court house and various law offices, Twice he met his father and once his youngest brother but it was as though the fight hadn’t happened or at least had been put to one side for the time being. Ben was slightly reserved compared to his normal attitude to his eldest son but he was all business.

Adam listened carefully to everything his father and brother had to report the final pieces of the mosaic that he had been constructing for weeks. He spared time to take careful notes once they left but otherwise concentrated on entertaining Dinah. On the Wednesday night knowing that it was their last night together Dinah was insatiable. Strangely given that it was the last time Adam felt more guilty than ever, partly because she had in her own way come to mean something to him and partly her obvious regrets, contrasting with his own great delight that the end was finally coming.


Ben and Joe had quietly got on with their allocated jobs; Joe could at least feel satisfaction in providing detailed documentation to prove their title to every acre of the Ponderosa. Ben’s job was far more tenuous, he had notarized statements from Wahome and three other old Paiute chiefs that they knew nothing of any early white expeditions to the area and certainly no settlements. However Ben knew just how much notice would be taken of the word of an Indian in a court of law, even though he personally knew that in such matters their traditions were far more accurate and trustworthy than most whites. Ben had also collected affidavits to the same effect from as many of the early arrivals as he could trace, although many were dead by now.


It didn’t seem much with such a crucial court case facing them. They had both met Adam but he hadn’t been forthcoming and they had no idea how he intended fighting the case. Adam seemed very remote to both of them and the fight might never have taken place. Late on Wednesday evening Hoss feeling restless had joined Ben and Joe in Joe’s study. He had done all he could to organise things around the ranch and luckily they had many loyal men. Most of the hands were up in arms at the mere idea of someone else claiming the ranch, word had spread very rapidly. Hoss was very sure that all the men would work very hard to ensure everything were running smoothly when they returned.


Ben was glad of that and sure his big son was right, he wasn’t too worried about the ranch in their absence. He reverted to the subject none of them could avoid. “I wonder why Adam had been so withdrawn this week, not a word about his own progress.”


Hoss looked at his little brother, still bearing marks of the fight and with a touch of bitterness said “Maybe there ain’t any.”


Joe grinned “You don’t even mean that brother. You know we can trust Adam, where the ranch is concerned he would never let us down.” He got to his feet restlessly “It’s funny Pa and I can’t explain why but I got the distinct feeling he’s waiting.”


“For what?” Ben asked.


Joe shrugged “I’m not sure Pa. I did say I couldn’t explain.”


Ben wasn’t sure but Hoss was willing to accept what Joe had to say. “Maybe while we’re away in Sacramento, just the four of us, we can sort things out.”


Ben frowned, “Isn’t Sue coming. I know Carole intends to.”


Hoss looked puzzled “But what about the kids?”


Joe said “Nita is going to take Adam with us. We can get rooms at the Grand Hotel.”


Hoss frowned “I hadn’t thought.”

Joe punched his brother on the arm “I should have a word with Sue big brother, I think you’ll find she has!” Rather more seriously Joe went on “I thought Adam wanted to go on Friday to give us a couple of days to sort things out in Sacramento.”


Ben agreed “That’s what he said.”


“In town they seem to think we’re catching the train on Sunday.”


“Did you ask Adam?”


“Yeah, he was as forthcoming on that as he is on everything else. Nita wants to know exactly when we’re going, for packing and everything.”


Ben frowned “I was planning on Friday. I’ve done just about all I can here, Just a couple of final replies and they should be in tomorrow. I was going to spend the day making up pay packets for the men so that José can pay them if we are longer than we expect. Would you mind going into town again Joe, collecting the mail and try and talk to Adam again.”


“Sure Pa, no problem.”


“I think you’d better tell him that we will catch the train to Sacramento on Friday, stay at the Grand and he can join us as and when he wishes.”


Hoss asked “Do you want me to come along Joe?”


Joe just grinned, “If Sue’s anything like Nita she’ll have a list of urgent jobs for you that have to be done before you go away! I think I can manage to pick up a few telegrams on my own.”


That wasn’t what was worrying Hoss and it was written all over his face. Joe got up to collect his coat and go home and in passing gripped Hoss’ shoulder “Don’t worry we won’t start fighting again.”


In the event it was late morning before Joe was free to ride to town, he had been helping Nita collect some things together, with a trip of unknown duration the baby in particular seemed to need a lot. Joe spent the trip to town trying once more to puzzle out what his eldest brother was up to. It seemed a permanent and very frustrating occupation at the moment.


In fact Adam had spent the morning packing as well. He had quickly collected together most of his things and then helped Dinah fold all of hers up ready in neat piles. She was intending to catch the four o’clock train to Reno which connected comfortably with a train for New York. They planned a nice public row at lunchtime which would just give her nice time to pack and flounce out publicly for the train.


Once the worst of the sorting out was done Adam sat down and pulled her down on his knee. He kissed her again gently “You have made these last few weeks so much easier for me than I had any right to expect.”


“I came to trap you but I sort of fell into my own trap.” She said ruefully.


Adam smiled “We’ve had some fun.”


“Yes we have but it’s been much more than that.” She twisted round to meet his gaze “You’ve taught me a lot Adam Cartwright and I’ll never forget you.”


“I don’t understand.”


“You taught me that I wasn’t all bad as a person and that just maybe there might be a man for me, that I can like men. Only problem is you are very special, there won’t be many like you and you’re already taken.”


Adam hugged her “You’ll find someone Dinah, you’re very special yourself. I owe you a lot for protecting me these last weeks, I’d hate to think that you were ever again in the position of having to work with bastards like Hearst and Troy.”


“I told you that with the money they are paying I shall be independent, that was the only reason I did it.”


“I know Di but one side effect of all this is that I have made a very hefty profit at the poker table. I’d like you to accept just a small token, call it a sign of my gratitude and in remembrance of the good times.” Adam passed over an envelope and Dinah opened it curious. Inside there were two things, a beautiful gold heart shaped pendent watch, so very delicate and the back opened to show it was a locket. Dinah begged a lock of Adam’s hair to go in it. Then she slipped it on, only then opening the bank draft which was also in the envelope, She stared at it in amazement a draft for $50 000, “I can’t take this. I came here to fool you.”


“But you didn’t, instead you have been working with me. I told you before use your brain, become a person, not just a beautiful body to be collected by men, but you’ll need some money to give you independence to start with. It’s worth part of my winnings and that’s all this is. One day when you’ve forgotten me I’ll hear of you famous in your own sphere.” He smiled at her and she felt herself melt and could only nod her head. “I’ll try to live up to what you say Adam.” and she tucked the bank draft away.


Dinah straightened her shoulders, “Come on my dear we have a public performance to give.”

They headed downstairs to have lunch in one of the small booths off the main dining room, walking in ostentatiously apart as though already annoyed. Dinah was impressed by the aura of contained anger that Adam managed to portray and could only hope that she would be as good at acting. Adam ordered a meal without consulting her and she interrupted to change her order, showing the waiter her obvious annoyance. Adam frowned “You don’t have to take it out on the world just because you can’t always get your own way.”


“Don’t you dare talk to me like that in front of the hired help!”


The waiter beat a hasty retreat but it was enough to make them the focus of attention. Adam dropped his voice so none else could hear and Dinah followed suit but their every action, as cutlery was slammed down, food hardly touched, and in Adam’s case considerable amounts of wine drunk, were testimony to the flaming row that was going on, clear on their faces.


Joe went to the hotel looking for his brother to pass on the message about Sacramento and was told that Adam was in the dining room. He went in to have a word but could see enough from across the room to know that now was not the right time. He took a seat well out of the way and ordered a steak and some coffee, watching what was happening. It was very obvious to Joe that both Adam and the girl were furious arguing vehemently and it was equally obvious that everyone in the hotel was watching and gloating over the fact.

Joe had no idea what the argument was about, at least his brother seemed to have sufficient discretion to keep his voice down. Joe ate his steak barely tasting it as he kept an eye on the increasing tension in the booth and then to his horror Dinah stood up, slapped Adam hard across the face and marched out.


Adam was quick to follow her; the imprint of his fingers clear on his face and Joe swiftly got out enough to cover his bill and went after his brother.


Dinah had run up to her room and locked the door as Joe reached the corridor he heard Adam banging on the door and threatening to break it down if she didn’t let him in. All the way down the corridor doors were opening as people looked out, not wanting to miss anything. Joe hurried down the corridor wanting to stop his brother making a complete fool of himself, but just before he reached Adam Dinah gave in and opened the door. Adam glared at his brother but went inside without saying anything, slamming the door behind him.


Joe heard the key turn and hovered unsure what to do. The raised voices from inside could be heard all too clearly and Joe knew that everyone of the listening ears in the corridor were avidly taking in what was being said. He heard Adam say “You’re not running out on me, after all I’ve given up for you.”


Di’s reply was equally clear “I am not staying around in this backwater in the middle of nowhere, hanging around while you go play at being lawyer.”


“I’ll bring you back something special and it won’t be for long” Adam said pleadingly.


“No. It’s been fun. You’re quite a good lover but there are plenty more and you are beginning to bore me. This town is so dull. I want something more than a frontier town and a gun slinging dilettante part time lover.”


Joe felt himself blushing at the scorn in her voice and the interested looks all round and he turned on his heel, going back to the lobby. He got himself a large brandy and sat down, positioning himself so he could see if Adam or Dinah reappeared. The expression on his face enough to prevent any comment direct to him.


Upstairs Adam and Di hastily finished their packing, keeping up a loud verbal argument, with abuse on both sides for the interested parties they knew were outside. Eventually with everything ready it was time for Dinah to leave for her train ands she went into his arms for one last time, knowing that she would probably never see him again. She clung to him desperately for a minute and then pulled away without a word, not trusting her voice. She opened the door and walked out, not having to act, very obviously upset, if the reasons were different from what they all assumed. She went downstairs and told the manager to send two boys for her luggage and that Adam Cartwright would settle the bill. She waited for them to collect her luggage and Adam reached her first. He grabbed her arm “You aren’t going anywhere.”


“I don’t belong to you.”


“Please for God’s sake, you know what I’ve given up for you.”


“Noone asked you to. I’m bored go back to your ranch and your saintly wife. You deserve them, leave me alone.”


“I can’t”


The boys appeared with her luggage and she pulled away and marched off to the railway station. To Joe’s horror Adam seemed ready to follow and grovel further, he hated the begging note he could hear in his brother’s voice, hated seeing his brother so obviously upset that he let the whole town see. The manager was more concerned that the rather large bill was paid and intercepted Adam and insisted on payment. Adam had little choice and even though he didn’t argue about any of the components of the bill it still took time to add it all up. Adam allowed everyone to see that he was very upset, knowing that word would be taken back to Hearst and Huntingdon and that should buy him the few hours he needed to get his family safely to John’s ranch.


Joe went over to join his brother, hoping to calm him just by his presence as he had so often in the past, all ill-feeling forgotten as he saw his brother so obviously upset. In fact he made matters far worse, Adam was confident of his acting ability in front of strangers but nor for Joe who knew him so well. All Adam could do was ostentatiously ignore Joe and hope whatever his little brother thought he had the sense to keep quiet. Joe was so on edge, aware that Adam was the centre of attention that he didn’t even realise it was an act and eventually Adam paid the bill and was free to go.


Adam hurried straight over to the train station well aware that not only Joe but at least a dozen other men were following him, loathe to miss any further drama. He was only just in time the train was just pulling it and Dinah was ordering the boys where to place the luggage, Adam ran over and took her in his arms “I can’t let you go.”


She struggled against him but it wasn’t until she again slapped his face hard that he released her. The sound of the slap rang round the station and everyone gawped open mouthed at this treatment of the mighty Adam Cartwright. Dinah was glacial “All you have done is prove my point. Neither you nor this town know anything of civilization. I’m going back to England where there are gentlemen who know how to treat a Lady.” She glared at him and then sweeping her skirt disdainfully aside mounted the train. She didn’t even look out of the window as the train left, scared she’d break down. She had done all she could for him and only later in the privacy of her own bunk did she break down and cry over the loss of the one man she had ever learnt to love. Maybe somewhere, some day she would find a man she could give herself to utterly but men like Adam Cartwright were few and far between. She was still very thankful that she had known him and for a few short weeks had had the affection and attention that he’d given.


As the train drew out Adam stared after it, his thoughts hardly those everyone was attributing to him but he was in a strange way sorry to see her go, She had played her part magnificently and only he knew just how much that had cost her. He came back to the present with a start as Joe gently touched his arm, “Let’s go home Adam.”


Adam pulled away from his brother and he glared round at all those watching him so avidly and went back to the hotel. Wordlessly he collected his belongings and didn’t comment as Joe took half to carry. The brothers went down to the stables, conscious all the way of the whisper of conversation that followed them. Adam busied himself saddling Blackie, but spared a minute to tell Dick to take all his things and join Jamie at Jess’ ready for the journey to Sacramento the following day.


Joe went along with Adam’s unwillingness to talk, just distributing his brother’s belongings between the two horses and moving Cochise alongside the black stallion as they edged their way out of town. Adam’s whole form was rigid with temper and obvious unhappiness. Hearst Troy and Huntingdon watched from an upstairs window. They had already received detailed reports and watched Adam ride out with great delight. Lady Dinah had done exactly as she’d said with the results she had predicted. They gloated over Adam’s fall from grace, delighted to see the man they feared so much the laughing stock of the town, brought low by a woman.


Joe couldn’t do anything to help, infuriated by some of the comments shouted at his brother from a safe distance as some of the town’s jackals took the opportunity to gloat but Adam seemed oblivious of them all. Adam kept up the act until they were well clear of all town traffic and had turned onto their own road, safe on the Ponderosa. Then he allowed Blackie to dance, picking up his master’s joyful mood and to Joe’s utter amazement Adam turned to him grinning very broadly, his eyes dancing with mischief and said, “Come on little brother I’ll race you home.”


Joe was totally confused “I don’t understand.”


“I’ll explain everything this evening, now come on I want to see Carole and my kids.”


“Adam I ....”


“Later.” Adam kicked Blackie on and responding to his master the black stallion lengthened his stride, and Joe was hard pushed to keep up on the smaller pinto. Joe didn’t understand but one thing he was swiftly aware of was that he could reach Adam again, feel his brother as he always used to be able to. Far from being upset Adam was calm, very happy and confident. Joe couldn’t begin to understand but for now it was sufficient that Adam seemed to coming home in more ways than one.


As they approached the houses Adam said “I’m going home Joe. Can you collect Pa Hoss, Sue and Nita, and come over. I have lot to explain. Just give me an hour first I owe my kids that.”


“And Carole?”


Adam smiled “I owe her more than I can ever pay but that’s nothing new” with that he galloped into the yard and dismounted at the run, hurrying inside not even tying his stallion up. Joe thoroughly puzzled saw to Blackie and then went to collect the others as he’d been asked.


Carole had been expecting Adam and as he came in and swung her off her feet in a bear hug, she was almost overcome. She’d hated their pretended estrangement even more than she’d hated the idea of him having sex with another women. The signs of strain were very clear on both of them but it was over, he was home and they could explain and go back to being themselves. For a moment she clung very close to him but then the children realised Daddy was home and they too had missed Adam and bounded in, demanding attention. Adam didn’t care, he’d missed them more than he could ever say and for a few minutes he forgot everything except his wife and family.


Meanwhile Joe had collected the rest of the family in his study, giving Adam the time he’d asked for, while he tried to fill them in on the weird happenings in town. He explained about the fight leading to Dinah’s departure with Adam almost grovelling in his attempts to stop her going. Just how the town had gloated with Adam the picture of abject despair and then the strange metamorphosis as Adam threw that off and gave every sign of being delighted with life.

Ben was thoroughly confused and blamed Joe’s ability as a story teller, Joe shook his head, “I haven’t left anything out and it doesn’t make sense but Adam has promised to explain. All I will say is that he’s come home in every sense. I can reach him like I used to  be able to and despite everything he feels confident and happy.”


Ben shook his head “I don’t understand.”


Joe just shrugged, “Neither do I Pa.”


It was left to Hoss to make the practical suggestion that they go across to Adam’s and find out. Nothing loathe the five adults with the two babies went over to Adam’s, hoping the family really was going to become complete again. As they went in Adam looked up and smiled he was on the floor, his three older children sitting on him while Carole held Anne and watched, very content. Adam smiled up at them “Give me five minutes to put these menaces to bed and I’ll explain.”


The twins considered it rather beneath their dignity to go to bed at the same time as Marie but Adam bribed them with the promise of a long ride and a train journey the next day if they were good now. Carole brought the baby up and between them they had all four tucked up in bed in not much over the five minutes.


As they came out of the nursery Adam hesitated, he owed his family an explanation and most of them apologies, especially his youngest brother, still toting bruises from their last fight. He wasn’t looking forward to telling them, feeling guilty, unsure whether he had had the right to act alone. Carole could read the self-doubt on his face and put her arms round him, “They’ll understand my love.”


“I hope so.” Adam held her close and said “My God I’ve missed you.” for a moment his voice was thickened with emotion and he was closer to breaking down than he had been throughout.. He took a moment to win control and then went down his arm still round her for support.


The five adults all looked up as he reappeared and while relieved to see him close  to his wife, confusion and questions were obvious on each face. Adam forced a smile “Come through to the study I have a long overdue explanation and to most of you apologies.”

Adam poured himself a brandy but only his father accepted the offer to join him. Carole sat in her usual chair by the fire but Adam was too restless to settle and stood behind her, his hand resting lightly on her shoulder as though he couldn’t bear to break the physical contact now he’d finally come home. Now he had them altogether and could reveal the truth, he didn’t know where to start.


Adam looked from one face to another seeing bewilderment but affection, confusion but compassion and delight to see him back with his wife. He sipped his brandy “I really don’t know where to start so maybe by saying thank you to all of you for being so patient with me these last weeks. You must have thought I’d gone mad but each in your own way offered your support with no strings attached and for that I was so very grateful.”


Carole reached up to cover his hand on her shoulder as she heard his voice quiver. Adam kissed her hair and a little more under control he went on. “There’s no real way I can apologize for how I’ve treated you. I just pray that when you understand why I felt I had to do it you’ll forgive me.” Adam moved over to his youngest brother and gently touched a fading bruise on his cheekbone “Especially you Joe. I’m so very sorry but I really didn’t have a choice.”

Carole said “I think you’d better explain why darling but before he does, can I say that I have known everything from the beginning and I supported Adam in the choice he made. If he has deceived you all so have I.”


Adam smiled “I couldn’t have managed it without Carole’s support. The basic facts are very simple. When you called me out last week with the writ I virtually had the case for the defence prepared. A few loose ends such as the local history and our own deeds that I knew I could leave to you Pa and Joe. I had known about the claim for nearly ten weeks.”


Ben met his younger sons’ puzzled gaze and put the question for all of them. “Why didn’t you tell us so we could fight it together like always?”


Adam downed his brandy and went over to the mantelpiece to look up at the picture of the lake, then he turned and looked over at his nephews both asleep in their mothers’ arms. His expression was unreadable even for those who knew him so well. “It was legal matter and rightly or wrongly I took it upon myself to fight it. You’ll have to decide if I had the right. Initially at least that fight was best done alone.” He looked over at the babies again but couldn’t find the words to explain and Carole asked “Do you want me to explain my love?”


Adam shook his head “It’s alright sweetheart, “ He couldn’t face his family and stared into the fire, “We have some very good friends and some of them took considerable risks ten weeks ago warning me about this claim. It meant I could set in motion all the checks there weren’t supposed to be time for. I’ll explain all that later. The important thing for now was the warning they brought along with the news of the claim. It seems I was seen as a threat and yet they preferred me in court against them, rather than some land law expert that they didn’t know. Their plan was to have me acting for the Ponderosa but not at my best, distracted by family arguments or grief.”


 Ben asked “Who is they?”


“Hearst and Troy yet again but this time with the active backing of Huntingdon apart from some minor members like Grandison.”


Ben whistled softly “Powerful.”


Adam turned and spoke directly to his father “That was the trouble Pa, far too powerful to take risks with.”


“We can understand that.” Joe said, “but why not tell us and fight together?”


Adam gripped the mantelpiece, the decision he’d made had seemed the only possible one at the time but now he wondered if he’d had the right. “My three week absence was explained in town by a mistress, you know that. Hearst decided that if I could fall from grace once I could do it again given the right bait and that if it was public enough that would cause family rows. I couldn’t tell you because it was going to be your reactions that would convince him I was really doing what he wanted. I daren’t risk him not believing you, any of you, so I kept it secret. I went along, playing the bored restless man and then allowed myself to take up with Dinah, almost encouraged the rows. In fact Pa, Joe in some cases deliberately staged them. For that I apologize but I had to buy the time to collect all we needed to fight this case.”


Ben and Joe were both stunned at that and Nita no better, not sure whether to be glad or angry. It was left to Sue to notice the one odd word Adam had used, the reason for it all. “Adam you said they wanted to distract you by rows or grief. What did you mean?”


Adam turned to her and gently touched the head of his sleeping nephew. “That was the reason I chose to do it alone Sue, The alternative strategy if I could not be distracted by a mistress. They reckoned the death or maiming of one or two of the children or one of my brothers or our wives might be equally effective.” Adam looked round seeing the same shock he’d felt on each of their faces as both Nita and Sue instinctively held their babies even closer. He said almost pleadingly “I had to go along, take the scandal, force the rows, I didn’t know where we could be safe, not for ten weeks, not with all Huntingdon’s connections I know I didn’t have the right but I couldn’t take the risk, the children.” He broke off and went and poured another brandy, totally unsure how his family were taking his high handed behaviour. For a moment they were all stunned, it explained so much that had seemed so inexplicable but each in their own way was visualizing the immense strain Adam had been under. Only Carole could help at all and her help was inevitably limited by the nature of the path he’d chosen, when he had to stay away from her. Ben was the first to move, seeing all too clearly the tremendous strain on his eldest son’s face now he’d relaxed a little. Ben went over to Adam and put his arms round him “My son.”


Adam looked at his father, his face wet with tears “I know I had no right but I couldn’t risk....”


Ben couldn’t find the words to explain how he felt and it was left to Hoss “Thank you brother. I thank God you were strong enough to go through that hell alone rather than risk our children. A mere thank you don’t seem enough.”


Adam turned away blindly  it was enough, more than enough, just to know that they understood. Joe went over to him “Hoss is speaking for me too, how can we ever really say thank you.”


Adam frowned “I hurt you, more than once, I hated it Joe but I did it, can you forgive me?”


“Nothing to forgive brother, not with the children’s lives at stake. None of us are good enough actors and like Hoss I’m just so very thankful you and Carole had the strength to carry it through and sorry for the things that I’ve said.”


“You reacted to a mirage I’d created. It wasn’t really me you were talking to ...” Adam broke off and suddenly it all got to him and he couldn’t even face his family. He rubbed his hand across his eyes but he knew that he was on the verge of complete breakdown and he turned and hurried out of the room, just wanting fresh air and to be alone. He stumbled slightly as he went out, unable to see for tears. He went over to the corral fence and lent on it fighting for control, vaguely aware of the magnificent scenery.


Inside as Adam hurried out the rest looked at each other realising why and slowly coming to terms with what he’d been doing. Joe met his big brother’s eye and without discussion the two brothers went after Adam. Ben was happy to see it, for now the three brothers were best left alone. He went to his daughter “Carole, this must have been very hard for you, are you sure you’re alright.”


“I’m fine now Pa. Now I have Adam back. It as been hard especially not being able to explain to you all, knowing how you felt about Adam.”


“And this other woman?”


“She didn’t matter Pa. She couldn’t come between us we are far too close. She has no more meaning than those men who raped me. Adam’s heart is mine and while that is true nothing else matters.”


Ben put his arm round her “Adam chose a very wonderful partner Carole, thank God. He is going to need all your support and love over the next few weeks. He’s been under a most tremendous pressure and with the case looming that won’t change. I think I’m only just beginning to realise the strain on him.”


Carole smiled “He’ll be fine Pa. Joe and Hoss will calm him down and then knowing that he

has the support of all his family will be all that matters.”


Nita spoke up. ”He has that support. I was so cross with him when he fought Joe but now I know why, know he was saving Adam and Johnny, the other children from death or maiming. I’m just so thankful he had the courage to act as he did.”


Carole smiled at the blonde, “I’ll tell him what you said Nita. I know it will mean a lot. He was more worried about the effect of his actions on his family than anything else.”


“Don’t bother Carole. I’ll tell him myself. I owe him that much after the hard things I’ve been saying.”


Sue came over and kissed Carole, “I knew there had to be a good reason, you have far too good a marriage for it to go so wrong.”


Outside Adam had buried his face in his hands and wasn’t even aware of his brothers coming out. Joe met Hoss eye and said softly. “It’s been harder than he’ll ever say.”


“I know but he needs to relax Joe. It’s gonna be tough over the next few days, with this case.”


“I know but we’ll fight together.”


“Adam will win.”


“Sure he will.” Joe said with conviction “With the amount he has invested he has to win.”


Hoss nodded and without further discussion the brothers moved up one either side of Adam. he wasn’t even aware of them until Joe put his arm round Adam’s shoulders. Joe could feel the tension in him and said, “Easy brother, it’s over now, you’re home.”


Adam couldn’t find any words, he had an enormous lump in his throat but as Hoss gently gripped his shoulders he felt tears stinging his eyelids. Hoss said, “Give in brother, it’s what you need. I can’t even begin to imagine the strain it musta been.”


Adam swallowed hard but the compassion on his big brother’s face was the final straw and he turned to Hoss, buried his face in Hoss’ shoulder and gave way to the tears that had been threatening ever since his family came. Joe stood close by his brothers, gripping Adam’s shoulder in mute sympathy until he felt the tension slowly ease. It was nearly twenty minutes before Adam lifted his head and accepted the hanky that Joe offered.  He felt the need to talk as he tried to explain just how hard it had been to fight one brother and not to come to the other when he was injured. The agony of mind when he couldn’t come to his sick children and had to snub family and friends. He wasn’t very coherent but his brothers recognized the need to talk and listened without comment, just staying very close, trying to calm him by their presence. Adam low voiced even spoke of the need to make love to Dinah and his attempts finally unsuccessful to fool her, of the guilt he felt and yet paradoxically the affection that had grown. He finished by telling them of the great effort he’d had to make over weeks to curtain his mind from them and the sheer loneliness it had brought. Eventually he fell silent and physically weak, drained for now of all emotion, he was glad of Hoss’ supporting arm as he stared up at the Sierra’s, so beautiful in the moonlight, a token of what he was fighting for.


Joe very gently wiped his brother’s face, he’d shed tears himself as he’d listened to Adam, knowing the chances were that Adam would never again reveal anything of the strain he’d been under and had even now only touched the surface. “Dear God I don’t know where you found the strength, but thank you.”


Adam gripped Joe’s hand, “You bore the brunt I had to, to convince Hearst, please forgive me.”


“Oh you idiot Adam I told you there’s nothing to forgive. For weeks you have taken everything on your own, now we can help.”


Adam searched his brother’s face but Joe’s expression was clear, love and gratitude so obvious and he pulled his young brother close. “Pray God we never have to fight again.”


“Easy Adam. Come on it’s getting cold and I think we could all do with a drink.”

Adam had relaxed a little as he talked to his brothers and as he relaxed he felt desperately tired but there was still so much to do and to explain that he couldn’t give in. He got a grip on himself  with an effort, “You’re right Joe let’s go in.”


Adam headed straight upstairs to wash, not wanting everyone to see how he felt. Hoss went up with him not wanting to leave him alone, not yet. Joe went in to join the others, not realising just how clear the ravages of emotion were on his own face, He smiled at them,


“Adam’s okay, relaxed a little.”


Ben poured a large brandy  “Here son you look as though you need a drink.”


“He talked, just a little.” Joe sipped his drink before looking up at his father “Pa I don’t know where he found that strength.”


Ben put his arm round his youngest son, “From love Joseph. Love of all of us and from God. He has grown into one hell of a man, my eldest son.”


Adam coming down with his big brother blushed as he heard his father’s testimonial and the hear, hears from Nita and Sue. They warmed him far more  then the brandy Ben passed him. Adam still showed very clearly that he had broken down but all of them knew the need for it and were glad to see the unnatural tension had gone from his body. Adam sat down and pulled Carole close, needing her against him as proof that the nightmare was over but for now he was strictly practical.


“I’ve spread word in town that we will leave on Saturday and stay at the Grand Hotel in Sacramento. In fact I want to go early in the morning by wagon as far as Reno and pick up the train there. Hopefully that will throw everyone off our track. Everyone to go especially the children and I’ve arranged for us to be met in Sacramento. John Chance has a small ranch outside Sacramento and he has arranged for some of his men, long time employees that he knows well to act as bodyguards. The ranch will be a fortress for the duration of the trial because as soon as I open my mouth they are going to know I’ve been fooling them.”

The others looked at each other in consternation. Adam was right the threat was still all too real but they hadn’t come to terms with it yet. Adam smiled “Don’t worry for a few days we can ensure everyone is safe and I shall make it very clear to Hearst and company that any attack on us will be brought home direct to them.”


Adam went on “We’ll have company and extra men with us. I’ve had so much help, so many friends, I couldn’t have managed without them. Especially Jess and Liza. They have acted as my post office and go between from the beginning. Jess knew from the very start, the three girls who brought me the warning used him as a go between.”


“Who were they?” Ben asked.


“Marcy, she overheard Hearst talking, he’s been staying at her hotel throughout. Michelle Grandison, grateful for Joe saving her parents and incensed because her husband was partner to all this and most of all Margaret Hunter. You remember Sam he died of rabies years ago. Since then Margaret has been Hearst’s private secretary but when this came up she felt she had an older loyalty.”


Ben, Hoss and Joe all remembered very clearly the way Adam had earnt that loyalty, the long hard days as he eased his friend as much as was humanly possible. To break the silence


Carole said, “Jamie will be coming too.”


Adam smiled at his father’s surprise, “I enlisted Jamie’s help and Ramon Perez as an interpreter. Jamie has all the documentary evidence from Mexico, he went there for me. Johnny Sutherland is at Jess’ too, he arranged the searches in Spain and in the Vatican . The men who actually carried them out will meet us in Sacramento. Steve Fallon and Johnny Rey have also been helping and I enlisted Oliver Wendall Holmes as an expert to prepare detailed reports on the law, John Chance went east for me and brought back books and copies of all the relevant statutes. So many friends Pa. Liza Campbell is in the land office and has kept me in touch with events in the court at Sacramento. Elizabeth Bowen and Jamie’s law clerk Dick Langton have acted as intermediaries. Margaret even took the risk of getting me a verbatim copy and detailed description of the grant and with the documents that Jamie and Johnny have brought I can prove it’s a fraud.”


Ben gripped his son’s shoulders “You have done superbly Adam and somehow we’ll manage to thank all those who have helped but for now take your wife and go to bed. You’re exhausted and we all need time to think, it’s going to be a long day tomorrow.” Adam pulled himself to his feet, his eyes locked on his father’s “I know I had no right and I know I’ve put you all through hell....”


Ben pulled him close “We’re just thankful you had the strength Adam. Don’t ever apologize again, we all know that it was done out of love.”


Nita added “I will thank God for a long time that you had the courage to do as you did and protect us all.”


Sue nodded “We can all see how much it cost you, you of all men to be estranged from your family. As Pa said we know you did it from love.”


Adam looked round at all his family seeing love, understanding and gratitude where he had been so scared he would find condemnation. Somehow the support from his two sisters meant even more than his own blood relatives, they had others as their first priority and yet still understood. “You’re kinder than I deserve, thank you all for your generosity and understanding. I think I’ll sleep better tonight than I have for months.” Total exhaustion was all too apparent and Ben smiled at his daughter, “Take him to bed Carole, before he falls asleep on his feet.”


Adam did sleep well but all the others had far too much on their minds as they tried to come to terms with everything he had said and what the immediate future might hold. Carole was awake too but she was just so very thankful the charade was over and her husband was lying peacefully next to her. Fast asleep he was holding her hand and when she went to move his grip tightened. For so long he had had to be away, now he was home  and he wasn’t letting go, that unconscious gesture said all Carole needed.