Shades of War (by Krystyna)

Summary:   Joe departs with a light heart to attend a friends wedding little knowing that Frederic Kyle has a longer shadow than any in the family realize and it isn’t long before Joe, and Adam, are drawn into the War between North and South.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Wester
Rated: PG
Word Count:  32,400


Hoss Cartwright slammed shut the stagecoach door and raised his hand in farewell as he stepped back onto the boardwalk of the depot.

“See you in three weeks’ time, Joe. Make sure you don’t git yerself into any trouble now, you hear?”

His deep voice was greeted by a chuckle from the interior of the coach and a tousle headed young man leaned out of the window with a grin on his face that stretched from ear to ear,

“Now, what kind of trouble can I get into, Hoss? I’m only going to be Andrew’s groomsman at his wedding. What kind of trouble can I get into doing that?”

“Joe, when Andrew was at school with you, we were forever having to bail you two outa trouble.” Ben Cartwright reminded his youngest son with twinkling eyes and a smile on his tanned face.

“Yeah, and I ain’t fixin’ on travellin’ across the territory to git to bail you out again, thet’s all I’m sayin’.” Hoss added, draping one arm across his father’s shoulders in a display of family fortitude.

“Seems to me the only trouble Andrew’s going to git himself into now, is getting his groomsman to the wedding in time.” Joe chuckled, shaking his father by the hand and giving him a wink of the eye.

“Take care, son. Give Andrew our best regards for the future.”

“I sure will, Pa. Take care of yourselves and make sure that you don’t burn the Ponderosa down before I get back.” Joe chuckled.

Hoss laughed, a deep belly of a laugh that gave his brother a warm feeling inside. He waved his hat in a final farewell and then settled back into the gloom of the coach’s interior as the coach lurched just prior to lunging forwards.

Hoss waved his hat above his head even though he knew Joe would be oblivious to the fact, whilst Ben turned and began to walk towards the horses. Hoss watched the coach disappearing down the Main Street of Virginia City for a few seconds more and then, smiling at nothing in particular, he slapped his hat back onto his head and returned to where his father, and the horses, were patiently waiting.

“Three weeks without Joe rattling around the ranch.” Hoss grinned, “It sure will be quiet around the place.” He un-tethered the reins of both Chub and Cochise and then mounted into his saddle.

“Adam will be back from San Francisco in about two weeks time, if not earlier.” Ben turned Buck in the opposite direction from the coach, and side by side with his second son, they trotted slowly through the Main Street. “It’s not the best timing for them both to be away at the same time, but we’ll just have to double up and get on with it.”

Hoss frowned and darted his father an anxious glance with his blue eyes. Doubling up usually meant that he, Hoss, did his brothers’ as well as his own share of the chores, while his father concentrated on the paperwork. His face dropped at the thought of all the waterholes that would be needing a clear out at this time of the year and a shiver trickled down his back at the memory of how many saplings needed attention just now.

“Pa, couldn’t you send a cable to Adam and tell him to get a spurt on? I sure hate the idea of him missing out on any work around the place right now.”

“I’m sure you do, Hoss.” Ben glanced over at his son and smiled, “Fact is, Adam has important work to carry out in San Francisco and he can’t hurry through it or he could lose us a great deal of money.”

“Shucks, ain’t that jest typical.”

“What is?”

“Andrew Buckley and Joe gitting together right now at my inconvenience, jest like they used to always do when they were kids.”

“Andrew could hardly help it if his wedding coincides with Adam being away, Hoss.”

They were out of town now, and able to ride at a faster pace towards home. Hoss frowned and thought of the time when Joe was at school and Andrew Buckley was his closest ‘buddy’. It seemed that Miss Abigail Jones was forever sending messages to (mostly) Adam to sort out some problem or other caused by the two of them.

It was not even that Andrew was a bad child. Like Joe he was high spirited and always looking for some kind of ‘adventure’. A day would be boring if something exciting did not happen, and if the day looked as though it were going to be boring, then the pair of them made sure something exciting happened to make sure that it was just that – exciting.

It was never anything cruel or malicious, just little jokes that sometimes went rather wrong. But intentional or not, when the two of them got together, there always seemed to be complications of some sort or another. Ben and Adam and Hoss all heaved a sigh of relief when the Buckley family moved away. That had been four years ago and apart from the occasional letter from Andrew to Joe, they had not seen them since.

“I cain’t imagine anyone wanting to marry Andrew Buckley.” Hoss had declared when Joe had received the news that his best friend was getting hitched and wanting him, Joe, to be his groomsman.

“Last I knew he was quite a good looking youth.” Ben had replied from behind the newspaper.

“It’ll mean I’ll be away for some time, Pa, about three to four weeks.” Joe had said, which annoyed Hoss because he had made a statement rather than a request. Ben had only sighed audibly and acceded.

“Jest make sure you don’t git mixed up at the altar and you end up with the wedding ring and the gal.” Hoss snorted angrily and Ben had chuckled at that, while Joe had pulled a face at his brother and continued reading his letter.

That had been only a few days earlier. Hoss sighed, he wondered if he could conjure up some friend in Sacramento or Reno or even Genoa, just so that he could get away for a few weeks. It would be ideal if he could just clamber aboard the stage and ride away without a care in the world for three full weeks without any chores or brothers to worry about at all.

“Don’t look so worried, Hoss.” Ben consoled, “Just think of all the meals that Hop Sing will cook solely for you to enjoy.”

Hoss frowned, and sighed. True enough, Hop Sing loved it when he had the chance to cook only for Hoss and Ben. He thrived on Hoss’ praise. Sometimes Adam and Joe would complain that Hop Sing cooked mainly for Hoss and did not consider them at all.

“That ain’t no kind of consolation, Pa. Fact is I’m gonna be so doggone bone weary doin’ all the work around the place thet I won’t have no energy left to enjoy eatin’.”

“Well, it has never stopped you yet, Hoss. I always thought you believed that hard work gave an edge to your appetite.” Ben said serenely, looking straight ahead so that he could keep the smile from his face.

Hoss decided to think about that for a while. Somehow he felt that he was still suffering some form of injustice, but, as Ben had said, to have Hop Sing’s undivided attention was some kind of bonus. Slowly the good humour returned to his pleasant features and a smile once again graced his lips. By the time they arrived home he was even humming, and for some reason that he could not recall, it was the Wedding March.

*****

The day of Adam Cartwright’s return to the Ponderosa was exactly ten days after the departure of Joe Cartwright. He had tethered Sport to the hitching rail and hurried towards the house, confident that he would find his father and brothers about to sit down to supper. He smiled to himself at having successfully completed his business earlier than expected and pushed up the latch to the door. He walked into the main room of the house and in the middle of taking off his hat realised that the room was quite empty. He cleared his throat noisily. He coughed. He called out “Pa? Hey, anyone at home here?”

There came only the pall of silence. He frowned, unbuckled his gunbelt and laid it down beside his hat on the bureau. It was quiet throughout the house but yet it had that strange feeling one can get that someone was actually in the building. He called out again. Then he walked to the kitchen and looked around Hop Sing’s domain. Everything was in its proper place and in neat and tidy order, just like the cook preferred it to be, and Adam was promptly reminded that today would be laundry day. The day Hop Sing rode into town to cousin who knows what number with a basket of laundry to be dealt with by the cousins.

“Pa? Hoss? Joe?” He stood in the centre of the room, called out their names again and listened to the answering silence.

Ben Cartwright opened his eyes and stared up at the ceiling. It had been a strange period of time, these past days. He sat in his bed and stared at the cracks that gravitated out from the centre of the ceiling.

He turned his head slowly and stared out of the window and saw the peaks of the pine clad mountains in the background and closed his eyes again. He wished Adam were home. He felt the sensation of sleep drifting over his body and thought he heard his son’s voice calling him. Of course, Hoss was home, and he was pleased about that because, well, because he was just so tired.

The accident had taken place only a week earlier. His horse had been skittish that particular day and Ben’s own mood had transferred its way through the reins to the beast. Buck could sense the tension and became increasingly restless as a result. He had began to chomp more heavily on his bit, and succeeded in getting his tongue beneath it sufficiently well to remove it from the position that gave the rider the control over him. With a roll of the eyes and a toss of the head, Buck had lunged forward and gone from a skittish trot into a full gallop within seconds. Ben grappled with the reins. He was no novice at riding and breaking horseflesh, but his own loyal steady animal suddenly losing his head unnerved the rancher. Man and beast surged forwards, each fighting the other for control. Then there was the heart stopping skid as Buck lost his footing on some loose shale and Ben realised that if he did not slip his feet from the stirrups and prepare himself to leap from the saddle, he would be crushed beneath the horse as it fell.

So Ben did all that he could to save himself. He let go of the reins, slipped his feet from the stirrups, lunged sideways from the saddle and fell to the ground. He rolled some way, a little distance, but stopped finally amongst some rocks and boulders. Buck, in the meantime, succeeded in keeping his feet, steadying up, and galloping on towards home and stable and fine oats to eat.

Hoss and Hop Sing had found the rancher prone amongst the rocks, and to all appearances, cold and dead. It was one of those moments that were heart stopping for Hoss. Even the memory would send his heart churning over and his stomach tightening in fear. They had brought Ben home, sent one of the men to get Paul Martin, and put the older man to bed.

Since that time Ben had hovered between life and death several times over. He had fought demons of his own in his nightmares. Now he was recovering, but it was to be a slow and prolonged recovery. Paul had told Hoss not to expect Ben to get up for some time, for apart from the internal injuries he had sustained, there was some severe concussion that was causing the older Cartwright a deep depression. This, Paul believed, was preventing a swifter all-round recovery.

Ben heaved a sigh. All he wanted now was his son to come home. He wanted, needed, Adam to be there by his side so that he could talk to him about ‘the problem.’ The fact that he could not even recall ‘the problem’ was academic. There was something at the back of his mind that needed his urgent attention, and if he could not handle it, then Adam would have to take on the responsibility. He forced his eyes open and glanced wildly around the room. He really, really needed to talk. Sounds from downstairs. His ears picked them up and sent tiny electrical pulses thudding in his brain. His breathing became more rapid. He felt dizzy and faint and yet strove to sit up and push back the covers. Someone was downstairs.

“Hoss? Pa? Joe? Is anyone home?”

Adam began to mount the stairs. He took each step quickly, as though some instinct drove him to look up there even though logic told him that his father and brothers were more than likely out on the range or in town or in the timber yards. If he listened to logic then he would have gone to the stables, or just remounted Sport and ridden out to wherever, or just stayed home and brewed up a good pot of hot coffee. But sometimes instinct pushes logic to one side and drives a man elsewhere. He hurried to his father’s room and pushed open the door.

“Pa?”

Adam’s deep voice was sharp with anxiety as he saw the man in the bed struggling to get onto his feet. Within seconds Adam had crossed the floor and had his arm around his father and had helped him to return, albeit rather unwillingly, to the bed.

“Pa? What’s happened?” he asked, his eyes wide and perplexed as they scanned the haggard face of his beloved father.

Ben looked up and squinted just slightly, for the light in the room hurt his eyes. He put out a hand and touched Adam’s cheek. His son, his eldest son, was here now. Those brown eyes, looking so anxiously down at him, just as they had done so often during the years. Just as they had throughout the fevered dreams of the past few days. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

“Adam?”

The deep bass of the voice was so weak that Adam winced visibly. He held tightly to his father’s hand and clasped it to his chest while he tried to work out a logical reason for what had happened and also for the absence of his brothers. Ben allowed a smile to touch his lips and he closed his eyes again.

He could remember when Adam had been a child of three or four, and he, Ben, had been ill out there in the wilderness, and he had opened his eyes to look up into the white drawn features of the child with the big brown troubled eyes looking down at him and the tears streaking the pale cheeks.

“Pa? You ain’t gonna die, please, don’t die, Pa?”

It had been a thin, treble, little boy’s voice, a frightened, insecure child’s voice, but those brown eyes were just the same, yes, just the same as the brown eyes that looked down on him now. He knew without asking that Adam was saying the same things in his head that he had said then, all those years ago. Oh, how selfish love can be, and Ben felt the emotion tug at his heart once again at the memory of the dangers he had put his little boy through in the pursuit of a dream.

“Pa? Can you tell me what happened? Where’s Joe? Hoss?”

Ben sighed and forced open his eyes. He looked up at Adam and squeezed his son’s hand. What could he say? Thoughts and words and memories tumbled one after the other in his head and he wasn’t sure which words were the right ones to speak. He forced himself to focus upon his son and say, as gently as possible, “Joe’s gone.”

“Gone? Joe?” Adam jerked back, the surprise contained in those two words had hit him hard and he stared at his father uncomprehendingly. “But why? Surely not while you were ill like this? Pa? What happened?”

Adam leaned forward to catch the words slipping from his father’s lips. He saw Ben’s eyes look stricken, as though grief had suddenly overwhelmed him and a terrible thought came into Adam’s mind. Had there been some tragic accident that had caused Ben’s injuries, and Joe’s death? He stared at his father’s lips as they struggled to frame words that held no meaning to him and while doing so, a gentle hand touched his shoulder.

“Adam? When did you get here, brother?”

Hoss Cartwright looked down at his brother and father and sighed. He allowed his hand to drop back to his side and bowed his head. He was an exhausted man. A man spent emotionally. When he felt Adam’s hand grip his arm he moved his body into his brother’s and wrapped his arms about him and held him close. Knowing his brother so well, Adam knew instinctively that Hoss needed him to hold him, reassure him, just as in the days when they had been children. It would not change things, but it made one feel better able to face whatever was to come. He held Hoss close, and knew that it was with some difficulty that Hoss was able to hold back the tears.

In his own time Hoss released his brother and stepped back from him and then forced a smile of welcome.

“Glad you got home alright, Adam. Did you get my cables?”

“No. I sent several of my own, but didn’t receive any replies.”

“Wal, it was a long shot. I just sent some out by random and hoped for the best.”

“I got back as soon as I could, Hoss. I didn’t need to hang around so made for home. Thank God.”

“Amen to that, brother.”

Both men turned now and gazed down at their father. There was a flush of pink on the haggard cheeks now, and the bloodless lips were touched by a slight smile. But there was no denying the fact that Ben Cartwright looked what he was, a very sick and frail man.

“So? What happened?”

Hoss sighed, he rubbed the back of his head, and then looked at his brother. Adam surveyed Hoss carefully as the light from the window fell fully upon his brother’s face. He could see the hollowed eyes, the dark sockets around them, the paler than usual face and the look of weariness in the droop of his shoulders. Adam grimaced and raised his eyebrows, then reached out, tapped Hoss on the arm and nodded,

“Let’s go downstairs and talk. Pa can rest better without us talking here and disturbing his sleep.”

Hoss turned away gratefully and led the way downstairs. At the door of the room, Adam turned and looked at the sleeping figure of the man in the bed, then, with a deep sigh, he closed the door.

“What’s this about Joe being gone? Where is he? And what happened to Pa?”

Hoss looked at Adam with a startled look on his face, and then relaxed, he allowed a slight smile to touch his lips

“It’s nothing to be concerned about, Adam. Did Pa tell you about Joe?”

“No, he just said ‘Joe’s gone’. Seeing Pa in the state that he’s in I feared the worst. I thought – I was afraid that something had happened to them both and that Joe – Joe was dead.”

“Shucks no, that’s the least of our worries. Joe’s gone to visit Andrew Buckley. He’s going to be groomsman at his wedding – or rather, he was groomsman. The wedding day was two days ago.” Hoss sighed and sat down, the chair creaked just slightly in protest, but it had been doing that for years so no one, least of all Hoss, took any notice of it. “Pa had a riding accident last week. He was on his own longer than was good for him. Shock, pneumonia – ,” Hoss heaved a deep sigh, “and he isn’t as young as he used to be, Adam. It takes longer to bounce back from this kind of thing.”

“I thought, the way he spoke about Joe, that something terrible had happened -.” Adam chewed on his bottom lip, “But, Pa will be alright, won’t he? He looks really terrible, Hoss.”

“Paul seems confident enough. It’s just going to take time, that’s all.”

“Have you sent word to Joe? Does he know?”

“Sure, I cabled him rightaway.” Hoss shrugged and glanced away from his brother’s penetrating gaze, “Haven’t heard back from him, as yet though.”

Chapter 3.

Joseph Cartwright dismounted outside the shabby looking hotel in what amounted to little more than a one horse town. He hitched the horse to the rail and then looked about him. The sky was velvet black studded with diamonds. He sighed heavily and with his head bowed, entered the hotel.

A fat man bustled over to him and pushed the register under his nose and watched as Joe signed his name and address. “Room 6. First floor.” The fat man announced and passed Joe the key.

The youth took the key and wearily turned to mount the stairs.

“First floor,” the clerk yelled and Joe nodded, held the key aloft as if a trophy and walked down the corridor to the door with No. 6 upon it.

He was tired. If anyone had asked him if he had ever felt this weary before, he would have said quite categorically, no. He allowed himself the luxury of dropping onto the bed, closing his eyes and just thinking about the events that had led him to this little town. He sighed, had it really been just a week ago when he had clambered down from the stagecoach and then stood there in that depot cooling his heels? It had been an hour, a full hour, before the door had opened and this girl had walked in.

Joe had whisked off his hat faster than Hoss could despatch a flapjack. The girl was beautiful. She was tall and willowy, her hair was a mass of golden curls piled up under a cute little fluffy bonnet and her eyes were clear green. She was so lovely to look at that Joe was speechless, while his head filled with all manner of things to say to her. Then she had turned to him and surveyed him with those wide green eyes.

“Are you Little Joe Cartwright?”

“Yes, ma’am, miss I mean. Yes, Joe Cartwright.” Joe licked his lips, his mouth had gone dry.

“I’m Lucy. Lucy Burnette. I was – I was -,” that was when the springs broke. Not the springs in the couch, but the springs of water in her eyes…Joe had never seen a gush of tears spring out of a girl’s eyes in such a volume before, and he hurried over to offer her his cleanest handkerchief. She pulled out a freshly laundered one of her own, which showed that even at her most emotional she could still observe good sound common sense.

“Lucy Burnette?” Joe repeated after her, while he wondered whether or not to put his hands on her shoulders or arms to comfort her, “You’re -?”

“Lucy Burnette.” She nodded, and dabbed at her eyes, “I’m Andrew Buckley’s fiancée. We were supposed to be getting married tomorrow.” Another well of water streamed from her eyes.

“Supposed to be? What’s happened? Has something happened to Andrew?”

“He’s disappeared.” Lucy whispered and blew her nose loudly.

“You mean – he’s run away?”

“No.” Lucy stared at him indignantly, “No, I do not mean that he’s run away. Andrew had no reason to run away as you put it. He had to go to a Cattle Associations Committee Meeting and – and something’s happened to him because – because he hasn’t come back. He was supposed to have come home last week. I’ve cabled his hotel but they just cabled back that he had left town.”

Joe frowned. Mentally he repeated to himself the fact that Andrew had run away. Cleared out. Dumped the poor girl. Chickened out no less. He sighed and took hold of her by the hand and patted it gently,

“Perhaps he just felt that he – well – couldn’t go through with it.”

“Mr Cartwright!” Lucy pulled her hand away indignantly, “I thought you were Andrew’s friend?”

“I am. Of course I am.” Joe looked at her in amazement, “I was only trying to be practical.”

“I’m sick to death of folk being practical and telling me that my Andrew has run away. Well, he has not, he’s – he’s just disappeared, that’s all.”

Joe braced himself for more tears, but this time Lucy just took a deep gulp of fresh air and steadied herself. She looked at Joe with large distressed eyes and surveyed him from head to foot before arriving at a decision. She grabbed at his arm.

“Come with me. I want you to come to my home and I have to talk to you.”

Joe shrugged, he slipped his hat back upon his head and picked up his valise. Trailing behind her he finally arrived at her home, or rather, her parent’s home. A big house behind a white picket fence in the better area of town. He followed her into the hall and, placed the valise down by the door and once again, removed his hat.

Lucy unpinned her bonnet and tossed it down onto a chair. She walked determinedly onwards to where a door stood open and beckoned to Joe to follow her.

Gifts of all shapes and sizes stood arrayed upon table after table. The sun shone through the windows and gleamed upon crystals, upon gold and silver, and upon all manner of things that Joe speculated would have cost a small fortune. It occurred to him that Andrew must have been doing something right to have found himself not only such a beautiful girl, but to have moved himself into such influential circles.

“What are you showing me all this for?” Joe asked her, as she stood at one table regarding him solemnly.

“It’s to show you how seriously Andrew viewed our marriage.”

“I’m sorry. Showing me all these gifts doesn’t show me, or prove to me, how seriously Andrew viewed you, or your marriage.”

He bit his bottom lip, and looked at her again, and wondered whether or not he should go further and suggest that the sight of all these gifts, these expensive reminders of his future commitment, may very well have been the cause of Andrew ‘disappearing.’

“You’re right.” Lucy pulled her back straight and nodded once, as though the thought had never occurred to her before now. “Mr Cartwright, I am sorry to have been so rude. You’ve had no refreshments. Perhaps we can have something to drink and eat, while we talk.”

“Well, that’s fine by me, Miss Lucy.”

She smiled at him, and gave him another appraising look, her green eyes sweeping over him from head to toe. Joe nearly dropped his hat.

They had refreshments and talked. As a result of that conversation Joe was dozing in a shabby hotel, in a grubby little town, with every bone in his body aching in protest.
This was the town where the Cattleman’s Association had held their conference. This was where Andrew had gone and never returned. Somehow or other during the course of the conversation with Lucy, and then, subsequently, with her parents, Joe had made a promise to come here and find Andrew and bring him back home.

It had never occurred to any of them that Andrew may not have wanted to go back ‘home’. Their stubborn refusal to even consider such a thing made Joe wonder more and more often during the days of travelling here, whether they really knew Andrew at all.

*****

Through the window came the tinkling sound of a piano and Joe got to his feet and walked over to look down at the darkening town. Lights glowed like so many oversized glow-warms in windows overlooking the sidewalks. Joe stretched and yawned. It had been a long day, several long days in fact. Before sleeping perhaps he should wander over to the saloon and have some refreshment. Maybe there, someone would have seen or heard about Andrew Buckley and the so called Cattleman’s Association Conference that he, Joe, was beginning to have serious doubts about every having existed.

A young woman watched the youth as he sat in a far corner cradling his half full glass of beer to his chest. A handsome boy, she mused, too handsome to be wasting time on his own. She glanced over at the barkeeper and as she passed him on her way to the youth’s table she gave a slight nod of her head. The barkeeper immediately foraged beneath the counter for a bottle of good quality whiskey and two clean glasses.

She pulled out a chair and sat down and looked at him. Close up she could see how right she was in thinking him a handsome youth. He looked clean as well. That, she knew, was different. Most young cowboys loose from home forgot anything they ever knew about cleanliness being next to Godliness, even if all they knew could be the size of a mustard grain. This young man had obviously bathed and shaved and taken time over his grooming. She liked that and gave him her 100% almost genuinely sincere smile.

“Are you waiting for anyone in particular?”

Joe aroused himself from his lethargy and glanced up at her. He had been so deeply depressed that he had not even noticed her arrival. Now the full force of her cheap perfume and blowsy appearance impacted on him. He glanced around, and then shook his head.

“You don’t mind then if I join you?”

“I thought you already had? Joined me, I mean.” Joe said quietly, as he saw the barkeeper walking over with the whiskey and glasses in his hand. He raised his eyebrows, at the realisation that he could hear the echo of his eldest brother’s voice in his head.

“You looked so forlorn, sitting here like this.”

He looked at her more closely and realised that she was a good looking girl, even with all the powder and paint on her face that made her look ten years older than she must have been in reality. He nodded to the barkeeper, pulled the cork from the bottle, poured the golden liquid into the two glasses and pushed one over to her. He picked up the other and raised it to his lips,

“I guess I’m just tired.” Joe said quietly, wondering how much the whiskey was going to cost him because it surely tasted expensive. It slid down his throat like silk.

“Bin travelling long?”

“Seems a long time.” Joe took another gulp of the whiskey and the silk now became a fire that tingled through his veins and behind his eyes and even made his ears throb.

“Where are you headed then? Not aiming on settling down here, surely?”

“No, I’m just passing through. I needed a good bed, a bath and a decent meal.” Joe smiled at her and poured out more of the whiskey. “What’s your name?”

“Priscilla.”

“Prishcilla. That’s a pretty name.”

“It is, the way you say it.” Priscilla’s eyes twinkled and she laughed, very lightly. “So, what’s your name? You do have a name, don’t you?”

“Everyone does.” Joe replied, and then gulped down some more whiskey and was delighted to feel as though a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Even his head felt light. “Joseph Cartwright, from the Ponderosha.”

“What’s the Ponderosa?”

“My home. My Pa and my brothers run a big spread called the Ponder – OSA,” he concentrated on getting the word out correctly.

“The Ponderosa. I’ve heard of it recently.” Priscilla frowned and stared at him as though gazing into his hazel eyes would bring back the memory in greater clarity than if left to her own devices, like staring at the ceiling or the bald head of the cowboy lounging against the bar. She turned to the counter and beckoned the barkeeper over,

“Tom, do you remember the name of the guy who was talking about that place, the Ponderosa in Nevada Territory?”

Tom frowned and screwed up his eyes a little. Screwing up ones eyes was like winding up the key to ones brain cells. It certainly seemed to work for Tom. His eyes suddenly popped open wide and he beamed a smile at them both and nodded,

“Sure do. The Ponderosa ranch in Nevada Territory. One thousand square miles of timberland and mines and cattle grazing pasture.”

“You’ve been there?” Joe frowned, wondering if Tom had ever been anywhere in the vicinity of the ranch and should have been accorded some form of recognition.

“No, no. Mind you, the way this feller was talkin’, I sure wouldn’t mind seeing it. Near Lake Tahoe, ain’t it?”

“Yes, near Lake Tahoe.” Joe sighed, and a picture of the favourite view of the lake flashed into his memory.

“This youngster –,”

“What youngster?” Joe perked up, throwing aside fond memories and realising that he was letting a golden opportunity to slip by, “This guy you were speaking of – what was his name? “

“Didn’t say.” Tom looked at Priscilla who now took it that it was her turn to screw up her eyes and try to get her grey cells working. Sadly no matter how much she screwed her eyes up, her grey cells, in this instance, remained dormant. She poured herself more whiskey to try and revive them.

“He was a good looking young man though. About your age.” Priscilla said, the whiskey having worked a minor miracle and sparked some life in the necessary memory cells of her brain.

“Did he say he was expecting to meet someone from the Ponderosa?”

Tom and Priscilla looked at one another again. This question was obviously far beyond even their combined brain power for they didn’t bother to screw up their eyes and think about it, they just shook their heads. Joe sighed, and picked up his glass and stared at it.

“Was he about my height and dark haired?”

“Yes, he could have passed as your brother.” Priscilla said.

“How long ago was this?”

“Let me see now – nearly two weeks ago.”

“And you don’t remember his name?”

“Tell me his name and I’ll see if I can remember it.” Priscilla suggested.

“He wasn’t on his own.” Tom said brightly, “He met up with another guy. That was why we remember him so well.”

“Another guy?” Joe frowned and looked at them both suspiciously, “What was he like?”

“That’s just it. It was him that gets your attention. He’s tall, well built, white haired and has only one arm.” Tom frowned, “I can’t remember whether it’s his left or his right arm but he doesn’t seem to let the loss of an arm bother him. Swaggers about like he were the State Governor.”

This information had much the same reaction on Joe as would a bucket of cold water being thrown over him, he felt a shiver go down his back.

“Do you remember his name at all?” Joe asked slowly, with a sense of foreboding welling up inside of him.

“Sure, his name was Kyle. Frederic Kyle.”

Tom looked at Priscilla for affirmation of the fact and she nodded in agreement. She looked at Joe, and frowned as she saw the wary look that had fallen across his face at mention of the name.

“He was an older man and seemed to know his way about people There seemed to be a small group of men who were always hanging around wherever he happened to be, and when they left town there must have been at least a dozen of them went with them.”

“Did my friend go with this man, Kyle, and his men?”

“Yes.” Priscilla nodded, “They left mid-day on a Thursday. I can remember it quite clearly because it was the first time I had had a chance to actually talk to the young man. He was telling me about his friends on the Ponderosa and about Lake Tahoe, and I was getting to think what a good looking guy he was when this Mr Kyle came by and told him to saddle up as they were leaving. He said it was a long way to Beaconsville.”

“Beaconsville?” Joe’s brow creased a little and the hazel eyes widened, dilated and then narrowed, “How far from here is Beaconsville?”

“Quite some distance from here.” Tom said pleasantly enough.

“Exactly how much distance?” Joe replied rather testily, lowering his brow in a dark line of concentration. It seemed easier to him to dig a tick out of Cochise’s hide than get sensible information from his two current companions.

“Wal, we kin only tell you what we heard, youngster, and all we heard was that Beaconsville was some way from here.” Tom looked at Priscilla for affirmation and she nodded, looking at the youth in a way that indicated that she probably knew even less than Tom.

“This may sound a strange thing to ask you – but was there a conference here, the Cattleman’s Association Conference?” Joe looked at them both and they looked at one another. Priscilla shook her head.

“There was no conference here, sonny.” Tom replied, shaking his head. “Seemed a lot of people were here though, to meet up with this Kyle. They all took off together as well.”

“And my friend – was he with them?”

“Tell us his name, kid? There were so many strangers in town thereabouts.” Tom replied.

“Andrew Buckley. His name is Andrew Buckley.”

They looked at one another and nodded, a smile broke over Priscilla’s face

“You should have told us in the beginning. That was the name of the guy we were talking about, who met up with Kyle. They were talking about the Ponderosa together just over there.” Tom jabbed his thumb in the direction of a table in the far corner of the saloon.

“And Andrew went with them, when they left for this place – Beaconsville?”

“Yes, he left with them.” Priscilla said quietly, staring into her glass of amber liquid with her eyes strangely large and bright.

Joe nodded, then stood up and pulled out his wallet and flung down some money. He muttered his thanks and picked up his hat and was about to walk away when Priscilla said in a husky kind of way,

“He was a nice young man, your friend, Andrew -,” her voice trailed away and she hugged the glass closer to her chest and looked blankly ahead of her.

Joe said nothing, frowned a little and walked hurriedly away, brushing past several cowboys as they pushed their way through the saloon’s swing doors.

Chapter 4

”Dear Pa, Adam and Hoss,

You must have been wondering what has been happening since I left home. You probably think I’ve been having a great time at Andrew’s wedding, but the fact is, there has not been any wedding.

Everything got a bit complicated when I saw Miss Burnette, that’s Andrew’s fiancée. She said Andrew had gone to a conference, a Cattleman’s Association Conference. When I rode into the town I could see this was no place for a conference of that kind being held here.

Well, I found out that he has been this way. I got more information than I had reckoned on, in that Frederic Kyle was here as well, and that Andrew went off with him to a place called Beaconsville. That’s way down south. I rather think that they are heading to Kansas where Kyle comes from, so I have to get to Andrew before they reach there, because once Kyle has him enrolled in his private army I don’t think anything I say will prise Andrew loose.

Of course, I may be jumping the gun somewhat here, but you know how hot tempered and all het up about things Andrew could get at times. I think he lied to Lucy about the Conference, but he knew Kyle was going to be here and it was his intention to meet up with him and get involved in the war down south.

Has Adam got back home yet? I don’t want either one of them coming along after me, Pa. This is between Andrew and myself. He’s my friend and I know that if he were me, he would do this same thing for me. Do you understand, Pa? I want you to understand, and not be angry in anyway with me. I only want to get Andrew home safely, because I know Lucy wants him back, and there is such a great future ahead for him if he just sticks to it.

I love you, Pa.

Your ever-loving son, Joseph.”

Joe chewed on the pen a little and then scrawled a line beneath his name, which was a mistake as it left a blot at the end of it. With a sigh he wrote the address on the envelope and folded the paper and slipped it inside. After sealing it he took it to the mail depot and paid the necessary postage and watched the clerk drop it into a sack.

“Could you tell me how to get to Beaconsville?”

The clerk glanced up and stared at Joe. His pale eyes resembled two under-ripe gooseberries. Joe stared back at him and finally the clerk shook his head,

“Never heard of it.” He replied adamantly. “Best to ask around, mister, I don’t know anything about any Beaconsville.”

Joe shook his head wonderingly, and turned and walked away. Standing on the sidewalk, he looked left and right and then stayed where he was, unmoving. How could someone dealing with mail that went everywhere not know the whereabouts of this place?

He glanced up and calling to mind the location of the stage coach depot, strode purposefully to where the wood was blistering in the heat of the small office.

“Needing anything?” a thin wiry young man appeared from an inner room and smiled at Joe. “Tickets for a journey to Sacramento or Reno? Stage is due to leave in twenty four hours.”

“What about Beaconsville?”

“Beaconsville?”

“Sure. How much are tickets to Beaconsville?” Joe lounged against the counter and watched as the young man began to think. To engage this particular brain activity necessitated the wide opening of the eyes, rolling of eyeballs and licking of dry lips.

“Nope. I don’t recall no stagecoach to or from Beaconsville ever passing through here, mister.”

“Have you ever heard of a place called Beaconsville?”

Joe’s hazel eyes bore steadily into the young man’s pale blue orbs, and he noticed the way the pupils dilated. The young man frowned and leaned down and pulled out a thick well thumbed and dog eared folder. He licked his thumb and forefinger and began to flick through the pages, then run his finger down a list of place names. He shook his head,

“Ain’t no place mentioned here sounds anythin’ like Beaconsville. Unless it’s a new settlement happened up,”

Joe nodded and turned on his heels. Pulling his hat snappily slightly lower and shading his eyes, he strode down the road to the saloon and pushed open the swing doors. They creaked as they swung to and fro.

Tom glanced up and after momentarily looking startled at seeing Joe, he smiled. The lips parted, the eyes remained aloof and cautious.

“Seems no one around here has heard of Beaconsville.” Joe said quietly, “Now, why don’t you pour some of that very expensive whiskey that I paid for last night into a glass, which I shall drink, while you tell me why you wanted me to ride into nowhere?”

Tom pulled out a bottle and glass and poured out the whiskey. He looked at Joe and then his eyes shifted slightly, to look, for a fraction of a second over Joe’s shoulder, then he looked back at Joe and nodded.

“I must have got the name of the place wrong, that’s all.”

“Is it?” Joe raised his glass to his lips and then lowered it, un-tasted.

“Sure. Anyone can make a mistake.”

“Are you sure you didn’t hear a bit more about this place? Like what state it happened to be in, or what county?”

“No, I’m sorry, I could only tell you what I had overheard. Folks seemed to be real cagey about where they came from and where they were heading out to, believe me -”

Tom frowned and looked thoughtfully at the young man, “I think I know someone who could help you though, someone who took a real shine to your friend.”

“Miss Priscilla?” Joe’s eyes widened, and he glanced over his shoulder in case she was anywhere nearby.

“No, another young lady though –,” Tom said and gave Joe a conspiratorial wink.

The door opened slowly and a face peered around to look up at him. Seeing a handsome young man clasping his hat firmly to his chest emboldened her to open the door wider.

“Yes? Did you want my father?”

“I don’t know – I don’t think so. Who is your father?”

“He’s the doctor.” The young woman smiled. She had large blue eyes and the longest lashes Joe had ever seen on a woman. She lacked Lucy’s beauty, but there was something warm and vibrant about her that made her equally as lovely. Joe stood there for some seconds before realising that she was expecting him to speak,

“I’m sorry. I’m Joe Cartwright and I was told that you knew my friend, Andrew Buckley?”

She stood still and stared at him. Her cheeks reddened and her eyes went wide. Her lips formed a coral ‘0’ and then she heaved a sigh.

“From the Ponderosa?”

“Yes.”

She remained standing at the door as though nothing mattered compared to the importance of this information. She heaved another sigh and then lowered her eyelids and stepped to one side.

“Please, do come in. My name’s Audrey Knowles, and, yes, I do know – I mean – I did know your friend, Andrew.” Audrey smiled reassuringly at him and he smiled back at her.

“You seemed surprised when I told you my name, Miss Knowles.”

“Oh, no, not surprised. Just pleased. Andrew kept saying you would come and now that you’re here, I am so pleased.” Her cheeks were slightly rouged, and not just because of the pleasure of meeting him. She nodded again, and allowed a small smile to play about her lips.

“Where is he?” Joe asked, leaning forward and grasping her shoulder, “Do you know if he’s safe or not?”

“That’s what worries me, Mr Cartwright, I don’t know where he is or if he is safe.”

“But you do know who he is with, don’t you?”

“Yes.” Audrey’s affirmation came with a sigh and she indicated a chair for him to sit down, while she chose to sit opposite him. “Mr Cartwright, can I be honest with you?” She narrowed her eyes, scanning his face which every girl in Virginia City would swear on a stack of bibles was the most honest and trusting face in Nevada Territory.

“Tell me whatever you have to say, Miss Knowles. If it concerns Andrew I want to know every detail.” Joe lowered his voice to a conspiratorial level which seemed to reassure the girl for she leaned forward and began to tell him about her first meeting with Andrew Buckley.

“I was having some trouble in the store with some men. They were harassing me, pushing me between them and yelling and laughing. There seemed to be a bunch of these kind of men, mostly young, who had ridden in together and seemed to be hanging around just causing trouble. Andrew came to my aid and with the help of the storekeeper got rid of the men. Then he insisted on carrying my things to the wagon, even though there was such a little distance from the store to here, but – he was so kind, Mr Cartwright.”

“Sure, that’s Andrew, as kind as they come.” Joe smiled easily and his eyes twinkled.

“I saw him the next day, looking a bit like a fish out of water, just lounging around. I said ‘You look as though you were waiting for someone, Mr Buckley.’ He just smiled, shy-like, and took off his hat and looked at me, he just kinda looked at me,” she sighed, and glanced away, and Joe knew that this moment in her memory was a cherished one, she then looked back at him, “We started talking again, and then we went for a ride to a place just outside town that I love. He told me all about himself.”

“ALL about himself?”

“Yes.” Audrey looked up and met the full force of his hazel eyes, “I know all about Lucy and his intended marriage. He told me all about her and how he had left her on the pretext of attending a conference here. He said that once you knew where he was, you would come here, looking for him.”

“Lucy’s expecting him to come back with me.” Joe replied, very gently.

“I suppose she is, after all, she is his fiancée.” Audrey turned away, a slight frown furrowing her smooth brow, “But as you know, he isn’t here, and I don’t know where he is -. Do you know, Mr Cartwright?”

“No. I was led to believe that you would be able to tell me. Didn’t he tell you anything before he left?”

Audrey looked up at him, and the soft smile on her face, that had lingered as she talked of Andrew, disappeared. Her eyes looked wary, then she nodded,

“Yes, he told me. He said that he had gone to a place called Placerville some months ago and he heard a man talking about the Civil War and how a man should not be afraid to stand up and be counted. He said that the more he listened the more he realised that he had done nothing in his life to prove to anyone, particularly himself, that he even existed. People were crowding around the man, listening and heckling. Some agreed and some disagreed as is often the case when there are more than one side to an argument. Andrew said that he felt himself carried along with what had been said, that the atmosphere and the feeling in the crowd made him want to do things that others would be proud of hearing about and associating with him. He didn’t want to ride on the backs of Lucy’s family, nor even his own. He didn’t want to live comfortably because he happened, by chance, to have influential contacts. He wanted to do something for himself, by himself, and for his country.”

“But, miss, he had nothing to prove to us.”

“He felt that he did. Mr Cartwright, for the first time in his life he felt he had to make a decision that would be significant to his future. He had to make choices.”

“Every man has to do that in his lifetime. I had hoped that Andrew had made his choice, and that his future would be a happy one with Lucy.” Joe frowned, and then looked at her, “This man who was making the speech, did Andrew tell you his name?”

“Oh yes, it was Mr Kyle.”

Joe lowered his head and stared at the pattern on the carpet at his feet. Frederic Kyle. He thought of Andrew. In all the time they had known one another, neither he nor Andrew had ever discussed the politics of this war. They had never given it a thought, never indicated to the other any interest in either side or faction.

“So Andrew decided to make a choice, did he?”

“Yes, Mr Cartwright, he did.” Audrey looked at him and saw the plaintive look on the young man’s face, “You’re fond of him, aren’t you?”

“He’s my friend, and friends look out for one another. Andrew and I always felt that way about each other, and this doesn’t change anything.”

“I had a lot of time with Andrew. Well, maybe in the long term a week does not amount to much but it was enough time to get to know him and – and fall in love with him. I didn’t want him to go away from here with Kyle. I asked him to stop and think about his decision, and then to think about the future he could have, if we were to – to marry and stay here.” Audrey bit her bottom lip and then looked down at her clasped hands, “I even suggested that he should consider Lucy, and return to her. That he should marry her and – and be happy.”

“But, would you have wanted that,” Joe’s eyes widened in sympathy. He could not see how Andrew could have rejected the love of such a pretty young woman. Blue eyes, chestnut hair, heart shaped face and coral lips. What more could a healthy young man want in a wife? But then, Andrew had an equally lovely young fiancée just a few days ride away from here. Joe swallowed hard, and shook his head. Trust Andrew to have messed up yet again.

“He said that loving me meant that he had even more of a reason to prove to himself that he was not a coward, that he could do something that he would be proud of all his life. He wanted to be able to look back at this time in our nation’s history and tell his sons that he had done something, even if only a little something, in the fight for freedom.”

“Freedom?” Joe frowned, “Is that the goal that Kyle was holding out to him?”

“Not just to him. There were about twenty young men who had gathered here to meet up with him and ride off. Andrew said that all of them had been affected by the things Kyle said. They made a sworn oath at the end of the meetings they attended to join the cause and to fight. Then they were told by Kyle where they would meet – which was here.”

“Did – did Andrew mention to you a place by the name of Beaconsville?”

She looked at him and nodded, “Yes, it’s the name of Kyle’s home in Kansas. That’s where they are headed.”

Joe frowned, he leaned back in the chair and stroked his chin thoughtfully with his forefinger, and stared at the ceiling.

“Is anything the matter?” Audrey said quietly, and looked at him thoughtfully. She had her hands folded demurely in her lap and her eyes were as blue as the sky as she regarded him with a look of pensiveness on her face.

Joe stared at her and then his brow crinkled in thought as the significance of what she was saying trickled through his head,

”No, I was just thinking that Kansas is a long way from here, that’s all.”

Audrey nodded, and then stood up and looked at him, kindly, “My father should not be long in coming home. Would you like some coffee, Mr Cartwright?”

Joe was about to speak when there came a light tap on the door, and Audrey hurried to open it. Priscilla stood on the doorstep, her hand frozen in the act of knocking and when the door opened, she slowly lowered it and stared at the girl before her. Both of them reddened a little, for they both recognised the incongruity of a saloon girl knocking on the door of a respected doctor’s house. There were neighbours who could pass by and think it very improper. Audrey stepped aside and admitted the older girl into the room.

“Did you want to see my father?” Miss Knowles asked, her face showing her aloofness and causing the other woman to hesitate before answering. Seeing Joe, however, encouraged her to step further into the room,

“No, I needed to speak to Mr Cartwright.” Priscilla replied, giving the other girl a flash of her eyes before confronting Joe.

“What did you want me for?” Joe asked, realising that if he did not speak the two women could have stood there gawping at each other until winter came.
Priscilla looked back at the youth, and took a deep breath before she began to speak, rapidly at first, gaining confidence, then falling into a regular pattern of speech.

“I didn’t tell you everything. I didn’t want Tom to know what I knew because sometimes he doesn’t know how to be discreet, you see? The fact of the matter is that I got to know Andrew quite well.” She looked hastily at Audrey who had emitted a little squeak of protest, “Not in the same way as you, Miss Knowles, nothing like that. He talked about you so much, you know. He loved you.”

Miss Knowles said nothing to that, she bowed her head, it were as though hearing such a thing from someone like Priscilla somehow cheapened the love she and Andrew had so briefly shared. Priscilla took a deep breath and turned once again to Joe,

“He told me all about you, Mr Cartwright. He talked to me like an old friend. Sometimes you can get to meet someone like that, and know right off that you can talk and confide in ‘em and trust ‘em. He said that was how he had felt about you.”

“Is this leading anywhere?” Joe asked when she had lapsed into another silence and seemed to need another prompt to get restarted.

“Andrew told me all about why he wanted to go with Mr Kyle. I begged him not to because – because what point is there in going out there to fight in a war that will always be just a bloodied stain on our history? He couldn’t guarantee coming back alive, could he? I said to him, what if all you get is six feet of soil to be buried in? He just said it wouldn’t happen to him.” Priscilla stopped as there came another squeak from Miss Knowles who was now in the process of tearing a small handkerchief to shreds, “Anyway, he told me that when Mr Kyle found out how he was connected to the Cartwrights, he started asking all manner of questions about them. He wanted to know if you or another one of the family – I can’t place the name he said – had ever discussed the Civil War with him, and Andrew said that it had never been discussed, although he knew that there were strong views, opposing views between you and the other one – your brother, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, my brother, Adam.” Joe said quietly, and he thought of his family then and felt a longing deep in his heart, like a craving, for the security of being with them all at home.

“Mr Kyle got to drinking rather heavily that evening. He told Andrew that it was important to get as much support for the Confederacy as he could and that he had tried to get silver and gold from the Virginia City mines but that the Cartwrights had forestalled him. He told Andrew how he had known Mr Cartwright’s wife, and he showed him a picture of her. They had been close once, in their youth, but he had married another and by co-incidence, both had named their son – Joseph.”

“His son was killed the same evening that Kyle lost his arm.” Joe said, recalling back the facts as he had been told them, and the way Kyle had looked at his dead wife’s body as though he were staring at the remains of a complete stranger.

“He said that he didn’t want you around. Andrew said that you would come and join up with him, and fight for the Confederacy. He was sure of it, because you were the son of a Southern born lady. You were restless and young. Kyle said that the last thing he wanted was to be responsible for your life, or death. He owed it to your mother, because he had let his own wife and son down, he wanted to go to his own grave without you being involved. Andrew said then, what was the point of it. Why should he go and get killed? What about all the others? Kyle just said everyone had to make their own choice, not to be swayed by anyone else.”

Joe looked at her intently. He wondered, and not for the first time, what relationship had there really been between his mother and Kyle. He looked away and thought of his father, and wished that he could ask him for some advice and counsel. Everyone had to make their own choices, that was true, but it was good to have the wise advice of someone who cared to give a person a nudge in the right direction. He sighed, but in this instance, what was the right direction?

“I heard some other men talking about this place, Beaconsville, and thought it was a town, but it isn’t, it’s a house somewhere in Kansas. That’s where they’re headed.”

“You’ve no idea where this place is, this Beaconsville?”

“I heard it referred to as the headquarters of the organisation Kyle has set up. It’s his house. I think it’s not too far from the Missouri border.” She stopped there, and with a quick glance at Audrey, she mumbled her excuses and hurried out of the house. Joe looked at the other girl and raised his eyebrows,

“You didn’t make her feel exactly welcome.”

“She and I don’t get along too well, Mr Cartwright,” she paused and looked at him, “I want Andrew back here, safe. I can’t bear the thought of him out there with that man and all that fighting. He’ll see things, and experience things that will change him, hurt him.”

Joseph Cartwright nodded, he placed a placating hand on her shoulder and wondered how many other Andrew’s were out there. All of them seeing and experiencing things that young men should not have to see in the whole of their lifetimes.

“I’ll bring him back, Miss Knowles. I promise you.”

She turned away from him. What point was there in saying such a thing when the whole issue was bigger than any one man or woman? What did one couple’s happiness matter compared to the fate of a nation? With a pang, Joe recalled that only a few days earlier he had said precisely the same words to another beautiful young woman.

Chapter 5

Ben Cartwright sat in the big chair by the rather ostentatious hearth of the grand room, and stared at the letter in his hand. He could read the words, they made some sense to him but he could not feel anything about them. It seemed as though he had not felt anything except this dead heavy weight in his heart for weeks now and the lethargy it created was exhausting.

“Did you read it yet, Pa?” Hoss leaned forward, his blue eyes scanning the face of his father and seeing only the weary blank look on the older man’s face that had been there for far too long. He glanced over at Adam who was seated on the blue chair with his elbows on his knees and his hands clasped together upon which he was resting his chin. He raised his eyebrows in response to Hoss’ unspoken question and Hoss leaned forward and took the letter from his father’s hand and passed it back to his brother.

“ What do you think we should do, Adam?” Hoss asked wearily as he sank down upon the settee.

“About what?” Adam asked, re-reading the letter he held.

“I don’t know! About Pa? About that – that letter thar?”

Adam glanced up, his dark eyes flicked over to the older man sitting in the red leather chair with one hand now supporting his chin, staring blankly at the logs piled on the grate.

“Paul said there was nothing we could do about Pa. It was just a matter of time and waiting for the healing process to get started .”

“It’s sure taking its time.” Hoss growled, the anxiety in his voice a mere reflection of the fear and sadness that had gnawed at his heart for all the long weeks of his father’s illness. “I jest can’t see it ever ending.”

“Well, as you say, it’s taking time.” Adam replied bluntly. He felt just as worried about Ben, but anxiety about things over which he had no control, made him irritable and to those who did not know him as well as Hoss did, he could appear cold and uncaring.

“This is the first letter we’ve had from Joe since he left,” Hoss rubbed his face with one hand, his eyes still fixed on his father, “I would have thought there would have been some response, some comment.”

“You shouldn’t let your hopes get raised too much.” Adam said abruptly, “Pa’s suffered a lot from that accident. We should be grateful that Paul was able to deal with it and Pa had the strength to fight it and come through. The fact is that Pa’s suffered emotionally as well and this is a fight that is going to take some time. Paul warned us about that, he told us not to expect miracles.”

Hoss nodded, but even though he heard Adam’s words, he couldn’t accept them, anymore than he had been able to accept them from Paul. It just didn’t seem right that his father, so capable and so strong, could allow himself to sink so far away from them. It were as though his father’s mind had decided to go on a holiday and had forgotten to tell them when it was going to come back. He stood up and walked over to Ben and placed a gentle hand on his father’s arm. Ben turned black eyes trustingly towards him and smiled,

“Hoss?”

“Sure, Pa, it’s me. Did you understand the letter that Joe wrote, Pa? Did you know what Joe was saying to you?”

Ben looked at the face of the young man and wondered why he looked so worried. That frown did not suit him. Hoss always looked much handsomer when he smiled. This letter now, what was there to be so steamed up about? Joe had gone. Ben heaved a sigh. Yes, that’s what it was, Joe had gone. He looked away and leaned against the chair back and closed his eyes.

“Pa?”

He opened his eyes and found himself looking up into Adam’s dark eyes. Ben sighed, and waited. Adam knew him too well, had shared his life with him, he would handle the matter now. It was just too much, too much.

“Yes, son?”

“Joe’s written about a place called Beaconsville. Do you recall such a place ever being mentioned?”

“No.” Ben shook his head and looked into the face of the man and saw the face of the boy, the child who had walked by his side through the wilderness and who had grieved at the loss of his wives. He could see the same sadness in those dark eyes now as he had seen then. He lowered his head and shook it, after all, who cared about an unknown place called Beaconsville. He had more serious and complex things to concern himself about now.

“Pa? Joe mentioned here about Frederic Kyle being involved in Andrew’s leaving his bride at the altar. Do you remember Kyle?”

“Kyle? He had one arm. He had a son called Joseph, like I had…” Ben’s voice drifted as he called to mind the face of the man who had so misused their trust. He had crept into Joe’s confidence like a serpent, and now here Adam was talking about him. Ben could remember the way Kyle had looked at the crushed body of the woman as though she were a stranger to him, and yet had clasped her cloak to himself as though it were the most precious thing in the world. “You can’t trust that man, Adam.”

“My thoughts exactly, Pa.” Adam nodded, the letter still in his hand and he stared at it as though he were re-reading it through although he was actually relishing the fact that Ben had made some coherent comment.

“If Kyle is involved with Joe, then our boy’s in trouble.” Ben asserted, leaning forward, and a spark of emotion shone in his eyes. “Frederic Kyle is a dangerous man.”

Hoss and Adam exchanged looks. This was the most their father had said by way of an intelligent conversation for so long that their delight, their relief, their hope was like a charge of electricity between them both. Hoss’ face beamed with pleasure, while Adam raised a warning hand and looked at his brother as though telling him to back off.

Ben thought of Joe. He could see the little boy with white blond curls and wide hazel eyes reaching out to him from his cot. Chubby arms that wrapped themselves warm and tenderly around his neck and held him close. Time passed and he had seen the child grow into a handsome youth, with a quick smile, twinkling eyes and ready temper. Always trying to prove something to them all, even though it was never necessary. Perhaps it was to himself that he was trying to prove things, perhaps that was what it was, Ben pondered as he slipped back into the murky corridors of his memory and time.

Adam sighed and looked at his brother and shrugged. He had asked the same question now three times and received not even a glimmer of recognition. Their shared moment of joy was gone. However, it had happened, and was the promise of better things to come.

“Where are you going?” Hoss asked as Adam strode over to the bureau where his hat and gunbelt had been left earlier. He watched as Adam began to buckle the gunbelt around his hips,

“I’ve thought of someplace where I might be able to find out where this Beaconsville could be, Hoss.” Adam picked up his hat and slipped it over his hair, settling it comfortably upon his head. “I’ll be back later. I’ll call in on Paul while I’m in town.

The hotel clerk listened as Adam made his request and then ducked down and foraged around the shelves beneath the counter. He eventually emerged, red faced and puffing slightly, and placed down a register, which he began to leaf through, eventually getting slower and slower, scanning the pages, running down the names with his forefinger. He paused, then glanced up and nodded

“Here it is, Adam, just as you thought. Frederic Kyle, Beaconsville, nr Lawrence, Kansas.”

Adam nodded and allowed his eye to wander a few names further down to where a lady by the name of Mrs Lily Van Cleet had signed her name. She had merely put down Kansas which was hardly anything at all to go by. He smiled to himself, Kyle had two weaknesses – his ego and his pride.

He thanked the clerk and slipped him some coins and hurriedly left the hotel. He paused at the sidewalk and looked up and down the street and saw, with some relief, that Paul Martin’s buggy was outside the surgery. He turned and made his way there with long legged strides.

Paul paused in the act of signing a prescription slip for Mrs Hawkins. He smiled and nodded over at Adam and asked him for news of Ben.

“He seemed to come out of himself for a little while today; it was just a little while but it was better than anything else we’ve seen for a while.” Adam replied, perching on the corner of the desk. He turned his hat round and round in his hands and looked at the doctor with his face a controlled mask, “How long will this take, Paul?”

“What do you mean?”

“How long before our father becomes our father again, instead of this empty shell of a man who sits brooding all day long?”

Paul sat down and leaned back, he surveyed the dark young man standing before him and knew that this was probably one of the hardest tests he had ever had to deal with, the mental and emotional strengths he himself gained from his father was now denied him, and patience was not one of Adam’s greatest gifts.

“Adam, I can’t tell you. I don’t know enough to be able to tell you something like that. If it were measles or pneumonia I could give you the incubation period, and recuperative time, but with something as delicate as the human mind, and emotions, I’m groping in the dark, like most other people.”

“But you must have some idea. Paul, you aren’t most other people, you’re a doctor, for Pete’s sake.”

“Your father will get better, Adam. The improvement will be slow, but it will be there. You just have to be patient.”

Adam ran his fingers through his hair and scowled, once again his twisted the hat round and round between his fingers.

“It just seems to be taking so long. I don’t know the cause, the reason why – ,” Adam chewed on his bottom lip, “If I could understand that, perhaps I could help him get better.”

“You can’t.” Paul said bluntly, “You can’t, Adam. Even with a physical injury you can’t order it to heal itself within so many days, you just hope that it is repaired by the normal length of time that experience has shown such healing takes. With the mind however,” Paul shrugged. “What happened today is a good sign. A very good sign. It shows that with proper stimulus Ben can respond. That’s all I can say.”

“Look, I have to go away for a while. It’s important that I go, but I can’t leave my Pa in this condition. At the same time I can’t just stay here.” Adam stopped, and looked away from the doctor’s scrutiny, then he turned back, and faced him, “I know what you’re thinking, Paul. You’re thinking that I’ve so little patience with this that I’m opting out, running away from it. I’m not. I just have to go and find Joe.”

“Aaah, well, now then,” Paul smiled, and nodded, “Now you may just be doing the right thing. I believe that Joe’s disappearance is the key to this problem. If you find him, and bring him home I am sure Ben will make a positive return back to health.”

Adam nodded, he allowed himself a half smile, but that was all. He closed the door quietly behind him and left Paul to complete Mrs Hawkins’ prescription. Now, all he had to do was find his brother.

Chapter 6

The tread on the stair was light, but even so the young man seated at the desk glanced up to see who it was who had come to invade his early morning arrangements. He relaxed when Hoss came into view, squinting against the light of the lamps and his grey and white chequered nightshirt swaying against his legs as he paused abruptly, as though surprised at the sight of his brother.

“It’s early morning, Adam, what’re you doing this time of the day?” Hoss yawned, settling the lamp down carefully on the desk and adding to the pools of light that were already flickering there.

“I could ask you the same question, except that I know the answer already.” Adam replied tersely. He raised his eyes from the map that was spread out before him and scanned his brother’s face and relaxed. “Hoss, I thought I’d leave here and go and get Joe. It’s time that young man came home.”

“Yeah, I know it and you know it….but does he?” Hoss scowled, and leaned forward to look at the map, “You know it’ll be a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

“Well, it does help knowing that ultimately he will have to get to Kansas. That’s where Andrew is heading with Kyle, and Kansas is where Kyle has his headquarters for the Free State Movement for the South. If I just head in that direction to start with, I should come across some sign of Joe along the way. If God wills, I may even pick up his trail early enough to bring him home before we ever get near Kansas.”

“I don’t know, Adam.” Hoss stroked his chin thoughtfully, “It’s a mighty big risk you’re taking.”

“If Joe’s prepared to do it for a friend, Hoss, the least I can do is do it for my brother.”

“He’s my brother to.” Hoss murmured sadly, and he bowed his head, “I should be going along with you.”

“Then what would happen to Pa?” Adam said gently, and he reached out a hand and clasped Hoss by the arm and looked up into the blue eyes and smiled slowly, the brown eyes softening as he did so, “Hoss, you’re so needed here. Pa has come to rely upon you, even if he doesn’t show it.”

“I just wish –.”

“Yeah, so do I.”

The two brothers looked at each other and both sighed. They resumed their examination of the map, knowing that each felt the same way and understood the other. Adam traced a line with his forefinger and then glanced up at Hoss,

“I’ll send a cable from the places I stay, and I’ll wait for an answering one from you. I’ll need to know if you have heard from Joe and could give me any indications as to where he would be located. Also, I’ll need to know how Pa is progressing.” Adam frowned, the furrows lining his smoothly tanned brow, “I’ll only stay long enough to get your answers, so make sure you keep close to town as I’ll not be able to hang around for long, I don’t want to be wasting time waiting for information.”

“Yeah, well, if you git to be in that much of a hurry, p’raps you had better leave a forwarding address each time so that there would be a cable waiting for you at the next place ahead of yah?”

“Good idea.” Adam flashed his brother a smile and again clapped his hand against his brother’s arm by way of thanks. Then he leaned back in the big chair and looked at the stairs, “Paul seemed pretty positive, Hoss. Pa will get better.”

Hoss heaved another sigh. He sat down in a chair opposite the desk and leaned upon his hands, elbows on the edge of the desk as he stared down at the map.

“If you bring Joe home it’ll be the best thing for him.”

“I know. Joe needs to be here, not roaming around looking for a lost bridegroom.” Adam frowned, and placed a brotherly hand on Hoss’ arm.

“How long do you expect to be away?”

“I don’t know. As long as it takes I guess.”

“There’s a lot to do here, Adam. We can’t spare you or Joe for too long, you know that?”

“Well, we have some good men working for us, Hoss, you’ll have to use them and work them a bit more. None of us can be in two places at once.”

“And, what do I tell Pa?”

“Tell him the truth, I’ve gone to find Joe and bring him home.”

*****

A door clicked shut. Ben Cartwright opened his eyes and stared about him. He was in bed and in his own room. Familiar shapes and shadows surrounded him. For an instant of time he tried to recapture the dream he was having during the long hours of sleep that never seemed to be refreshing.

Nothing came to mind. Dreams, as elusive as cobwebs, had drifted away and disappeared. He sighed and closed his eyes again. He could hear the clock ticking away the hours of his life. He remembered that a door had closed and his heart raced for a second or two. Had Joe returned home?

He sat up and listened hard but there was no sound now. He vaguely recalled hearing the sound of a horse’s hooves in the yard but had thought that as a part of his dream. Now he felt a surge of adrenalin through his veins. Joe was home. Yes, Joe was home.

He pulled on his dressing gown and slipped his feet into the slippers by his bed and shuffled his way across the room. Stealthily he opened the door. No need to waken the other boys. He wanted this moment to be just his and Joe’s. Welcome home, son, welcome.

He pushed open the door to Joe’s room. It was dark and in shadow. Familiar comforting shadows. He walked to the window and realised the curtains had not been pulled across. The moon beamed down into the room and scattered light across the rug and the bed. He turned with a smile on his lips in exultant expectancy.

“Joe? Joe, is that you, son?”

There was no response. There was no shape, familiar and beloved, curled in the bed. He stared at the pillows waiting to cradle the tousled head of his youngest boy. They were white and gleaming and unmarked. There was no sign of Joseph there at all.

A light shone golden in the doorway, and Hoss stood there, the lamp held aloft, shining down upon them both.

“Pa? What’re you doing in here?”

“I thought Joe had come home.” Ben said slowly. “I was wrong.”

“Yeah. But he’ll be home soon. Adam’s gone to find him.”

“Adam’s gone?” Ben raised a dark eyebrow and his black eyes deepened in colour, “Gone? Gone where?”

“Gone to find Joe, Pa, and to bring him home.” Hoss said gently, taking his father by the elbow and carefully leading him back out of the room.

Ben allowed himself to be taken from the room and led back to his own. He was silent as Hoss helped him out of the dressing gown and took off the slippers, and helped him back into bed.

“I heard a horse outside. I thought Joe was home.” Ben said eventually, settling back into the pillows of his bed and looking up at Hoss.

“Adam wanted an early start.” Hoss replied, watching his father’s face, and seeing the anxiety etched in every line.

“He didn’t say good-bye.”

“No, Pa, he didn’t want to disturb you.”

Ben’s mouth set into a thin line and for an instant Hoss wondered if the Ben of old was about to spring back into life. But there was just silence.

Chapter 7.

“Dear Pa, Adam and Hoss,

It’s been some time now since I last wrote to you all. I hope this letter finds you all in good health. I think of you all so often and wish that I were home.

This has been a long and lonely trip and I have now crossed the Colorado border. I’ve made camp by a small creek and thought I would write this letter and get it mailed off to you as soon as I hit the next town which I should reach by noon tomorrow. It’s a place called Endurance.

I lost track of Kyle and Andrew a way back, so decided to head straight for Kansas where Kyle has his headquarters. I know that Kyle will be getting there eventually but for some reason best known to himself he made a detour.

I didn’t fully understand what the detour was until last week when I was riding south of here and heard what I thought to be thunder. The ground was shaking and the horse got real skittish. I pulled him into a clump of shrubbery and calmed him down some, because by then I realised that it was not thunder at all, but gunfire and cannon fire.

I clambered up some scree and had a look around and saw a vast dust cloud on the horizon. Then I thought that perhaps I had been wrong after all, and what I had been hearing was an approaching sand storm. But it didn’t figure because the terrain wasn’t right. I had my telescope with me, the one you bought for me, Adam, when you went to Sacramento last time.

I could vaguely make out what was going on then. Vague figures amongst the dust. I could hear the faint sounds of what must have been Hotchkiss cannons, and artillery fire. Thankfully I could not hear anything else. It was obviously some battle or skirmish going on. I scrambled down.

I wasn’t too sure what to do. You know, just for an instant, I wanted to ride into the fight and join in. Then I realised it would take over a day to reach the battlefield so that cooled my ardour pretty quickly. It was just a strange feeling. I didn’t even think what side I would have fought on, just being there was my only thought.

It made me think about how easy it is to get drawn into things, Pa. Like you can be sane and sensible one minute and then suddenly everyone starts acting crazy and your whole world is changed and you’re dragged right into the centre of it all. No reason, no sense to it. Just this overwhelmingly hot feeling to be part of it all.

It made me think too about what really is going on here. Everyone talks about causes and principles. The closer one gets to where it is all happening, the more people talk about it, and the more fear there is because no one is sure who their friends are anymore. Both sides have good reasons, and both sides have bad reasons. Why can’t I see it so black and white anymore? I thought I would find it the easiest thing to don the Confederate uniform, but now I find myself realising that I could not. That doesn’t mean I would don the Yankee uniform, but just that I can’t justify being part, or taking a part in this war if it means – well, if it means going against my conscience.

Then I tell myself, why say this when just a while back I was so prepared to ride right in there and fight anybody? Pa, I’m so torn up about this whole business. Is it wrong to be neutral? Am I neutral if I know that I feel more for one side than another?

I should tell you about what happened next I guess.

The sounds of the fight went on for hours and hours. I made camp and tried to sleep but found it difficult with the rolling sounds of continuous gunfire going on. I kept thinking how many people have died while I slept. By morning, and I must have gone to sleep, it was very quiet. I made coffee and then climbed up the escarpment to view the horizon, but there was nothing there to see, or see very clearly. What I could make out was that the casualties had been numerous.

So I rode through the day towards the area of the fight because that was where I thought Andrew may have been. It was a miserable sight. I shan’t go into details except to say that I was sick after and wished I had not bothered. What’s happening to us all? So many young men cut down and dead in their prime.

It was then that I thought it best to ride straight on to Kyle’s place in Kansas. I had no chance of finding Andrew’s trail amongst the chaos there. I only hoped that he had not been part of it all, or even, one of those dying or dead there on that battleground, because I would not have known.

I keep thinking, why not go home. Just go home and forget it. But I just don’t seem able to do so. I want to come home. I want to be with you all there and away from this situation and the loneliness of this journey. But then I keep thinking, Andrew’s my friend. Whatever the result of this journey I have to keep going for his sake.

I feel full of self doubt just now, Pa. I wish you were here to give me some good advice. Please give Adam and Hoss my fondest regards and love

From your ever-loving son,

Joseph.”

TO ADAM CARTWRIGHT

RECEIVED NEWS FROM JOSEPH TODAY. STOP. HEADING ENDURANCE COLORADO TERRITORY. STOP. LETTER DATED FOUR WEEKS AGO. STOP. PA DOING WELL. STOP. HOPE YOU ARE WELL. STOP. NOTIFY ANY CHANGES.STOP.

FROM HOSS CARTWRIGHT VIRGINIA CITY 10 JUNE 1863

TO HOSS CARTWRIGHT

RECEIVED YOURS TODAY. STOP. ALL PROCEEDING AS EXPECTED.STOP. LETTER FOLLOWS. STOP. CLOSING IN ON JOE NOW. STOP. TELL PA HOME SOON. STOP.

FROM ADAM CARTWRIGHT ENDURANCE COLORADO TERRITORY 14th JUNE l963

Dear Pa and Hoss,

I reached Endurance today and went straight to the telegraph depot and received your cable. It was heartening news to learn that Joe was here just four weeks ago, which means that I am catching up on him.

I left Sport in a livery stable and no doubt you will have started receiving the bill for his quartering and feeding. I felt it better to leave him there than lose out on time as the stage took me some way on the journey and reduced the spent time travelling alone. I caught a train which brought me here to Endurance.

While on the train journey we were flagged down by a convoy of Union soldiers who boarded and were none too gentle in their handling of the passengers. It’s a sad fact of life that the closer to the situation one becomes the more wary one has to be, for everyone looks suspiciously at their neighbour and no one speaks freely as to their beliefs or principles. At the time of the soldiers boarding the train the tension amongst the passengers was tangible. Something I had not experienced before then so I was rather unsure as to what was going on.

Apparently such border patrols are quite common, it is just that no one is sure which side will be boarding. It depends who is in control of the territory at the time. There were obviously Confederate sympathisers on board and some of the younger men were interrogated at some length by the officer in charge and then hustled off the train.

Thankfully my papers were satisfactory and in order. The officer gave me a long look of disapproval though. I had the feeling he thought me a shyster for not being in uniform and fighting along with them. I asked him if he had any knowledge of a man called Frederic Kyle and he asked me what business I had with him. His tone of voice was pretty abrupt so I had the impression that Kyle was not unknown to him. However, be that as it may, they eventually disembarked and we were able to resume our journey.

At the depot we had an overnight stop at the boarding house in Cheyenne, and I made some discreet enquiries about Joe. As usual I picked up his tracks at a saloon. A young woman by the name of Susan was very obliging. It was encouraging because it meant that I was heading in the right direction. I had thought it a sensible idea to just go straight on to Kansas, but when one is travelling alone over any length of time, one starts to get doubts and other ideas creep into one’s head.

Feeling quite a bit more confident about things I settled down and the next day went to board the train at the appointed time. However, we had to return to the boarding house due to fighting nearby. A little skirmish we were told by the sheriff.

It was two days before the little skirmish came to an end and the damage to the railway lines repaired. I had been planning to hire a horse and ride on, but felt that the likelihood of meeting war weary stragglers who would take a fancy to the horse and beating my brains out really made train travel a more sensible choice.

I shall ask about Joe after mailing this letter to you. I was more than pleased to hear that Pa is improving. I am sure that soon he will be chomping at the bit to join me but with things as they are here, it would be wiser to stay put and keep things ticking over on the Ponderosa.

It becomes harder and harder for me, as I travel along and through the war torn states of our country, to come to terms with the reasons behind this war. I keep saying to myself, “We’re Americans. We fought the War of Independence to establish ourselves as a free and liberated country and yet here we are at each other’s throats and killing our own kith and kin.” There is no sense to it. Watching the Union soldiers as they rough handled us made me realise that no matter what the ideals, it is not long before it just dulls a man’s finer qualities and living in what amounts to a charnel house destroys ones God given conscience. No matter which side one proclaims allegiance it all boils down to the same thing in the end – man dominating his fellow man to his ruin.

From Endurance I shall continue on to Kansas. If by God’s good grace I get the opportunity to come across Joe or Buckley, then it will mean we shall be home sooner.

On a more logical note – should anything happen to me and I don’t get home, don’t forget that Sport is eating his fill at your expense. Please collect him and bring him home. I mention this because the Indians in this territory appear to have come to some agreement to show complete impartiality in this war, in that they don’t care what colour the uniform they’ll just wade in for the kill. Getting through this territory to Kansas will not be easy.

Thinking of you and missing you,

Your ever-loving son and brother

Adam. Endurance, Colorado Territory, 14.06.63”

“Dear Pa, Adam and Hoss Ellsworth, Kansas, 21.June.1863

Just a quick letter while I am here waiting to get my horse shoed. The blacksmith told me that Kyle and a party of twenty four men had ridden through only two days earlier. I asked him if he had any knowledge of Andrew but he said there were too many young men like that in the group for him to say.

He did say that they had obviously been involved in some of the recent fighting around here. Some of them were injured. He said quite a few looked pretty green and scared sick of the whole business. Some of them were just kids of about 14 years of age and one of them died and was buried here.

I narrowly missed getting picked up by a Union patrol. Nearly rode right into them one night about two days back. I was able to make a detour around them but I think they were so battle weary that a whole Confederate convoy could have trundled through their camp and they would not have noticed.

I come across places where there has been fighting. The worse thing is coming across the occasional farmhouse which has been burned down and the occupants shot. I find that hard to stomach. I came across one settlement of about six places where most had been burned out. Everyone was trying to help one another, but every family had lost members and none of them really understood why it had happened. One man said that it just came down to the fact that there were some men who put on any uniform just as an excuse to scavenge and prove just what animals they really are…except that I doubt if animals would turn on their own kind in this way.

Hey, I am missing you all so much.

Love
Joe”

To ADAM CARTWRIGHT

RECEIVED NEWS FROM JOSEPH TODAY. STOP. LETTER SENT FROM ELLSWORTH.STOP. TAKE CARE. STOP. MAKE SURE YOU ARE NOT SHORT OF FUNDS. STOP. WIRE ME IF YOU NEED DRAFT. STOP. MAKE SURE YOU GET HOME SAFE. STOP. PA. STOP.

FROM BEN CARTWRIGHT. VIRGINIA CITY. 2nd July 1863”

TO BEN CARTWRIGHT 10th July 1863

RECEIVED YOURS TODAY. STOP. JOE WAS HERE ONLY A WEEK AGO. STOP. GOOD TO HEAR FROM YOU PA. STOP.

FROM ADAM CARTWRIGHT ELLSWORTH, KANSAS.

Chapter 8

Joe Cartwright carried the water in his hat to where the horse stood. The animal was still trembling and his withers were white with the slime of sweat. The loyal creature looked at his master and then dipped his head and began to gulp down the water.

He sank down upon his haunches and rubbed his face with his hands. He was exhausted now. So many nights without proper sleep had taken its toll on him. He dared not light a fire for fear of some Indian war party tracking him down as a result. He had just escaped near death only with thanks to the horse’s nimble footing. A hunting party had emerged from seemingly nowhere and upon seeing him had turned their attentions from the deer that had been their intended lunch, to him as their intended entertainment.

Thinking of them now, Joseph turned and got to his feet and began to clamber over the shrub covered escarpment. It was quite possible that they were creeping up on him right now. Taking his telescope with him, he edged from boulder to boulder to the top and then putting the glass to his eye, he carefully scanned the terrain before him.

There was neither movement nor sound anywhere. A bird called out a song of love to its mate, which trilled a reply. Joe tensed then relaxed when the bird in question flew lazily across the horizon of his vision. Perhaps the deer had been more interesting sport after all.

He stayed there for a while, too uncertain as to the whereabouts of his pursuers to leave the high ground too soon. It was thirst that eventually forced him to retreat and return. Taking his water canteen he drank its contents dry and then walked hurriedly to the stream.

It was a fast flowing stream, clear and cold and replenished from the underwater springs in the mountains. He knelt upon one knee and leaned down to fill the water bottle when something caught his eye. It was the movement of an arm in the water. It swayed with the current and moved up and down. He promptly dropped the canteen, pulled out his gun and approached the reeds from where the movement was coming.

It took only a moment to drag the body out of the cage of reeds that had entrapped it. A young man wearing the blue uniform of a Union soldier. From all appearances he had been in the water for several days and was far from being a pretty sight now, if, in fact, he ever had been so. Joe chewed on his bottom lip and wondered whether he had been killed by the Indians that seemed to haunt that region or was the victim of some war activity. He checked the sodden pockets for any evidence of the man’s identity and found a worn wallet with a few dollars and a silver medallion which must have been of some sentimental value.

Joe walked further along, taking care to keep to as much ground cover as possible, his gun in his hand. Now he found two more bodies, locked in a deathly combat. Tattered grey and bleach blue. God have pity on them. Joe shuddered and walked on. The remains of a blown apart Hotchkiss gun, keeled over on its side, remnants scattered. Human remains, picked over by scavenging birds and animals. Joe averted his eyes and stopped.

He wished to look no further. He knew what was there before him, sprawled out like a canvas upon which some fanatical artist had splattered his gory trademark of war. Joe turned away and retraced his steps. He picked up his canteen and emptied the water back into the stream. The water here was fouled by the blood and gore of men, brave and foolish though they were as they reaped the result from the maelstrom of war.

He kept to the banks of the stream, constantly walking upstream and away from the sight of the conflict. He led the horse behind him so as to allow the animal some respite even from his light weight. After a while he stopped at a secluded area and filled his canteen. It was closing in to evening and he was tired enough to need the time to sleep.

He sat with his back to a rock and his hands folded listlessly in his lap. What weeks these had been? There was no point in bemoaning his fate, he had chosen it for himself, rashly. Yet again he chided himself for not returning home instead of pursuing his erstwhile friend. He closed his eyes and imagined being there now, walking into the big room, smelling food that would soon be inside his belly.

Two weeks ago he had eaten so little that he was going light headed and dizzy. A hunting project had provided some meat in the form of several rabbits and a fish. After that repast of plenty, for he had foraged for green leafed stuff with which to eat it, there had been another famine and he had to scavenge for berries and roots. Then for several days he was sick with cramp and severe pains in the stomach relieved only by vomiting and diarrhea. It had taken him days to recover and the thought of food now sent his stomach muscles into a pang of craving.

“Plenty food now…why you no eat…you big boy now you eat plenty befoah Mistah Hoss come on home.”

Joe blinked and shook his head. Hop Sing’s voice floated away and he forced his eyes open to observe the face of whoever was shaking his shoulder.

“Alright, mister, don’t say nuthin’, jest come along quiet like with me.”

Joe opened his mouth to protest and then closed it again as the barrel of a Colt.45 loomed large right beneath his nose. The man behind the gun was staring at him in a way indicative of trouble if he resisted. Meekly Joe got to his feet, raised his hands slowly above his head and looked once again at the man in front of him.

Not very tall, balding, with a fuzz of several days facial growth. His eyes were tired, and apprehensive. From long experience Joe knew that more deaths were caused by this kind of person than the cold and calculating gun fighter. When a man was tired he made clumsy mistakes, when apprehensive as well….everything could be interpreted as a mistake.

“Move yourself.”

This voice came from behind him. Without turning his head Joe followed the first man with meek obedience.

They led him to a clearing where tents were huddled and small fires lit. Joe smelt the sweet smelling odours of food cooking and his salivary glands began to water. He looked about him at the groups of men sitting about the camp and realised they must be the remnants of the Confederate soldiers involved in the skirmish downstream.

A youthful voice demanded a password which was mumbled back. Whether it made sense or not, the two men continued walking into the camp, their prisoner between them with his hands held high. Joe found his mind focusing more on the smells of coffee and roasting meat than the fact that he was a prisoner being led to who knew what fate? The sky had succumbed to the night and the camp was now a warren of shadows and flickering lights where the camp fires were positioned to cater for the men’s needs. He was shoved unceremoniously forwards until he came to a tent more or less central to the camp. A lamp gleamed from a pole at its entrance, and a burly soldier, a Corporal, stood guard.

The soldier who had first appeared to Joe, stepped towards the Corporal and mumbled something beneath his breath and something was mumbled back in return. Joe wondered how orders were given in this army, and if any battles were ever won by them, for the amount of mumbling that went on.

The Corporal disappeared into the tent and after a minute reappeared and beckoned the soldiers’ forwards with the prisoner. They then left Joe in the charge of the Corporal who indicated that he enter the tent. As Joe passed the Corporal he felt his gun being removed from his holster and once again wondered how anyone ever won a battle with such a lack of discipline.

He and the Corporal were now confronted by a makeshift desk behind which a thin middle aged man was seated. There was nothing particularly striking about the man, except that he was a Colonel in the Confederate Army, and had blue eyes and blond hair and beard. He sat for a while writing what appeared to be a letter and after signing it, and putting it to one side, he deigned to look up. He asked the relevant question by raising his eyebrows.

“Troopers Murphy and Smith found this – person – hanging around close to our camp, Sir. Thought it best to bring him in for questioning, Sir.”

“Thank you, Corporal. Just go and wait outside will you?” the Colonel frowned, “Dismissed.”

The Corporal found the single word easier to comprehend than the lengthier request. He snapped a smart salute and stepped outside where he could hear every word as easily as though he were standing right there beside the ‘prisoner’.

The Colonel sighed again. It was obvious that the strain of being an officer in anyone’s army would take its toll on a man such as he who not so long ago had enjoyed a life of comfort on his father’s plantation in Charleston. He looked Joe up and down and liked him.

He saw a slim built young man not overly tall in stature. A mass of dark brown hair rose in waves from his tanned brow. The hazel eyes were large, and framed by long lashes, they were also indicative of an intelligent, bright mind as they returned the officer’s gaze without flinching. The nose was well proportioned and the mouth was agile and generous, the chin stubborn and well formed.

“Your name and reason for being here?”

Joe licked his lips. The coffee pot by the Colonel’s desk was emitting strong bitter smells that made him crave for the taste in his mouth. He forced himself to pay attention to the officer who was lounging back in his chair, observing him thoughtfully.

“I’m Joseph Cartwright from the Ponderosa, Nevada.” Joe licked dry lips, normally he introduced himself as Joe, but somehow he felt that would not be impressive enough for this person.

“Nevada? That’s not a state yet, is it?”

“No, sir, not yet it isn’t.”

“Do you think it’ll declare for the South should it become a state before this war if over?”

“It has a 50-50 chance of doing so, sir, if one were to judge from the population of Virginia City.”

“And yourself? Where does your allegiance lie?”

“Er – you asked me what I was doing here just now, sir, if I may remind you?” Joe said hurridly, and the Officer looked at him, and gave a half smile and a nod of the head. “I’ve been looking for a friend of mine who left Virginia City some months back now. He joined forces with a man called Frederic Kyle.”

“Kyle?” the Colonel gave a start and frowned slightly, “What’s your friend’s name?”

“Andrew Buckley.”

“I don’t recall the name particularly, but I do know Mr Kyle. Now I recollect, did not his wife get killed in an accident in Virginia City?”

“Yes, sir, she did.”

“So you know Mr Kyle?”

“Yes, sir, I do.”

“And what is your connection with Mr Kyle, Mr Cartwright?”

“Well -,” Joe paused, bringing to mind the rather abrupt way their association had come to an end, he swallowed in a dry throat, “Mr Kyle knew my mother years back and travelled to Virginia City to make his acquaintance known. He had not realised she had died some years earlier.”

“Your mother was Southern born?”

“New Orleans, sir.” Joe replied with the humble air of a man who could be acknowledging that his mother was the wife of George Washington.

“New Orleans?” The officer looked more keenly at Joe, and then turned to look at the man who had entered the tent. He raised his eyebrows as though surprised at the appearance of the man who had intruded upon the interview, then he rose to his feet and with a nonchalant air addressed the visitor “Mr Frederic Kyle? I believe you know this young man?”

“I do, Colonel Hansard, and when I heard that he had arrived I made all haste to renew his acquaintance.” Kyle smiled disarmingly, and then turned to Joe, extending his hand in an open gesture of welcome, “Joseph, although it is good to see you here, I wish you had not come.”

“I did get a warning that you felt that way, sir,” Joe smiled, and took the proffered hand willingly, “But I had promised myself that I would find my friend.”

“All this time travelling just for a friend?” Kyle raised an eyebrow questioningly, “Surely you can’t have dedicated so much time to just looking for a friend?”

“Friends are precious to me, Mr Kyle. No time spent looking for one, is wasted time.”

Kyle narrowed his eyes and scanned the young man’s face thoughtfully, then he nodded in agreement.

“Colonel, I can vouch for this young man. May I take him with me? I have a lot to discuss with him.”

Hansard nodded, whether or not he personally wanted such an abrupt end to what was little more than a diversion to him, he did not say. He watched Kyle and Joe leave his quarters, before sitting down to resume the perusal of his paper work.

“Well, Joseph, how are your father and brothers?” Kyle asked quietly, as they walked side by side from the Colonel’s tent.

“Well when I left them, sir.”

“All of them?”

“Yes –.” Joe replied, wary now as he caught the subtle inflection in the other man’s voice.

“You haven’t heard then?”

“Heard what?” Joe stiffened, mentally preparing himself for bad news “Has something happened?”

“Nothing that should not have been apparent long ago. Your brother, Adam.”

“What about him?”

Kyle shrugged and sat down on an abandoned chair, he gestured to Joe to take the chair opposite so that they could talk over the little table that had obviously been used for some card game by the previous occupants.

“I have – er – friends in Virginia City from my last visit there. They send me news every so often of what is happening and – it seems that your brother Adam has left home and not been seen for some time.”

“Left home? Why?”

“It seems that he wanted to get involved in things. I recall he did indicate that he had Northern sympathies when I was at your home and -,” Kyle heaved a sigh, as though it hurt to impart bad news to the younger brother. He placed a hand on Joe’s arm, “I’m sorry, Joe. I didn’t want to be the one to pass on bad news.”

“Has he been hurt?”

“Not to my knowledge. The last news I had about him was that he was headed to Kansas.”

Joe froze. His large eyes widened and he stared blankly at a dark place just above Kyle’s shoulder. Adam headed this way? His eyes flickered to Kyle,

“Has he joined the Union Army?”

“Sadly so.” Kyle replied smoothly. He took a cigar from the pocket of his vest and placed it between his teeth, then he struck a match and lit it. It was a ploy to delay time, to give him an opportunity to see how deeply the dart had struck. He watched Joe’s face, always so transparent, as he puffed on the cigar and blew out smoke.

Joe bit down on his bottom lip and stared at Kyle anxiously, “Pa would not be too pleased to see Adam gone. No doubt it would not have helped with me being absent as well.”

“You’re looking for Andrew Buckley, I believe?”

“Yes sir, I am. He’s a good friend of mine. I didn’t think he would get so hot headed about fighting in this war, but he did and I thought I should find him and bring him back home.”

“Well, Joe, no doubt you meant well. The fact is that Andrew is not an errant kid who has played truant from school. He’s a grown man and he’s made a decision to fight for the Confederacy. You can’t expect to come here and just tell him to come home. You may find he’ll not want to get back to the future you want for him.” Kyle blew out a thin line of smoke, all the time watching the expression on his young companions face.

“I appreciate what you’re saying, sir.” Joe paused and rubbed his chin with his hand, “May I ask you something, Mr Kyle?”

“Certainly.”

“Kansas has declared for the Union, if I recall rightly. How come your home and headquarters is close by here? Beaconsville seems a strange place to have a Southern protagonist quartered there.”

“It belonged to my wife. Was part of her family possessions, but as I was her next of kin, I inherited the property. Her father was a Northern Senator…” Kyle let his voice trail off, his mind returning to the evening when his wife’s shattered remains were brought to the Ponderosa for his inspection. It had only been Adam Cartwright who had suspected something wrong, and the hot words exchanged between him and Joe had given Kyle all he needed to know about both their allegiances.

“I’m sorry. I was just curious.”

“No need to apologise. Look, Joe, you’ve heard of the Trojan horse, haven’t you? What better place to have as a rallying point for Southern sympathisers than my place near Lawrence in Kansas.” Kyle smiled, and then shrugged, “I was on my way there when we were attacked by Northern troops. Possibly your brother was amongst them.”

Joe paled, although the darkness could conceal his pallor, Kyle was cunning enough to discern from the ensuing silence how the young man had reacted to that comment. He leaned back and puffed into the air,

“Perhaps you should have a word with your friend now, Joe. He’s not so far away.”

“Andrew? You mean, he’s here?”

“Certainly he’s here.” Kyle raised his arm and beckoned, the tip of the cigar glowed like a small insignificant glow-worm in the darkness.

“No.” Joe’s voice snapped out the word so abruptly than Kyle was caught by surprise and left his arm upraised for some seconds before slowly allowing it to fall to his side. “Before I see him, there’s a few other things I need to clear up with you first. All this riding without company gives a man time to think. Sometimes too much time, and things get confused. I need you to answer some questions first, Mr Kyle.”

“Of course, I can quite understand, Joe.” Kyle drew hard on the cigar, the tip glowed red and he slowly allowed the smoke to drift from his mouth and nostrils, as though anything the boy could ask was hardly going to rock his world. He smiled slowly, “Well, fire away, I’m listening.”

“First of all – that time you came to Virginia City and claimed to have known my mother. Is it true? Did you know her?” Joe leaned forward, his eyes fixed on the face in the shadows, trying to discern from what he could see the truthfulness of the reply he was waiting for now.

“Your mother? Yes, I knew her. Not very well, that’s true, but I did know her. It was before her first marriage.”

“You knew her well enough for her to give you her picture.” Joe lowered his voice, and his eyes dropped momentarily to the ground, as though the comment would lead to answers he was unprepared to receive.

“To be honest, she gave the picture to my wife. It was Lily she knew more intimately than myself.”

Joe pondered on that for a while and a small furrow creased his brow.

“Why didn’t you say so before?”

“Because it suited my purposes not to do so. Two years ago I needed you to help me get those silver and gold reserves for the Confederacy. Thanks to your father’s ostrich tendencies and your brother’s hard headed arrogance, it didn’t work out.” Kyle frowned and stared at the tip of his cigar as though it would give him inspiration, truth was an odd companion for him, he had not been familiar with it for a long time. “My son died in a stupid altercation with Northern sympathisers and I lost the use of my arm. My marriage ended then,” he scowled and flicked the ash from the cigar with his little finger before turning to Joe and searching out his eyes for contact, “I couldn’t believe it when I found that Marie had a son called Joseph. It seemed like an omen. We needed that silver and gold, Joe, the cause, the Confederacy, was desperate for the funds that would have been available to us then. This war would have ended years ago and needless bloodshed would have been curtailed. But your father’s ‘let’s pretend it is not happening’ attitude put an end to all that.”

“You’re wrong about my father, Mr Kyle. He knew all about what was happening, but if you prefer to think he was deliberately ignoring it, then you didn’t really know him. My Pa puts his family first and what happened beyond the borders of our territory was not something he wanted to introduce into our lives.”

“Because he knew it would send you boys hurtling in all different directions and he wanted to protect you. Isn’t that right?”

“That’s right.”

“Well, it didn’t work, did it? You’ve left, your brother has left. As far as Virginia City is concerned you both left to join different sides in this conflict.”

“No, that’s not true. I’ve not joined any side.”

“I did say, as far as Virginia City is concerned you have. You see, Joe,” he flicked ash from his trousers and sighed, “My informants tell me a great deal about what’s going on there. You left home supposedly to attend a friend’s wedding, but rumour has it was to join the Confederacy. Adam decides that what is good enough for you, is good enough for him. He didn’t waste much time at home before leaving, I can assure you of that.”

Joe bowed his head and frowned. He tugged nervously at the toggle on his green jacket and wondered what his family must be thinking of him, to have let the story of his joining the war, the Confederacy, to have taken hold in Virginia City. He chewed on his thumb as he thought of the implications of such a rumour, so strongly embedded that Adam had chosen to leave home as well.

“You have your mother’s birthright flowing through your veins, son, and you know for sure how you feel about the South. The townsfolk already believe you and your brother are fighting on opposite sides, so why not just pitch in and roll your sleeves up and get signed on. You know you want to really.” Kyle drawled, letting the lies slip from his tongue as easily as grease.

“I was told,” Joe said softly, recalling the time he was in Endurance, “that you had told Andrew that you did not want the responsibility of my blood on your hands – in respect to my mother’s memory?” his eyes flashed up to meet Kyle’s.

“True enough and I meant it. But, the fact is, son, that you are here now, and of your own doing. You can’t hold me responsible for that now, can you?”

“I know that -,” Joe paused as there came the sound of boots scrunching on the ground, and he glanced up to see a stocky young man coming to attention in front of Kyle. The soldier snapped a salute and passed over a slip of paper.

Kyle struck a match, for the night was drawn in darkly now, albeit a summer’s evening. In the flare of the light Joe was able to see the jaw line tighten and the vein at the man’s temple throb while the eyes narrowed.

“Bad news?” he asked quietly.

Kyle snuffed out the flickering flame of the match and tossed it to the ground. He glanced over at Joe and nodded,

“It seems Beaconsville has been reclaimed by my wife’s family. It’s now crawling with Northern militiamen.”

Chapter 9

The tall young man took the pen and dipped it into the inkwell and slowly wrote his name in the hotel register.

“Has there been any other guest registered under the name Cartwright?” he asked the Hotel Clerk.

“Where from?”

“The Ponderosa, Virginia City, Nevada.”

“No, sir. Only Cartwright signed in over the past six months was an old man called Ephraim Cartwright from Baxter Springs.”

Adam Cartwright nodded and with inscrutable features, accepted the key to his room, picked up his bags and turned to mount the stairs. His progress was halted when a tall man of his father’s age stood up and hailed him from the foyer.

“Mr Cartwright? I’m Seth Van Cleet, you may not recall the name but-”

“You’re a relative to Lily Van Cleet?” Adam said in his clipped rather abrupt voice, and he surveyed the older man from his position halfway up the staircase of The Eldridge Hotel.

The older man nodded, staring up at Adam politely, and with a slight smile beneath the white bushiness of his moustaches. Adam, bone weary though he was, descended the stairs and accepted the outstretched hand, which he shook warmly.

“I never knew her personally,” he began to say, but the older man nodded and shrugged,

“I understand that, but when I heard your name and the location you gave, I could not let the opportunity to make myself known to you pass me by. I’d like to thank you for what you did for Lily.”

“It’s my father who deserves the thanks, Mr Van Cleet. Apart from which her husband was there and oversaw the final arrangements for her funeral – eventually.”

“I understand what you mean. Before he went elsewhere to cause trouble. Look, Mr Cartwright, may I prevail upon you to join me for a meal this evening? The hotel has an excellent restaurant and I would be more than pleased to share some time with you.”

Adam glanced warily at the man and then nodded. He would have preferred sleeping from the time he entered the hotel room until the following day. He had ridden hard to make up for time, and his horse had been near collapse when he had taken it into the livery stables and requested it to be fed the best oats they had as it’s reward.

“That’ll be fine by me, Mr Van Cleet. I’ll see you about 6 o’clock.”

Another grip of hands and a firm shake. Then he mounted the stairs slowly, one at a time. It had been a long time in the saddle and he ached in every bone. The sounds of a battle going on had added some hours to his journey as he had circled round it in order to avoid being involved. That had been some days back now, but even so he could only hope that he had arrived in Lawrence in time to catch Joe. Later, he promised himself, he would go to the mail depot and check for any correspondence from his father and Hoss. He yawned, and pushed open the door to his room. Within ten minutes of falling flat on his back on the bed, Adam Cartwright was sound asleep. So sound and deep, in fact, that anyone passing the room could hear him snoring.

*****

“You’re just in time, mister, I was just about to close on up.”

Adam acknowledged the comment with a brief nod of his dark head, and followed the clerk into the office.

“I want to send a cable to Virginia City, Nevada.”

“Fill in this form. Do you want it sent now?”

“Yes.” Adam glanced at the clerk and noticed the disgruntled look mantle the man’s face. He picked up the pen “I’m sorry. It is important.”

“You won’t git no reply until tomorrow, you know that, don’t’cha?”

“Sure, I know that,” Adam replied, writing his brief message to his father and Hoss and making it even briefer as a peace offering to the irate clerk.

He handed it over and watched as the words were counted out and then paid the sum total required.

“You gonna stand there and watch me send it, young ‘un?”

“No, I’ve an appointment. I’ll see you in the morning.”

The clerk nodded, and started to tap out the message. He did not even glance up as the door opened and closed upon the young man. The only thought that crossed his mind was that he would no doubt see him first thing, probably hanging around by the door, when he started work in the morning.

TO BEN CARTWRIGHT STOP VIRGINIA CITY STOP NEVADA STOP HAVE NOW REACHED LAWRENCE STOP NO SIGN OF JOE STOP SHALL JUST WAIT UNTIL HE GETS HERE UNLESS INFO. DIRECTS OTHER LOCATION STOP TRUST ALL IS WELL STOP FROM ADAM CARTWRIGHT STOP LAWRENCE KANSAS STOP 20 AUGUST 1863 STOP

He slipped his black hat from his head and stepped into the restaurant and glanced around the interior. Van Cleet was not difficult to recognise and Adam walked towards the older man with his eyes on the Union Officer standing by his side. Both men stood up to acknowledge him, and extended their hands, which he accepted and shook warmly.

“Sit down, Mr Cartwright. I’ve taken the responsibility of ordering your meal. Knowing the cuisine so well gave me an advantage.”

Adam said nothing, but acknowledged the favour with a nod of the head.

“This is my son, Alan Van Cleet.”

“How d’you do?” Adam said curtly, seeing the resemblance to the older man clearly enough in the regular features and strong chin of the young officer. He turned his attention back to Seth Van Cleet, “It seems rather a co-incidence meeting you here, sir.”

“Not really. There’s a federal garrison at Baxter Springs, and we have a headquarters of a kind here in Lawrence. My son and I often liaise between one or the other. The co-incidence is your being here, Mr Cartwright. I found that rather surprising.”

“A man can travel where he wishes still, despite the war, can’t he?” Adam replied coolly, raising one eyebrow to emphasise his dislike of such a personal comment.

“Frederic Kyle had his headquarters here, at a place called Beaconsville, not far out of town. Perhaps you were on your way to see him.”

“No reason to see him.” Adam replied cautiously. He waited until the attendant had brought the food to the table before relaxing to speak any more on the subject, “You said Kyle had his headquarters here. Has he moved on then?”

“In a manner of speaking he has, although he may not yet know it, of course. The property belonged to the Van Cleets, and this being a Union town, in a Union state, we have requisitioned it back. Kyle will be none too pleased to hear about it, I daresay, but that’s the fortunes of war, and I have no intention of letting him use the family home as headquarters for his infamy.”

“Why are you here, Mr Cartwright?” Alan asked, his pale blue eyes looking with interest at the other man.

“Personal reasons.”

Father and son looked at one another, then their eyes lowered to look at their plates. For some minutes nothing else was said, but it was Seth who spoke first,

“You know that Kansas is a young state, the 34th state of the Union.”

“I know that – January 29th, 1861.” Adam raised his eyebrows, surely they were not going to just spend the evening discussing the history of the state. “We’re still going through the process of Statehood. At present we’re neutral territory.”

“Does that go for you as well, Mr Cartwright? A Boston born young man like yourself with strong principles and beliefs in the Union, should be standing up for what he knows to be right.” Seth responded.

Adam’s eyes narrowed and he looked at father and son coldly, then he drew himself upright and put down his fork,

“You’ve done some checking up on me and my family?”

“As soon as we got the information about Lily’s death, and who were involved in helping her, and Kyle, at the time. Yes. We started checking up on you all. Nevada may be a neutral territory, but it has northern and southern sympathisers, sir. Some of those sympathisers are getting funds through to the Confederacy via Kyle’s network which he ran from Beaconsville. We found out how he was trying to get the silver and gold past the blockades, and how your father was instrumental in flushing him out and exposing his little game to those whom Kyle was trying to use. The fact of the matter is, however, that Kyle was still able to set up an underground network and gets information and money from various sources in Virginia City. I don’t suppose you knew anything about that, did you?”

“No. It doesn’t interest me, nor involve me. The Ponderosa remains neutral.”

“Your father’s hope – what about yourself?” Alan asked, his eyes now cold as he looked at Adam.

Adam said nothing for a moment or two. He felt he was being manoeuvred into some kind of box canyon by the two men and in no way did he wish to compromise himself.

“The war has nothing to do with The Ponderosa.”

“If we were to tell you that silver from your own mines was being sent to the Confederacy, what then?” Seth snapped.

“I wouldn’t believe you.” Adam replied coldly, “But, I would question your motives as to why you would claim that was happening.”

“Do you have any idea who would support the Confederacy and send the ore to them from their mines?” Seth asked quietly.

“None whatsoever.”

He picked at his food. His mind dwelt on various characters in Virginia City who had prosperous mines and strong views about the war. He had, up to now, never even thought or suspected that gold or silver could be shipped from those men’s mines to the Confederate cause. He knew the men, and liked them. He had known their families and even been best man at the wedding of one of their sons. He kept his face inscrutable as he thought of those families and of the youth who had gone away from home several weeks after the wedding. He would never return home having been killed at the first battle at Bull Run.

“I can understand your desire to be loyal to your friends, Mr Cartwright. That’s understandable. What you need to remember is that while money is being sent to finance a lost cause, young men are being killed by their hundreds. Needlessly. Here in Kansas, out of 30,000 men of military age, we have 23 regiments and four batteries. We’re a young state, but prepared to nail our flag to the mast. It seems more should do likewise, or have the courage to stand up for their beliefs.” Alan declared hotly.

“I don’t disagree with you, sir.” The dark eyes flashed in Alan’s direction, and were then lowered, long lashes formed a silken crescent over the high cheekbones. “A man may have a variety of beliefs and principles by which he lives. If he lives by them, as his own conscience dictates, then he should not be condemned by another.” He looked thoughtfully at Seth, then at Alan, “I understand your concerns, and they are valid. If the gold and silver ore being sent to support the Confederacy were stopped, then the war would eventually end. By the same token, if gold and silver were not sent to stock up the Union war chest, the war would end even sooner.”

“But we could lose.” Alan protested.

“Hardly any chance of that, seeing how you have control over factories churning out munitions and weapons. The South can’t use tobacco and cotton to fight cannons and rifles, can they? The blockades prevent them getting full recompense for their produce as it is.” Adam snapped back in irritation at the way the conversation was turning.

“Excuse me, sir, but you’re beginning to sound like a Southern sympathiser.” Seth drawled, dabbing at his moustaches with his napkin.

“I’m only stating facts. The waterways are controlled by the Union, aren’t they? If they are not, they soon will be. Once they are under Union control, the war will come to a halt…bloody or otherwise.” Adam frowned, and then pursed his lips, “It’s something my father and I have discussed often.”

“But you’ve never discussed the concept of taking part in the fight yourself? You would rather defend the men who support the South than stand up and fight for the North.” Alan growled.

“In a neutral territory a man keeps his sympathies close to his chest and steps back from stepping on the toes of his neighbour who may have different views. That way we keep things neutral and we manage to keep our businesses running, and the economy of the territory solvent. Should it be that we gain statehood then it may be necessary to take a more aggressive stance.” Adam frowned, “When Kyle came to Virginia City he succeeded in whipping up a lot of trouble. We saw, in miniature, the corrosive damage a civil war creates upon a country. In order to preserve neutrality, it was necessary to step back, take a good hard look at ourselves and then get on with our lives. However, on a personal level – ,” here Adam paused and took a deep breath, “I’ve never kept my opinions a secret. My brothers will tell you that so far as they’re concerned I’m a granite headed Yankee and not just because I’m New England born, but because I value the principles set down by Government. If I were not bound by a promise I made to my father,” again he paused, and bit down on his bottom lip as he thought back to the last time he had seen his father. He shook his head and shrugged, “My promise to my father takes precedence over anything else I value. I could never, in all conscience, go against that promise.”

“It seems your Ponderosa takes precedence over the whole nation.” Alan growled.

“It seems to me that what I think or believe will not affect the outcome of this war. I see no reason to continue this conversation.” Adam set down his napkin and got to his feet. He was a tall man, broad shouldered, and momentarily seemed to tower over them as they looked up at him. Seth pushed back his chair and stood up, followed immediately by his son. “Good day, gentlemen, thank you for the meal.”

“If we have said anything – ,” Seth said to the retreating figure heading now for the doorway, and as the door swung shut behind the man in black, he turned to his son and shook his head, “I like the man. He’s a man we could use.”

“Have to find the right bait first, Pa, before we can reel him in.” Alan said quietly, picking up his cup and with a slow smile he brought it to his lips.

Chapter 10

Joseph Francis Cartwright leaned heavily upon the pommel of his saddle and looked over at Andrew. The other young man was drinking from a canteen of water, long gulps to quench a raging thirst. Joe watched as drops of water caught the sunlight and made them gleam like diamonds.

“You sound thirsty enough to drink the Washoe dry,” he grinned over at his friend who put the canteen down and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand.

“I reckon I could at that.” Andrew replied, a smile on his lips and a twinkle in his eye.

Joe’s generously proportioned mouth twitched into a smile. It had been good to see Andrew again, and they had spent most of the night talking about what had happened to them during the intervening weeks since they had last seen each other.

Andrew had listened to all that Joe had to tell him about Lucy, and about Audrey. He had sat silently for while, staring down at his hands which were hanging loosely between his knees.

“I loved Lucy, Joe. More than anything in the world. Then I heard Kyle talking to some crowds in Placerville. I tried to ignore it, but somehow the words ate into my heart. I realised that I had worn myself a comfortable little rut back there with my family, and Lucy. To marry her, and be an extension of the Burnette family would have been the ultimate success story as far as my parents were concerned.” He glanced over at his friend who was shredding blades of grass between his fingers, “You know what a rut is, don’t you, Joe?”

“I guess so.”

“It’s just a coffin, without a lid.” Andrew scowled.

“I don’t agree with that –,” Joe replied slowly, “you might as well accuse everybody alive about the same thing, but all they’re doing is living their lives the best they can.”

Andrew shrugged and flopped on his back beside Joe. He stared up at the night sky and closed his eyes,

“I lied to Lucy. Told her I was going to a convention when all the time I was just going to listen to Kyle. I didn’t intend to sign up and become a soldier, especially when I met with Audrey. Then I got to thinking about Lucy, and Audrey and – and I guess I just thought that facing some Yankees would sure be easier than getting in between them two gals.”

“Audrey loves you.”

“I know. So does Lucy. But – ,” he gulped hard, “I love Audrey. I know that now, after these past few weeks. Joe, I thought it was exciting the first time I got into a fight.” Andrew said quietly as he leaned towards his friend, the flames of the small fire between them casting shadows on his face. “My blood was up and I was whooping loud for all the world to hear as I rushed up the slopes of that hill. There were about a hundred of them and 75 of us, but the numbers did not seem to matter. We just wanted to kill them before they killed us. Guess that was the sum of it really. Politics and principles did not seem to matter no more, we jest had to shoot ‘em down and make sure they stayed down.”

“Did you win ?”

“Sure we did. Weren’t many of them rode away I kin tell ya. We didn’t take no prisoners. Jest didn’t have the food to spare for them as well.” Andrew’s brow crinkled at the memory and he looked away and stared at the shrubs some distance away. “That was when I realised that there weren’t no glory in war after all. It’s all well and good rushing in and doin’ all thet thar shooting an’ stuff, but afterwards, when the heat is cooled in yer brain, and yer heart ain’t poundin’ so much and an officer comes up and says there ain’t going to be no prisoners – well, thet’s when you kind of sober up some.”

“Why? What happened?”

“Don’t you know?” Andrew narrowed his eyes to scan his friend’s face as though he could not believe the youth’s naivety, “When you ain’t takin’ no prisoners, that don’t mean you let ‘em go to rejoin their pals. It means you go round the battlefield and shoot ‘em. Some you’re glad to put out of their misery, even those who are wearing the same colour uniform, when they put out their hands and beg ya to kill ‘em to put an end to their pain. But the others -,” he bit his lip and shook his head, “Shucks, Joe, you jest kin’t imagine what it’s like, worse than anything I ever thought it could be, and their eyes haunt your nights forever.”

Joe had swallowed the lump in his throat and shivered. He put out a hand and placed it gently upon Andrew’s arm, but his friend pulled it away, as though he did not deserve any comforting.

“Kyle said that Adam’s joined up. Did you know that?”

“He said something about Adam having left Virginia City some time back. I didn’t know he had joined the military though.”

“You didn’t – you haven’t seen him at all?” Joe looked down on the ground, as though it were too much to ask, to hope for, and he waited with bated breath for Buckley’s reply.

“Nope, never seen him.”

Joe nodded. It was a relief. It had been like a knife in his heart to imagine Adam being wounded in a field of battle, with hands outstretched, begging for his life as someone, like Andrew, came by under orders to take no prisoners.

Now here they were riding into Lawrence. Kyle had thought it a good idea for someone as neutral as Joe to ride into the town and check out the defences. Joe had said that would mean he was no longer neutral but working for the benefit of the Confederacy. Andrew had raised his eyebrows and shaken his head good humouredly, as though to say everyone knew how Joe felt, what side he was on, so did it really matter?

“You won’t be wearing a uniform, boy.” Kyle had said with a smile fixed on his face and Joe had nodded. It seemed such a small thing really.

Andrew had been ordered to ride along with him, minus his uniform jacket and pants. Now in civilian gear he rode beside Joe and over the miles they had shared jokes and old times and hopes for the future.

“Will you go back and marry that Miss Audrey, Andy?” Joe had asked as they rode into Lawrence.

“I sure will. Ain’t she something else, Joe? I’ll marry her and take her back to Virginia City. I’ll have to make my peace with Lucy though.” Andrew grimaced, as though, somehow, that might just happen to slip his mind.

Joe thought back to when he had met Miss Audrey Knowles and agreed with Andrew. But then he thought of Lucy, and remembered how he had felt when he had first set eyes on her lovely face. He smiled to himself and realised that his friend Andrew had not changed much from the time he was a little boy at school. This was just one more scrape he had got himself into, and would, most likely, expect Joe to get him out of it.

They rode past The Eldridge Hotel where a tall young man was eating a hasty breakfast and gulping down black coffee in the hope of getting to the Telegraph Depot before it opened. They rode past the United Brethren Church where Rev. S.S. Snyder was locking the door. He had plans for the day which began when he had milked the cow and taken the milk over to the restaurant. He was a lieutenant in the 2nd Coloured Regiment and had his duties to perform, of a secular and military kind. The two young men touched the brim of their hats as they passed Snyder, who nodded and smiled in acknowledgement.

The First Methodist Church had its doors closed and locked. The windows gazed blankly out onto the street as Joe and Andrew rode by and finally dismounted outside the Telegraph Depot.

“I want to send a cable to my Pa. We can see a lot from here, but it won’t hurt to take a good walk about the place.” Joe glanced up and down the street as he tied the horse’s reins to the hitching rail.

“I’ll wait for you here.” Andrew said, leaning against the post, flicking the reins of his horse back and forth with an air of nonchalance that disguised his discomfort.

He watched Joe enter the Telegraph Depot and frowned. The discomfort had grown and grown during the night and the ride into Lawrence had seen it bear full fruition. Seeing Joe again had forced him to confront his demons, his desires, and his longings. He knew that all he wanted was to get back home, and for him, home was with Audrey Knowles as his wife. He wanted done with the war, and the fighting and the dirt and the hunger. All the rhetoric in the world would not hold him to whatever principles he had believed in that had compelled him to ride along with Kyle.

He took a deep breath. When Joe came out of the Telegraph Depot he knew exactly what he would tell him. He would look him square in the eyes and say, “Joe, let’s cut our losses and get back home.” Yes, that’s what he would say. He could hear his voice saying the words and felt the discomfort fading away and relief taking its place.

The clerk took the written form from Joe and scanned it quickly and priced it. He took the money and gave Joe some cents in change. He sat down on his stool and began to calmly tap out the message.

TO BEN CARTWRIGHT STOP VIRGINIA CITY NEVADA STOP PA HAVE FOUND ANDREW STOP SHALL RETURN HOME AS SOON AS I CAN PERSUADE HIM TO RIDE BACK WITH ME STOP FROM JOE STOP LAWRENCE KANSAS STOP 21st AUGUST 1863

The clerk glanced up and frowned, the name sounded familiar. He racked his brains for a second and then remembered the cable he had sent the previous evening. Like many tradesmen he recalled the tools of his trade rather than the faces of the men who drifted through his office. He only knew the man had been called Cartwright and was a stranger in town. He looked at Joe and concluded the message,

“You’re Cartwright, huh?”

“Sure.”

“Wait there.”

He returned within minutes, with a crumpled envelope addressed to Joe Cartwright in Hoss’ writing, another envelope addressed to Joe Cartwright in Adam’s writing, a long thin envelope addressed to a Mr Cartwright in Ben’s writing and a cable.

“The cable came jest a minute before you stepped through the door, Mr Cartwright. That’s what I call good service.”

“It sure is…” Joe chortled, pushing his hat to the back of his head and his eyes twinkling.

He walked out of the depot with the letters in his hand, weighing them carefully, and pleasure mounting his cheeks in anticipation of reading them. He looked at Andrew,

“I’ve mail from Pa and my brothers. Let’s find a place to eat, so’s I can read ‘em.”

“Sure, but bring your horse along with you. In this place, we may have to make a quick exit.”

Joe frowned, but catching the direction of Andrew’s gaze he realised the wisdom of what his friend had advised. A tall young man in the dark blue uniform of a Union Officer was walking down the street towards the hotel. It reminded Joe that the situation in Kansas was far different from Virginia City and that he was there on an assignment from a man who supported the military of another colour. He swallowed a lump in his throat. Without even resisting it, he had crossed over the line and put himself in the Confederate camp.

He un-tethered the horse and together the two young men walked down the street to where a small restaurant could be seen. They glanced at one another as the smell of ham and eggs and fresh bread wafted towards them. With a nod and a smile they hitched the horses up to the rail. Stepping together they entered the building and closed the door behind them.

“Mr Cartwright?”

Adam turned at the door of the hotel at the sound of his name and frowned slightly as Alan Van Cleet strode hurriedly towards him. He squared his shoulders as though mentally preparing to do battle, and watched as the officer came nearer.

“Mr Cartwright, I just came to ask you if you would join me for breakfast?”

“Too late I’m afraid, I’ve already eaten. Thanks anyway.” Adam tipped his hat and turned to walk away. He was prevented from going too far by Alan’s hand on his arm, and he turned his head to survey the soldier with a cold look in his eyes. Alan immediately dropped his hand and then shrugged,

“Look, I realise I was out of order yesterday evening. I just wanted a chance to be alone with you and talk things out. Would you join me in some coffee, at least, and hear me out?”

Adam glanced, narrow eyed, down the street to the Telegraph Depot and then looked back at Alan. The young man had an open countenance and the blue eyes were earnest. Adam nodded,

“Sure, I don’t see why not although I had intended to go and check on whether or not there was a cable arrived for me.”

“Do it later.”

Adam nodded again. The young man was certainly keen to make amends and Adam had no reason to waste the opportunity to befriend someone who could, in future, be of some help to him. Together they walked down the street to the restaurant that Alan recommended from being a regular client there. They were well matched in height, and build. Both handsome men and in their prime. Alan’s fairer colouring was offset by his blue uniform, while Adam with his black hair and black garments provided an interesting comparison.

They pushed open the door and it was as though the action propelled them into total chaos and pandemonium. It was the strangest of chain reactions. Alan had pushed open the door and turned to smile at Adam, who had paused at the doorway to look at a horse, black and white, that was hitched to the rail outside. In that instant of time there were the sounds of screams, gunshots, explosions. The thunder of horses galloping full tilt and the screams of the animals as they collided, got entangled, became injured in the melee and maelstrom that now took place.

As bullets whistled towards them, Adam and Alan pulled out their guns. From their table within the restaurant Little Joe and Andrew did the same. Women clutched at husbands and children and did not know whether to run from the restaurant or duck under the tables. Gunfire raged about them and glass shattered and splintered into devastating shards. The explosions of dynamite, hurled at buildings or into them, thundered and echoed throughout the town.

Rev. S.S. Snyder of the United Brethren Church was already dead. He had been shot while milking a cow as the raiders entered town.

Joe Cartwright fired time and time again from behind the shelter of a table, while Andrew knelt by his side and did likewise. Adam and Alan had closed the door of the restaurant and had found refuge just as the glass had exploded into a million fragments. They now knelt side by side behind the cover of an overturned table and several chairs.

“Do you know who they are? “ Adam asked Alan, leaning down and having to shout the question above the noise of the horror in the street.

“William Quantrill and his men.” The officer replied, straightening his arm and firing directly at some horseman who did not even notice the bullet as it winged past him.

Adam frowned, and stood up. Buildings were now blazing. There were bodies strewn like rag dolls in the street. The thin wails of children from various directions floated through the dust and noise and then stopped. He leaned against the wall and began to reload his pistol.

Joe wiped sweat from his brow. He looked up at Andrew who shrugged back at him.

“Do you know who they are?” he asked, wondering if he were firing at Confederate or Unionist.

“Quantrill and his men.” Buckley replied, “We shouldn’t be here, Joe. We have to get out.”

“Yeah, I agree one hundred per cent, but how?” Joe asked, closing the chamber of his gun and wondering whether he would have enough bullets to get him through what could possibly be the worst moment of his young life.

Adam checked the bullet chamber to his gun, closed it and looked around the restaurant to see just how many there were who would be in a position to defend the place. There was no point in pretending that lives were not at stake here. He turned and looked down the body of the restaurant, past the overturned tables and chairs and the weeping, crying women and children.

Joe Cartwright stood up and straightened his back and looked over his shoulder at the entrance to the restaurant. Across the overturned tables and chairs and the weeping, crying women and children.

“Adam.” “Joe.”

Relief. Joy. Confusion. Love. All the emotions tumbled one over the other. Adam’s eyes were alight with excitement and his mouth opened in a smile of sheer joy. His little brother was safe, well, as safe as the circumstances allowed at the moment. He moved forwards, pushing against the table that had been his protection, and –

The stick of dynamite casually thrown into the building exploded.

Joe was already moving towards Adam when the explosion took place. He saw his brother’s body half turn, fall forwards and then back, and then in a strangely slow and graceful way, slump onto the floor. Within seconds the body of another man, Alan Van Cleet, had fallen across the black clad body and did not move again.

Andrew grabbed at Joe’s arm and pulled him back. Even as Joe saw his brother fall and the soldier collapse on top of him, so he was hauled back towards the rear of the building. It was an action that saved his life.

“It was Adam. I saw him.”

“Stay right here, Joe. You can’t do anything for him now. Jest stay put.”

Joe forced Andrew’s hand away. He tried to get to his feet but something was holding him back and when he looked behind him, he saw the anguished face of a young woman whose hand was gripping hold of him.

“Help me. Help me.”

Joe turned and glanced over at Andrew and together they pulled against the joist that was pinning the girl down. As the joist was lifted so the girl screamed, and screamed.

“Put it down, put it back down.” Joe cried realising that there was nothing that they could do for her, and that the movement of the joist was creating more anguish than relief.

“What do you mean? She’ll die anyway.” Andrew stopped and looked and then without a word began to lower the joist back into position.

“Don’t leave me here,” it was barely a whisper and yet it screamed loud in his head. “Don’t, please, don’t leave me alone.”

Joe looked down at her and felt tears sting his eyes for pity for her. She was young, with all her life ahead of her and she was going to die. Then he thought of his brother, whom he could not see, who could be dead. He blinked rapidly, and heaved back the sob in his throat.

“I’ll go and see to him.” Andrew whispered and stealthily crept from their section of the ruins.

“You won’t leave me, will you?” she whispered, clutching at his hand so tightly that the flesh went white and Joe winced in pain.

“No, I won’t leave you.” He glanced around the debris, hoping to find some water, anything that could ease her discomfort, “Are you in much pain? Is there anything I can get you?”

“Water? Just a little. I’m so thirsty. No, the pain is not bad, unless I move or the – the wood here – across me – don’t lean on it, sir, it hurts when you lean on it.”

Joe slumped back. There was no water at hand, and she would not release her grip on him. It was impossible to ease her unless he moved the joist which would cause her agonies. He wondered how Adam was faring. Had it been Adam or a figment of his imagination induced by the nightmarish situation he was in? Would a stranger look so happy to see him? Happy? That was an understatement. He couldn’t even remember the last time Adam had looked at him with that same look of rapt, one could even say, delirious, delight.

A hand touched his shoulder and he jumped. Andrew looked down at him and shook his head,

“I can’t get to them. Some of the ceiling has come down now. Could just make out their bodies.”

“He can’t be dead.” Joe groaned and this time the tears slipped from his eyes and down his cheeks. He tried to release his hand but the grip from the girl grew tighter.

“Joe, we’ve got to get out of here.” Andrew whispered, “Quantrill don’t just ride through. He and his men pick over all the buildings and git what they can outa them and whoever’s in ‘em. We gotta git out of here before he reaches this place.”

“I can’t leave here. This girl needs help.”

“She’s beyond help.”

“I have to make sure Adam’s safe.” Hazel eyes filled with tears, lashes spiked by anguish, peered up into the face of his friend, appealing to him for reassurance, help, strength.

“Help me. Water. Oh, sir, please don’t go, don’t leave me.”

Joe pulled out a handkerchief and gently wiped her face with it, his tears fell upon her greying face, and she raised a hand and touched his cheek and wiped a tear from it with her finger.

“Don’t cry for me, mister, don’t cry. I’ll try not to be long in dying, it’s jest that I can’t bear to die alone. Jest stay and hold my hand a minute longer.”

“Sure, sure I will. What’s your name?”

“Anne. Anne Blunt. I was going to get married next week in the Methodist church here. My fiancé’s a preacher. He preaches a real good sermon. What’s your name?”

“Joe – Joe Cartwright.” His voice came through his lips in barely a whisper for his throat ached with tears and unshed sobs.

“Joe. Joseph.”

He noticed that her eyes were brown. Her bonnet was all askew, the feather in it was broken. Curls of dark brown hair clung with sweat to her forehead. Her lips were changing colour, becoming bluer.

“Joe?”

“Yes, Anne?”

“Why did this happen to us?”

“I don’t know. I guess it’s because of the war.” He looked up at Andrew, who was chewing his bottom lip and obviously wishing that she would die sooner. He knew that Andrew was not being cruel in wishing it, for he was wishing the same thing. It was just too unbearable.

“My brother died because of the war. Joe – will you pray for me?”

“I – yes – of course – yes, I’ll pray for you.” He placed his other hand around hers already intertwined with his, and he opened his mouth to speak the words when he saw her eyes lose the light of life and a soft sigh escaped her lips.

Chapter 11

“When I open my eyes,” Adam thought, “I shall find myself in the hotel bedroom. It was all a dream. Just a nightmare.”

Yet still he kept his eyes tightly closed. The weight of something heavy upon him, making it impossible to move his limbs and the sensation of something warm and wet dripping onto his brow and creeping slowly down across his flesh, made him resist the desire to wake up and end the nightmare.

“I saw Joe.” Joe – the reminder brought a jolt of life into him and his eyelids opened wide. Just for a fraction of a second his brain could not register where he was, for his eyes were seeing something unfamiliar, yet fitting to his dream.

Wrecked and ruined furniture, blackened walls, smoke billowing towards him. A battle scene. He closed his eyes and tried to take a deep breath but the weight upon him inhibited his lung capacity. There was a thudding in his ears, and he closed his eyes as pain began to thud in rhythm to the pounding. He made an attempt to move, but his legs were caught in something that held them fixed down and his arms were pinned down. He realised that his own weight was on his right arm, but until he could move his body, or remove the burden that was a dead weight upon him, then he had to remain immobile. He wondered what the burden was, perhaps a joist, a beam of some kind.

He summoned all the power he could harness in his body and heaved upwards. He had to move or go mad. The feeling of being forced into immobility created a swell of panic within him, of claustrophobic proportions. He heaved himself up and rolled to one side. Alan Van Cleet’s body rolled with him and fell, lifeless, onto the floor.

Adam looked about him and saw once again the ruins of what had been a pleasant enough eating house. He saw a body, or part thereof, hidden by a shattered table. Alan’s eyes stared unseeingly up at the ceiling. Adam reached out a hand and pushed back the debris of furniture in an attempt to get to his feet, while with his free hand he wiped away the warm wet stuff on his brow. His fingers came away red with blood, Van Cleet’s blood.

If this was not a dream, he thought, then seeing Joe was a reality. He struggled once again to get to his feet, but was unable to do so. The pounding in his ears had now reached a frantic pulsating that echoed the rapid beating of his heart. He was finding it hard to breath, to catch his breathe, and his eyes were blurring, his vision fading.

“Joe. Joe.”

His head was splitting in two with pain and he put his hands to his ears as though in some way they would either hold his head together, or stop the anguish from driving him completely crazy. He looked up at the ceiling. Was it his imagination or was it about to collapse? If he did not move out of the way, would it collapse on him?

“Did you hear that, Andrew? It was Adam. He’s still alive.”

Joe grabbed at Andrew’s arm and shook it, but his friend was more concerned with getting out of the building. He pulled his arm away and looked at Joe askance.

“Look, Joe, I told you already, we got to git out of here.”

“Not without Adam.”

“We can’t get through to him now. The whole place is about to collapse. We can’t get through to him.”

“We have to try.” Joe’s hazel eyes widened in a plea for help, but Andrew just shook his head and continued to claw at the debris to fashion some means of escape from the rear exit.

“Look, Joe, you don’t understand. Quantrill and his men have drawn up a list of people they want to kill. Kyle’s on that list. If they find out that we’re here because of Kyle they’ll make us lead them to him. Don’t you understand?”

Joe’s mouth tightened into a thin line of protest. His eyes hardened and the nerve at his temple began to throb, he leaned forward and grabbed Buckley by the front of his shirt and shook him,

“What does Kyle mean to you, Andrew? Adam’s a good friend to you, and he’s my brother. Don’t you realise what he’s done for us? He came to find us, to help us.”

Andrew pushed his hand away, “And I didn’t ask him to, anymore than I asked you to come looking for me. You should have stayed at home, Joe, with your family. Why did you have to come for me in the first place? Didn’t I make it clear enough to you that I wanted to make my own way? Don’t you know what it’s been like for me never to have been able to make choices for myself before?”

“What are you talking about, Andrew? I left home, if you recall, to be your groomsman for your wedding to a lovely young girl whom you now claim you don’t love. You haven’t even been able to tell Miss Audrey how you felt for her. You didn’t even have the courage to tell Kyle that you wanted to leave him and settle with Audrey and make some kind of life for yourself with her. And you tell me that you’re making your own choices? Are you trying to fool me or yourself?”

“You don’t understand, Joe. I’m a soldier. I can’t just up and leave when I want to because I’d be shot for desertion if I did.”

Joe narrowed his eyes and looked into the face of his friend and then sat back on his heels and allowed his arms to drop to his side.

“You had best go then, Andrew. Adam and I don’t need you. We can fend for ourselves. Huh, you talk about making your own choices and you can’t even see the truth for what it is -.”

“What do you mean?” Andrew’s attractive face reddened and his eyes filled with what Joe thought were tears, but even so the young man’s body language was one of defensive aggression.

“You left Lucy, and then Audrey, to follow Kyle. You reckon you made your own choice then, but what has it given you since? You can’t do a thing without fear of being shot – you can’t leave without fear of being shot – some choice!”

“I made a choice to fight for my cause.”

“You made a choice to follow a man with too much to say for himself and who couldn’t care a plugged nickel for you. You just exchanged one institution for another. You never cared about the Southern cause before Kyle appeared so why put on the pretence that it matters so much to you now?”

Several bullets winged through the shattered glass of the windows as a reminder that beyond their small world a battle was still raging. Andrew shook his head and bit his lip. Joe leaned forward and gripped his arm once again, and this time he did not shrug it off, but looked miserably crestfallen, and downcast.

“Lucy and the Burnette’s cared about you. You had friends back there, people who cared because they had trust in you, and respected you. How could you just walk away from all that? I could have ridden home when Lucy told me you had ‘disappeared’, but I came on after you because you were my friend. I didn’t want you to lose out on the best chance of your life to be free and happy. I didn’t want you to walk away from all that was being offered to you just for six feet of dirt, which is what you’ll get if you carry on in this war. You can’t win this way, Andrew.”

They stared at one another over the debris of restaurant and the body of the girl. For a fraction of a minute it was as though time stood still. Andrew finally lowered his head and put out a hand, which Joe took in his and held.

“Let’s go and find Adam.” Andrew whispered “Then get on outa here.”

Adam Cartwright stared up at the ceiling and watched as the cracks in the plaster continued to splinter away from the centre of the widest gap. It crept along like the makings of a large spider’s web. He knew that once a certain thread met up with another thread then the whole mass of plaster would come down.

He closed his eyes. He was bone weary and the pain was eating away whatever strength he had left. He could no longer feel his legs or feet. The thudding in his head was the loudest noise he had ever been forced to listen to for so long. He wanted to go to sleep and never wake up.

Chapter 12

At The Eldridge Hotel guests were waving a white sheet in surrender. Men belonging to Quantrill surged in through the foyer and took their time in robbing the hotel’s clientele and plundering the hotel. As they left they set the building alight.

The two young men succeeded in leaving the restaurant by the rear exit only to be pinned down by a group of horsemen. The gunplay drove them back into the precarious security of the building until eventually the horsemen tired and rode on to fresh areas of the town to terrorise.

“Adam?” Joe cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled his brother’s name. Several times he called and each time other voices called back to him, begging for water, for help. No voice sounded like Adam’s and Joe looked blankly over at Andrew who shook his head and indicated that they should try the back exit once again.

Smoke was billowing from the area of the hotel. Gun shots were less regular now and there was no sign of the horsemen.

“First things first,” Joe said grimly, recovering from the shock of not seeing his horse as soon as he could, “We get Adam out of here and make sure he’s all right.”

“Look, Joe, you find Adam while I go in search of the horses. We’re going to need them, and there’s no point in losing time.”

Joe gave his friend a searching look before nodding and hurrying to the shattered doorway of the restaurant. Stepping inside was like stepping into bedlam.

“Help me, please. I’ve two children here that need help.”

A woman held out her arms to him for assistance, and he could see the two children sprawled by her side, and knew that he could not walk by and ignore her. He hurried over to her and after a struggle to get the debris cleared from them, he managed to get her to her feet. He lifted the little boy up and placed him in her arms, and looked reassuringly at her as the boy bellowed a protest and began to howl.

“He sounds healthy enough to me, ma’am.. D’you know where the doctor’s surgery is hereabouts?”

“Yes, but I’m scared to go outside.”

“I’ll get the little girl first, then you just follow me.”

The little girl whimpered and sobbed and clutched at her doll. She took a while to be convinced that she could come out from her hiding place. Once out she clung to her mother’s skirt. It was obvious that she had suffered nothing worse than shock and several slight scratches. The force of the explosion had thrown her into a safe area, which had saved her life.

“Hey – git me outa here.”

A fat man wedged in the shattered remains of the counter yelled his protests at seeing others assisted while he was left struggling to get out of his prison. He reminded Joe of an upturned beetle with his legs and arms gyrating and himself getting nowhere fast. Joe stepped over boards and glass and carefully cleared away what wood and rubbish were keeping the fat man from getting to his feet. Having succeeded in getting the man upright he asked him to take on the responsibility of the woman and two children.

Behind the remains of the counter two heads suddenly reared up. The woman had blood streaming from a gaping wound in her head to which she was holding a bloodied towel. The man, her husband, was groaning in pain as he clutched at his arm which he declared was broken. With some assistance from Joe they were able to scrabble clear of the litter and reach the door.

The fat man, with the woman and the two children, the proprietor and his wife, stepped warily out onto the sidewalk. Looking from left to right, and right to left, they scuttled down towards the doctor’s surgery. The town looked like a victim of war, which it was.

Adam Cartwright was sprawled on his back. His eyes were closed.

“I’m dying,’ was the thought running through his mind, “Everything is black and quiet. There’s no pain now. No strength. No resistance. I can just drift off now and leave this world in peace. I’m not afraid.”

Joseph Cartwright stood surrounded by the rubble of the building. Joists and plaster from the ceiling had fallen since he had helped the people out of the wreckage earlier and dust swirled upwards and enveloped him as he looked about him. Perhaps he had imagined it after all. That one brief look and the recognition between them. Perhaps he had been so desperate that he had seen only what he had wanted to see and Adam was nowhere near here at all.

He began to pull aside the mess and realised then the enormity of the task for just one man. He wiped sweat from his brow and smeared dust across his face as a result. A joist slipped precariously, showering down dust and dirt.

“Joe?”

He turned as Andrew Buckley stepped towards him, his boots scrunching and crunching shards of glass and pieces of plaster and wood.

“Have you found him?”

“No, you saw him, didn’t you? It was Adam, wasn’t it?”

Andrew looked down at his friend. The wide hazel eyes filled with doubts and questions and fear. The sweat beading the tanned skin and streaking the dust on his face. Plaster dust settling upon the dark curls of his hair, giving him the appearance of a young man turned suddenly grey.

“I didn’t see him, Joe. I only heard you call out his name and then everything went crazy.” Andrew glanced up and touched Joe’s shoulder, “I think we had best get out of here, Joe. The whole lot’s about to collapse.”

“But I can’t go, Adam’s still here.”

“It may not have been him. It may have been a complete stranger or – or a – a thingy – you know – imagination.”

“I’ve got to find him.” Joe cried, beginning to toss bits of rubble to one side in a panic- stricken attempt to lessen the mass before him, “If he’s here and I just walk away, I could never face my Pa again, not as long as I live.”

“Look -.” Andrew gripped Joe’s arm and pointed ceiling-wards and Joe looked up and saw the wisdom of what Andrew was saying as the ceiling cracked with small explosions of sound “Let’s move outa here.”

Chapter 13

“Men on the left, women on the right.” The Pastor stood at the door of the church and pointed to the rows of shrouded bodies on either side of the aisle.

Looking at them, Joe felt a shiver trickle through his body, and not just due to the cold of the building. He licked his lips and glanced nervously at Andrew and placed his hand upon his heart, as though to still its pounding. His fingers felt the brittleness of the letters he had secreted in his top pocket. They were as yet unread, but were a tangible link to those he loved back home and with this in mind he stepped forward towards the centre aisle.

As he approached the rows of white shrouded bodies, he recalled the previous hour following the attack, and everything bloody and chaotic. The local doctors’ were panic stricken as they struggled to assist the dying, the wounded, the friend, the neighbour and the stranger. Joe and Andrew had scoured the scorched town in an effort to locate the tall man dressed in black. Questions were answered by a shake of the head, mumbled words, shocked listeners too terrified to think coherently enough to remember just another stranger.

A doctor had looked up at them briefly and listened to what they had to say while he spread a sheet over the face of a 14 year old boy. He sighed wearily and shook his head. Then got to his feet,

“A tall man, did you say? Dressed in black?”

“Yes. He was in the restaurant –,” Joe waved a hand in the direction of the restaurant and the doctor nodded,

“There were two men brought out of there just half an hour ago. I saw them both. One of them was Van Cleet’s boy. He had fallen across the body of the other man. He fits your description. A stranger here though.”

“Where is he?”

“Over there -,” the doctor pointed to the Church, “I’m sorry -.”

Now here he was wondering whether his brother’s body was one of the many lined up on trestles in the church building. Joe nodded to the Pastor’s instructions, stood in the centre, tried to concentrate. Left? Left – same side as his gun hand. He nodded, and began to walk from one body to the next, lifting the sheet and peering down at the face, if there was still a recognisable face to be seen.

The cold of the building seeped into the young man’s body and he shivered. He forced open his eyes and wondered why someone had put a sheet over his face. He raised a hand and pulled it off and sat up.

The Pastor shrieked and dropped the key that clanged onto the floor with such an irreverent clatter that Joe turned to see what had happened. His first thought was that the raiders had returned and his hand went immediately to his gun butt. He saw their faces, staring at the bodies, or rather, in particular, one body. He turned and watched as Adam disentangled himself from the sheets and looked dazedly about him. Then his eyes settled upon his brother and he stared at the youth as though he were seeing a vision.

In the gloom of the building and with the sunlight outside and behind them, Joe, Andrew and the Pastor stood in shadows. Three shadows within shadows. Equally so Adam’s face was merely a pale moon reflected back from the long pale drapings over the rows of bodies. Tentatively he raised a hand,

“Joe? Is that you?”

Chapter 14

The doctor closed the door behind him and looked among the throng of people for the two young men who had brought in the bloodied man whom he had just examined. Anxious faces turned towards him. Faces of others who had brought their wounded and dying to him. Some had asked for miracles and been disappointed. Now those faces turned away in despair as his eyes passed over them. Joe and Andrew stepped forward,

“How is he, Dr Morrissey?” Joe asked, twisting his hat round in his fingers. He had already spent a considerable time chewing his nails for the waiting had never seemed so long. He rubbed his face with his hand, as though even now the seconds between his question and the reply was stretching his nerves to the limit.

“Well, apart from a concussion and bruising to his body he’s remarkably well. I believe he was spared most of the damage due to another victim of the explosion taking most of the blast and landing on him. He needs complete bed rest. If you can find a bed in this place, get him to it, and keep him there for at least two weeks.”

“Why didn’t you see to him earlier instead of declaring him dead and bundling him off as though of no account -.” Joe declared, his temper fired up as a result of the hours of distress and shock. “He was alive, and needed help, for Pete’s sake, and all he got was to be signed off as another corpse.”

“Young man,” the doctor placed a gentle hand on the youth’s arm, “Most of those corpses in the church there are dear friends and neighbours of ours. People we have lived with and cared about all our lives long. What happened today was a devastating shock to all of us. Some of the victims of this attack needed urgent attention. I’m sorry about what happened to your brother, obviously, because he was a stranger here he was given less than the best attention. The fact is that the shock to his system was so severe, and the amount of blood on his body so great, that to all intents and purposes he appeared dead.”

“What if I hadn’t – if I’d just – just gone? I’d have never known-.” Joe stammered, twisting his hat round and round in his hands nervously.

“I was distracted by the fact that Van Cleet’s son was the other victim. I have known that boy since he was a child and cared for him throughout all that time. To see him as he was then – ,” the doctor sighed and turned away, “I was shaken by seeing him. I was fond of the boy. I don’t think I even felt for your brother’s pulse but -,” he smiled slowly, “whether you had stayed or gone, would have made no difference to your brother. As you saw for yourself, when it was time to regain his senses, he did so, with interesting results.”

Joe and Andrew shared a smile, the memory of the Pastor collapsed at their feet and needing more attention for his cracked head than the newly resurrected Cartwright had brought an element of amusement into the situation.

“Can we see him?”

“He’s asleep. The concussion and shock to the system has exhausted him. He’ll recover in good time, you’ll see.”

“But can I go in and see him?” Joe repeated and the doctor nodded, opened the door, and left them as he walked over to another anxious, frightened relative of yet another unfortunate victim of the raid on Lawrence.

Adam’s breathing was so light that Joe had to lean close to his body to hear him. Then he stepped back and surveyed his brother thoughtfully, before turning to Andrew.

“Do you think he knows that we’re here?” he whispered.

“I should think so.” Andrew whispered back.

Adam felt the touch of his brother’s hand upon his arm, opened his eyes and turned to observe him. With a sigh he sat up and pulled his brother to him, giving Joe an unaccustomed embrace that was so long lasting that he wondered whether the concussion had affected Adam more than the doctor had realised.

“Thank God you’re safe, Joe.”

“And you, Adam.” Joe whispered, as he pulled away from his brother’s hug. How easy it could have been to have ridden on and not known that he was alive. The thought made the guilt rise up in his throat like bile and he pushed Adam aside and looked at him,

“I thought you were dead. I thought perhaps it hadn’t been you at all and I had just imagined seeing you there.” Joe looked into Adam’s face and noticed the way his brother was looking at him. There was an intensity in every line of his face that was so profound that it was disconcerting. The brown eyes watched the young face with a slight frown. Adam sighed, he turned to observe Andrew, standing a little further back, “Hello, Andrew, how are you?”

Andrew nodded and shook Adam’s hand. Adam nodded back, then looked at Joe,

“I want to get back home as soon as possible, Joe. Are you coming back home with me?”

“I can hardly leave you to go on your own, can I?” Joe retorted with a good humoured grin, he nodded, “Sure, Adam, I’m coming home with you. So is Andrew.”

“Well, as far as Endurance anyway, I’m going to cable Audrey to meet me there.” Andrew said and smiled.

“I have to get to the hotel and collect some of my things.”

“The hotel doesn’t exist anymore. It was burned down, in fact, it’s still burning.” Joe replied.

Adam nodded, and smiled, and put his hand on Joe’s shoulder,

“Well, let’s go then.”

“Go where?” Joe asked, with a frown.

”Well, if the Telegraph Depot is still standing, I need to collect –,”

“Some letters?” Joe grinned, and pulled them from his pocket with a flourish.

“Yes, some letters -.” Adam agreed with a smile.

“Doc here said you needed to find a bed…” Joe put his arm around his brother for support and Andrew moved in to offer his assistance, only to have his arm brushed aside.

“Perhaps so.” Adam replied, realising suddenly that his legs were buckling beneath him and his head seemed to be floating from his shoulders towards the ceiling.

Conclusion

Frederic Kyle dismounted in what had once been the garden of their home. ‘Beaconsville’. He stood in the mess of the driveway with the horse’s reins in his hand, just staring at the smoking ruins. The signs of plundering and looting of the property were everywhere he looked. Broken delicate chinaware trodden into the mud, and here and there silverware gleamed amongst the grasses. He swallowed a lump in his throat and fought the tears that welled up in his eyes.

So much had happened here in this house, their home. Lily and he had been happy here once. He recalled the times when a small child would run down the driveway with wide open arms and call out a welcome. He would swing the child up in his arms and hug him tight. Then his eyes would travel to find his wife, Lily.

If only he had not taken Joseph to that meeting that evening. If he had only kept silent instead of jumping to his feet and denouncing them all as Yankee sympathisers and no good to God nor men. If only ! He swept off his hat and bowed his head. He should have listened to Lily that day in Virginia City. They could have returned here and had some kind of life together. Memories would have meshed their lives back into the harmony they had once enjoyed.

“Kyle.”

He turned slowly. The familiar voice sent a shiver of finality down his back. He raised his chin arrogantly, as was his style, and stared at Van Cleet as the other man walked towards him from the roadway. He had a broken framed picture in his hand. This he held out to Kyle who took it cautiously, his eyes still on Van Cleet’s face. There was a coldness in the man’s eyes that made Kyle conscious of the pistol he had secured under his jacket. But now, his one hand was occupied with holding the picture. He looked down and sighed.

“They were happier days, Seth.” Frederic Kyle murmured slowly. The faces in the broken picture looked back at him, smeared with smoke and dirt though they were. The faces of those he loved. Lily, and Joseph.

“They were.”

“Joseph died, you know. Three, maybe four years ago.”

“I heard.” Seth Van Cleet replied, “Lily wrote to tell us all that had happened.”

“Lily –,” Kyle paused and glanced up at the other man “Lily’s dead.”

“We heard about that too.” Seth’s lips thinned, “Thanks to you and your henchmen.”

“I didn’t know that she was going to be on that stagecoach, Seth. For pity’s sake, do you really think I would have wanted any harm to befall my wife? I loved her.”

“You don’t know the meaning of the word, Kyle. Every word you utter is a lie. You deceive and inveigle your way into people’s lives and destroy them. I know why Lily was in Virginia City that day. She wrote to tell me how she was going to beg you to return here with her.”

“She was trying to stop me working for the cause I believe in. The cause for which my son died.” Kyle protested loudly, his eyes now wild and the anger in him causing the colour to redden his neck and face.

“Your son did not die for a cause. He died because Lily sent him with you to make sure you returned home safely.”

“That’s a lie.”

“You know it is not. Lily told us what had happened. She went to Virginia City to bring back the man she loved. She had lost her son. She felt she had lost you and wanted you home with her.” Seth Van Cleet paused and stared at the one armed man with loathing so apparent that Kyle swallowed fear along with bile, “Your bitterness at the loss of your arm, and your son, drips from your mouth with every word you utter. Well, I have lost a son now. My son died here yesterday. You and Quantrill between you weaved a fine web of hate and deceit and evil. The sad thing is you have no compassion for any one of those people down there, have you?” Seth waved an impassioned arm, and pointed to the smoking, plundered town of bewildered distraught people.

“You can’t blame me for this? Do you think I wanted this to happen to Lawrence? These people were my friends.”

“Don’t be so ridiculous. These people were Unionists. You couldn’t care a plugged nickel for any one of them, and that includes my son.”

Kyle saw the action of the man’s hand as it swept towards his gun, but too late, his one hand still clutched the picture and his impotency to defend himself brought a snarl of fury to his lips.

The gunshots trickled away into silence. What were three gunshots after so many? Van Cleet looked down at the body and wondered why he felt no satisfaction at the sight of it. There had been a bullet for Alan, and a bullet for Lily, and one because for years he had hated the man. Now the wretched fellow was dead at his feet, his hand clutching the picture of a smiling woman and her son. Van Cleet stared down at the body of Frederic Kyle for some more minutes and then turned away and walked back down into the town that was draped with plumes of black smoke as though in mourning for its dead.

*****

Ben Cartwright stood in the yard of the Ponderosa with a cup and saucer in one hand. He wanted to spend a few minutes alone now. He wanted to savour the memory of the day, of being amongst friends and family. He took a deep breath of clean pine laden air and allowed a small smile to play about his mouth.

It had been a good day for the wedding. Joseph had looked as proud as a peacock as he stood there by Andrew’s side to act as his groomsman. Andrew had looked, well, and here Ben smiled at the memory of the nervous young man. Audrey looked beautiful as every bride should on her wedding day. Somewhere, in another town, a young woman called Lucy Burnette was weeping copiously into her handkerchief and bemoaning her loss.

He raised the pink and white patterned cup to his mouth and gulped down some of the hot liquid and enjoyed the sweet bitterness of it. His eyes scanned the ponderosa laden mountains and hills. Snow would soon be settling there, and filling the passes. He wondered, as the young couple had ridden away in their hired buggy, if they would ever meet with Mr and Mrs Andrew Buckley again.

He turned at the sound of voices as others in the house began to emerge and spill over onto the porch. He could hear Joe giggling, as he recounted, yet again, how he had been designated the task of telling Miss Lucy that Andrew Buckley would not be coming home after all. Ben sighed, and wondered why some misfortunes could cause so much hilarity. He only knew that he was more than relieved to have had his two sons arrive home, safe and well.

Beyond the borders of the Ponderosa the war continued to gather momentum. Hundreds more would die – brother against brother, father against son. As Ben watched his sons now, and allowed his gaze to drift over the remnants of the wedding feast he thanked God yet again for bringing Adam and Joe home to the Ponderosa. If the searing hatreds raging beyond the border had scorched them at all, he knew for certain that the love within the family would comfort, heal and serve to unite them closer together.

***The End***

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