A Good Day for a Hanging (by Krystyna)

Summary: This is a story that relates events prior to the episode The Avenger, and explains how and why Adam and Ben were arrested and sentenced to hang.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  53,000


I found the letter today. It was in my brother’s pocket where he had left it all those years ago and forgotten all about it. I had never been able to figure out why he hadn’t worn that particular shirt again. Perhaps it was the stink of the cell that hit his nostrils whenever he picked it up. Maybe he just plain forgot the letter was there and because of what that shirt represented didn’t want to touch it again. Well, I could seldom read his mind years ago so no point in trying now when he’s not here to ask anyway.

The envelope was dingy and slightly mottled by damp caused, I guess, by years of lying neglected in the old tin trunk. I just stared at the lettering there To Joe and Hoss Cartwright and wondered when it had been written. The paper inside was still white and crisp but the creases were so deep that the letter nearly slipped into pieces in my hand. I set it down and turned up the lamp light so that I could read its contents.

Strange – after all these years and despite all the events that have taken place in my life, and in my brother’s lives, the events that led up to that letter being written still stands out fresh in my mind and sends shivers down my back. Sometimes I dream about it, that nightmare time. Yes, truly, a nightmare time.

I had to sit down as I read the letter because the strength had gone from my legs. My throat went dry and I could recall, so clearly, right back to the beginning, when it all started going wrong and the events tumbled one after another to what seemed to be certain death for my father and my brother, Adam.

Chapter 1.

Hoss and Adam Cartwright each took up their share of the groceries from the counter and turned to leave the store. It was a pleasant day, late spring and the promise of summer about to burgeon . Both men had been out of town some time with their father and brother taking cattle down to Yuma and while the other two men had elected to ride home Hoss and Adam came to town to get the groceries and collect the mail.

They were tired, ached in every bone, and felt in great need of a bath and fresh clothes. Adam carefully put his items into the back of the wagon and pulled off his black and white bandana to wipe around his neck “You know, Hoss, Pa and Joe will be getting the first baths back home.” he observed with a slight pout of the lips.

“Yeah, you can bet your sweet life on that, why’d you think they were so eager to git back and leave us with the wagon and the chores.” Hoss removed his hat and waved it too and fro in front of his face. “How about a cold beer?”

“There’s more groceries to collect yet, and mail.”

“Wal, I’ll git the groceries while you collect the mail – then we’ll go git a cold beer at Gils.”

Adam nodded and turned in the direction of the Mail Office, then paused and tapped his brother on the shoulder “How about we get ourselves some clean clothes and grab a bath here?” he nodded over in the direction of the public baths and raised his eyebrows.

“Sounds good to me, s’long as I git myself a cold beer.”

“Huh, my pants are so stiff from dust and sweat they could stand upright without any help from me,” Adam stretched his shoulders and groaned “Was it my imagination or were those cows more stubborn and stupid than usual?”

With a grin they returned to the store and browsed along the clothing section, selecting the garments they needed and walking back to the counter. Adam, in turning happened to clash elbows with a man walking in the opposite direction who stopped in mid-stride to give him a long cold eyed stare, “Er – my apologies -” Adam attempted a half smile although his eyes were wary for the body language of this stranger in town didn’t bode well. His eyes slid from right to left as various other customers suddenly either froze in their tracks or headed for the door, “I – er’um – didn’t actually see you coming and having my hands full… you know how it is?”

“You’re one of those Cartwrights, aren’t ya?”

Adam lowered his packages back onto the counter, slowly, narrowed his eyes and surveyed the man standing like an angry bull in front of him, a big man in that he was running to fat, his gun belt was slung low to accommodate his belly. He drew himself up taller, and looked Adam up and down, “Yeah, you’re one of those Cartwrights, all right, I could smell you as soon as I walked though the door.”

“Really?” Adam drawled with ice in his voice, “You’ll have to tell me more about that some time. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to -”

The gun pointing at him stopped him from talking. He stepped back a pace and glanced round the store. The bell tinkled as someone came in and tinkled again as they promptly departed. He nodded “Alright, so you want to make an argument about it -” he shrugged “It might be better if we carried the fight out into the street rather than here where folk could get hurt.”

The fat man looked Adam up and down and grinned, “Why? You scared I might miss? Not from this range I won’t …”

The barrel of a gun jabbed into his spine made the smile slip, he stared at Adam who raised his eyebrows and shrugged “Another Cartwright, one you obviously didn’t smell earlier.” he plucked the gun from the mans hand, “Thanks, Hoss.” he nodded over to his brother who now put a heavy hand on the fat man’s shoulder, “Now, I think it may be better if you just turned around and removed your little self from here, don’t you?”

“You ain’t seen the last of me, Cartwright. You jest remember that I warned you, me and the boys will come and fix you for good one of these days.” he twisted his head to look back at Hoss, now easy as his neck was thick , “And that goes for you too, fat boy.”

“FAT!” Hoss roared, stepping another pace closer and glaring down at the other man, “Jest who are you calling fat, Mister?”

The other man glanced nervously around, his piggy eyes flickered left to right, but there was no one of his accomplices in the store only a few stalwart individuals who had been too scared to move one way or the other. Hoss’ hand grabbed at his shirt, and he was bodily moved to stare into Hoss’ blue eyes that now bore down into his own, “You should be a mite more careful jest who you go around calling fat, boy!”

He could see now that Hoss’ size was due more to muscle than any fat, which was more than could have been said for him, he gulped, “Look, I didn’t realise it was you, I ain’t seen you before in my life, have I?”

“Yeah, that’s right, and you’d best make sure I don’t git to see you again for the rest of mine,” Hoss said, “Now you jest collect up your hat and move on outa here.”

He turned and found Adam watching him with a slight smirk on his face and the hat in his hands which he shoved over to him, “My brothers tired, and hungry, and we’ve been travelling a long time, Mister, so you had better do just what he says and go.”

Snatching up his hat he glanced warily at the two brothers before hurrying to the door at which he turned to look back at them both “I won’t forget who you are,” he blustered, “I’ll wipe that smirk off’n your face, you’ll see.”

The bell tinkled and the door slammed shut. Suddenly people began to move again, as though able to breathe at last. Adam looked at Hoss and raised an eyebrow, “Seems to me something strange is going on here, Hoss.”

“Yeah. That’s what I was thinking too, Adam.” Hoss shivered as he slipped his gun back into its holster, “Y’know, even the thought of a cold beer at Gils has lost its appeal.”

“Mmm, so has the bath. Let’s get our groceries and get home.” Adam sighed and looked at Ed Deacon, who, with both his hands splayed out on the counter, looked like a scared rabbit, “You alright, Ed?”

“Yes, yes, certainly. Thank you, Adam.” Deacon, an elderly man who had taken over Cass’ store only a year previously swallowed, cleared his throat and looked down at the remaining groceries on the counter, which Hoss was now loading into a box, he shook his head, “That could have been very unpleasant, Bert Fuller doesn’t usually back down like that .”

“We did outnumber him, Mr. Deacon.” Hoss grinned as he thumbed back his hat.

“Ain’t usual for him to be alone, they usually hunt in packs.”

“Who do?” Adam leaned forwards “What exactly has been going on, Ed?”

“I wish I knew, Adam.” the old man shook his head, “I tell you, I’m seriously thinking of -” he lowered his voice so as not to be overheard by the other customers still in the store, “I’m thinking of selling up and cutting my losses and going back east.”

Hoss and Adam shot a look at one another and then Adam shrugged “You don’t want to be doing that, Ed, Virginia City’s a good town, with decent people, you don’t really mean that, do you?”

The door opened and the bell tinkled overhead, Ed Deacon looked nervously over at the door and then mumbled the amount the Ponderosa bill came to, snatched the notes from Adams fingers and hurried to give him change.

At the door a dark featured man stood with his hands resting on his gun belt. He was smartly dressed, his boots well polished and he wore a beige hat. He was far from good looking having the blackest brows over the meanest eyes the brothers had confronted in a long time. A mean mouth and a lantern jaw completed the look. Hoss hefted up the box and nodded to Deacon and walked to the door “Excuse me, mister, if’n you’d jest step to one side.”

He spoke politely but couldn’t prevent an edge to the words for the man looked like trouble and Hoss felt that it wouldn’t take much for him to see something in anything that was said that would bring about a fight of sorts, but the man stepped to one side and even held the door open for Hoss to step through. “Thank you, mister.”

“Hawkins.” the man said slowly, then looked at Adam “You just remember that name, Cy Hawkins.”

“Any particular reason why we should?” Adam asked in the tone of voice that made Hoss cringe, indicating that his brother was now irritated and his temper was on a very short fuse.

“Oh yes, plenty reason, Mr. Cartwright.” Hawkins stepped back several paces, the palm of his hand settled on his gun handle, “You’ll find out more as time goes by.”

Adam looked down his nose at him as though he had picked up an unpleasant smell, nodded curtly and left the store.

“Reckon he’s a pal of Fullers?” Hoss muttered as he settled the box of staples into the wagon.

“Mmm, more likely Fuller’s boss.” Adam drew in his bottom lip in a hiss of annoyance, “I’m going to have a chat with Roy, it isn’t like him to have let men like them loose in town for long enough for them to feel comfortable.”

The sheriff’s office was snug and warm, the smell of coffee as welcoming as it always was, and both men stepped into the room expecting to see the familiar sight of Roy Coffee at the desk. They were surprised to see someone completely different. Adam removed his hat, “Roy anywhere around?”

“Coffee ain’t here, Mister.” the man pushed back the chair and stood up, “What can I do for you?”

“I’m Adam Cartwright and this is my brother, Hoss. We – er – we’ve been away from town for some weeks on a trail run and just got back.”

“Cartwrights? From the Ponderosa?”

Hoss and Adam looked at one another and then nodded, “That’s right.” Adam replied without moving from the doorway, “And do you mind telling us who you are? And where Roy is?”

“I’m the sheriff here, been in charge for the past six weeks. Coffee was injured in a gun fight over at the Sazarac some time back and is on sick leave. He’s in Sacramento.”

“Sacramento? What’s he doing there?” Hoss’ eyes widened, he had never heard Roy mention that he knew anyone in Sacramento.

“Dr. Martin recommended the hospital there, and after he left he went to stay with some family.”

Adam and Hoss looked at one another, from the look on Adams face it was clear that he had never heard mention of any friends of Roys in Sacramento either. He released his breath “And so you took over his duties?”

“The names Hanson. I was sent over by the U.S. Marshal in Placerville once we heard that Coffee had been injured, and that there were problems brewing here.”

“Seems to me them problems are more than brewing, sheriff. Seems to me they’re jest about full blown.” Hoss said.

“That’s your opinion.” Hanson replied tersely and sat down, picked up some papers which he looked at with the obvious intention of letting them know he had nothing more to say to them.

The brothers stood side by side outside the sheriffs and glanced up and down the street. Both wondered if they were imagining it but the feeling in town just wasn’t the familiar comfortable kind they usually felt when riding in for any reason. Hoss pulled his hat back to shade his eyes,
“What now?”

“Let’s go and see Paul Martin.”

The doctor looked wearily up at them as they stepped into the surgery, then pleasure lit up the sombre face and he came and shook their hands “Well now, when did you two get back ? Is your Pa and Joe here?”

“They went straight on home, we came to get some groceries.” Hoss explained while Adam strolled to the window to look out onto the street. “What’s this about Roy Coffee getting shot, Dr Martin?”

Paul Martin released a long sigh and shook his head, “Thought he was going to die on me.” he said quietly, “It was touch and go for some days I can tell you.”

“How’d it happen?” Adam asked turning slightly from his overview of the street.

“Sit down and I’ll tell you.” Paul put down his pen and resumed his seat, “It must have been about a week after you boys left the Ponderosa when it happened. For a while Roy had noticed that there were more drifters coming into town and not drifting back on. There seemed to be trouble every night, shoot ups, rowdiness that got out of hand, not the usual stupidity we’re used to from drunken cowboys or miners. These men weren’t just drifters either, they knew one another, and wherever they went there was trouble.”

“What kind of trouble?”

“It would always start with a kind of bullying, several men going to a games table and making accusations about cheating, then the inevitable shooting down of whom others swore were innocent men. I couldn’t save ‘em all. Girls in the saloons were being roughed up. Remember little Milly at Gils Saloon … found her in an alley one morning, not a pleasant sight, poor little girl.”

“You mean Milly Georgeson?” Hoss leaned forward as though not believing what he was hearing.

“Dead?” Adam asked bluntly.

Paul nodded, “Raped, and left for dead. Poor girl, she died in that alley all alone during the night.”

The brothers looked at each other, Hoss lowered his head, shook it slowly, while Adam bit down on his bottom lip and passed a hand over his face, “What did Roy do?”

“What a good sheriff is expected to do, he got his deputies and went hunting the men down who did it.” Paul picked up his pen and rolled it between his fingers, “More drifters drifted in, and stayed. Then we got to realise a man called Cy Hawkins was their boss. A mean cold sadist if ever there was one.”

Hoss didn’t bother to ask what a sadist was, the first two words were sufficient for him especially as he could put them with the man they had already met. He looked at Adam who was staring out of the window again, Paul cleared his throat, “Well, Roy went into Gils Saloon one evening, flanked by two deputies, he went up to Hawkins and demanded to talk to him over at the jail house, Hawkins refused, Roy demanded again and the next thing -.” Paul, in an involuntarily movement, clasped his hands together as though in prayer, “They brought Roy here and one of the deputies. The other deputy was taken directly over to Jenkins, the Undertaker.”

“Didn’t anyone do anything?” Hoss swallowed a gulp, “I – I mean , didn’t nobody help Roy out, give him some backing?”

“Gil the bar keep had a gun levelled at his head throughout, anyone who dared to move, or put a hand near their gun found themselves covered by someone with a gun aimed at them. The girls were terrified, seeing Roy gunned down like that …” his voice trailed off as though his memory had returned to that evening, to the sights and sounds of a horror he’d not expected to see in Virginia City.

“So you packed Roy off to a hospital in Sacramento?” Adam perched himself on the corner of Pauls desk, “Was he that ill?”

“I had to get him out of here, Adam. It was the only ruse I could think of, and thankfully it worked. He was out of danger by then, but determined to nail Hawkins and his gang. He wasn’t capable of doing that anymore. No one wanted -” he drew in his breath “Well, no one has the courage to stand up to Hawkins anymore. He’d get no support or help. I sent him to friends of mine with strict instructions to them to keep him there until I cabled for him to get back.”

Adam nodded and stood up, “I think you’ve some visitors, Doctor. They look pretty healthy to me, so I think it might be better if we left by the back door.”

Paul glanced over and out of the window and nodded, “Yeah, they’re two of Hawkins men, Harry and Frank, cousins if I recall rightly. You know your way out? Give Joe and your Pa my regards.”

They shook hands and without a word Adam and Hoss slipped out of the back door. Once the door was closed behind them Adam leaned against it in an attempt to hear what was being said but the voices were muffled and with a shake of the head he had to follow his brother back to the wagon.

Chapter 2

Ben and Joe Cartwright listened attentively to all that Adam and Hoss had to tell them about the situation in town. They asked no questions, made no interruptions, as the story was spun out to its end. After a silence of some seconds Joe turned his back on them and stared at the floor “I can’t believe anyone would hurt Milly like that? She was just a kid, just a young kid?”

“The people we knew in town wouldn’t have done anything like that, but there are men in town now that we don’t know, and it seems that is just what they are capable of, Joe.” Adam sighed and looked at his father, “Hawkins, whatever he has done in his past, has a reputation, he must have to get so many men riding with him. He struck me as an organised man, professional, he knows what he wants and he’ll go all out to get it.”

“And in the meantime no one does anything about it.” Joe snapped, turning round to face them with his hazel eyes hard with anger.

“Roy tried, nearly got himself killed.” Adam reminded him quietly, and then he looked back at Ben, “I’m not sure about Hanson. I don’t know whether he’s part of Hawkins crowd or just too weak to stand up to him.”

“Hmm” Ben tugged at his ear lobe and walked to wards his chair, “Well, I’d like to talk to this Hanson, and find out what he knows about Hawkins. If the man has a past then the law should know what it is, and could be somewhere in that past we could find something, or someone, that could put an end to all this.”

Hoss scratched his head, “Wal, he’s only been here a few weeks and seems to have got himself real comfortable in our nice little town.”

“Except it ain’t a nice little town anymore, is it?” Joe said coldly his hands on his hips as he glared at each one of them.

“There’s no point in getting angry with us, Joe.” Adam raised his chin and narrowed his eyes, “There was nothing we could do to change things while we were there today. As it was we only just managed to get out of town without a fight.”

Hoss sighed and sat down on the settee, for a moment Ben stared at him as his mind turned over and over the things that he had been told, suddenly he seemed to snap alert, glared at Hoss and immediately bellowed: “Hoss, get up off there, you both smell like you’ve brought the whole cattle herd into the house, go get yourself cleaned up, you as well Adam, then we’ll talk some more about this.”

“Sorry, Pa.” Hoss gulped, and replaced the apple he had taken from the dish, glanced over at Adam who merely raised his eyebrows and led the way out of the room to where Hop Sing had prepared two tubs for them to bath in.

Ben now turned to Joe “And you can calm down, young man. Losing your temper with your brothers isn’t going to be any help to anyone.”

Joe’s lips tightened into a button of protest, he snorted derisively down his nose and then shook his head, “I’m just finding it hard to believe that the man – or men – who hurt – killed – little Milly is still walking around town. And all those people like sheep there, just waiting to be led to the slaughter.”

“We don’t know that, Joe.” Ben reached for his pipe and then withdrew his hand as he remembered they had yet to have supper, he preferred to smoke after he had eaten. He turned to where Hoss had left the mail and began to sift through them “I can’t believe that Roy wouldn’t have sent me something to let me know what had been going on here. I’d have thought he’d have left a note of some kind.”

“From what Adam and Hoss said it doesn’t sound as though he would be in a condition to be writing letters, Pa.”

Ben said nothing but carefully scanned each envelope before he put them down and began to pace the floor, “Well, we’ve gone through this kind of thing before, son. Remember Fulmer? And Bryant?” he shook his head and forced a somewhat mirthless smile “I still get a kind of tight feeling in the throat when I recall him.”

Joe nodded and slid down into a chair, he stared at the logs in the fireplace and then looked at his father, “Somehow I get the feeling that Hawkins is a completely different kind of man to them, Pa.”

“Well, maybe you’re right.” Ben returned to looking through the envelopes, “Fulmer struck at the town through politics, that was his agenda. Bryant was just a bully who amassed other bullies, he didn’t really have an agenda except to cause trouble. Hawkins -seems from what Adam says, if he is organised, then he has got a plan, a reason for being here and doing what he’s doing, apart from causing trouble that is.”

“He obviously doesn’t care about what his men do or how they do it.” Joe muttered and slumped back into the settee.

Hoss slipped a little deeper into the tub before ducking down and scrubbing at his hair, then emerging again sending streams of water to spill over the floor. He spluttered and flapped his hands about “Doggone, I jest hate that – soap in my eyes -” he found the towel and rubbed his face and then looked over at Adam “You alright?” he wiped soap out of his ears “You’re mighty quiet.”

“I’m just thinking.”

“Oh yeah, sure, thinking, I should have known.” Hoss sighed “Adam, anyone tell you that you think louder than anyone else I know?”

“Not recently.”

“Wal, you do. You thinking about that Hawkins?”

“Uh-huh”

“Yeah, mean looking critter weren’t he? Odd face. Kinda weird looking if you know what I mean.”

Adam said nothing but sighed and picked up the soap to lather over his body. He sunk down lower into the water so that it was lapping at his chin, he closed his eyes. “I hope Dr Martin was alright after we left.”

“Shucks, they wouldn’t hurt him none, would they?”

“That’s what I mean – would they?” Adam shook his head, black wet hair curled around his ears, he rubbed his chin and felt stubble beneath his fingers, he sighed again and reached for a towel, “It can’t go on, Hoss, it just won’t do to let a man like Hawkins think he’s got too much power in town.”

“Huh, I think it’s already too late to be worrying about that.” Hoss grunted as he stood up with the towel girded around his middle, “He knows he’s got that already!”

*****

The knocking on the door came just as they were taking their cups of coffee to the low table, ready to settle down and talk after a pleasant meal that wasn’t quite the celebratory supper Hop Sing had hoped it to be. Adam, nearest to the door, walked over and opened it, “Dr. Martin? Er – come in -”

Paul Martin removed his hat as he stepped into the house, he nodded over at Ben, Joe and Hoss while Adam took the hat from him. “Coffee, Paul?” Ben asked and getting an answering nod of the head Hoss began to pour the doctor some of the hot brew into a cup. “It’s late to be out this far on your rounds, isn’t it?”

“I’m not on my rounds.” Paul replied, “Thank you, Hoss.” he took the cup and sat down beside Joe. “I presume Adam and Hoss has told you about some of the changes in town?”

“They have.” Ben nodded, lowered his cup back into its saucer.

Joe saw his chance and seized it “What about Milly? What’s happening about her?”

Paul drank some coffee before setting the cup and saucer back onto the table, “Milly was buried and Hawkins was one of the pall bearers.”

“What?” Joe’s eyes opened to their fullest, “But he -”

“No proof of any involvement by him or his men. He went round and offered consolation to the family, and has made it known that there’ll be a reward for anyone who can give any information concerning her death. He’s put himself forward as a pleasant man who wants to make something of himself in this town. He’s interested in mining, in trading, in just about anything.”

“Ranching?” Adam asked and Paul nodded catching the younger mans eyes “Yes,” he said, “And ranching.”

“So why the visit tonight, Paul?” Ben asked quietly.

“Just to say I’m going away for a while.” Paul frowned and shook his head, “I’ve lived through several attempts to turn our town into a den of iniquity. I’ve watched the citizens turn in on themselves, seen their confidence and self respect trickle away to nothing, but there was always something that we could hold onto that somehow stopped the rot, so to speak. This time -.” he darted a look at Hoss and Adam “Those visitors to my surgery this afternoon were more concerned about my health than you’d imagine. It made me realise that it was time for me to go on a long vacation.”

Joe closed his eyes and shook his head in disbelief, Hoss’ mouth opened and he seemed to have forgotten how to close it, while Adam bowed his head and covered his eyes with one hand and sighed. Ben shook his head and stood up “Paul, I never thought -”

“- you’d live to see the day I’d run out on the town? Well, this is the day, Ben. I can’t stand by and watch it die a little bit more each day as it has been doing for the past few weeks.”

“But surely -” Adam reached out a hand “Things can be the way they were in time?”

“Maybe, eventually, who knows?” Paul stood up, “Those men who came today made it clear, in the nicest way possible, that I’d live a short life if I chose to spend too much time with you all. There’s nothing more I can say or do now, I have to go.”

He rose to his feet after placing is cup and saucer on the table, smiled regrettably at them and shook Adam, Hoss and Joe by the hand. They watched in silence as he walked away from them, picked up his hat, with Ben at his side.

“Where are you staying?” Ben asked gruffly as he opened the door to step onto the porch.

“At the Fords for tonight, and then I’m going on to Placerville. They need a doctor there so at least I can be of some use to people who need me.”

“Shucks, Dr. Martin, but we need ya here.” Hoss groaned but Paul said nothing to that, but placed his hat on his head and shook Ben by the hand.

The sound of the door closing was like a coffin lid being dropped.

“Well, that’s that then,” Joe said quietly, “Goodbye, Dr. Martin.”

Adam stopped tapping his chin with his fingers and shrugged “He’ll be back.”

“I doubt it.” Joe stood up and walked to the door, looked at his gun belt and hat, “I think I’ll take a ride into town.”

“Joseph, you’ll do no such thing. We’ll all of us ride into town, together, in the morning.” Ben’s voice seemed to boom across at them and he glared, dark eyes hard and cold, at each one of them. “None of you will go into on your own from hereon in, do you understand?”

“But, Pa -” Joe protested

“DO YOU UNDERSTAND!”

The three younger men looked at one another “Yes, Pa.” Adam said quietly as the others nodded. Ben scowled at each one of them and rubbed his jaw slowly with his left hand, “I’m glad that’s understood then. Tomorrow morning, we’ll ride into town, and we’ll stick together. I want to meet this sheriff, and then, we’ll have a chat with Mr. Hawkins.”

Chapter 3

When a knock on his door sounded in the early hours of the morning Joe Cartwright was surprised to find himself slumped over his bed and still in his day clothes. He told whoever was on the other side of the door to come on in while he stretched to get the kinks out of his neck and shoulders and blinked when Adam entered with a lamp in his hand. “Are you going somewhere, Joe? Or is this the way you usually dress to go to bed nowadays?”

Joe shrugged and then grinned rather sheepishly, “I was thinking over what you told us and must have fallen asleep before I got myself undressed.” he scratched his head and yawned “What’s the time?”

“2.30.” Adam placed the lamp on Joe’s chest of drawers and pulled out a chair, which he turned so that he sat astride it and folded his arms on its back. “Well? So what conclusion did you come to with all that thinking?”

Again Joe shrugged and this time shook his head “None, my head just kept going round and round in circles, trying to put the pieces to gether and work out how these kind of things can happen. Then I got to thinking about Milly.”

“hmm,” Adam nodded “Won’t do to think too much about her, Joe. She’s dead, and at the moment we have to concern ourselves more with the living.”

“That’s a pretty callous thing to say -” Joe snapped hotly, the colour flushing up in his face, “Are you saying Milly doesn’t count for anything because she was a saloon girl?”

“No,no – I wasn’t saying anything of the kind,” Adam replied raising a hand as though to ward off any more words from Joe, “What I’m saying is that once we get things sorted out in town, with the living, then we’ll find out what we need to know about Milly and any others who may have suffered as a result of Hawkins coming to town.”

“Yeah – well -” Joe stood up and rubbed the back of his neck as he walked over to the window, “Seems like our town keeps getting this kind of visitor.”

“May be, although I think most towns out west get their fair share of chancers and twisters. It depends on the strength of a town whether or not they stay and take over.”

“Well, I don’t intend for Hawkins and his men to stay or take over.” Joe growled.

Adam smiled a rather whimsical smile at his brother’s back, before rising to his feet and replacing the chair, “What’re you going to do to stop him?”

“Anything I have to.”

Adam pursed his lips and shook his head “You’ll be surprised that in fact won’t be very much. Hawkins is the kind of man who’ll know the moment you step out side of the law. That’s what a twister is, Joe, someone who is always one step ahead of the law. He’ll use it to suit his own ends too.”

“Alright, so I’ll – I’ll just have to think of something then, won’t I?” Joe frowned, trust Adam to make a job harder than it was meant to be, he sighed and looked thoughtfully at his brother then, “What are you doing up at this time of the morning, anyway?”

“I couldn’t sleep so I went down to get a drink and read a little,” he drew in a deep breath and slowly exhaled. “I think we need to speak to the citizens of this town, you know, just talk to them and find out who in it we can trust when the time comes for a showdown.”

Joe nodded thoughtfully “Then what?”

“Well, perhaps a show of force will make Hawkins retreat and leave Virginia City.”

“What does Pa think about that idea?”

“I don’t know, when I looked into his room earlier he was sound asleep, and Hoss was snoring fit to bust.”

Joe nodded, that sounded just about right, Hoss was a man needed his sleep, and Pa was that much older, and liked his 6 to 7 hours. He glanced again at Adam, “Don’t you think that Paul Martin would have kinda sounded people out during the past few weeks?”

“Well, if he did, he hasn’t left us any information about it, has he?” Adam’s voice had a slight edge to it, a clear indication that he was tired and his nerves were strung out.

“Yeah well, best wait and see what Pa says.” Joe sighed, and yawned, “I’m beat, I need some sleep.”

Adam nodded and turned towards the lamp which he picked up, he looked at Joe as he passed to get to the door and bade him goodnight. By the time the door had clicked shut Joe was once more slumped on the bed and drifting into sleep.

*****

Sheriff Hanson was checking through some ‘Wanted’ posters when the four Cartwrights entered his office. He looked over at them quickly, recognised Adam and Hoss and thereby realised that the other two men were the father and younger brother respectively. He put the posters down and waited for him to get closer to his desk before speaking as he got to his feet, “Mr. Cartwright – Ben Cartwright?” he extended a hand

“Sheriff Hanson.” Ben shook the hand and glanced around the office, nodded at the deputy, a familiar face, “Good morning, Clem.”

“Good morning, Mr. Cartwright,” Clem nodded at the other three men and continued with his task which was cleaning the rifles.

“What can I do for you this morning, Mr. Cartwright?”

Ben surveyed the sheriff thoughtfully, and sighed as the physical appearance of the man didn’t greatly inspire him, he removed his hat, “I heard what happened to a friend of mine, Sheriff Coffee, and wanted more details.”

“May I ask why?”

Ben opened his mouth, then closed it and narrowed his eyes “Because, as I said, he was a friend of mine. I’ve been away some weeks and on returning discover that he was nearly killed, has left town, and someone I’ve never met before has taken his place. I’m asking for more details, are they so hard to provide?”

Hanson flushed slightly, a bald stocky man, not tall in stature, he straightened his back in the hope it would add another inch or so to his height, “Mr. Cartwright, may I remind you that I’m the law here in this town. You have all the relevant details you need, you don’t need any others.”

“If you’re the law here, may I then ask what you’re doing to find Roy’s abortive killer?”

“You can ask, and I’ll tell you this, everything possible was done to find the man, or men, responsible for Sheriff Coffee’s injuries.”

Adam leaned forward “Was done? Do we take it that enquiries are no longer on going?”

“I said … was done … the matter is now closed.”

“You mean,” Hoss cleared his throat, “You got the men and they stood trial, is that it?”

Hanson paused a moment, his tongue darted around his mouth to moisten his lips, from the corner of his eye he realised Clem was paying a lot of attention to the conversation, he turned to the deputy, “Best go and get yourself something to eat, Clem. You ain’t needed here just at this moment.”

Clem sighed and nodded, “Sure, sheriff. Is there anything you’d like, Miss Sally makes a good meat pie on a Tuesday.”

Hanson only shook his head and waited for the deputy to leave before he turned to the Cartwrights, “The witnesses to the incident gave their statements and all agreed that in the noise and chaos of the moment they couldn’t tell who fired first, some even accused Sheriff Coffee of being too quick with the gun, he shot first and the others fired back in self defence. Other witnesses claimed that they saw the man who fired at the sheriff get on his horse and leave town.”

“And you believed that?” Joe snapped in a voice slightly shriller than usual.

“They were the only statements I was able to get. Mr. Hawkins -”

“Yes, Mr. Hawkins – what -?” Ben hissed and leaned forwards.

Hanson rubbed his neck with stubby fingers, he shook his head “Mr. Hawkins assured me that if it was any of his men responsible for the shooting he would personally escort them into the cells. As it was several days later he did bring two men here who said they were involved in the ruckus that led to the sheriff being called out, but they weren’t part of the shooting match, and couldn’t say who was … Mr. Hawkins did his best to comply with the law.”

“I bet he did.” Joe sneered and Hanson turned on him immediately, “I’ve not found any reason to fault Mr. Hawkins nor his behaviour here in town. He isn’t to blame if his men tend to be rowdier than most like it to be, they’ll calm down in time. He’s assured me -”

“Yet another assurance.” Adam murmured and turned aside from the desk with a shrug.

“Yes, Mr. Cartwright, he’s assured me that once he’s settled on a place out of town they won’t be here so much, they’ll be able to get rid of their high spirits by hard work instead.”

“What exactly is Mr. Hawkins looking for, sheriff?” Ben asked quietly.

“A ranch, he’s a cattle man, he’s got money -”

Adam turned again to him and after looking him up and down said “You seem very defensive of this man, sheriff Hanson.”

“It’s my duty as a lawman to protect the citizens of this town. Mr. Hawkins hasn’t broken any laws -”

“What about Milly ..” Joe blurted out even though Ben grabbed his arm to hold him back and cautioned him in a soft voice but he shrugged his father’s hand away “What about Milly, have you found who killed her? What are you doing to find her killer?”

Hanson sighed heavily and looked at Ben “Mr. Cartwright, I think it would be best if you and your sons left now, you’re serving no useful purpose being here at present.” he frowned and looked at Joe, “I can assure you everything possible is being done to trace the person who killed Miss Georgeson. And,” he paused and looked at the three younger men with narrowed eyes and a meaner mouth “And I don’t want any interference from any of you three, do you understand? While this is my town, you keep out of my business.”

They glanced at one another, and without a word turned only Ben paused for a moment, looked at Hanson before nodding and following his sons out of the building.

For a while they didn’t speak although each of them were thinking fast and furiously over what had been said, and what was worse, the things left unsaid. They came to a stop outside Gils Saloon where the sound of a piano could be heard along with the shrill laughter of some woman and the shouts and yells of men. Ben grabbed at Joe’s sleeve and with a jerk of the head indicated that he’d prefer his son not to enter there.

“Well, what now?” Joe said, looking at each of them in turn. “Do we just ride home with our tails between our legs?”

“No, we don’t do that,” Ben said quietly, “I’m going to visit Mr. and Mrs. Georgeson. Do you want to come with me, Joseph?”

For a moment Joe didn’t know whether to say yes or no, then he nodded. Ben looked at his other two sons, “I don’t want either of you going anywhere and causing any trouble, do you understand?”

Adam firmed his lips but nodded, while Hoss muttered “Sure, Pa.” then stepped back to let the two men pass and go on their way. Hoss turned to Adam “Where do we go?”

“Byrnes Café. That’s where Clem is, and even if the sheriff won’t talk, I’m sure Clem must have something to say.”

“Good thinking, Adam.” Hoss smiled, “Ol’ Clem and us go back some way, he’s sure to be more helpful than that chump who’s sitting in Roy’s chair.”

Adam grinned, winked and stepped into the road to make his way to the café, followed by Hoss who was already anticipating a strong mug of coffee and some of Sally’s good apple pie.

Sally Byrnes was an attractive woman, too strongly featured to be called pretty, but her hazel eyes were a perfect complement to her light brown hair. She smiled a warm welcome when the door opened “Oh I’ve not seen you two for a long time, where have you been?” she came bustling up to them “Your usual table?”

“Hi Sal, no thanks, er – , we’ll join with Clem over there.” Adam had removed his hat and smiled one of his most charming smiles which always made Miss Sally blush just a little, she looked now at Hoss who snatched off his hat “You ain’t got some of that thar apple pie have you, Miss Sally?”

“I have,” she laughed, “I’ll bring some over right away. Adam?”

“No, thank you. Two coffee’s will be fine.”

Clem glanced up and nodded at them, “Thought you’d catch on to my hint about being here. How’re you two?”

“Confused.” Adam replied as he leaned on the table towards the deputy. He glanced around the room noticing that only two other tables were occupied, then thanked Sally for the coffee and pie she placed on their table, “Clem, what’s going on here?”

“Didn’t he tell you?” Clem jerked his head in the direction of the sheriff’s office, and noting the way the two brothers glanced at each other he sighed, “Didn’t think he would. Fact is Hawkins isn’t the most pleasant person in town, he knows all the answers, all the tricks. He can recite the law backwards. He’s a pretty slimy character.”

“Do you think he killed Milly?” Hoss asked.

“Wal, that’s a big question, Hoss.” Clem shrugged, “I wouldn’t think so, more than likely it was one of his men, maybe even two.” he frowned and shook his head, “Poor little girl, it was a horrible sight, finding her like that …” he gulped down the remainder of his coffee and set the cup down, “Look, Hawkins wouldn’t have harmed Milly because he’s the kind of man who wouldn’t have dealings with a girl like her. Fact is I doubt if he has the ability to have a relationship with any girl, he’s -” he struggled to find the right word “Well, he’s just plain cold, unfeeling, you know what I mean? The only things he loves is power and money. He don’t even like a woman to touch him, not even by accident.”

Adam picked up his cup and drank some of the coffee, by his side Hoss was chomping his way through the apple pie. “What about the attack on Roy?”

Clem shook his head “It wasn’t an attack. Roy went in to talk to Hawkins and some men who had been seen talking to Milly the day of the attack. He asked them to go with him to write out statements and they refused. Hawkins by then had left the table and gone to the counter for more drinks. Roy turned and asked Hawkins to tell his men to accompany him and as he did so there was a gun shot. So far we’ve not been able to establish who fired the gun. One shot led to another … Hank was killed, Jefferson was wounded along with Roy.” he looked down at the empty cup “Hawkins was most apologetic and distressed,” he shrugged.

Adam was about to say something when Sally joined them at the table, she placed a well manicured hand on Hoss’ shoulder, “Only one slice today, Hoss?”

“Wal, if’n there’s another piece going?”

“Clem? More coffee?”

“No, thank you, Miss Sally, I have to get back to work.” Clem got to his feet and nodded to the two men, “I’ll see you boys around.”

As Clem left the café another couple entered and took a table near by the Cartwrights, they nodded over at them and then occupied themselves with reading the menu. Sally came with the pie and set it down “I’ve missed you Cartwrights coming in here, my father was saying only the other day that he wondered when you’d be getting back.”

“The trip took longer than usual,” Adam said, “Tell me, Sally, do you know Hawkins?”

“Cy Hawkins? Of course I do. He’s a very pleasant man once you get to know him. Oh he puts on a frosty front, but he’s really very nice once you get through that. Most of his men come in here for their food every day.” she glanced up at the clock, “Should be here in about a quarter of an hour. We get really busy then.”

Adam nodded and emptied his cup, “It’s good to see you again, Sally.”

“And you, Adam, Hoss.”

She took the money he handed her and left them with a smile to attend to her next customers. Adam jogged Hoss’ elbow, “C’mon, time for us to go.”

Hoss nodded, stuffed his mouth with the last of the apple pie and left the table. Sally Byrnes called out a cheerful goodbye and waved as they left, the bell over the door tinkled as though in farewell.

Chapter 4

Mrs. Georgeson opened the door slowly and looked blankly at the two men standing on her doorstep. Both men removed their hats very swiftly and she noticed one was older with silver grey hair and the other young and with a mass of waving hair. She blinked at them as she held onto the door for support.

“Mrs. Georgeson? I’m Ben Cartwright -”

“Oh yes, of course.” she nodded and opened the door wider, “I couldn’t remember for a moment, my mind is so confused and muddled just now – and you’re Joseph, aren’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She led them into the room where her husband was seated in a wheelchair staring at the fire. He didn’t move even when she touched his shoulder and told him they had visitors. With a sigh she turned back to them and gave an apologetic shrug of the shoulders,

“I’m afraid Georgie – it’s the shock you see – he hasn’t been right since -”

“We quite understand, Mrs. Georgeson, losing a daughter in such circumstances -”

She looked at him with that same blankness on her face and then shook her head, “I meant the shock of the mine cave in, it broke his back, he’s never been able to get over it, you see.”

Ben and Joe looked at one another and raised their eyebrows, Ben stepped forward to get her attention back from fussing over her husband, “Mrs. Georgeson, we came to see you, about Milly.”

A flush of colour mantled her cheeks now, she nodded “Yes. Milly.”

“We were away when it happened. We’ve only just heard and wanted to pay you our condolences.” Ben said quietly wondering as he spoke if she understood what he was saying and when she nodded and tears trickled from her eyes, he put out a hand to touch her shoulder, “Are you going to be alright?”

“I told Milly not to work in that saloon. Pretty girls like her – it’s a dangerous place and I warned her, I really did, but she didn’t listen to me. She said she could handle things even when she came home the other evening and was all bruised and scratched down her face. I told her she had to stop going there, but -” she dabbed at her eyes and then looked at her husband as though longing for him to say or do something to share her misery.

“Did she say who had hit her?” Joe asked, “That night she came home bruised and scratched? Did she say who it was who did that to her?”

“I don’t know his name, she never said, except that it was one of Mr. Hawkins men. He came here all apologetic after they had found her and I told him what had happened to Milly, and that it was one of his men who did it to her.”

“What did he say?” Joe asked before his father could open his mouth.

“He said if it was one of his men he would see to it that he hanged.” she sighed, “But no ones been to tell me anything since then, so I don’t know if anyone’s been hanged or not.” she put her hand on her husbands shoulder again, “I don‘t know what we’ll do now, Milly was bringing us in some money, but we’ve nothing to keep us now. Mr. Hawkins gave us some money, he was very generous, but people aren’t going to be that generous all the time, are they? And I’m not going to go begging or anything like that, Georgie wouldn’t want that, he’d be ashamed.”

“Did Hawkins believe you when you told him that it was one of his men who hurt Milly?” Ben asked gently.

“He never said anything, just promised that he’d see the man hang who did it, and then he gave me some money to help with the funeral costs and things we’d need.”

Joe looked at his father and then glanced around the room. It was a small hovel of a cabin in which the Georgesons lived, and he wondered just how much money Hawkins had paid out to the couple to pay for ‘things’. He thought again of Milly and remembered her bright eyes, pretty face and smile. Always smiling, always happy. Poor Milly.

*****

Sally Byrnes poured out the coffee into the cups and nodded, smiled, laughed along with the men who were crowded around the tables eating the beef stew she had served them. In the corner at a table on his own sat Cy Hawkins. He was watching his men and the other customers with his near black eyes lingering coldly over each and everyone of them. Sally had never known any of them utter so much as one cuss word while Cy Hawkins was there, as a result she found no problem with them being in her café for the lunch hour and was always rather surprised when talk reached her ears of the trouble they appeared to cause when elsewhere.

“I believe you had the High and Mighty Cartwrights visit you today, Sally?” Cy Hawkins said as she poured coffee for him and his dark eyes fastened on to her face so that she found herself blushing.

“Adam and Hoss came in for some coffee.”

“Did they speak to anyone?”

“Only Clem, the deputy. They’ve known each other for years.”

“Hear what they said?” he toyed with a match, twisting it between his fingers and looking now over at the counter where Mr. Byrnes was taking the money from Hawkins men.

“No, I didn’t.” she frowned, “Should I have done?”

“The Cartwrights have been pushing their weight around this town for years, got everyone scared stiff of them, afraid to do a thing without their say so.”

“Oh no, I don’t think that’s right, Mr. Hawkins. They’re always very good people, and have done so much to help the town.”

He looked at her and nodded “Got you under their spell too, huh? I suppose one or other of them has been flirting with you at some time or another.”

“No, not really.” she blushed thinking how she wouldn’t have minded if one or other of them had, but they hadn’t.

“Sally, you’re a nice girl,” he picked up his coffee, sniffed it and then took a gulp, “But let me give you a word of advice, you be careful around them Cartwrights. They’re power mad, land hungry. You’ll see, believe me, you’ll get to see them for what they really are before too long.”

She said nothing but just looked at him rather doubtfully before she left the table and took her place alongside her father behind the counter. The men got up and paid her nice compliments about the meal as they left the café, and then Cy Hawkins stood up and came to the counter, paid for his meal and after smiling grimly at the couple, left and closed the door behind him.

Sally began to collect the dirty dishes and take them to the sink in the other room. Her father came and patted her shoulder, “Take a rest, dear, these dishes can wait a while. Have a cup of coffee with your old dad.”

She smiled at that and followed him into the café area where the last of the customers was just shutting the door. She went and turned the sign round so that anyone coming would know the place was closed. Then she poured out some coffee for them both and took their cups over to the table and sat down opposite her father.

“Are you tired, dear?” she asked him and reached out for his hand. His fingers curled around hers and he sighed and admitted that, yes, he was tired. “We’ve been extra busy since Mr.. Hawkins and his men have been in town. At least the takings have jumped up.”

“Yes, true enough. What do you think of him, that Cy Hawkins?”

“I don’t know, I haven’t really thought about him.” she sipped her coffee “You’re the second person to ask me that today. Adam Cartwright wanted to know my opinion as well.”

“Adam Cartwright huh?” her father frowned, “You keep away from him, Sally. There’s things I’ve heard about him and his family that have made me think twice about them. Pretending to be so generous and open handed …”

“They always seem to be exactly that, father. Remember when we moved in ? It was Hoss Cartwright who moved most of the heavy things in here, no word of complaint and no request for any money either. When you think how much Rawlins charged us for painting the place.” she frowned and shook her head.

“I’m just saying, Sally, in future, you be careful around them, the Cartwrights don’t do anything for nothing, believe you me.”

“Oh I’m sure you’re mistaken, father.”

He gave her a scowl that darkened his visage and immediately she bowed her head and concentrated on drinking her coffee. She knew the matter was now closed, and her father, for whatever the reason, had made up his mind as to how he stood with the Cartwrights from now on. He obviously expected her to feel the same.

*****

Tom Jeffords stepped out of the side door of Gils Saloon to clear his head. He didn’t mind doing the mid-day and afternoon shift in the saloon but with Hawkins men crowding the place out it was always thick with smoke and the stale smell of beer and rot gut. He wasn’t the strongest of men and the smoke made his chest feel tight so every so often he would step outside to get some fresh air.

He was surprised when a pair of hands grabbed him by the shirt and lifted him bodily from the doorway to the other side of the alley where he was gently set down to find himself facing Adam and Hoss.

“Hi, fellers, that’s an odd way to greet a guy. When did you get back into town?” he brushed his shirt down as though this mode of transport was perfectly normal.

“Hi Tom,” Hoss said, “Sorry about that, I jest needed to git you moved over here and outa the way of being seen by anybody as fast as possible. You keeping alright?”

“Yeah, sure.” he looked over at Adam who was leaning against the side of the building and looking at him thoughtfully, “What’s the matter with you, Adam?”

“Milly Georgeson.” Adam said slowly.

“Oh, Milly – so you heard?” Tom sighed, his shoulders slumped, he went slightly red around the neck.

“You knew her, Tom, she was a nice girl, how come she ended up as she did?”

“I don’t know, Adam.” he blinked, rapidly. Then looked over at Hoss who was clenching one fist and striking it into the palm of his other hand, “I don’t think it pays to say too much at times.”

“It certainly doesn’t.” Adam replied, “But sometimes it pays to say just enough… like, who was she with the night she died?”

“I don’t know.”

Hoss sighed and the sound of his fist hitting flesh made Tom blanch, “Bar keepers always see what’s going on, they’re paid to know what’s going on, ain’t they?”

“She’d been roughed up by one of Hawkins men a few nights earlier” he paused and frowned, “Name of Stuart.”

“Was he with her the night she was taken out and killed?” Adam asked in a quiet tone of voice.

“He was always hanging around her, but I swear, Adam, I don’t know if he was with her, and even if he was, I don’t think he would have hurt her. He liked her. He gave her a present.”

“Is he in the saloon now?” Adam folded his arms across his chest and watched the thought processes flickering across Tom’s face, “Well? Is he?”

“No, he’s gone with Cy, Mr. Hawkins that is, and some others, to look over some land that Mr. Hawkins is thinking of buying.”

“When did they go?”

“Only about ten minutes ago, Adam. They went right after having lunch at Byrnes Café.”
Tom scratched his head through a shock of blond hair, “They rode east, towards the old Biggleswade place.”

“The Box B?”

“That’s right. It’s up for auction soon.”

Adam nodded to Hoss, who looked at Tom and smiled, brushed some dust from the other man’s shirt and thanked him for his time very nicely. Then the two brothers turned and walked away and to their horses where they found Ben and Joe looking around for them.

“Where’ve you two been?” Ben barked.

“Not far,” Adam sighed and looked thoughtfully over at the saloon, “Did you know the Box B was up for auction?”

“No.” Ben replied testily, something else that was new to him since arriving back. He scowled “So what?”

“Hawkins is taking a look at it today, probably thinking of putting a bid on it.”

Ben sighed and shook his head. That was the last thing he wanted to hear, Cy Hawkins being one of his close neighbours.

Chapter 5

Ben had his foot in the stirrup when he heard his name being called and footsteps sounded on the boardwalk. Adam, who was already mounted, smiled over at Mr. And Mrs Barney Palmer as they approached them, the broad smile on Barney’s face as well as that of his wife, made a pleasant change from the shut off looks that had been seen in town since their return home.

“Ben – boys – it’s good to see you all again. When did you get back into town?” Barney shook Ben’s hand and nodded at the three younger men.

“I got here today, Barney. How d’you, Mary.” he removed his hat and smiled at Mrs. Palmer who returned the smile and glanced up at the three younger men. “Er – Adam and Hoss came into town yesterday, they didn’t get the most warm welcome to be honest.”

“No, well -” Barney frowned, “Why not come over to the house, have some coffee?”

Ben glanced at his sons, Adam dismounted and with his brothers led his horse across and down the street to Barneys home that he shared with his wife and daughter. Not so long ago he had been having difficulties with the mortgage and had appealed to Ben for help, and, as usual, his old friend didn’t let him down.

As they tethered the reins to the hitching rail Hoss nudged his older brother and indicated with a nod of the head a pair of men standing on the corner of the street watching them. Adam nodded, frowned and looked across to the other corner “Looks like they want to keep a close eye on us, that’s for sure.” he murmured.

Mary was a good cook and didn’t provide the tiny portions of cake that some ladies in
town did, much to Hoss’ pleasure. She sat down with some needlepoint by the fire and listened as her husband and the Cartwrights ‘chewed the fat’ as she would call it later.

“You’ve seen your new neighbour then, Ben?” Barney said eventually.

“Er – no, as it happens I haven’t. He’s viewing some land at the moment, the Box B.” he frowned, “Which is close enough for me.”

Barney sighed “Wish it were, Ben. Fact is that since you were away, Mr. Hawkins has been very busy buying up land.”

“How busy?” Adam asked leaning forward with a more than anxious scowl on his face.

“Some real estate that was going for sale which actually surrounds the Box B and Lazy S. He bought the Lazy S out a few weeks back, along with some land that was available right closeup to your borders.”

“That section that Seth Blair always threatened to buy up?” Joe asked, pausing mid way to stuffing his mouth with cake.

“He was only bluffing, he knew the land was no good, but Hawkins just seems determined to buy up any land as close to the Ponderosa as he can. Talk is that he wants the land close to yours so that when he buys you out he’ll have the biggest spread this side of the Sierras and will take over the territory.”

“Well, that’s true, with all that he’s got now, and the Ponderosa he’d have, not only the biggest spread, but be the richest as well.” Ben tapped his fingers on the table, “You sure you heard that aright, Barney?”

“I sure did, Ben. I heard him telling some of his men when I was in the Sazarac a few weeks ago. He had a map out and some other papers. Didn’t mind who heard either, just looked around at everyone and gave them that long cold reptilian look of his…”

Joe glanced up as a shadow passed the window. He rose to his feet after a polite excuse me to Mrs. Palmer and walked over to peek around the curtains to watch the two men who were now leaning against the Palmers fence. “Seems to me that Hawkins boys sure do have a lot of interest in what you do, Barney?”

“I think they’re more likely to be interested in what you’re doing, Joe.” Barney folded his arms and leaned upon the table, pushed aside the tray and looked at the men there, “Hawkins has set up a kind of whispering campaign against you, you have to realise that right away. Some folk who you would think to be your friends are now talking about you as though you’ve done nothing but fleece off of them, any good you’v e done this town was so as to give you power, and to control people here. They’ve been given the impression that this isn’t Virginia City, it’s Cartwright Town.”

“Rather infantile -” Ben said blandly.

“May be so, but it works. People listen and start thinking … and then they stop thinking for themselves because they start listening more to what Hawkins says than thinking about what good you did for them.”

“And what about you? Where do you stand?” Adam asked slowly then felt embarrassed when Barney stood up and put out his broad hand “You got a friend for life in me, Adam.” Barney said as he gripped hold of Bens hand and shook it warmly, “My family and I won’t never forget what you did for us, never.”

*****

Ben was quiet as he mounted Buck, his sons didn’t seem to want to talk much either, although the men who had been closely watching them had gone by the time they left Barney’s home, it still seemed as though they were being closely scrutinised as they rode out of town.

“Seems Mr. Hawkins is an ambitious man after all,” Adam said slowly as they cantered along the track homewards.

“We’ve come up against other men as ambitious, and seen them off.” Ben snapped.

“I don’t like it when folk git to listening to lies and whispers. Real men should talk face to face not behind folks’ backs.” Hoss groaned.

“Friends, real friends, wouldn’t be listening to lies anyway.” Joe lowered his hat with attitude, and put Cochise into a faster gallop.

*****

Zedekiah Byrnes watched his daughter as she washed the last of the days dishes. Then he crossed the floor and was about to lock up when Cy Hawkins appeared. Caught off guard Byrnes stepped back and the other man strolled inside, followed by two of his men. One, the blue eyed thin man who was always smoking, turned to close the door and pull down the blinds.

“Closed for the night, Zed?” Hawkins said, as he pulled out a chair and sat down.

“Not to you, Mr. Hawkins, what would you and your men like to drink?”

“Oh – a strong coffee would be just fine.” Hawkins looked at the two men, who pulled out chairs and sat down at another table.

From her position in the room behind the restaurant Sally could hear them talking, an occasional laugh. She smiled, and cleaned another pan, as she thought how pleasant it was that someone as rich and prominent as Cy Hawkins would come and spend a few minutes of amiable chat with her father. The kind action and consideration touched her heart for Zedekiah Byrnes was a lonely man. ‘Deuce’ Martin, the hired help, came through the door and after removing his hat helped her by removing the slops. He would take them back to his place later for the pigs he kept.

“You’ll have to wait until Mr. Hawkins has gone, ’Deuce’, before you can wash the floor and clear up in there. Make yourself some coffee. I’m going up now, good night.”

“Goodnight, Miss Sally.” ’Deuce’ nodded and peeked around to look into the restaurant where Hawkins was pouring out a glass of whiskey for old Zedekiah. The hired hand shook his head and thought it was a good thing Miss Sally didn’t see that, she never did hold with drinking liquor, no matter how good a quality it was… he sat down to wait for them to go, after all, the floors weren’t going anyplace.

Sally blew out her bedside candle and listened to the murmur of voices and the laughter. That, she thought, was what her father needed to give him more confidence, just a little attention. She frowned, something the Cartwrights never bothered to give him, apart from the times they had come in as customers to the café. No, the likes of her and her father would never be considered good enough for the Cartwrights.

Chapter 6

The two Cartwrights drew up their horses and took a moment to look around them at the country into which they had journeyed. They had left home early that morning to reach Mud Creek in the low country, their land that bordered on that property Hawkins had purchased recently, the land no one in their right minds would have purchased. Adam passed a hand over the lower part of his face and then turned up the collar of his yellow jacket “Well, one things for sure, he didn’t buy that land for the views.”

“What do you suggest we do, Adam, take a ride on in and look see a bit more?” Joe suggested giving his older brother the wide eyed look of a young hound eager to get onto the scent.

“Can’t see any reason why not.”

They turned their horses into the direction of Hawkins land and trotted along in a companionable silence. Both of them looked carefully at their surroundings as they travelled in the hope of seeing some reason , other than the obvious, as to why the land was bought. After an hour they turned their horses south, paused for long enough to have some water, and continued on. Adam sighed “No pasture land, nothing but rock, and bare emptiness.”

“Do you reckon he’s bought it just so that he has land right on top of our borders, just to annoy Pa?”

“Could be so,” Adam sighed and removed his hat, “You know, this Hawkins wants something pretty badly, enough to pay out good money for land that even an Indian would refuse.”

“Well, he’s giving me a pain,” Joe grumbled, “The whole thing is giving me a pain. I don’t see how Pa can keep on saying we’ve got to be patient and sit the thing out.”

“That’s the difference between you and Pa. Experience and youth.” Adam grinned and replaced his hat, “We’ve come across characters like Hawkins before now, Joe, somewhere or other they have some weakness, something that happened someplace perhaps, it’ll all turn out alright, you’ll see.”

“Yeah, hopefully before I’m an old man with no teeth and a long white beard.”

They shared a smile and put their horses into a steady canter towards the Ponderosa, both breathing a sigh of relief once over the border although neither would admit that to the other. Adam looked northwards and smiled “The cattle look fine and sleek from here, don’t they?”

“It’s been a good year.” Joe agreed, “Pa has every right to be proud of what he’s achieved, Adam.”

“Yeah,” his brother nodded feeling a glow of pleasure at Joe’s words, “Yeah, he has.”

As he rode beside his brother Adam glanced once again at the grazing cattle and then turned back in his saddle to look back to where they had come from, he frowned and then shook his head, the niggling thought stayed put though and he pondered on it for awhile before mentioning it to his brother.

“You know, Joe, our cattle are pretty close to the border of Hawkins land.”

“Yeah, well, until yesterday we didn’t know it was Hawkins land, did we?”

“I think I’ll suggest to Pa that we move the herd on, further away. I’ve never liked this low country much myself,” he turned again and shook his head, “You know, it wouldn’t be difficult to rustle a few head of beef over to there. There’s enough box canyons to hide them in for months.”

“Yeah, but they wouldn’t be worth selling on after a few days, Adam. You saw for yourself that land had nothing growing on it except scrub.”

Adam nodded in agreement and told himself to drop the idea, but he did repeat the fact that he’d like the herd moved on as soon as possible. Joe nodded, thinking of other things apart from cows and grass or the lack thereof. He cleared his throat, “I wonder how Pa and Hoss are getting on in church this morning. Be interesting to hear just how christian like they were treated today.”

“I’m sure everything will be fine, Joe. Pa will sing as loud as possible to convince everyone he doesn’t care a darn about what they think and Hoss will do the same. They’ll be fine.”

*****

John Allen the Pastor looked down at his congregation and inwardly sighed. There were fewer in attendance every Sunday lately. It just needed one family to stay away and the next thing one knew another would keep away and then another. Creeping spiritual paralysis is what he called it when discussing the matter with his wife. She told him what she thought was the cause and he thought over the information and decided to base his sermon on it.

On the left of the aisle that stretched before him sat the newcomers, Mr. Cy Hawkins and Cole, his closest companion, who stared at the Pastor as though he were a sheet of glass. On the right sat Ben and Hoss Cartwright in their usual seats when they managed to attend the church. John looked around and saw the gaps where some of his flock had ‘strayed’ or rather one should stay had decided to stay home.

He referred them to verses in the book of James which likened the tongue as a forest fire, a man who couldn’t control his tongue was like a horse without its bridle. He took them to Genesis chapter 3 and read the first five verses. He paused for dramatic effect and looked around him at the upturned faces, some cast down staring at their feet, some rather red in the face. Ben and Hoss were looking at him in concentration as though trying to work out the point of the sermon, and Hawkins and his friend just stared, their eyes boring into him as cold as ice on the coldest day of the winter.

“The point of this sermon is the effect of lies, slander, gossip. An opposer of God told a lie to the woman, Eve, and the consequences were sin and death. Would any one of us want to, by choice, listen to a lie and turn our backs on good friends, would we choose to listen to well oiled words of people who have covetousness in their hearts? Doing so could mean we become their tool, and by becoming their tool we could be destroying those who are good and loyal friends who have stood by us for many years.

“Don’t, my brothers, allow yourselves to be misled, don’t listen to a lie and be as guilty
As those who perjure themselves for their own empty reasons.”

A commotion in the body of the congregation caused him to stop as he watched people’s heads turn while Hawkins and his companion walked out of the building, slamming shut the door with a thud that seemed forebodingly ominous sending a shiver trickling down his back.. John Allen decided it was time to end with a song and prayer.

As he watched the people leaving, shaking their hands and nodding over the words they said, noting that no one commended him on a fine sermon, John Allen feared the outcome of the words he had felt inspired to write down only the previous day. Now spoken he wondered whether he should have just left well alone and talked about the coming spring, the promises of new life. With a sigh he looked up as Ben Cartwright approached him, and mustered up a smile “Good day, Mr. Cartwright, Hoss. It’s fine to see you both here.”

“And good to see you too, John. How’s your wife?”

“Oh, well, can’t complain, you know how it is, when one’s frail anything that comes along just seems to stop with you. My wife is never very strong, Mr. Cartwright.”

Ben nodded, he liked John to a point, but once he got onto the subject of health and his wife then Ben couldn’t think of anyone else more boring. “You did a fine sermon, John. Was there a particular point to it?”

“You didn’t think that there was?” John groaned miserably.

“Oh I got the thrust of the talk, I just meant was it aimed at anyone in particular – or shouldn’t I ask?” he smiled good humouredly while putting on his hat and John nodded and muttered something that Ben had to lean down to catch, it sounded like ‘it applies to us all’.

The two Cartwright’s walked to their horses in silence before Hoss said “Folk seem kinda quiet today.”

“Yes, I thought so too.” Ben sighed and raised a hand to catch Deacon’s attention, “I just want a quick word with Mr. Deacon, Hoss, and then we’ll head on straight for home.”

“Won’t argue with that, Pa.” Hoss grinned as his mind flickered back to the two plump chickens he had seen Hop Sing slaughter that morning.

Deacon came over with a smile and a friendly nod of the head, both he and his wife greeted Ben and Hoss warmly, which was some consolation to John who was watching from the door of the church and feeling that some seed from his sermon had taken root in someone’s heart. The elderly store keeper listened attentively to Ben’s request, looked surprised and then nodded, shook hands with Ben and then he and his wife strolled away towards their home above the store.

“What was that about, Pa?”

Ben smiled at Hoss and slapped him on the shoulder, “I just asked Mr. Deacon to put a box of groceries aside for the Georgesons every week and to put it on the Ponderosa bill. I don’t like to think of anyone suffering as they are just now, they need some help.”

“Ain’t there a poor box that distributes stuff to folk in need, Pa?”

“Yes, there is, but somehow I think if falls short of some people, Hoss. We all need to play our part in making things a little easier for those who fall on bad times, don’t we?”

Hoss nodded, smiled and patiently listened as Ben recounted the number of times Will Cass had helped them out when they had first arrived on the Ponderosa. He knew the narrative so well he even knew when to say ‘Yes, Pa’ and ‘No,Pa’ in the right places.
………..

Shortly before mid-night that day John and Mrs. Allen were woken from their sleep by the sound of breaking glass. There were no other sounds, nothing, only the tinkling and shattering of glass.

In the morning they discovered the stained glass window, the pride and joy of the congregation, had been smashed to ruination.

Chapter 7

Ben and Hoss were just finishing their supper when Joe and Adam entered the house. Hoss promptly poured out coffee for them as they unbuckled their gun-belts and removed hats and coats. Ben waited until they were seated and Hop Sing had set down their food in front of them before asking if they had found anything of interest.

“Well,” Adam drawled the word out as he looked from one to the other of them, “the land is nothing but bare rock and such. We had a look around but there was nothing to see.”

“Still looks like a worthless piece of real estate,” Joe grumbled as he speared some food onto his fork.

“Hmm, from what I’ve seen of Hawkins I can’t imagine him being the kind of man who would spend good money on a bad prospect.” Ben scowled and finished his coffee before
Setting his cup down and refilling it.

“The only thing is that it borders our land,” Adam said quietly, “And that’s what bothers me – a lot.”

“What could he do there though?” Hoss mumbled as he pushed his now empty plate to one side. “Mine ?”

“Mine? What for?” Adam looked at Hoss as though his brother were crazy, “There’s nothing there, there’s never been anything there.”

“Open cast mining?” Hoss added with raised eyebrows and slight smirk.

“There’s never been any report of any minerals found on that section of land.” Joe said, “No one’s even thought of mining there it’s such a wilderness.”

“He might,” Ben said quietly, “If just to annoy us. Perhaps we should call in at the real estate office and see if there’s been any change in the land value.”

“There was something I thought as a possibility.” Adam paused as he concentrated on eating, he frowned and then continued “We’ve a herd of cattle grazing along Mud Creek. Almost on the edge of our land. Now, there’s plenty of places a person could hide any cattle they’ve rustled from us on Hawkins land …”

“Except that the cows would starve to death, there’s no grass there, even a rabbit would die of hunger.” Joe quipped.

“Well, certainly no place to take a good number of cattle, but for a brief stop before transactions are taken place there were plenty of dead end cul-de-sacs there. If it was paying them well they’d not worry about bringing out feed for the cattle they steal.”

“Well, Adam, cattle rustlings a strong accusation to make against a man, even a man like Hawkins, but if you have a feeling that it’s possible, then why not go and check the herd out, and, just in case, move them elsewhere.” Ben said thoughtfully.

“I’ll do it first thing, Pa.” Adam replied and continued to eat in contemplative silence.

“Joe, Hoss, I want the pair of you to go and check on the timber – make sure nothings been tampered with up there, and that the men in the camp are working to schedule and are happy with the way things are; I don’t want a situation like we had with Linda Chadwick catching us out again.”

Joe and Hoss glanced at one another, a simple nod from them both sufficed. Hoss got up, threw down his napkin “Hey, Joe, when you’re finished here how about a game of checkers.”

Joe grinned and nodded “You’re on -”

To the sound of Hoss setting the checkers out Adam asked his father how their morning had gone at church and Ben shook his head, “I had the chance to see Hawkins and that partner of his, have to say I wasn’t impressed. He wasn’t overly impressed with John’s sermon, come to that, stormed out with a great deal of noise.”

“what was the sermon about?” Joe asked, “Love thy neighbour?” he quipped and grinned over at Adam who nodded and winked.

“No, it was about what comes down to calumny and slander – taking care not to be a party to it. I thought John showed some courage choosing that for his theme, just hope he doesn’t have to count the cost as a result.”

*****

It was two days later when Ben and Adam rode into town. They dismounted outside the sheriff’s office and took a moment to glance around. There seemed a noticeable number of men, in pairs, lounging around. Most had now turned their attention to watching what they were doing. “Makes you feel kind of missed, doesn’t it?” Adam murmured icily to his father as they stepped up to the door which was pulled open by none other than Hawkins, followed closely by the head of his gang, Cole Matheson. Adam had to reach out with his hand to prevent the door swinging back on them before they could enter the sheriff’s office.

“Yes, gentlemen, what can I do for you today?” Hanson asked without looking up from a letter he was reading.

“I want to report cattle rustling from the Ponderosa.” Ben said in an even flat voice.

Hanson lowered the paper and glanced over at them, “Cattle rustling?”

“That’s what we said,” Adam replied tightly, “Cattle rustling, about a hundred head so far as we can make out.”

“Whereabouts were they taken from – you’ll have to show me on the map as I don’t know the layout here too well as yet.” the sheriff replied and followed them to the large map that indicated as far as his jurisdictional territory extended.

“From this area, Mud Creek in the low country.” Ben stabbed at the map with his finger and then glared at Hanson, “So – what are you going to do about it?”

“That just about borders on to Mr Hawkins land, don’t it?” Hanson replied slowly, his eyes not venturing from the map.

“It does.” Adam looked at Ben and raised an eyebrow.

“Well, as a matter of fact, I just had a complaint made against you Cartwrights. Seems Mr. Hawkins found that two of you were on his property the other day. Shall we say 3 days ago?”

Adam turned his back and stared at the far wall, then bowed his head before looking back at the sheriff “Well? What about it?”

“Trespass is trespass, young man. It’s breaking the law. You were riding around there could be thinking up all manner of things. Mr. Hawkins even came and suggested the possibility that you’d accuse him of rustling because he’d noticed a good herd of cattle grazing near by his land.” Hanson stared at the two men, his eyes flicked from one to the other of them, “He says that there’s no where on his land that he could have taken a herd of cattle considering there weren’t nothing there but boulders and rocks.”

Adam drew in a deep breath which he slowly released as he walked away a few paces to stare out of the window. Hawkins and Cole were leaning against a post outside Gil’s Saloon looking directly at the sheriff’s office with smirks on their faces. Hanson was lecturing Ben about being careful about making ill founded complaints which left the older man seething.

“Adam” he bellowed, “Come -”

Adam replaced his hat and without looking back followed his father out of the building. He did a smart two step turn to stand in front of his father “We’re being observed, I think it might be a good idea if we went someplace else rather than you explode right here and now.”

“But – what – bah – I’ll -”

“Pa – calm down. Hawkins is watching every move you make.”

With a snarl Ben turned, saw Brynes café ahead and nodded, “Let’s get something to eat.” he growled, “Perhaps that’ll make me feel that this trip into town hasn’t been a complete waste of our time.”

Adam nodded and walked beside his father, slowing his pace to match Bens, so that they arrived at the Byrnes Café without Hawkins having the satisfaction of a full blown Ben Cartwright explosion.

Chapter 8

The boy sitting on the boards looked up at the sound of booted feet approaching him. He smiled at the sight of a familiar face and jumped to his feet “Hi’ya, Mr. Cartwright.”

Ben, his face dark with scowls and head full of anger and irritation, didn’t see the boy at first, it was Adam’s slight tug on his sleeve that drew him to a slower pace so that he noticed Jimmy looking over at him with big bright eyes and a big grin. He drew in his breath and bowed his head, then looked up – the boy was still there, smiling. “Hi’ya, Mr. Cartwright?” he said once again.

“Well, Jimmy,” Ben nodded and stopped, he placed a large hard working hand on the boys’ shoulder, “How’re your parents?”

“They’re alright now, Mr. Cartwright. Ma had another baby not long after you brung me my pony.”

“Another baby, huh.” he looked at Adam and raised his eyebrows, then looked back at Jimmy, “So how many brothers and sisters do you have now?”

“Well, my big brother, and then there are three girls.” the boy sighed heavily, “The baby’s a girl too.”

“I see. A big responsibility for a man like you to take care of every day.”

“They’re alright, I guess. My big brother goes to school, and Ma looks after the young ‘uns.”

Adam smiled and pushed his hat away from his brow, “But she lets you run loose here in town, does she?”

“Nah, she don’t know I’m here. I sometimes help out with things for ‘Deuce’.” he looked over at the café, “He gives me a nickel or a dime sometimes for jobs. And if there’s some pie left over he lets me take it home for the kids.” he looked at Ben and said in a very grown up voice “They’re always hungry, you know.”

“I can well understand that, I had three always hungry boys to feed myself.” Ben chuckled.

“Yeah, I guess you did at that, although I reckon you overfed one of ‘em. Mr. Hoss is a big feller aright.”

Adam laughed outright at that and Ben tipped the brim of the boys hat down so that it covered his face, but by the time he had put it back properly there were two shining coins gleaming in Ben’s hand “Here you are, Jimmy. Go and treat yourself to some candy, and get your kids something as well.”

“Oh, Mr. Cartwright, I never meant – I – oh wow, thank you, Mr. Cartwright.” he turned and as he did so he collided with Bert and Stuart, two of Hawkins men, who had been following the Cartwrights and listening to the conversation they had with the boy. Berts heavy fat hand grabbed at the boys shirt, “You watch where you’re going, boy, or I’ll shake you outa your skin, d’you hear?”

“I – I’m sorry, Mister.”

The fat man gave Jimmy a shove that sent him sprawling into the road and then he turned to Adam and Ben who were watching him with contempt clearly stamped on their faces.

“So – what’s it to you?” he asked in his thick nasal voice, and his dark little eyes stared into Adam’s face challengingly.

“There was no need to do that, the boy did you no harm.” Adam replied calmly, while Ben was helping Jimmy to his feet and brushing the dirt from his shirt.

“I’ll be the one to decide that, it ain’t nothing to do with you.” he sneered and then stepped back, a leering sneer spreading across his heavy dough like face “Unless you want to make it your business?”

Adam didn’t reply but glanced over at his father who was stepping back to his side, Jimmy was running over to the store his mind solely on the kind of candy he was going to buy. Ben looked from Bert to Adam and then said quietly “Let’s go, Adam.”

Bert laughed, he jabbed Stuart in the chest with his elbow “Let’s go, Adam – did you hear that, Stuart? Let’s go, Adam – hawhawhaw – and what’s Adam going to say,? ‘Oh, sure, Pappy, anything you say, Pappy’”

Stuart grinned and looked Adam up and down with his eyes, “Yeah, he ain’t so big without that big feller behind him to back him up, is he, Bert?”

Adam’s fingers instinctively clenched into fists, his nostrils thinned and he was about to say something when the sheriff appeared, a rifle resting under one arm, “That’s enough.”

“Weren’t none of our doing, sheriff.” Stuart said immediately, “These Cartwrights were blocking our road, think they own everything, even the boards we walk on -”

“Is that right?” Hanson said looking from one to the other.

“You don’t honestly expect an answer to that, do you, sheriff?” Adam replied in a cold voice and with his arms folded across his chest.

“There’s no need to use that tone of voice with me, son.” Hanson looked now at Ben, “Take your boy out of here, Mr. Cartwright, I think I’ve had just about my fill of you two to-day.”

Adam opened his mouth to speak, thought better of it and turned to follow his father. Behind him he heard Bert and Stuart laughing and when he shot a look over his shoulder at them they began to imitate a chicken “Cluck cluck cluck cluck” before laughing even more as they jostled one another into Byrnes café.

“I’d like to spend just five minutes alone with them -” Adam hissed between clenched teeth.

“Don’t think about it,” Ben replied, “I think the best thing we can do is get back home. Doesn’t look like we’re going to get much done here today.”

They walked to their horses aware of Hanson watching them from the Sheriff’s Office, and Hawkins with Cole from the doorway of Gil’s Saloon. Adam cleared his throat, “Not quite the friendly little town we left a few weeks ago, is it, Pa?”

Ben shook his head and mounted Buck. From the look on his face it was difficult to read exactly what he did feel, or what he was even thinking. Ed Baxter was nailing a poster on a wall outside the Territorial Enterprise building and they slowed a little to read it. A reward was being offered for information leading to the arrest of the person who had desecrated the church on the previous Sunday night. He looked over at Ben and Adam,

“Seems like nothing is sacred in this town anymore.” he said to Ben sadly, “Some one went along and smashed up the stained glass window of the church around mid-night Sunday. Poor Mrs. Allen was took badly ill with the shock and fright. John has had to take her to her family in Sweetwater.”

Ben and Adam glanced at one another, it seemed that everyone to whom they could look for help, should the need arise, had a reason for leaving Virginia City. In silence they rode from the town and took the track homewards.

“I’ve been thinking, Pa.” Adam said after a short while of riding side by side in silence, “Those rustled cattle, seems to me that the only way Hawkins would have known we had been on his land was from one of our own men.”

“I hope you’re not being serious, Adam.”

“I can’t think of any other way he would know we had been there. There was certainly no one in the area that day on that land. I don’t like to think of it being one of our men but I can’t think of who else it could be.”

“Well, who can you recall was working around there at the time.”

“The same men who helped me move the herd from Mud Creek. Most have been with us some time, there’s one new hand, but he seemed eager to please and worked hard.”

“Mmm, well, don’t go jumping to conclusions just because he’s the new hand, Adam.”

Adam said nothing to that, his mind was busy thinking out how it could have been done without involving any of the men. After a while he asked his father about Deuce Martin and his involvement with the Byrnes. Ben shrugged and after a moments thought explained that ‘Deuce’ had fallen on hard times after working in the mines for years. He was a down and out who tried to rake together enough money to pay for his liquor every night. He did odd jobs for Zedekiah because he was cheap, which suited Zedekiah who was known as a tight wad.

Adam nodded, and lapsed into silence. “What was that about the pony Jimmy was talking about?”

“Oh, I heard his family had fallen on hard times,” Ben said “JImmy’s a good lad, he’s intelligent and good hearted and I think his family lean heavily on him. His father was ill, and his mother was obviously close to her time so I took the boy a pony, made it easier for him to get in and out of town for errands and such.”

Adam smiled slowly, the brow smoothed out and he shot a quick look over at his father. He wanted to say something but thought better of it, but his father’s constant kindness and generosity was a perpetual source of comfort.

Chapter 9

The house was quiet apart from the ticking of the clock and the crackling of the flames eating into the logs on the fire. Every so often one of the men would make a sound, perhaps mutter something under his breath or sigh, or clear his throat, usually just before moving his chess piece and then sitting back to wait for his opponents next move.

Adam was aroused from his thought by his father actually calling his name and then asking him if he had fallen asleep at which question he had smilingly said that he had waited so long for Ben to make his move that he no doubt could have done. “But, to be honest with you, Pa, I was thinking about that situation in town today.”

Ben nodded “What’s on your mind, son?”

“Hanson must have seen the way those men treated young Jimmy, and at the same time he must have realised we weren’t the cause of any trouble. Do you think it possible that Hanson is in Hawkins pocket as well?”

“As well as?”

“Most of the town it seems …” Adam sighed and looked at the chess pieces then made his move.

Ben scratched the back of his neck and shook his head “I don’t know, Adam. I think it’s more likely that he knows he’s only here until Roy gets back and wants to keep things as calm as possible. He knew we’d comply with his request, whereas asking those other two could well have meant trouble. I’d only theorising here, after all I don’t know the man any more than you do.”

Adam nodded and indicated that he was waiting for his father to make his move. Ben leaned forward and furrowed his brow in concentration only to be disturbed from it by Adam again “I’m more sure than ever that one of the men is in Hawkins pay, there just wasn’t any possible opportunity for him to have known Joe and I had been there.”

“Ever thought that the fact the herd was moved on may have given him cause to think that way?” Ben muttered his eye still on the bishop and wondering whether or not to move him.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, we’ve had that herd grazing there for nearly two weeks and then as soon as it is obvious we know about his purchase of that land bordering ours, we move it on ..what would you think in his place?”

Adam shook his head “Doesn’t follow that he’d know we’d been on his land.”

“Why not? Anyway, whether he knew or not, he could assume and then tell Hanson that you had been as a fact. A man like Hawkins isn’t going to stop at telling a few lies when he’s no doubt been guilty of far worse.”

He made his move and smiled triumphantly until Adam made his move and quietly said “Check – mate”.

While Adam dropped the pieces back into the box Ben went to the cabinet and took out the whisky and glasses which he carried over to the table. He glanced over at Adam and smiled “Do you see what I mean?” he asked as he poured out some whisky into the glasses.

“Yes, and I fell for it, and confirmed it in Hanson’s mind.”

They sat for a while longer in silence before Adam raised the subject of the boy, Jimmy. “If he’d been with his brother in school, he’d have been spared the trouble he got into.”

Ben chuckled, “Well, I’m all for schooling children as you know, but young Jimmy’s a hustler. He may have got into a spot of trouble but he also got himself some money . His brothers a studious lad, always got his nose in a book but he hasn’t a practical bone in his body. Jimmy’s more pragmatic, and his father turns a blind eye to the lack of schooling because they’re dirt poor and need every dime they can get.”

“You shouldn’t encourage the boy to skip school” Adam frowned and sipped his whisky.

“That boy gets his schooling, don’t you worry about that, he just knows the best times in the day to skip a class or two.” Ben smiled, “He reminds me of you at that age, guess that’s why I like to help out when I can.”

He rose to his feet at the sound of a knock at the door “Expecting anyone?” he asked his son who shook his head and waited to see who was their evening time visitor.

Deputy Clem Foster removed his hat as he stepped inside and nodded over at Adam who greeted him with a smile and an offer of a drink, which Clem was more than happy to accept. “Well, pleasant as it is to see you, Clem, what actually brings you here this time of an evening?” Ben asked as Adam poured their visitor a drink.

“I heard about your visit to town today. You were putting in a claim that some cattle had been rustled from here.”

“That’s right. I have to say your sheriff didn’t seem too bothered about it, Clem.”

“I heard that too.” he took the glass from Adam and thanked him, “Hanson’s out of his depth, he wants to keep things calm in town until Roy gets back, but Hawkins is pushing him.” he fidgeted in his seat, “He’s a decent man, but not a good sheriff. Hasn’t the stomach for it.”

“Has there been any results from the investigation into Milly’s death?” Adam asked.

“No, nothing. If anyone knows anything they ain’t saying. People are frightened. Trouble is there hasn’t been any law broken that we can tell that causes that fear. Sure someone can say such and such was said, but it can’t be proved.”

“What about the church window?” Ben looked at Clem and watched the deputy as he swallowed more of the good quality whisky, “Any advances to that?”

“No.”

“Not even the whisper of a suspicion?” Adam crooked an eyebrow and stroked his chin, “Hawkins men for example?”

“Oh there have been a whisper here or there, but nothing substantial.”

Adam sighed heavily “Alright, Clem, so what did you come all this way to tell us?”

“Your suspicion about the cattle rustling could be the first real break through we have against Hawkins and his men. I was talking to ’Deuce’ Martin the other day and he let slip that they’ve been getting some really good beef for the café recently. Top quality at low cost.”

“So?” Ben glanced at Adam, “Where does that concern us?”

“Deuce said they’ve got a new supplier, and he laughed. Now, he was drunk I admit that, but when Deuce laughs like he does, that means he knows something that he’s keeping secret from me – or whoever. When I asked him if Byrnes was up to something unlawful, well, Deuce suddenly sobered up and scuttled.”

“Alright, so he got scared, so what exactly are you saying, Clem.” Adam moved to resume his seat by the fire.

“His supplier may be Hawkins and the beef may be Ponderosa beef.” Clem swallowed the last of his whisky, “That’s what I’m saying.”

“Seems to me too many ‘may be’s in the equation, Clem.” Adam sighed “What do you think, Pa?”

Ben shrugged and turned to look into the flames of the fire, then he turned back to Clem, “It’s all shadows. Hawkins is working with shadows.”

“How’d you mean, Mr. Cartwright?”

“Insinuation, fear tactics, it’s all in the dark, nothing substantial. We need something definite. For example – how did he know Adam and Joe had been on his land?” Ben looked squarely at Clem and then nodded, “Did he know? If so – how? There’s no way my boys could have been seen, so it leaves us with a suspicion… and suspicion breeds distrust … then before very long -!” he shook his head and threw his arm in the air to signify some kind of explosion.

Adam turned his eyes to Clem “Well? What do you think?”

“I’ll put a bit more pressure on Deuce. He talks more sense when he’s drunk, he’s like a rabbit when he’s sober.” he rose to his feet and thank them for the drink. “Oh, where’s Joe and Hoss?”

“A long way off.” Ben said, “I wanted them out of the way for as long as possible.”

“Good idea, Mr. Cartwright, Joe’s too fiery for a situation like this one.”

*****

The wagon came to a standstill outside the Hardware Store and Hop Sing nudged Adam who was slumped down on the seat. “In town now. You want something you get off wagon now. Hop Sing need plenty things from General Store.”

“I’ll see you back here later, Hop Sing.” the young man said and clambered down, stretched his back and nodded to his old friend who urged the horses to move on down to where they could stop outside the General Stores. Adam looked around him and was pleased to see nothing that could cause him any discomfort. There was no sign of any of Hawkins men, although the sound of raucous laughter from Gil’s Saloon indicated just where they were.

“’Morning Adam” Mr. Galton nodded, “Come to collect your order?”

“Is it all here?”

“It certainly is,” Galton produced some papers from a drawer and put them on the desk “I’ll get them collected from the back and you can tick them off to make sure the items are all here.” he turned “Deuce – here a moment.”

Deuce Martin hurried from the back room and looked first at Adam and then at Galton, he nodded anxiously before turning to look at Adam again. Galton was telling him what he was to do, and with a nod Deuce stopped staring at Adam and hurried into the store room to collect the items. Galton sighed, “I’d better go in with him, he’s sure to get things muddled.”

“I thought he worked for the Brynes at the café?” Adam asked, the sheaf of papers in his hand but his eyes on the store room door.

“He does but only part time, just as he works part time here. He gets a decent enough amount of money to drink away and squander as a result of our unfailing trust in his ineptitude.”

Adam smiled and nodded, then resumed his study of the papers. He was interrupted by Galtons return with some packages in his arms, “The wretched mans disappeared, if you don’t mind waiting a while longer, Adam, I’ll go and get the other items myself.”

“Does he often do that – disappear?”

“Too often.” Galton said with a mock groan before leaving Adam in the store to wait.

Adam checked off the items Galton had left on the counter, by the time he had put down the last package the store keeper had arrived with several more packages to check off. He looked up at the clock and nodded “Hope you don’t mind, Galton, but Hop Sing won’t be here for another half hour, could I leave these here and come back for them?”

“Certainly, Adam. My pleasure.”

They exchanged smiles, Adam tipped his hat and then left the store. Outside he stood a moment on the boardwalk and then made his way to Byrnes café.

Chapter 10

Adam was in the process of following Deuce into the alley that ran behind the café when a hand grabbed at his elbow and he glanced down to see young Jimmy smiling up at him,

“Hi Mr. Cartwright, is your Pa with you today?”

Adam bit down on his irritation as he heard a door close with a bang. That was obviously Deuce, he surmised, grateful to have escaped by the skin of his teeth. He gave the slightest of shrugs and turned to give Jimmy more of his attention, “Shouldn’t you be in school?”

“Yes, sir, but this is the time of day when I can get some jobs done for Deuce or anyone else, come to that – Pa don’t mind and Ma don’t know.”

“Your brother knows -” Adam said with an involuntary smile.

“Aw, he don’t count, he wants to get to college. He said Ben Cartwrights eldest son, that’s you, ain’t it – went to college. Does it cost a lot of money to get there?”

“Quite some.”

“Guess I’ll have to get more jobs then, ain’t no way my Pa will be able to send Josh to college without my help.” the boy frowned and kicked a stone out of his path, “What did you study?”

“Engineering and architecture.”

Jimmy frowned and just said ‘Oh’. Adam noticed that the child was clean and tidy, his clothes were in good order as well, his parents obviously didn’t like to advertise their poverty as much as some. He was about to say his goodbyes when Jimmy beckoned him to come closer “I wanted to tell Mr. Ben something secret.”

This time Adam said ‘Oh’ and leaned forward. Jimmy licked his lips and drew in his breath, “It ain’t my secret, mind. It’s to do with Deuce and Mr. Byrnes.”

“Oh well then, perhaps -”

“And with the Ponderosa too. That’s why I think I have to tell you about it. If it’s about your ranch then it can’t be a secret, can it?”

“I think I catch your drift,” Adam replied resting a hand on the boys shoulder, “Is it safe to talk about it here, do you think?”

Jimmy looked over his shoulder and frowned, “Well, it won’t take long to tell you, Mister. Just that I was here yesterday and Deuce was talking to Mr. Byrnes about what to do with the meat Mr. Hawkins had brung in.”

“Go on.”

“Mr. Byrnes said it was Ponderosa beef, he didn’t want to touch it. He said the Cartwrights would be out for his hide if they got to know he was taking stolen steers from them. Deuce said that Mr. Hawkins told him he had to have the meat because he’d made a -”Jimmy’s voice trailed away and his brow crinkled “some kind of agreement.”

Adam rubbed his jaw thoughtfully and then looked over at the café. He could see Sally serving some customers through the window and wondered if she knew anything about these stolen cattle. Jimmy tugged at his sleeve “Deuce is frightened of Mr. Hawkins, so is Mr. Byrnes. Deuce came looking for me to help ‘em but Mr. Byrnes said not to get me involved.”

“And what about Sally, does she know anything about this?”

Jimmy shook his head vehemently, “Nah, Mr. Byrnes said she weren’t to be told, he didn’t want her to know anything.”

“Jimmy,” Adam squatted down a little to get better eye contact with the child, “Do you know how they get the meat here? I mean, has it already been skinned and quartered? “

“Deuce brings ‘em in a wagon, I saw him once. There was a fat man with him, that man who hit me the other day when you were here with your Pa.”

“Anyone else?”

Jimmy crinkled his brow and shook his head “I don’t know, mister. I only saw it by accident when I was doing an errand for Widow Hawkins. I couldn’t look around to find out ‘cos she expected me back real quick.”

Adam nodded and put his hand to his pocket to give the boy some money but Jimmy pushed his hand away, “Nah, it’s alright, you helped me out the other day remember?”

Adam watched as Jimmy scuttled away and then turned his attention back to the café. Perhaps the best thing was to follow Deuce on one of his trips and find out for sure whether or not Jimmy was correct in his facts. He was thinking about it when Deuce stepped out from the café, looked about him and hurried over to Galton’s Hardware Store.

Hop Sing was waiting for him with all the items stowed safely away in the wagon. He waited for Adam to clamber up beside him and turned the horses in the direction out of town, jabbering on in Cantonese about people who were never where they should be at the time they were meant to be. Adam merely lowered his hat to shade his eyes and slumped down further.

Shadows were criss-crossing the streets when he rode back into town on Sport. Ben had been out on the range when he had returned from town earlier so after helping unload the wagon and then having a quick bite to eat washed down by several cups of coffee, Adam had grabbed his coat and hat, buckled on his gun belt and saddled up his horse.

He lingered outside the café for a while and then dismounted. The café was busy, he could see people seated at the tables and after a brief hesitation he entered in to its interior. The warmth from within hit him like a wall, rich food smells combined with that of numerous human beings, and coffee. He glanced at some of the meals that were served up and with a slight frown walked to the counter, removed his hat and smiled at Sally, “Looks like a full house this evening, Sally.”

“It usually is,” she replied, picking up a pencil and note pad, “Are you staying to eat?”

He looked around and shook his head, “Looks like there’s no room at the moment, perhaps later.”

She looked at him thoughtfully, “We don’t often see you in here in the evenings, Adam.
What brought you in now?”

“Well, I happened to have left home without eating much, and was hungry. The smells from here were – rather enticing.” he smiled at her, his dark eyes looked into hers and she lowered them immediately, “I heard beef was on the menu?”

“It usually is -” she replied with a puzzled expression on her face, “Why not try again later.”

“Sure, I will.” he nodded, smiled at her again and left. The bell above the shop tinkled.

Adam walked from the café to the alley way and was walking down it, keeping close to the shadows when a streak of light splashed across the darkness as the door opened and Deuce stepped out. The light vanished as the door slammed shut . Ignoring the voice in the back of his mind that recommended getting the sheriff Adam followed the man. He hugged the shadows as Deuce slipped into another building. Deuce Martin just stood where he was for a moment and then whistled. Two men seemed to detach themselves from the darkness and after striking a match to light a lamp approached Deuce “Everything alright?”

Adam recognised the voice as belonging to the thin man with the cold blue eyes, the man called Cole. Deuce said something in a low voice, the words of which Adam didn’t hear, but Cole nodded and the fat man, Bert, said “We’re just glad to get the stuff of’n our hands. Dead steers don’t bring in much money.”

“Shut up, Bert,” Cole said quietly, “You talk too much.”

Bert shrugged and spat on the ground, Deuce held out his hand and Cole placed some money in it. “There’s some more coming later tonight. Be ready to collect it.”

“What time?”

“Mid-night.”

“I’ll tell Mr. Byrnes to keep the store room open.” Deuce hesitated a moment and then said in a lower tone of voice which Adam could barely hear “He’s getting nervous about this, thinks the Cartwrights will be onto him. That deputy was talking about stolen Ponderosa cattle in the café today and Byrnes was real nervous, even Miss Sally noticed and asked him what was wrong.”

“He didn’t squawk, did he?” Cole asked slowly.

Fat Bert nodded “Yeah, ain’t no good talking to women, they always blab.”

“He didn’t say anything to her, but she’s worried about him.”

Cole shrugged “Ain’t none of our concern. Anyway this will be the last of the deliveries for a while. Make sure he’s there to collect the stuff.”

Deuce nodded and left the building in such a furtive manner that anyone seeing him would have wondered what he had been up to. Adam waited for Bert and Cole to leave and then followed them into the main street.

The two men walked quickly away from the café and headed for the saloon. Adam watched from the shadows as they pushed the doors open and walked inside, the noise of singing, shrill laughter and out of tune music billowed out into the street to envelop him as though in mockery.

Remembering that he had told Sally Byrnes that he would be back Adam turned his feet in the direction of the café once more and pushed open the door. There were more empty tables now and he removed his hat before taking a chair at the table by the window. Sally came and asked him what he’d like and after asking what was on the menu chose the stew, with coffee. He was watching the street from the window when he became aware of a shadow close by and turning found the shadow had substance in the form of Cy Hawkins.

“Adam Cartwright, isn’t it?”

Adam nodded and watched as Hawkins pulled out a chair and sat down opposite him.

“Haven’t seen you in here before.” Hawkins said in his blunt rather curt voice.

“I’ve been away a while.” Adam replied and then thanked Sally for the food that she placed on the table in front of him, “I could say the same about you.”

“Oh I’m a regular here. Ain’t that so, Miss Sally.”

Sally Byrnes nodded “Yes, I guess we could say that now, Mr. Hawkins.”

He nodded and stretched out his legs and looked at Adam and then pointed to the stew “Well, ain’t you going to eat it?”

Adam looked over at Sally who averted her eyes and busied herself with stacking dishes.
From the doorway Deuce Martin looked into the room. The horror on his face at seeing Hawkins with Adam was so plain to see before he ducked back into the other room that Adam was tempted to get to his feet and go after him. As it was Hawkins got up and without a word left the café.

Chapter 11

Adam’s hand gently stroked Sports neck as he took the reins from the rail and walked round him to get into the saddle. For a moment he sat, mounted, as he wondered what to do next then turned the horse away from the sight of the café and Gils Saloon. He rode slowly along the main street when the sight of a familiar horse nodding over a rail caught his attention. He turned Sport to one side and rode up to the other horse, then dismounted.

The Sazarac was noisy with the hum of voices, laughter and the piano music. He looked through the cigarette smoke and finally located the man seated at a table near the stairs and with a slight smile on his face he walked towards him, pulled out a chair and sat down. “Hi, Pa, what brings you here? I thought you’d be tucked up in bed by now.”

Ben turned towards the bar and signalled for another glass to be brought to the table before he leaned forwards to answer his son, “My business this morning didn’t take me quite as long as I had initially thought so I came home expecting to spend a leisurely afternoon with my eldest son and found you gone. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I’m here, I saw Sport outside Byrnes café and thought you would be headed in this direction eventually.” he poured whiskey into the glass and pushed it over Adam, “Did you enjoy your meal?”

“Didn’t touch it.” he drank some of the alcohol and then looked at his father, “I found out that Mr. Byrnes was taking Ponderosa beef from Hawkins. Deuce Martins been told to expect another delivery at -” he glanced over his shoulder at the clock on the wall, “Still some time to go, but if we wanted to know more I’d say Deuce was the man to ask.”

“He wouldn’t be too frightened of Hawkins?”

“Deuce Martins scared stiff of his own shadow.” Adam drank some more of the whiskey and looked over at his father who was sitting stern and silent opposite him. “What’s on your mind?”

Ben sighed and pushed the whiskey to one side, “I’ve known Zed Byrnes for a long time, Adam. I can’t see that he would deliberately steal -”

“No, I don’t think he has,” Adam interrupted with a gesture of the hand as though to stop Bens train of thought right there, “Obviously some of the steers Hawkins has stolen from us have died for some reason and he’s wanting to get some money even from them. His men have probably been touting the beef to every restaurant in town. Byrnes isn’t a fighting man, he’d not want to take the meat out of loyalty to you, but Hawkins – well, I think we can guess the kind of methods he uses.”

“Too well.” Ben sighed, “I think the best thing would be to talk to Byrnes face to face. I don’t think he’ll run from the truth if he had the chance to talk to me about it.”

“Well, probably best to go now. Sally will be closing the café in a minute, we can use the back door to their storeroom.”

Both men emptied their glasses and left the table. As Adam passed a group of men drinking at the bar one of them turned to face him – the fat figure of Bert Fuller seemed to fill every available space between the counter and the door. Adam cleared his throat, looked the fat man squarely in the eyes “D’you mind? You happen to be in my way.”

“Oh, I happen to be in your way.” Bert laughed and jogged the elbow of the man next to him, “Hear that, I happen to be in this turkey cocks way.”

“If you don’t move your fat hide out of my way, I’ll have to remove you myself.”

Two of Bert’s companions grinned but turned back to their drinks. Bert’s love of creating trouble was more of a hindrance than a help to them, they were used to having to clear up the messes he made. Bert planted his feet further apart and set his hands on his hips before nodding contemptuously at Adam “Well, you just go ahead, Cartwright, you go try and move me.”

Adam raised his eyebrows, frowned slightly and glanced over Bert’s shoulder. Bert’s eyes flickered nervously in that direction and before he knew it Adam’s fist had hit him squarely in the stomach, across the jaw. Bert staggered back, threw a punch at Adam and missed, Adam seized hold of the flailing fist at the wrist, twisted his arm and hooked his leg behind one of Bert’s kicking the man’s foot away from the floor. Bert landed in a heap on the floor while Adam continued on his way and out of the saloon with his father.

It was Deuce Martin who opened the door to them. He had been half expecting Hawkins man to be there, he turned a startled face towards Zedekiah “Mr. Byrnes -”

“What is it?” the older man said coming from the kitchen area into the store room and then stopping in his tracks when he saw Ben and Adam. “Rather late to be visiting, isn’t it, Ben?”

“I know, but I wanted to be here before your other visitors.”

“My other visitors?” Zedekiah asked turning to close the door behind him in order to prevent Sally overhearing the conversation. “So what’s going on, Adam? Didn’t you enjoy your stew?”

“Not when I know it’s stolen Ponderosa beef and your friend Hawkins is sharing my table.”

Byrnes frowned and looked at Ben “I haven’t stolen any of your cattle, Ben.”

“I believe you, Zedekiah, but I would like to know who has been rustling my steers. You seem the most likely person to tell me.”

Byrnes shook his head, “No, I don’t know anything about any rustling, believe me.” he grabbed at Deuce’s arm to prevent him from leaving the building for the man had turned as though to get out of the place as quickly as possible, “Ben, You know where I get my meat, you’ve only got to check up with them and they’ll confirm my orders, just perfectly normal and the usual orders, believe me.”

“You know, Mr.Byrnes, that’s twice you’ve asked us to believe you in just a few sentences. It almost sounds as though you’re trying to convince us of something that you know to be false yourself.” Adam said very quietly, and grabbing Deuce by the shirt front as the man once again attempted to flee.

They were interrupted when the door opened and Sally stood on the top step “Pa, are you alright?”

“Yes, dear, everything’s alright. I’m just having a chat with Ben and Adam.”

Sally hesitated, she looked down at the four men and then slowly closed the door. She left the kitchen area and walked into the café where Cy Hawkins and Cole Matheson were seated playing a game of cards. “Where’s your father? Doesn’t he know there’s a delivery in half an hour?”

“A delivery?” Sally frowned and glanced back over her shoulder, “I don’t think so, Mr. Hawkins, we usually get our deliveries in the mornings. Anyway, my father’s talking with Ben and Adam Cartwright at the moment, I don’t think he’ll be -” she paused as Cole rose to his feet and very politely raised his hat to her before leaving the café, she looked at Hawkins, “Is anything wrong?”

“No, Miss Sally, you just get on with doing your chores. I’ll just wait for Cole and some of the other boys here. If you don’t mind, that is …”

She smiled and nodded although she wasn’t too sure what to make of Cy Hawkins. He wasn’t really a comfortable man to be around. She returned to the kitchen area and began to wash dishes. Looking through the window she could see the outline of the four men. It crossed her mind that they’d probably like a cup of coffee after all the talking they’d been having and she looked over at the coffee pot, then back to the window.

It was then that there were two gun shots. One after the other. They were immediately followed by more gunshots. She saw some flashes indicating that they came from the Cartwrights guns and even before she could scream Hawkins had run past her and had the door open “Hold it right there, gentlemen – put your guns down.”

Adam turned to the open door “Get a doctor, Mr. Byrnes has been shot.”

He was putting his gun back into his holster, Ben was on one knee tending to Byrnes as best he could, Deuce Martin had disappeared and Sally was running past Hawkins, pushing Ben to one side and screaming.

Adam felt his gun being removed and spun round to find it being pointed at him by Hawkins, Cole and two other men were in the store room and pulling Ben away from Byrnes over whom Sally was sobbing.

“What’s going on here?” Ben cried, “His killers are getting away – “

“I don’t think so, Mr. Cartwright. I think we know exactly who Mr. Byrnes killers are, and you’re one of them.” Hawkins said in his cold level voice.”Cole, you’d best take Miss Sally outa here.”

“No, no, I want to stay here with my father.” Sally cried and shrugged Cole’s hands away.

“There isn’t anything you can do for your father now, Sally, why not go inside.” Ben said gently.

She stood up as though in a dream and turned slowly to face him, and then she turned to Adam, she shook her head, put her hands to her mouth before exclaiming “I saw it all, I saw what you did, you shot my father down in cold blood. You killed him, you killed my father.”

“No, Sally, you got it all wrong -” Adam stepped forward and placed a hand on her arm only for her to shake it off and to glare at him angrily,

“I saw it happen. I saw it.”

Hawkins jerked his head at Cole who was now able to lead the girl from the store room. By the time the door had closed behind them others were entering the building, Sheriff Hanson being one of them. Ben stepped forward “Hanson, Mr. Byrnes has been shot. His killer is somewhere out there, running scott free because these idiots took our guns and stopped us from following after whoever -”

Hanson shook his head, “I’ve heard all about what happened, Mr. Cartwright, I’ve had an eye witness account, garbled though it was, and he clearly stated that you or your son killed Mr. Byrnes.”

“There’s another witness in there,” Hawkins said coldly as he handed Adam’s gun to the sheriff, “She’s a trifle shocked just now, having seen her father shot down by these men.”

Adam stepped forward, the colour flushing his cheeks, “We did not -”

“That’s enough, Cartwright.” Hanson levelled his rifle at him, “The two of you, turn around and walk over to the jail house. You’re under arrest for the murder of Zedekiah Byrnes.”

“But -” Adam was stopped from saying more by his fathers hand on his chest, and a warning glance from the dark eyes to say no more.

Chapter 12

Deuce Martin looked like he was about to collapse from nerves when Hanson ushered in the Cartwrights. His mouth fell open and his eyes rolled in his head “I’m sorry, I’m real sorry about this, Mr. Cartwright, Adam – but I – I had to tell them the truth.”

“Then why don’t you do that, Deuce, why don’t you tell them the truth right here and now!” Adam yelled and lunged forward, “Tell them what you saw, Deuce, instead of what you were told to tell them.”

“I – I -” the wretch turned to Hanson, “I promise you, sheriff, I told you what I saw, I told you, didn’t I?”

“Just calm down,” Hanson said as he returned his rifle to the rack, then he turned to Adam “And you can just calm down, young man. You’ll get your chance to talk.”

Adam rubbed his brow with his long fingers and then shook his head as though he no more believed that than he did a word of what Deuce had said. Ben removed his hat and was about to speak when Hanson order him to remove his gun belt, then turned to Adam and ordered him to do likewise. Ben and Adam looked at one another “Are you serious?” Adam asked, “You really think we shot Byrnes?”

“I’m not thinking anything at the moment. I’ve words to that effect from Deuce here, and from what was said at the store room the indications were that you two were the main suspects. Apart from that I think you’d be safer in my cell now than riding out in town. Zedekiah Byrnes was well liked here, people may not take kindly to the thought of his killers riding out of town free.”

“We ARE NOT his killers” Adam’s voice was several decibels higher than usual as he slammed down his gun belt onto the desk, “Sheriff, the killer, or killers, are out there. You’re letting him run free. Instead of putting us in prison you should be looking for the man who really killed him.”

Cy Hawkins walked forwards now, a slow casual strolling stride and he glanced at the two men and then at Deuce Martin before looking at the sheriff, “Dr. Hay has given Miss Byrnes a sedative. She won’t be fit to give a statement until tomorrow. There’s a woman going in to sit with her.”

Hanson nodded, “You were in the café, weren’t you? Did you see anything?”

“No, Miss Byrnes came in and told us that she was worried because the Cartwrights were arguing with her father in the outer room. She went to the kitchen and the next thing I heard were gun shots.”

“Anyone with you?”

Hawkins looked coldly at Ben and Adam then his eyes slid back to the sheriff, “Cole was with me for a while, but he went out shortly before it all happened.”

“Where is he now?” Hanson asked only to have his question answered by Cole himself, standing slightly behind the Cartwrights. Hanson nodded “I’d be grateful if you could both write what happened this evening in a statement. Date and sign it please.” he picked up the keys from the desk and jerked his head towards the cells “You two, you know where they are …”

“What about our horses?” Adam asked and Deuce promptly cried that he’d take them to the livery, and leave them with old Zeke Jackson until they could be collected.

The two men entered the cell and while Adam stood staring at the window Ben turned to watch as Hanson turned the keys in the lock. “You’re making a mistake, Hanson.”

“If I had a dollar for every man who said that I’d be a rich man, Cartwright“ Hanson took the keys from the lock and looked at them both, Ben with his dark eyes fixed on him and Adam staring at the window with his back turned obstinately against him. “You‘ll get a fair trial.”

Adam turned “A fair trial? What are you talking about, how can it be fair when you’ve arrested the wrong men?”

Hanson shook his head “You’d best calm down, son. You’re in enough trouble as it is, without making it worse for yourself.”

Adam opened his mouth but Ben’s hand gripped his arm and although he pulled himself away from his father’s grasp he remained silent. Ben stepped closer to the bars “Hanson, I’d like to ask you to do a favour for me.”

“If I can -”

“Will you send Clem Foster to let my sons, Joe and Hoss, know what’s happened?”

Hanson frowned, then nodded, “I’ll do that.”

The door separating the cells from the office closed upon father and son. For a moment neither spoke, Adams head dropped as he stared down at the floor, a picture of total dejection. Things were out of his control, there was nothing he could do, he sighed and sat down on the cot, then looked up at his father “Well, Pa?”

Ben shook his head “It’s late, son, you may not feel like it right now, but the best thing may be to try and sleep. Pray that Sally remembers the truth, and that Deuce Martin can dredge up some courage to tell Hanson what really happened.”

In the office Martin signed his statement with a shaky hand and then after a brief glance at Hawkins fled from the office. Hanson read it through and shook his head. He looked over at Hawkins and Cole who were writing out their statements, “Remember you could be up for perjury if you sign a false statement.”

“Sheriff, we’re honest men, we don’t have an axe to grind against the Cartwrights, why should we lie?” Hawkins said with his near black eyes glittering like a snakes.

*****

Ben and Adam had not slept although they lay on the cots and didn’t speak. When the door opened it was Ben who stood up and went to the stand by the bars, Hanson nodded over to wards Adam “Is he asleep.”

Adams voice promptly responded, “No, he isn’t.”

Hanson sighed and then looked at Ben “I’ve got the written statements of the other men, I’d like yours now. Come with me.”

Adam sat up and was about to get to his feet but Hanson told him to stay where he was, “I’ll get yours later.”

Adam watched the key turn in the lock and his father led from the cell block, the door closed. With a groan he buried his face in his hands and tried to recollect all the facts that he could, and to put them in some kind of coherent order.

Ben was surprised at how thorough Hanson was with the cross examination, it even brought about a grudging respect for the man who promised him that he would make sure he would get to the truth of the matter. He was given plenty of time to write a statement along with a cup of good coffee. When he signed it and handed it over to Hanson the sheriff looked at it and nodded, “I hope this works out in your favour, Mr. Cartwright. I can’t see you as a cold blooded killer.”

“It’s not a role I see myself in either, sheriff.”

Adam was led out once his father had taken his seat, perched on the edge of the cot. He sat in the office and answered questions, put forward questions of his own, some of which were honestly answered by the sheriff. While in the cell Adam had decided not to mention young Jimmy’s role in the matter, so when Hanson asked him why he was suspicious of Deuce and Mr. Byrnes he merely shrugged and said calmly “I’m intuitive.” He almost laughed aloud when Hanson nodded and said that he believed him.

He was given time to write out a statement, also with a cup of good coffee. He signed the statement and handed it to Hanson with blank shut off features, and allowed himself to be led back to the cell. Without a word he returned to the cot and lay down.

*****

“I don’t believe it.” Joe cried, and threw his hat onto the floor, “Is the man crazy? What kind of sheriff is this man, Clem? Doesn’t he know that my father would no more kill a man in cold blood than – than – “ he threw his hands in the air, “Tell him, Hoss, tell him.”

“Calm down, Joe, now jest you calm.” Hoss put a hand on Joe’s chest, and then turned to Clem Foster who was looking just about as miserable as if it were his own father that had been jailed, “Jest run through it all agin, Clem, so’s I got the facts straight in my head.”

Clem told them everything he knew and then waited for the explosion, but it never came. Joe sunk down on the settee and sat with his hands in his hair, looking as though he were about to pull out handfuls. Hoss paced the floor with a frown on his face. Then he nodded “We’d best git on to town, Joe. Guess they’ll need some clean clothing and shaving kit. Pa will want his bible.”

“What are you talking about, Hoss? You sound as though you’re expecting them to be there for days on end? I tell you, they’ll be out in no time. I mean, they didn’t do anything wrong, they can’t be kept in jail for doing nothing.”

“It might be a good idea if you took some things, just in case.” Clem suggested and then rather lamely added “I’m sorry.”

*****

Sally Byrnes was too ill to come to the sheriffs office so he had to go and see her. Mrs O’Shaughnessy opened the door to him and led him to Sally’s room where the girl sat with a shawl around her shoulders. She was one moment crying and another moment shivering as though cold all the way through to the bones. When she saw Hanson she began to cry again.

“Has anyone else been to see her this morning, Mrs. O’Shaughnessy?”

“The doctor came to see how she was, and Mr. Hawkins -”

“Hawkins? Why?”

“He was worried about her. Good heavens, sheriff, it’s nice to know that when this kind of thing happens someone cares …”

“There’s a lot of people who care, Mrs. O’Shaughnessy.”

She said nothing to that but went out promising to make some tea. Hanson looked at the young woman and taking a deep breath took the chair opposite her and asked her if she felt well enough to make a statement. She looked up with dark hazel eyes swimming in tears, “I saw them kill my father, of course I want to write a statement.”

“Miss Byrnes, did you really see it, I mean, with your own eyes did you see Adam or Ben kill your father.”

“They shot him down. They shot him down all because of some few stolen cows. Those high and mighty Cartwrights, always lording it over everyone else. So long as every one did what they were told but when something happens … that’s when you see their real colours.”

“What real colours are we talking about here, Miss. Byrnes?”

“The Cartwrights .. Their true colours, they’re murderers, worse than that .. My father didn’t have a gun, he trusted them …”

*****

Jimmy was sitting on the boardwalk when Joe and Hoss arrived and dismounted outside the sheriffs. He jumped up as soon as they got the door, “Hey, Mr. Hoss, can I come in and see Mr. Cartwright and Adam?”

“Not now, Jimmy.” Hoss said kindly and set him to one side, but the boy wasn’t to be dismissed that easily, he grabbed at Joe’s sleeve,

“They didn’t do it, Mister. They didn’t do it, I know they didn’t.”

“Sure, Jimmy. Thanks anyway.”

With slumped shoulders the boy turned and sat back down on the boardwalk.

The deputy took their guns and checked through the package that contained shaving kit, books and clean clothing. He nodded and then led them to the cells where Ben and Adam waited for them. Adams knuckles were white where he was gripping the bars so tightly whereas Ben stood slightly back from his son and smiled calmly as Joe and Hoss came up to the cell.

“Pa? What’s this all about?” Joe asked in lowered tones, his voice was shaking slightly, and his eyes looked wildly from his brother to his father, “Clem said they reckon they’ve got the case proven against you.”

“That’s for a jury to decide, son, not Hanson or Hawkins for that matter.”

“Are they looking for the real killer?” Hoss asked

Adam gave a snort of derision “They already think they’ve got the real killers. They aren’t going to look any further than in this cell.”

Joe and Hoss looked at one another, Hoss cleared his throat “What do you want us to do, Pa?”

“Well, the Circuit Judge is due at the end of the week -”

“That’s only two days away, Pa.” Joe whispered.

Ben gave a slightly pale smile “It sounds further away if I say it’s the end of the week.” he frowned, “Go and get our lawyer, we’ll have to arrange our defence if it comes to trial.”

“Anything else, Pa?” Hoss asked as calmly as he could, although his heart was beating so fast he could barely breathe.

“Keep calm yourselves, take good care of things back home. don’t worry.”

“Shucks, Pa, how do you expect us to not worry?” Joe said with a gulp in his voice and he heaved a deep breath and nodded, “Anything else?”

“If you can find Deuce Martin ask him to go over his statement, ask him to make sure he’s telling the truth. Lay it on the line, he’s a frightened man, the fear of perjury and the subsequent punishment may just get him rattled enough to change his statement.”

“And Miss Sally?” Joe asked.

Adam shot a glance over at his father and then shook his head, “She’s in grief, there’s no point in talking to her about what happened. She probably isn’t sure herself.”

“If she ain’t sure then she aint’ a reliable witness, is she?” Hoss said quietly.

Ben nodded, “Well, just leave her be for now, she’s suffering her own loss. It wouldn’t be kindly to intrude upon that at present.”

Hanson, just returned from getting the statement from Miss Sally Byrnes, heard what was being said and with a sigh, shook his head. The case, he felt, was far from conclusive.

Chapter 13

Cy Hawkins put his feet up on the chair opposite his and began flicking the dirt from his finger nails with his pen knife. He glanced around the room and noticed what each of his men were doing, who was there and who was missing. He looked over at Bert Fuller who was starting his morning with his usual liquid refreshment and frowned. Bert was a mistake, one of the very few Hawkins permitted himself, but that was because Bert knew all about Cy Hawkins, right back to where it all began in a small town called Lassiter in Kansas.

Back then Bert Fuller hadn’t been the fat loud mouthed fool that he was now. Hawkins could remember when the man was thinner, quicker with his gun and his fist. Hawkins could also remember the number of men killed by Fuller before they had ever met up.

He listened to Bert complaining about how Adam Cartwright had taken an unfair advantage of him the previous night and of the broken tooth he’d got as a result. Hawkins closed his knife and put it back in his pocket “If you drank less you’d not have been caught out, Bert.”

The fat man glared over at Hawkins but didn’t have the courage to say anything. He knew his place. He’d learned it after so many years riding with the man. Cole Matheson pulled a chair from the table and sat down, “The Cartwrights had visitors today, the other two – Hoss and Joe.”

“They’ll be no problem.” Hawkins said slowly.

“What about the girl? Reckon she really saw what happened?”

Hawkins paused a moment and frowned, “I don’t know, if she did she isn’t telling Hanson the truth now, is she?”

“That’s if she knows what the truth is.”

Hawkins looked at Cole and then looked away. He saw himself when he looked at Cole. There was something cold and dark and evil in the man, as though he had no heart, nothing. Just like himself, and he knew that when the time came Cole Matheson would have no conscience in gunning him down. It would just take the right time, the right place.

He got up and walked over to the window and looked over at the sparse land upon which the old ranch house was sited. He could smell the sulphur from the match Cole had struck to light up his cigarette, he listened with half an ear on the talk going on between his men. Not much longer and he’d have everything he wanted, right here in Virginia City. Hoss and Joe Cartwright were no problem, he dismissed them as lightweights compared to the rancher and his eldest son.

Sometimes he thought back to the past and wondered when it was that he had decided to pursue a life of crime. Perhaps because for a man of his nature it was the easiest course to take. If there was an obstacle you didn’t worry about it because you just removed it. Like that stupid sheriff in Lassiter who insisted on his moving out of town and his men with him. Well, that was a neck stretching party that had provided some entertainment.

Hawkins eyes narrowed slightly as he remembered the fires that had been lit, the way the man had struggled to get free and the woman who had wept and begged him, Hawkins, to free her man. There were the boys too, and a girl. He could see them all either crying and begging or staring at him with hate in their eyes. Perhaps Hoss and Joe Cartwright would be like that soon, staring at him with hate filled eyes.

“Do you know who the circuit Judge is?”

His voice cut across the talk in the room and there was silence. Cole blew out a cloud of smoke and nodded “Yeah, he’s a old feller, name of Brooks.”

Hawkins thought for a moment and turned back to look at the view “Nathan Brooks?”

“Yeah, that’s the one.” Cole replied and turned pale blue ice cold eyes to wards the other man.

Bert put down his glass of rot gut and stared at Cole “Nathan Brooks? You sure?”

“That’s what the deputy told me.”

Bert chuckled deep in his throat, not a pleasant sound, “Well, well, if I were superstitious I’d be worried.”

“Why?” Cole frowned and stared at the fat man with a degree of loathing.

“Things are just falling just too neatly into place, everything just right, just right.” Bert stood up and walked over to the window by Hawkins “Ain’t that so?”

Cy Hawkins didn’t answer. He often ignored the fat man now, after all, he had little use for him really, it was just that Fuller knew too much. Well, it didn’t matter too much about him either, because one fine day the fat man was going to have a little accident.

Nathan Brooks though, that was a different matter. Once again Hawkins had come across someone whom he had known in the past. If he didn’t believe so strongly that a man made his own luck in this world he would be worried about how well things were falling into place.

*****

Clyde Manson put the statements down on the table and then looked at the two men sitting opposite him in the cell. He was conscious of the hard ridge of the cot biting into the back of his legs, and the cold draught blowing in from the barred opening that was termed a window. He was equally conscious of the near black eyes of the older man and the firm jaw of the younger man who were his clients. He had less than two days to prepare them for trial.

“Do either of you have anything to add to your statements?”

Ben said no and Adam shook his head. Clyde sighed, “Let’s just go over this again, in your own words. Adam, you had most to do in the matter leading up to the murder, why not go over it with me now.”

Adam rubbed his temple slowly, a circular motion of his long fingers that Clyde found irritating, but when he looked into the brown eyes of the young man he remembered that if he didn’t win the case the young man would be dead, those fingers stilled forever.

Adam went through his activities from the moment Deuce Martin left the Hardware Store. All that he omitted was any mention of young Jimmy, so when Clyde asked him why he had felt the need to pursue Deuce down the alley or even hang around the café he had to pause a moment to think, before merely saying “I had a feeling Deuce knew more about the stolen beef that he would admit.”

“A feeling?”

“Yes, a feeling!” Adam snapped somewhat testily, “Haven’t you ever had a feeling about something? Sometimes a man gets to know when something ain’t right and goes with that feeling. That’s what happened. That’s all.”

“Are you sure? Remember, everything hangs on this -”

“No, it doesn’t” Adam swung out his arm as though to dismiss everything – the lawyer, the papers, the fact that they were sitting in the cell. “No, it doesn’t, because it all hangs on what Sally says. That’s what the jury will be listening to, and that’s who they will be watching. Sally Byrnes who saw her father brutally murdered by two men whom she thought she could trust.”

Clyde lowered his eyes and looked at the statements in his hands and sighed “I can’t deny that you’re right about this, but it’s still possible that you may have some piece of evidence that will prove your innocence.”

Adam stood up, shook his head and walked to the window. He clasped two of the bars between his hands and bit down on his bottom lip and then turned to face Clyde “For a start you’re assuming you’ve a jury of good men who only want to see right at the end of the day.”

“Of course, and as far as I’m concerned that’s what you’ll get.”

“Well, that’s your first mistake because you won’t get them. You’ll get 12 men who are so scared of Hawkins that they’ll be watching every thing he does and says, every move he makes just in case they don’t get it right.”

“I think you’re wrong there, Adam. Cy Hawkins can’t influence the jury anymore than he can the judge.”

Ben leaned forward “Who is the Judge, Clyde?”

“Nathan Brooks.”

Ben nodded, “Well, he has a reputation as a fair minded man“

“Do you know him, Ben?” Clyde asked as he shuffled the papers to put back into his bag.

“I‘ve met him several times. I‘ve a lot of respect for him.”

“Good, let’s hope he has a lot of respect for you as well.” Clyde looked over at Adam “You sure you’ve nothing to add?”

Adam nodded. Clyde pulled on his jacket and buckled the strap on the bag “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Once the outer door had closed with a now familiar thud Ben turned to Adam “You should have told him about Jimmy, son.”

“No, I don’t want the boy involved.”

“But he could be a key witness, Adam.”

“Oh Pa -” Adam shook his head and looked at his father in exasperation “Do you really think that Hawkins would let Jimmy testify if it were to help us? Do you think the boy would even survive?”

“I can’t imagine any harm would come to the boy.”

“Well, I can. I can imagine a lot of harm coming to him, or to his family. Perhaps he’ll go out to do his hustling for the day and go home and find someone accidentally burned the house down.” he sat back opposite his father and leaned forward, “Anyway, this case is stacked against us, Pa. We have to admit that, huh?”

Ben sighed heavily and nodded. Adam looked thoughtfully at his father before adding as some kind of epitaph “Imagine a boy like Jimmy giving his testimony at the trial and then think of how he’ll feel if after all he has to endure through it we end up hanged anyway? I wouldn’t want to put a child through that.”

Ben nodded, he put his hand over Adams and gripped hold of it tightly before getting up and taking up his position by the window. “I think our only hope is in the Judge then, and getting a fair hearing.”

Adam made no reply to that, he briefly wondered if his father was really that naïve or was trying in some paternal way to give him some encouragement. He stretched out upon the cot and folded his arms behind his head and closed his eyes. Ben looked at his son and with a long drawn out sigh returned to the window to look at the sky and watch the clouds scud by, after a moment he bowed his head and spoke to the Greatest of all Judges in the hope that his son at least would survive what was to come.

*****

Judge Nathan Brooks entered his suite of rooms in the Internationale Hotel and slowly removed his hat and coat. He had fond memories of Ben Cartwright and the news that it was he and his son on trial for murder surprised and saddened the elderly Judge. He turned towards the desk and stopped at the sight of the dark featured man sitting in the chair, “Er – I think you have the wrong room.”

“I don’t have the wrong room, Judge.” Hawkins said slowly.

Nathan Brooks observed him thoughtfully “Do I know you?”

“If you search your memory real well, Judge, I’m sure you’ll remember just who I am and whereabouts we last met.”

Brooks fixed a myopic gaze on the man’s face and shook his head, “I’m sorry, I don’t recall you.”

“That’s a shame because it means I shall have to refresh your memory with a few salient facts. Ten years ago you wanted a favour done by someone who wouldn’t ask questions before or after.”

Brooks gulped, and tried to maintain a straight back “I don’t recall any such thing.”

“Perhaps the names Henri and Monique de Treville in Baton Rouge -”

“Stop there -” Nathan cried and raised a hand as though to prevent any more words from falling from Hawkins lips “Were you – did you -?”

“No, it wasn’t me who arranged their little accident, Judge. But the person who did was kind enough to pass on all the details to me.”

“In that case why did you say I would know you?”

Hawkins didn’t smile, he seldom smiled, but he walked over to where a bottle of whiskey stood on a tray with some glasses. He poured them both some and handed a glass to Brooks, “Well, about six years back I needed some money and it happened that you were in the same town at the time. You were very generous if I recall rightly -”

“Well I’ve no money on me and -”

“I don’t want any money from you, but I want you to forget just how friendly you are with the Cartwrights.”

“What do you mean? Are you trying to get me to pervert the course of justice?” the older mans hand trembled, and another emotion other than fear crossed his features.

Hawkins shook his head, “Judge, how can you even talk about perverting the course of justice after what happened in Baton Rouge. If that couple hadn’t had that accident you would never have won the court case that set you up to your so called fame and glory. Don’t give me that old cliché about justice, you wouldn’t know it if you fell over it.”

Brooks said nothing to that but with bowed head slumped down in a chair and swallowed down the whiskey. “What do you want from me?”

“Just pay a lot of attention to the grieving daughter who saw her father shot down in cold blood. Remember, Judge, she SAW her father shot down. There’s another witness – name of Deuce Martin. The defending lawyer will try and turn him inside out because he’s so nervous he’ll probably not even get his name right. Just make sure what he says is what you judge the Cartwrights on.” he downed his drink and gave what passed as a smile “See, nothing difficult about that, is there? Just listen to the evidence and ignore anything the Cartwrights have to say.”

Brooks turned to face his tormentor as he was leaving the room “At the end of the day it’ll be up to the jury…”

Hawkins gave him a cold glare and shrugged “You won’t have to worry about the jury.”

The door closed with a sharp snap leaving Judge Nathan Brooks staring at the far wall as though he had woken from a nightmare.

Chapter 14

As soon as Joe and Hoss entered the cell block Ben and Adam were on their feet to greet them. Eyes asked the questions as each scanned the faces of the others. Adam stepped back and passed his hand over his face, pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes “No trace of him then?”

“Nothing.” Joe replied in such a subdued voice that Ben had to reach out and take hold of his son’s arm as a means of reassurance.

“Seems to have disappeared into thin air.” Hoss added, “We looked everywhere, he ain’t turned up for work at the Hardware store. The cafes closed and Mrs. O’Shaughnessy ain’t letting anyone in to see Miss Sally except -” he tightened his lips and darted a glance over at the deputy who was lounging by the door “Except Hawkins and that side kick of his that looks like he drinks a glass of rattler poison every morning.”

Adam shrugged and looked at his father and then again at his brothers “Well, if Deuce Martin isn’t dead already you can guarantee he’s being taught his script for the trial, he’ll have to be word perfect after all just in case Miss Sally Byrnes realises she didn’t see what she wants to believe she saw.”

Hoss nodded “I know, I reckon on you being right about that, Adam.” He sighed and looked at his father “Have you any other idea, Pa?”

“No,” Ben shook his head resignedly, “Did you get to see the Judge?”

“No, sir.” Hoss frowned, “He ain’t seeing no one, said he needs all the time he’s got to read over all the statements and such.”

“How long does it take to read a few statements -” Joe snapped impatiently, “All we want is for him to come and see Pa, and -”

“It’s alright, Joe.” Ben again squeezed his sons arm gently, “It’s alright.”

“But it ain’t alright, Pa,” Hoss cried in an anguished voice and he grabbed hold of the bars of the cell doors, “If I had the chance I could -”

The deputy stepped forward, his rifle no longer resting in the crook of his arm but levelled at Hoss who nodded and raised a hand to placate the man.

“You’re a mite tetchy today, ain’t’cha?” he said putting his hands behind his back.

“Trials tomorrow, how’d you expect me to feel?” the deputy replied.

Adam gave him a long sideways glare that assured him that as far as that prisoner was concerned his feelings were no contest for the way theirs were right then. Hoss sighed, “We’ll go and look around for Deuce some more. If we find out anything we’ll let you know.”

Ben watched them go, Joe cast a last lingering look at them over his shoulder as though fearful of never seeing them again, then the doors closed and the two men were alone once more in the cell.

“You know, Pa, all this hangs on Sally’s testimony, doesn’t it?”

“I think so, which is a shame considering that she’s in no real condition to testify.”

“What if I write to her, explain what happened. Do you think she’ll change her mind?”

Ben smiled slowly “I don’t know, son. It’s hard to judge the thinking of a woman’s mind at the best of times, but right now, the way things stand, I just don’t know.”

*****

Mrs O’Shaughnessy took the envelope from the deputy and turned it over and over as she listened to the young man explaining that it was from Adam and how things were getting pretty fraught for them all. She smiled slowly “I’d give it to Miss Byrnes but I can’t guarantee she’ll read it. Please give them both my best wishes, won’t you?”

“Sure I will, Mrs. O’Shaughnessy.”

She watched him leave and after closing the door went up the stairs to the room where Sally was resting. She held out the envelope “It’s from young Adam Cartwright, Miss Byrnes.”

“Adam Cartwright? Why’s he writing to me?”

“I don’t know, Miss Byrnes, maybe he just wants to explain -”

“Explain?” Sally took the envelope and tore it in half, “Explain what? Why he killed my father?”

Mrs. O’Shaughnessy put her arm around the girl’s shoulders and drew her to the bed, where she set her down and took her place beside her, “Sally – Miss Byrnes – I’ve known the Cartwrights a long time, dear, I can’t believe that they’d kill your father as you think -”

“I saw them, Mrs O’Shaughness, I saw them.” she wrung her hands together “Don’t you understand, I saw them shoot my father.”

“But why? What would be the point of it? I’ve never known Mr. Cartwright or any of his sons do anything to harm any one. I just -”

“Because you’re like so many people who were taken in by them, Mrs. O’Shaughnessy. All these years being fooled by their smooth talk, and look what it’s got you? This town can’t do a thing without Ben Cartwright’s say so. Perhaps now it’ll be able to breathe at last.”

“I don’t think -”

“No, you don’t, none of you do, you’ve allowed the Cartwrights to do all your thinking for you. Well, not any more. You’ll see for yourselves the kind of men they are when they go for trial tomorrow, you’ll see.”

She looked at the pieces of torn paper and picked them up and then held each piece to the flames in the fire and watched them blacken and curl over and then disintegrate into ash. “There, so much for Adam Cartwright. I hope he hangs and his father along with him.”
Clyde Manson went over the statements later that evening. He told them what to expect from the prosecuting lawyer acting on behalf of Miss Sally Byrnes, the kind of questions he’d ask them, and how they should answer them. Neither Ben or Adam paid him much attention as their nerves were on edge and they weren’t fools enough to kid themselves that they would be walking out as free men any time soon.

After Clyde left the two men had supper provided by one of the local restaurants, but although they drank the coffee pot dry most of the food remained uneaten. When Hanson asked if there was anything they’d like, Ben asked for a chess board.

As Ben set out the pieces he looked up at Adams face and asked him what he was thinking about, to which his son merely said how to win the next two games. They shared a smile and the first game started. Hanson came to watch for a while and then left them, although he drew his chair up close to the open doors to the cell block.

“Do you remember teaching me how to play chess, Pa?”

“I do, son. It was a long time ago now.” Ben made his first move and looked up at Adam who smiled and moved one of his rooks.

“I remember we were alone, the wagon had broken down, one of the horses had the staggers and the wood for the fire was wet.”

“It sure was, there was smoke everywhere -”

“You decided to teach me to play chess so that I didn’t have to worry about not eating anything that night.”

“It worked, didn’t it?”

Adam laughed, a dry chuckle deep in his throat, “No it didn’t, I was hungry all night …”

Ben nodded “So was I.” he made another move, “You know, if we get out of this, alive, we’ll throw the biggest party the Ponderosa has ever known.”

“That’ll really please Hop Sing.” Adam countered the move with another of his pawns, “You know, if – if it doesn’t work out, Pa, Hawkins will go all out to get the Ponderosa for himself. He’ll be the biggest landowner in the territory and -”

“-and it’s best not to think about it. All we can do is think of some way to help Hoss and Joe should the worse happen.”

They sat staring down at the board for a few moments in silence, Adam cleared his throat “That night you said things couldn’t get any worse, remember?”

“I remember.”

“In the morning we found the horse dead, the rain had soaked through most of what was left of our staples, and it started to snow.”

They looked at one another and Ben began to laugh, “You see, son, just when you think it can’t get any worse -”

“- it usually does.” Adam chuckled, and moved another piece “Check – mate.”

*****

In the morning the town stirred itself into activity. This was going to be a day to remember, a day when Ben and Adam Cartwright were to be tried for the murder of Zedekiah Byrnes. The jury was being selected with Judge Brooks, Clyde Manson and Andrew Whittaker presiding.

In the jailhouse Hop Sing brought his friends clean clothes and prepared them his own blend of coffee. His sad countenance and moisture filled eyes were enough to make the bravest man flinch and eventually Ben had to tell him to leave and wait for them outside. But Hop Sing couldn’t bring himself to wait, he took himself off to stay at his Uncle’s house in the Chinese quarter and pray to his ancestors.

Joe and Hoss came to see if they were alright. Unable to speak, to find the right words, they shook hands through the bars, Ben told them how proud he was of them both. Adam couldn’t speak but nodded, his eyes and smile spoke for him.

Five minutes to the hour and Hanson came and unlocked the cell doors. They were both handcuffed and then escorted to the Courtroom. The towns streets were bare, the stores closed.

Judge Nathan Brooks took his seat and looked down at the accused. His eyes met the dark eyes of a man he respected and he wondered if Ben Cartwright would ever think of him in a positive manner ever again after the trial was ended. He then looked over at the grieving young woman who sat dressed in black, the only item that was white was the handkerchief with which she dabbed at her eyes.

When Adam had taken his seat and looked at the twelve men on the jury his heart sunk. He didn’t dare look at his father nor glance in the direction of his brothers. He only knew that every man there had the verdict settled in their minds via threats or bribes. Two of Hawkins men were seated in the front row with the other jurors.

He looked straight ahead and knew the only thing he could do would be to tell the truth, and to tell it well.

Chapter 15

The atmosphere in the court room was so tense that those late in arriving felt a shiver run down their spines. The actors in the ensuing drama were the object of every eye in the room. Ben and his son, Adam, sat side by side beside their lawyer, the thin haggard looking Clyde Manson who looked as if he never slept. The desk in front of them was covered with papers and writing materials. Water had been provided, but only one glass. No one thought to ask who that was for and what would happen if the remaining two at the table were to get thirsty.

On the opposite side of the aisle Miss Sally Byrnes sat in her black garments with her hair pulled away severely from her face. Hawkins had told her that people would be moved at the sight of her grief, so make the best show of it as possible. Her lawyer sat beside her, a tall well built man who looked as if he had stepped fresh out of his hotel having slept well and eaten hearty … which he had.

Joe felt sick to the stomach. He couldn’t bear to take his eyes from his father and brother, both of whom wore their best suits and ties as though they were about to go and watch a production of Othello at the theatre. Joe’s eyes kept blinking as he struggled to keep his emotions under control. He could feel Hoss beside him and wondered how his brother was handling the ordeal, after all, it was Hoss who was the gentlest creature on earth and here he was having to sit through this charade. Every so often Hoss would take a huge gulp of air as though somehow he found it hard to fill his lungs naturally.

“Will the accused stand -” the usher’s deep voice seemed to bounce off the wall.

Almost in a synchronised movement Ben and Adam rose to their feet and looked at the Judge.

“How do you plead?”

“Not Guilty.” Ben said and his voice positively boomed around the room while his dark eyes seemed to pierce into Nathan Brooks very heart.

“Not Guilty.” Adam’s voice was quieter but firm, there was no anger in his voice only a slight edge to it that indicated he felt the injustice of it all.

They resumed their seats and Brooks banged his gavel and looked at Nathan Brooks to begin the proceedings with the opening address to the jury.

With a dignified movement Andrew Whittaker approached the jury and looked at them one by one. He sighed deeply and took hold of his lapels with each hand, “Gentlemen of the jury, you’ve come today to stand in judgement of two men who are accused of the murder of a well respected businessman in this town, the father of the young lady seated here who had to witness his death. You are going to hear testimony today that will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that those two men accused of this crime are guilty. They are guilty, gentlemen, of the worse of all crimes, murder. In the case of Adam Cartwright the charges of trespass and calumny will be added to that of murder.

“These men, as most of you know, have been part of this town’s history, and perhaps, because of that, certain of their more unsavoury traits have been ignored, or brushed to one side. True we live in a part of the world where the law of the gun presides for now, we hope this trial will prove that there is no longer any place for such an excuse for whole sale murder.

“It will be hard for some of you having known Ben and Adam Cartwright for so long, to listen to what will be said today. But let us not forget another person present here, if not in the flesh, certainly in the spirit for he who was so foully slain will certainly play his role in this drama.

“If you are in doubt as to the veracity of these charges then look at the young woman who is now bereft of any parent, who actually saw the murder committed before her own eyes. What more can one say, gentlemen, but that the decision will be yours alone.”

He paused then, seemed to think for a moment as though making sure he had put forward all the salient points and then thanked them before resuming his seat. It was now time for Clyde to take the stand. He hit the corner of the table as he passed it , causing the jug of water to rattle the glass. Some of the more nervous types laughed but that was promptly quelled as he approached the bench behind which the jury sat.

“Gentlemen, my colleague has outlined certain details of this case and my task is to present to you the truth of the matter. The truth according to two men who were present at the moment of Mr.Byrnes death, two men who are most unjustly accused of his murder.

“I fully appreciate that certain aspects of the case carry some doubt with it, at the present time. What I want you to consider is the now, the time now. Listen to the facts presented to you and the doubts will surely be clarified and the truth must shine through.

“Our sympathies are extended most sincerely to the young lady who has lost her father, even more reason, I feel, that a search be made for the true killers, the ones who really are responsible for her father’s death, and that the Cartwrights be allowed to go free of any charge against them.”

He left them after a quiet thanks and sat down beside his client, Ben. The jury fidgeted. They weren’t impressed by the speeches, they, like the audience wanted to hear about the murder, were, in fact, eager to hear very detail, truthful or not.

Sally dabbed at her eyes and took a sip of water. It was hard to be the object of people’s stares, but she thought of her father and felt more determined than ever to see his murderers hang.

Adam had his head down as he thought over the two charges that had been added to that of murder. It seemed a paltry matter to have added them but thinking it through accepted the fact that it weighed heavier against him should they be proven true, it would give a reason and a cause for the events that had followed. He sighed and glanced at his father who sat with his back straight and his eyes staring hard at the far wall.

Joe licked dry lips and rubbed sweating palms over the knees of his pants, by his side Hoss closed his eyes and prayed hard, really hard deep inside himself, that justice would be done for all concerned, and that included Miss Sally. The man seated beside Hoss nudged him “I don’t know, Hoss, but I’m real sorry about all this. I can’t see that your Pa or brother would shoot a man down in cold blood, not like they’re all saying.”

Hoss nodded, “Thank you, Mr. Faulkner.”

“It’s all mighty strange.” the other man sighed, and shook his head.

The first person to be summoned to the stand for the prosecution was the doctor. He approached nervously and took off his spectacles, cleaned them, took the oath and then replaced them before sitting down. He looked sympathetically over at Sally and told himself that she had obviously taken a larger dose of sedative than he had prescribed, he looked equally sympathetically over at Adam and Ben to whom he gave a wavering smile. Whittaker tapped on the stand for his attention.

“Dr. Hinkman, do you know the accused very well?”

“Yes, I do. I’ve known them since Adam was a young lad.”

“And Miss Byrnes, do you know her well?”

“Yes. Ever since they came to Virginia City some five years ago.”

“Would you describe the cause of Mr. Byrnes death please?”

Casting a sympathetic look at Sally the old man proceeded to tell the court the cause of death “A bullet cut through his jugular vein, and another went through the frontal lobe… it would have been instant death. There was another bullet that had broken the tibia in his leg. I’m afraid Mr. Byrnes was dead before I got there. It was instant. Nothing could save him.”

“In your medical opinion would you say the bullets came from a frontal assault?”

“Well, of course from a frontal assault. There was no indication of the victim being shot in the back.”

“Thank you, Dr. Hinkman.”

Hinkman stood up as though to leave but Manson called him to sit down. He did so and waited patiently for the other lawyer to proceed.

“Doctor, you said that the bullets were fired to the front of the body – am I correct?”

“Yes. As you would expect if the men were conversing together.”

Manson nodded “So, if they were conversing together, how far apart would they be standing, would you say? “

Whittaker stood up “Objection – the question calls for speculation on the doctors part.”

Brookes looked startled as though he hadn’t expected to be involved in this, actually taking an active part in the destruction of the Cartwrights. He nodded “Sustained.”

“But, Judge -”

“Then re-phrase your question.” Brookes said hoping it would soften the previous decision.

Manson looked at the doctor “I know you weren’t there, Doctor, so wouldn’t be able to tell me how far apart they all were from each other. But you could tell me if there were any scorch marks on the clothing, couldn’t you?”

Hinkman nodded “There were no scorch marks on the clothing at all.”

“So that would indicate that the shooters were not standing close to the victim, wouldn’t it?”

“Yes, it would.”

Whittaker raised a hand “Objection, Judge. That is totally irrelevant.”

Brookes flushed a little red, to his mind it was very relevant. He dithered and over ruled the objection. Hawkins glanced at Stuart and Henry, his two stooges in the jury. It would be up to them to obliterate from the jurists minds any thought of burns to the clothing or to the victim.

Whittakers next individual to the stand was Hanson who took the oath rather pompously, and sat down. Whittaker carried two pistols over to the sheriff to identify them, Hanson promptly did so, telling the court how he had labelled them as soon as he got them back in the office after the shooting. They belonged to the accused.

“They are of the same calibre, aren’t they?”

“They are.”

“How many bullets were missing from each?”

“Four from Ben Cartwrights and five from Adam Cartwrights.”

Whittaker nodded and flourished the guns in his hands so that the jury could see them with the tags attached to each. He then put them down and returned to Hanson and asked him to describe what had taken place. Hanson cleared his throat “I heard gun shots, I realised they came from the café and ran towards the building when Deuce Martin ran out and said that they had shot Mr. Byrnes. I asked who did he mean and he said ‘The Cartwrights.” By the time I had reached the store room, the shooting had ended. Mr. Hawkins was taking a gun from Cartwright, Ben Cartwright was kneeling beside the body seemingly attempting to stop the blood from the neck wound. I saw Mr Matheson taking Miss Byrnes away.”

“What did the Cartwright’s tell you had happened?”

“That they were talking to Mr. Byrnes when there were several shots from the doorway. They immediately fired back. Mr. Hawkins told me that Miss Byrnes had seen it all and said they had shot her father.”

“And it was definitely these guns that were used for that purpose?”

“Objection.” Manson called out, “That’s purely speculative. He’s calling for the sheriff to substantiate guilt which is for the jury to decide, not him.”

Whittaker shrugged “Had these guns been fired recently?”

“They were warm, still smoking.”

“Thank you.” he looked at Manson who approached the sheriff slowly.

“How far from Mr. Byrnes body were the Cartwrights when you entered the store room?”

“Well, Ben Cartwright was right next to him, kneeling like I said to try and staunch the bleeding.”

“And Adam Cartwright?”

“About the same distance as I am from you, but held back by Hawkins.”

Whittaker stood up “Objection – that doesn’t prove anything – .” and he shrugged as though the whole thing were nonsense.

“Sustained.” Brookes concluded and avoided Ben’s eyes.

“Do you think -” Manson began and Whittaker yelled “Speculative -” “Sustained” Brookes said.

Adam slumped slightly lower in his seat and Ben cleared his throat and touched his sons’ foot with his own as though to encourage him. In their seats Joe and Hoss sat in tense agony.

Andrew Whittaker picked up a piece of paper and then set it down. The sheriff had gone and the seat was available now for the next person to take his place. Whittaker stood up “I’d like to ask Joseph Cartwright to the stand.”

Joe felt as though his heart was about to stop. Manson immediately declared it was irregular, the name wasn’t on his list to which Whittaker argued that due to the short notice of the trial he hadn’t had the chance to see Joseph Cartwright who had been out of town for a while. Had he had the chance he would have served Joseph Cartwright with a sub-pena which, he said blandly, he would still do and have him called later in the day. Brookes banged his gavel and declared that Joseph Cartwright take his seat.

“Heck Joe, what’s this all about?” Hoss whispered as Joe stood up but the youth merely shook his head and looked pale and, rightly so, rather frightened.

Chapter 16

He affirmed his name and took the oath all the while looking over at his father and brother. Ben tried to reassure him with a smile and nod, and Adam looked at him with that softness on his face showing that he understood how he would be feeling.

Whittaker strode purposely to the stand and looked at Joseph sternly, “Some weeks prior to the death of Mr. Byrnes, you and your brother, Adam, trespassed on some land belonging to Mr. Hawkins, is that correct?”

“No, we weren’t trespassing.” Joe protested immediately, his hazel eyes dilating with anger.

“You did know that the land belonged to Mr. Cy Hawkins, didn’t you?”

“Yes, no -” Joe paused, frowned and took a deep breath, “Look, that land is just a mass of rock and nothing much else. Nothing grows there. If it was worth having we’d have bought it years ago. It was valueless, when we heard someone had bought it we went to look to see what had changed to make it suddenly worth buying.”

“So you knew it belonged to someone?”

“Look, I just explained -”

“You knew it belonged to Mr. Hawkins?”

“We’d been told Mr. Hawkins had bought it but weren’t sure it was true because -”

“-because in your opinion the land was valueless.”

“Objection -” Manson suddenly decided to say something, “These questions are irrelevant to the matter for which this court has convened.”

“Judge, this is very relevant. There has to be motive to the killing of Mr. Byrnes and these questions establish motive, taking us to the beginning of what led to his death.”

“Objection over ruled. Proceed, Mr. Whittaker.”

Whittaker could barely disguise his satisfaction. He returned to Joe who cast a look over at Adam and his father before licking his lips and forcing himself to concentrate. Adam stared at the wall and thought over his last Will and Testament while Ben looked at his youngest son and suffered for him.

“Whose suggestion was it to take this ride over Mr. Hawkins land?”

“I – I can’t remember.”

“I suggest you think and try to remember, Mr. Cartwright. As you know perjury is a serious offence in law.”

Joe lowered his head and stared at his boots, his hands gripped the edge of his seat and he cleared his throat, “We both kind of thought it a good idea.”

“You both did – no one of you took the initiative then?”

Joe said nothing, glanced over at Adam and sighed “Adam thought the land was rubbish, he couldn’t believe Mr. Hawkins would have bought it.”

“Did you know Mr. Hawkins?”

“No, never met him. Adam had briefly, thought he looked like a serious businessman who knew what he was doing which was why he couldn’t believe that he had bought that land.”

“So you went for your ride over and then what did you do?”

“We went home.” Joe shrugged as though it were a stupid question, some of the more nervous in the court chuckled, most didn’t.

“Did you work out any reason why Mr. Hawkins would have bought the land?”

“We tossed around a few ideas, then Adam said he’d like to move the cattle we had grazing there because it was too near the boundary to that land.”

“He thought the cattle would wander over there?”

“No, cattle aren’t stupid, they don’t wander where there isn’t water or grass. They never had all the time we had them there.”

“So why did your brother decide to move them after your trespassing on Mr. Hawkins land?”

“He thought that there were plenty of places there to hide rustled cattle. A few head at a time would be easy enough.”

“So – let’s get this right – Mr. Adam Cartwright suggests going onto Mr. Hawkins land to see if there were any rustled cattle there? Or, the possibility of any future rustled cattle being hidden there – is that right?”

“As it proved he was right – there had been cattle taken from the herd.”

“And he blamed Mr. Hawkins for that, even though there was no proof?”

“No, he didn’t blame Mr. Hawkins, Pa and he went to the sheriff to ask him to help us look for the rustlers, but when sheriff Hanson said we’d been accused of trespassing on Mr. Hawkins’ land it didn’t seem we were going to get much help from the law.”

“So you decided to do it your own way?”

“No, I didn’t”

“I’m sorry, no, of course you didn’t. I forgot, you were sent away from the Ponderosa for a while, weren’t you? That’s all, Mr. Cartwright.”

Brookes looked at Manson “Do you wish to ask Mr. Cartwright anything, Mr. Manson.”

Manson shook his head, there was nothing he could think of saying that wouldn’t have incriminated his clients further. Adam slumped further into his seat and although Ben tapped his foot gently with his own as a means of encouragement, he didn’t move. Whittaker had proven trespass and to some extent calumny by virtue of the fact that he, Adam Cartwright, had set his sights on Hawkins as the rustler of their cattle.

Deuce Martin was the next to be called to the stand but after several attempts to summon him the usher had to inform the court that Deuce Martin had not arrived to testify despite a subpena being left at his lodgings giving him the day and time to be present. A muttering and shuffling took place for a while as Clem Foster was ordered to go to Martins lodgings and drag the fellow to the court room. It was old Zeke Jackson who stood up to tell them that he had seen Deuce riding out of town the previous evening “He done took one of my best horses and ain’t seen hide nor hair of him since.”

The clock ticked ominously loudly while the court waited for Clem and the reluctant witness to come forward but when the door opened it was only the deputy who entered. “I’m sorry, Judge, it seems Mr. Martin had other ideas about where he was going to be today.”

Some smug smiles flashed on some faces and Hawkins looked straight ahead, the model of rectitude. Sally sighed and fidgeted and looked over at Whittaker who after a second or two rallied and announced they would proceed without him.

Adam rolled his eyes and shook his head, and Bens face fell into even sadder lines. He wondered if it were fear or the money Hawkins would have paid him that had sent Martin out of town. Whittaker looked over at Manson, who was thinking of all the questions he wanted to ask, questions he was sure would clear his clients or at least provide reasonable doubt with regard to Sally and Deuce’s testimony. He sat down, and heard Adam murmur the word “Hamstrung.” That, he thought, just about summed it up right.

Bert Fuller was summoned next and heaved himself in the chair, where he testified that he had never known Mr. Hawkins steal anything in his life. He confirmed that on the evening of Mr. Byrnes death he was having a quiet drink with friends in the Sazarac when Adam Cartwright accosted him, and struck him to the ground. When asked for a reason for the attack he just shrugged “I don’t know, I guess because I was there …” and he grinned even though the bruise around his jaw caused him some pain.

The picture Whittaker was painting of Adam Cartwright being quick with his fists and fast with his gun was being very prettily coloured in. Manson declined to ask any questions and almost crowing with victory Bert swaggered from the stand.

Judge Brooks decided to call a recess and to re-convene later at 1 p.m. Adam and Ben were once again hand cuffed and led from the court room and taken to the cells. Joe and Hoss watched them go with sinking hearts. Hoss turned to Mr. Faulkner “What do you think, Mr. Faulkner?”

The barber shook his head, and drew a finger across his throat, then he pointed to Hawkins who was walking out of the court room with Sally, “You need to watch him when this is all over, Hoss.”

Hoss felt his heart sink to his boots, it sounded like his father and brother’s death knell.

Chapter 17

Joe couldn’t wait until he had found his father and brother; his need for their forgiveness for what he felt was a gross betrayal was more important than anything else at that time. The sheriff had not put the two men into the cell but had allowed them the use of a more private room behind his office. He himself stepped into another room to give the four Cartwright’s some privacy although the communicating door was left open and he sat with a rifle in clear view of them.

“Oh Pa,” Joe flung himself into his fathers arms in much the same manner as when he was a child, “I’m so sorry.” He turned to Adam who took hold of his outstretched hand “Adam -?”

“It’s alright, Joe.” Adams voice contained a smile and he slapped his brother on the back, “The man was right, all this had to start somewhere and if this were happening to anyone else but us, I’d have to agree that it was the most logical point to start at.”

“Yeah, but -” Joe brushed his face against his sleeve, “I just wish it hadn’t been me who had to sit there and tell them all.”

Adam sighed and shrugged “I just wish I’d just gone on my own. Can’t turn the clock back, Joe.” he put his hand now on Joe’s shoulder and squeezed gently, “It’s alright. Honestly…”

“Do you mean it?”

“Sure I do.” Adam smiled and then looked at his father in a way that meant something had to be said now that couldn’t be delayed any longer.

Ben nodded and indicated to his sons that they sit down. He looked at Hoss and then at Joe before he cleared his throat and in a low voice said “Look, I think we all know where we stand here right now. There’s no need for any of us to pretend to each other but it’s pretty obvious that we’re not going to come out of this very well.” he paused at the sight of the misery on his sons faces, even Adam with whom he had discussed the matter with during the previous night, looked forlorn and sadder than he’d seen him all week. “Now, Joe, Hoss, you both know where all the legal documents are in the house, you’ll need them at some time or another so try and familiarise yourself with what they are all about. My Will and that of your brother is with Hiram, and it’s pretty straightforward.”

“Pa, I don’t want you talking like this -” Hoss stood up so abruptly the chair fell over and the sound of its falling was loud enough to cause Hanson to get to his feet and come to the entrance with his rifle cocked

“Are you alright in there?”

“It’s alright, sheriff – sorry.” Hoss mumbled and sat down again. He pulled out a handkerchief and blew his nose loudly.

“Hoss,” Ben put his hand on his son’s knee and Hoss reached out with his own hand and placed it over his fathers, “Hoss, you’ve got to be strong now. If you aren’t strong you’ll weaken us, and we need to focus on what’s coming. Do you understand?”

“Sure, Pa, but all this talk about Wills and such -” he blew his nose again.

Adam sighed again and bowed his head to stare at his boots and those of his brothers. He listened as Ben continued to speak “It’s pretty obvious that Hawkins wants us out of the way. The reason why is equally obvious, he wants the Ponderosa.”

“Well, he ain’t going to get it.” Hoss declared, straightening his back.

Adam looked up and shook his head “He’s a crafty scheming man, Hoss. He’ll use any means to get it, and I mean, ANY means. I’d like to think that you two and Roy will be a match for them but he’s got a hold on people in this town, a strong hold and within only a few weeks. You’ll have to be on your guard, every minute of the day.”

Hoss and Joe looked at one another and then at their father and Adam, “We’ll fight to keep the Ponderosa, Pa.” Joe said, “I know our men will stay loyal.”

“You may find Hawkins will use other weapons than gun power.” Ben looked at Adam who nodded, “Now, look, both of you – stay honest, keep within the law, use the law to your advantage, Hiram will help you every step of the way, you know that, and so will Roy.”

“Pa, you don’t think -” Joe licked dry lips; “You don’t think they’ll find you guilty, do you?”

At that Adam rolled his eyes and looked to the ceiling and Hoss exclaimed “For Pete’s sake, Joe, ain’t that exactly what Pa’s been saying?”

“Alright, alright -” Joe jumped to his feet, “But he isn’t guilty, Hoss, he isn’t and Adam isn’t, and instead of sitting here we should be out there looking for who did kill Mr. Byrnes.” He turned to Hanson “Why ain’t you looking for the real killer, sheriff, instead of – of keeping my Pa and brother here. They didn’t hurt him; they shouldn’t be locked up and on trial for this.”

“Joe,” Bens voice came from behind him and placed a gentle hand on the young mans shoulder. Joe turned and shook his head, “Joe, there isn’t anything you can do; the law has to follow its course and come to whatever conclusion they come to.” He pulled Joe back onto the chair, and sighed, “This isn’t the time for outbursts like that, Joe, we have to think and be logical.”

“Look,” Adam leaned forward, “Hawkins has two of his men on that jury, he’s got the judge in his pocket,” he heard Bens murmur of protest, and shook his head, “Sorry, Pa, but he has, and that’s obvious to most in that court room, particularly Manson. The two men Hawkins has planted will work on the jury should any of them have reasonable doubt about our guilt. The others on the jury are scared stiff. They’re sitting there like stuffed sheep and every time the Judge speaks in favour of Whittaker they get more scared.”

“What are you saying, Adam, that you don’t reckon you’ve any chance at all?” Hoss said quietly.

“Not a snowballs chance in hell, brother.”

Joe rose to his feet “You’ve got to be wrong, Adam, you have to be.”

Adam shrugged and was about to speak when Hanson called out that time was up. The afternoon session was about to begin.

*****

Expectations in the courtroom were high as the people filed back to take their seats. The jury sat and waited as Miss Sally Byrnes was called to the stand by Whittaker. She took a deep breath and steadied herself, swayed slightly and then took her place where she confirmed her name and took the oath before sitting down. There were whispers among the townsfolk as women sighed and sympathised and Judge Brooks allowed it for a few minutes before bringing his gavel down and calling for silence and a little more respect for the bereaved lady.

Sally kept her face directed solely on Whittaker. In their seats Adam and Ben watched her, sympathised and inwardly prayed that she would change her statement even though the rigidity of her features indicated that there was nothing further from her mind.

“Miss Byrnes, it goes without saying that everyone here feels the utmost sorrow for you at this time, as well as our respect for your coming here today.” Whittaker’s voice sounded sincere and kindly, which, at that moment in time, was exactly how he did feel. “Now, Miss Byrnes, would you be so kind as to answer some questions for us?”

“Of course, that’s why I’m here.” her voice was cold, like her eyes.

“There has been an accusation made that your father was receiving stolen beef, did you know anything about that at all?”

“Nothing. It’s a lie. My father was the most honest man in the world, apart from which he thought he was a friend of the Cartwrights, he would never have touched anything stolen from them.”

“So he never mentioned to you anything at all about any rustled cattle?”

She frowned slightly and then shook her head “I heard that there were some cattle rustling going on. Deputy Foster had been in the café and mentioned it. I remember he spoke to my father, asked him to tell him if he was approached by anyone at all.”

“Did he mention anyone by name who might perhaps have offered your father some of the stolen beef?”

She sighed and shook her head again, “No, not that I remember. I only heard part of the conversation.”

“Mr. Martin mentioned in his written statement that Adam Cartwright came into the café and asked for something to eat … is that right?”

“Yes. He came in twice. Once he came in and said it was busy, he’d come back.”

“Is he a regular customer? Was it normal for him to eat at your café?”

“Not really. The Cartwrights tended to eat at the more expensive restaurants like the Internationale, Del Monico’s or the Palace. I was surprised when he came in the first time, and didn’t really expect him back.”

“But he did come back, didn’t he?”

“Yes, he ordered some food and after it was served -” she paused and frowned.

“What happened after it was served?” Whittaker leaned forward as though it were a vital piece of information and she shrugged dismissively

“Nothing really. I remember seeing Cy – I mean – Mr. Hawkins go and talk to him. Then Mr. Hawkins got up and left, and a few minutes later so did he.”

“You must have thought that very strange …”

“It was wasteful but then the Cartwrights can afford to be wasteful. They don’t know what its like to be hungry and to go without…”

“Objection.” Manson said quietly, “With all due respect to the lady, but this kind of talk isn’t constructive to the case.”

Brooks nodded “Sustained. Mr. Whittaker please refrain from wandering away from the purpose of this trial.” His eyes flickered over to Hawkins who gave just the briefest of nods in approval. It didn’t go unnoticed by many in the courtroom.

“Of course.” Whittaker smiled and bowed sarcastically towards Manson and his clients, “My apologies.” After taking a sip of water he turned back to his questioning “When did you see Adam Cartwright next?”

“He was in the storeroom with my father and his father. Deuce Martin was there too.”

“You saw them clearly?”

“Yes, and I heard them too.”

“What were they talking about?”

“Rustled cattle.” She cleared her throat as though realising her voice had perhaps been to low so she repeated her words in a louder tone of voice, “It was about the rustled cattle. I went into the café and Mr. Hawkins asked me if my father was available but I told him that father was in the storeroom with Mr. Cartwright and Adam Cartwright.” She looked over at Hawkins then who inclined his head and smiled, if one could call the twitch of his lips a smile. “I went back into the kitchen and thought I’d make them some coffee. I went out and asked Pa if everything was alright. He said everything was fine and so I went back and filled the pot. I looked out of the window to see if they were about finished talking.”

She paused, froze for a moment as though recapturing in her mind that never to be forgotten moment. Her mouth worked, she gulped. Whittaker asked the usher to get her some water which he then handed to her. As she drank from the glass her hand was shaking so much that it slopped over her fingers.

“Are you alright, Miss Byrnes?”

“Yes. I’m alright.” she paused “Thank you.”

“Could you tell us, in your own words, what happened next?”

“I heard their voices raised and then there were guns being fired, my father fell to the ground. They shot him. They shot him.”

“Miss Byrnes … who fired first, could you see who fired first?”

“Adam Cartwright. He shot first and then his father …” she shook her head, and then looked at the two men and rose to her feet “You killed my father, and he called you his friends. You shot him down in cold blood and I saw you, I saw you… I hope they hang you, I hope they hang you both.”

*****

Brooks took his seat after a fifteen minute break for Miss Byrnes to regain her self control. She sat down with a dignified air and stared out above the heads of the people she were all straining their necks to get a good sight of her. Manson rose to his feet and approached her,

“Miss Byrnes, I’d like to echo my colleagues sentiments earlier, you have had a painful, tragic event take place in your young life. However -” he drew in his breath, “However, it serves me to remind you that you have the power of life or death over my clients, and I would sincerely ask you to consider very closely exactly what happened that evening.”

“Don’t you think I haven’t? Every hour of the day I’m haunted by what happened that evening.”

“I’m sure that you are … but sometimes emotions can blind us to the actual events … did you really see Adam Cartwright draw his gun and fire at your father?”

“How many times do I have to say it … yes, yes, I saw him do it.”

“Miss Byrnes, your father and the Cartwrights were standing close together, they were talking, and having a conversation that was amicable enough for you to feel you could make them something to drink. Are you saying that within a matter of minutes all that changed? You saw him take the gun -” and here Manson acted out how Adam would have drawn the gun from his holster and fire it on Byrnes – “Is that what you saw, Miss Byrnes?”

“Yes.”

“The doctor said either shot would have killed him instantly. He would have been falling after that first shot. Why would Mr. Cartwright then draw out his gun and shoot your father?”

“How do I know? I don’t know what goes on in their minds? I don’t know -” she clenched her fists and shook her head; “I saw them, what more can I tell you? I saw them.”

Manson nodded and gently patted her hand as though she were a stray dog lost, that had wandered in from the rain. “Miss Byrnes, you’ve known these men a long time, haven’t you?”

“Since we moved here.”

“They’ve been friends to you and your family, haven’t they?”

“Only to suit themselves. They never -” she paused and frowned, “Yes, father thought so.”

“When did you stop thinking so?” he asked gently.

“When they killed my father.”

Manson clasped his hands together and raised them to his mouth, then shook his head. “No further questions.” he said quietly.

Joe turned to Hoss “She’s lying, Hoss.”

“I know it.” his brother nodded, and then looked at his father and brother seated with Manson. He saw how pale his father was and how darkly shadowed around the eyes; he noticed how Adam was tapping his fingers on the arm of the chair with his eyes fixed on nothing, just staring straight ahead at the far wall. It seemed to him that he was watching them die by inches.

Chapter 17

There was a brief recess as Whittaker concluded his questioning and the trial hearing was now handed over to the Defending Lawyer, Clyde Manson. In the small back room Manson sat down opposite his clients and looked at them both. The two pairs of dark eyes looking back rather disconcerted him.

“You know that this is a fixed trial, don’t you?” he said quietly.

“It’s getting more and more obvious as the day goes by,” Adam replied with an edge of sarcasm to his voice.

“Look, I know you must feel I’m letting you both down, that I’m not doing a good enough job but it seems whatever direction I go Brooks is down on me like a ton of bricks. Whittakers sharp, he knows we’re just about beat.”

“Thank you, your vote of confidence is most assuring.” Adam sighed and got to his feet and walked to the window.

Outside a few were walking about getting on with their business. The school bell tolled, and he knew soon there would be the clatter of feet as children would run home to safety and security. He knew he’d not have that sense of home again and something tight caught in his throat. Manson was still talking and he turned now to listen to what was being said.

“I think you need to go on the stand first, Mr. Cartwright. It’s possible the Judge may not want to hear you both today; he may take the trial over to tomorrow. I can only ask that you – you just be yourself, honest and upright. I believe you didn’t kill any one that night, but it seems darned difficult to convince everybody else.”

Ben smiled slowly, “Most people in that court room know we didn’t kill Zedekiah, Mr. Manson. What you have to convince them of is the truth.”

“And that Hawkins can’t get away with scaring them to death.” Adam added quietly.

“The sheriff has sent some men to find Deuce Martin,” he paused, “Not that his testimony would have helped you any as it’s shot through with lies.”

“Of course it is,” Ben replied calmly, “Deuce Martin’s a very frightened man.”

Manson stood up and shook their hands. He heaved in a big breath and slowly exhaled as he left the room. Adam looked at his father and gave a brief smile, shook his fathers hand with both his clasped tight, and then followed him back to the court room.

People were restless. They knew that one of the Cartwrights was going to face questioning now and that was really what they had come for, to see the Cartrwights and in whatever way they could, to pay their respects, to clear up their own doubts and misgivings. Hawkins was tense; he knew that no matter how tight he had got things tied up here, there was always the chance of a slip, some thing going awry. He had learned the lesson well that no sensible man crowed victory until it was 100% certain.

Clyde Manson stood up and declared he would like to ask Ben Cartwright to take the stand. Surprisingly there was a ripple of applause, someone shouted “We know you didn’t do it, Ben.” and then a deal of scuffling and whispering. Ben sat down after taking the oath and acknowledging who he was, he looked over at the throng of faces and sought out those of his sons. He saw them, white faced, tense, nervous and wished that he could have assured them that he was alright; he was calm and had left everything now in God’s hands.

The silence that now fell upon that room was such that people were almost afraid to breathe in case it was too loud. Manson approached Ben and looked at him before asking “Mr, Cartwright, I know you are a God fearing man and respect the oath you have just taken so I want you to answer this question truthfully. Did you shoot at Mr. Zedekiah Byrnes with the intention of taking his life?”

“I did not.”

Ben’s voice rang out around the room even though he had not raised it any higher than usual. Judge Brooks looked down at the desk top and stared at the paper and pens and felt shame. When he looked up he saw Hawkins staring at him, such a death mask of a face that it chilled him to the bone.

“Was it your intention to go to that store room and kill Mr. Byrnes or assist your son in taking that man’s life?”

“I did not.” softer now, but his voice still thrilled through the bones of those listening.

“Why were you in town that evening?”

“I’d been busy most of the day and when I came home Adam wasn’t there, so I thought I would come into town and find him or let him find me, and we’d spend an evening together.”

“A pleasant evening, father and son – what had you planned to do?”

“Oh, just have a drink or two and then return home.”

“Did you have any reason to believe that your son was concerned about the rustling on your ranch?”

“Yes, of course he was concerned, we all were; having cattle rustled can ruin a ranch if it’s not stopped.”

“Did Mr. Byrnes name ever get mentioned to you prior to that evening?”

“Yes.” Ben’s brow creased into a slightly deeper frown, “One evening we had a visit from the deputy -”

“- which deputy?”

“Clem Foster.”

Something like a sigh rippled over the people there. At the door where he was standing guard Clem felt his collar suddenly tighten. Adam pursed his lips and raised his eyebrows. He waited for Whittaker to yell objection, but nothing happened.

“What happened regarding this visit?”

“Deputy Foster said he had been talking to Deuce Martin who told him that Zed – I mean – Mr. Byrnes was getting meat from a new supplier. “

True to form Whittaker jumped to his feet “Objection, that’s hearsay and not allowable evidence.”

Manson looked at Brooks who nodded “Sustained. Be careful, Mr. Manson.”

Clyde’s shoulders slumped and he looked anxiously at Ben who gave him a slight half smile by way of encouragement. “Mr. Cartwright, on the basis of the conversation you had with the deputy, did you suspect that Mr. Byrnes was receiving stolen meat?”

“I couldn’t believe that Mr. Byrnes would do that, if he knew the beef was from rustled cattle, mine or anyone else’s. He was a good honest man …” his voice trailed away into a sigh.

“Was there any reason to suspect anyone in particular of rustling your cattle as a result of that visit?”

Ben opened his mouth, thought for a moment and then nodded “A name was mentioned but to say I suspected him of being behind the rustling could be too strong a word.”

“Very well, but could you mention the person who had been implicated?”

“Objection – again – hearsay – inadmissible.”

“Mr. Cartwright, did you suspect anyone of rustling your cattle that particular evening?” Manson’s voice had risen a little, and he looked at Ben who nodded, “Yes. Cy Hawkins.”

Clyde wiped sweat from his brow and took a sip of water. Adam licked his lips and shook his head, but continued to stare right ahead of him, while Joe and Hoss got the fidgets and Mr. Faulkner whispered “That’s fairly cooked his goose.”

“When your son found you in the Sazarac the evening of the murder of Mr. Byrnes, did you expect him to confirm your suspicions?”

“Not really.”

“Could you tell us what conversation took place between your son and yourself that evening before you went to the Byrnes café?”

“Adam told me he had overheard a conversation between three men concerning a delivery of stolen beef that was going to be made to Byrnes café that evening. I told him he was wrong, that Zedekiah wouldn’t steal from friends or anyone else for that matter.” Ben sighed, “Anyway, Adam was insistent, and said that the delivery was due within the next hour or two. I suggested we went to talk with Zedekiah first.”

“And that’s how you got to be in the storeroom that evening?”

“It was.”

“Once again, Mr. Cartwright, did you draw your gun and shoot at Mr. Byrnes?”

“I did not. I drew my gun when we were being shot at from some shooter -”

“From what direction?”

“The door.”

“Did Mr. Byrnes confirm that he was buying that beef?”

“He denied it. I believed him.”

“Did you get angry at his denials?”

“No, I was relieved; I wanted to believe him innocent of being involved.”

“So there was no reason for you to shoot down an innocent friend, was there?”

“None at all.”

Manson nodded, he felt more relaxed, more in control again. Ben was so calm that it eased his own nerves. “What about Deuce Martin, he was present there, wasn’t he?”

“Yes. He was nervous, several times he wanted to bolt but first Zedekiah grabbed hold of him and then Adam had to hold him back.”

“Do you think it possible that -?”

“Objection, Mr. Manson is speculating and putting words in Cartwright’s mouth.”

“Objection sustained, and Mr. Whittaker, please refer to the defendant as Mr. Cartwright if you don’t mind.”

Manson sighed and looked helplessly at Ben, then gathered himself together “Did you at any time see Miss Sally Byrnes?”

“Yes, once, she came to the door and asked if everything was alright.”

“Could you see her through the window?”

“I didn’t look. Zedekiah closed the door between the store room and the kitchen. I was too intent in talking with him to notice or even thinking of looking.”

“Is it possible she could have been mistaken – did you make a movement that could have led her to think you were drawing your gun to shoot her father?”

“The only time I withdrew my gun was to fire at the shooter, Mr. Byrnes was already on the ground by then.”

Manson paused; he struggled to find something relevant, something more to say but could think of nothing. He nodded “Thank you, Mr. Cartwright.” Very reluctantly he turned to Whittaker “Your witness.”

Adam glanced over at his father and felt pride at the way the man sat looking at Whittaker with polite respect. No one would have thought Ben Cartwright was fighting for his life as he waited for the lawyer to begin his questions.

“Why did you suspect Mr. Hawkins of rustling your cattle?”

“Because when I went to the sheriff to report the theft and ask for help, I was told that my sons had been reported for trespass on Mr. Hawkins land.”

“And what was significant about that?”

“Because there had been no one in the area who could have reported seeing them there, but it seemed a good ruse to report it in the event of there being an accusation of rustling from that area.”

“A ruse?” Whittaker shrugged, and shook his head “Don’t you think it was rather unfair to suspect a man who had only been here a few weeks? To cast suspicion among people about him?”

“I didn’t have to do that -” Ben said dryly.

Whittaker shrugged again “This conversation you had with your son in the Sazarac, you believed him?”

“Yes.”

“Tell us what happened as you were leaving the saloon.”

“How do you mean?” Ben frowned slightly, and looked puzzled.

“The altercation between your son and Bert Fuller?”

“Bert Fuller deliberately obstructed my son’s right of way. Adam asked him to move, he wouldn’t, so my son warned that if he didn’t move voluntarily he’d give him a helping hand …which he did.”

“Is that how your son usually resolves problems? With his fists or his guns?”

Ben didn’t feel that worth answering so remained silent until the Judge reminded him he was under oath and had to reply “No, there are always other ways to solve problems. Mr. Fuller would have struck my son had Adam not moved first.”

“In your answers earlier you said you believed Mr. Byrnes would not accept stolen beef. If you were so sure that your son had heard right, and you were so sure that Mr. Byrnes was as honest as the day was long, why didn’t you wait to see if such a delivery would be made? That would have resolved things one way or another wouldn’t it?”

“Perhaps I didn’t want to see that delivery being made; perhaps I didn’t want to be proven wrong about my friend. I preferred to see him face to face and hear him deny it.”

“And when he denied it, you shot him?”

“I did not.”

Whittaker shook his head and waved a hand as though in dismissal “No further questions.”

Brooks banged the desk with the gavel “Court will re-convene tomorrow morning when the trial will continue.”

Brooks answered to the knock on the door and frowned when Manson stepped inside, “I haven’t got long, what do you want?”

“I’m going to put Hawkins on the stand tomorrow.”

“Hawkins? Why?”

“Because I have reason to believe that he’s got people scared stiff here, I want to show them that he’s just a man, and that he is guilty of rustling and more besides.”

“That’s a strong accusation against an innocent man, Manson.”

“You don’t know if he’s innocent. That’s why I want him on the stand.”

“Cy Hawkins is not on trial here, Manson. He’s merely an innocent bystander who has been accused by the guilty to cause doubt on their crimes.”

“You accused those two men of being guilty. You’re the judge, you should be waiting for the verdict before you can refer to them as the guilty.”

Brooks shook his head and looked at Manson “You’re very naïve, young man. Its obvious they’re guilty, it’s just a shame that you can’t see it.” He picked up his coat and put it on, as he reached for his hat he shrugged “I won’t allow you to put Hawkins in the witness box.”

“I could subpena him.”

“You could but if you do, you’ll never be able to practice law in this town, or any other town, again.” he opened the door, “You do understand, don’t you?”

White faced down to the lips, Manson nodded. Brooks smiled, “Good. Now, after you -”

Manson stepped out into the corridor and looked at the door behind which Adam and Ben were waiting to hear from him. He heard the door behind him close and turned to watch as Brooks walked away.

Chapter 19

Clyde Manson looked at the two men and cleared his throat “I think I’ll have Clem Foster on the stand tomorrow, get him to substantiate what you said today, Mr. Cartwright.”

Ben nodded “If you think it’ll be of any help.”

“Well, we can but try.” he shuffled some papers together.

“What about Hawkins?” Adam asked, “Do you think it worth -” his voice trailed away as he saw the look on Clyde’s face, “I see, not possible, huh?”

“I asked the judge but was told not to even think about it.” Clyde stuffed the papers in a briefcase and then looked at them both, “I’m sorry.”

“You’re doing all you can for which we thank you.” Ben said quietly and shook the young man’s hand.

“What about Cole Matheson. He was with Bert Fuller and Deuce in that barn; wouldn’t it be worth having him on the stand?”

Manson rubbed his chin thoughtfully, “He’s a cold hearted villain if ever I saw one.” he nodded, “But we could give it a try.” He smiled.

Clem Foster closed the door on the court room and looked around the town. People had gradually dispersed after grouping together for a while to discuss the day’s events. He saw Joe and Hoss and felt great sympathy for them both. He watched as they walked to the sheriff’s office and thought that without Ben and Adam they looked somehow diminished. He sighed and walked towards his lodgings.

A man stepped out of an alley in front of him and Clem paused “Sorry -” he said absent mindedly and proceeded to walk on. It wasn’t until three other men had joined the first that he realised they weren’t there by accident.

Clyde Manson opened his office and then paused at the door. Files and books had been pulled from their shelves and the contents scattered everywhere. Pieces of paper drifted from the breeze caused by the open door. He looked around him to see ink splashed up the walls and the glass cabinet behind which his law books had been placed were smashed. He sunk slowly down upon his chair and just stared forlornly at the mess. This was such an obvious warning that his legs were turned to jelly just thinking of turning up at the court house the next day.

When he finally stood up and walked through the debris his foot kicked against something that rolled. He picked it up and stared at it, a bottle of Glenfiddich whisky. He was about to open it when he realised that if nothing else, he had to keep a clear head for the morning. He placed it carefully away in a drawer and began to clear up the litter.

Ed Baxter was an old man who seemed to have aged ten years since the trial had begun that morning. He opened his office and sat down and stared into space much like Adam Cartwright had done most of the day. He jumped when the door opened and Barney walked in with two other men flanking him. “What’s the matter? What’s happened?”

“They just found Clem Foster in an alley.” Barney said quietly and sat down, the other two men,
Mr. Oliver and Mr. Galton pulled out chairs and sat down alongside him. “He isn’t dead, but he’s in a sorry mess.”

Oliver leaned forward “This is all wrong, Baxter. We’ve got to think of something to help those men. The Cartwrights could no more murder a man like Byrnes that you could.”

Baxter nodded his head, his sparse white hair seemed to be standing on end, and his watery blue eyes seemed faded. He looked from one man to the other “Are you the only ones with the courage to speak up for Ben and his boy?”

“No, there’s others, plenty others but they want to be sure that there won’t be any retaliation if they showed themselves. “ Galton muttered, “Alright, so they’re frightened, to be honest, so am I. That Hawkins -” he rubbed a hand over his mouth as though even the mention of the mans name made him feel sick.

“Cole Matheson is the one does the dirty work.” Oliver said, he leaned forward “Remember when we had that trouble with Tom Sladen and the Washoe Freight Company? Sladen was another one got men in to do what he didn’t have the guts to do himself. I let Ben down then, I was scared witless. If it hadn’t been for Ben and his boys this town would be dead by now.”

“Can’t you print something, Ed? Something that’ll be like a rallying call for the town to back the Cartwrights now. They need our support like never before …” Barney looked pleadingly at Ed, who nodded.

“Sure, I’ll get something in print tonight ready for tomorrow before the trial commences.”

They shook hands on the deal and hurried out of the building. From across the way Bert watched and then sauntered slowly into Gil’s saloon. He looked over at Cole and nodded “Looks like some of the townsfolk are getting a mite mouthy around here.”

“I’ll go and see the boss. Stay here and let me know if anything else happens.”

Sally Byrnes sat down and looked at the food on her plate that some kind neighbour had provided her. She looked around her empty room and then out of the window where the sun was just beginning to set. A knock on the door came just as she pushed the plate away and she opened it to find Cy Hawkins standing outside, his hat in his hand and his blacker than natural hair making his face appear as white as a corpse.

“Mr. Hawkins?”

“May I come in, Miss Sally?”

She stepped aside to admit and offered him a cup of coffee which he accepted. As she poured it out he looked at her, “You did very well today, Miss. Sally. You have a right to be proud of yourself.”

“Why? I only told the truth.”

“I don’t know many women in your situation could have done so with such dignity and self control. Most women tend to go to pieces and cry all over the place, after all, it’s still only a few days since your daddy was killed.”

She sat down and folded her hands in her lap, “I felt guilty when I heard Mr. Cartwright saying those things about father being so honest and a good friend to him. I wondered …”

“Don’t wonder, Miss Sally.” he interrupted and sipped his coffee, “Manson may appear a fool but he’s coached them well. He’ll have told Ben Cartwright all the things to say to pull at your heart strings and make you feel just that way … so much so that in no time you’d be going over to the sheriff and withdrawing charges.”

She blinked and blushed a little, then raised her chin “I’d not do that, Mr. Hawkins. My father was a good man; he didn’t deserve to die the way he did, shot down like a mad dog by those Cartwrights.”

“Good girl. Just you keep remembering that -.”

He finished his coffee and thanked her politely before leaving the house. As she closed the door behind him Sally Byrnes realised how close she had been to withdrawing charges, and was more than grateful that Mr. Hawkins had come just when he did to set her mind straight . She resolved not to be so weak again, no matter what Adam Cartwright said in the morning under cross examination.

In the hotel room Joe and Hoss paced the floor restlessly. They had decided to stay in town during the trial, the distance between town and the Ponderosa being just that too far to be worth going back and forth every day. Joe was about to speak when there was a knock on the door and after calling ’Come in’, Mr. Oliver, Mr. Galton and Barney Palmer stepped inside.

They all shook hands solemnly “Things don’t look good, Hoss, Joe.” Barney said, “But we come up with an idea.”

“Such as?” Hoss frowned and wondered where this new found courage had come from all of a sudden.

“Ed Baxter’s going to print a pamphlet for release before the trial. He’s going to write something that will put some back bone into this town so that your Pa and brother will be released and the real killers found.”

Hoss and Joe looked at one another, Hoss nodded “That’s mighty good of you, Mr. Oliver, but I doubt if it will be worth it. Hawkins will probably make sure they won’t leave the printing press.”

“Or the building.” Joe added.

Barney frowned, “You know they found Clem Foster all beat up in an alley half an hour ago?”

Joe and Hoss looked at one another, “We didn’t know, is he bad hurt?” Hoss asked.

“Could’ve been worse. He won’t be on his feet for a month of Sundays so the doctor reckoned.”

“They ain’t found Deuce Martin yet either.” Palmer said quietly and they looked at one another as though somehow one of them would be able to say where he could have been, Hoss shrugged, “Probably on his way to Reno by now.”

There was no comment to that but Mr. Oliver pointed out the fact that had Ben not mentioned Clems involvement in the rustling or his having spoken to Deuce Martin then the deputy would probably still be quite healthy and able to carry out his duties. “Like taking the witness stand at some time.” he concluded.

Joe heaved a deep breath “You trying to pin that on my Pa as well, Mr. Oliver?”

“No, not at all, just that it’s a co-incidence, that’s all I meant.” Oliver stammered and looked over at Palmer and Galton.

“There’s too many co-incidences happening too often since a certain person and his gang of thugs moved into town. Trouble is he’s always one step ahead of everyone, and always works within the law.” Palmer said and picked up his hat, “Anyway, we thought we’d just mention it. We wanted to show some respect and confidence in your Pa and Adam, that’s all.”

“We appreciate it, Barney. Thank you,” Joe shook the other mans hand and after all hands had been shaken and the door closed behind them he turned to his brother “What do you think?”

“I don’t know, Joe, at least they’re trying to do something. I guess that’s good, ain’t it?”

It was dark now. Outside there was little to see, just the dark shape of the bank on the opposite side of the road that faced the alley. A breeze blew in through the barred window and the sounds of the town at night drifted in with it. Sounds of laughter, women’s shrill voices, someone singing, and not very tunefully, and the old piano with several missing notes. Ben listened to those sounds while he lay stretched out on the frail trestle bed, his arms folded behind his head and his eyes closed. A cat screeched followed by the sharp barking of a dog. Ben sighed, footsteps close by, and Hanson’s shadow blocking what little light there was into the cell. Ben kept his eyes closed tightly; he had no reason to speak now.

His thoughts were upon Adam, who had been quieter than usual since returning to their cell. Ben recalled how Adam had stayed in the background, leaning against the wall and looking out of the window, while Joe and Hoss had been there. His face had a far away expression on it, and every so often he sighed. It left Ben feeling disconsolate and he turned towards his son’s cot to look at the dark outline of the young man.

His throat felt tight, he cleared it with a cough and heard his son move in the bed,

“Are you alright, Pa?”

“Yes, son, I’m alright.”

“I was thinking -”

“Oh?”

“Being in a cell is bad enough, but having no proper window to shut out the wind and rain, and the racket in town … sure makes it a whole lot worse. I was wondering about designing a new cell block for the town.” and there came a low chuckle, as though the thought had amused him somewhat.

“You’ll have to get to work on the design pretty quick, son.” Ben replied rather dryly.

Adam didn’t reply right away and then Ben heard a sound indicating that Adam had turned to face him in the darkness, “Pa, how long do you reckon they’ll give us after sentencing?”

“What do you mean, Adam?”

“Well, do you think they’ll hang us in a few days time, or a few weeks?”

“It may not come to that, Adam.” He wanted to say more but he couldn’t find the words. He knew, anyway, that Adam was too intelligent to accept any platitudes, and would see through any gentle lie to bolster up and encourage him.

Adam released his breath and rolled onto his back. Tomorrow he would be cross examined. He closed his eyes and went through everything in his mind that had happened since they had returned from the trip away some weeks ago. He knew he had to be word perfect, but at the same time it would have to be the complete truth. He owed that to his father, to himself, and odd though it may have seemed, to Zedekiah Byrnes…

Chapter 19

Ben was surprised to find he had fallen asleep. He opened his eyes as the town hall clock struck the hour of 6 in the morning and his first action was to look over at the cot opposite only to find it empty. He looked over to the window to see Adams dark form standing there, looking up at the sky “Have you had some sleep?” He asked and Adam turned to him with a slight smile and nodded before coming to sit on his bed.

“It was a lovely sun rise.” he said quietly, “I would have woken you to see it, but you took awhile to get to sleep so I didn’t think it good to disturb you.”

Ben scratched his chin through stubble and then looked thoughtfully into his sons face “How do you feel about the cross examination today? You’re not worried are you?”

“No.” Adam leaned back against the wall and raised one leg onto the bed “No, I’ll just tell the truth and that’s all I can do. I’m surprised they’re even bothering with the charade.”

“Charade?” Ben raised an eyebrow.

“Well, that’s what it is, isn’t it? The verdict is a foregone conclusion, Pa, you do realise that?”

“Of course, I know.” Ben said softly and nodded as he lowered his head to look intently at the floor, “I suppose it’s Hawkins way of making sure the facts are hammered into everyone’s head that we’re guilty and have to be seen as guilty.”

The sound of Hanson entering the office prevented any further speech as Ben rose to his feet to approach the cell door. A few moments later Hanson opened the communicating door and stepped up to the cell “Clem Foster was attacked last night. He’s in a bad way.”

“How bad?” Ben asked and glanced over at Adam who also stood up to stand beside his father.

“Fractured skull, concussion. He has some broken ribs and sternum.” Hanson frowned, “I’ve a feeling that someone didn’t want him to testify in court on your behalf.”

“Who said that he would?” Adam asked dryly.

“When your father mentioned his name it was a foregone conclusion that Manson would consider bringing him in for the defence.” He looked at them both, “Look, I know this trial doesn’t look to be going your way at present but lots of the townspeople believe you’re innocent. It’s just that Hawkins has put the fear of the devil into them.”

“And what about you, sheriff?” Ben asked quietly, “Has he put the fear of the devil in you?”

“No, but I have to act according to the law, not how I feel about my prisoners.” Hanson sighed and shook his head, “I’d like you to know I have a great deal of respect for you both.”

“But do you think we’re innocent?” Adam asked with his eyebrows raised and dark eyes looking into the other mans face.

“Yes, I do.” Hanson replied, “But Sally Byrnes won’t change her statement for anyone, and Deuce Martin’s testimony backed hers up enough to confirm it in some people’s minds. With all the facts that are coming out in defence of you the jury would have to bring in a verdict of reasonable doubt …”

“I think I hear a ‘but’ coming along.” Adam sighed and moved away to the window again.

“But Hawkins’ influence may make sure that verdict isn’t even considered.” Hanson turned his head and nodded, “Here’s your breakfast.”

The school bell was tolling as they made their walk across from the jail to the court house. Handcuffed but looking smart and cleanly shaven the two men took their seats beside their lawyer and waited for the judge to enter.

Sally Byrnes was there seated by Whittaker who smiled contentedly at nothing with his thumbs hooked over the pockets in his vest. Behind them people were entering to take their seats. Joe and Hoss managed to get seats as close to their father and brother as possible, close enough to touch them if they leaned forward a little.

The jury entered and sat down. Most of them looked as though they hadn’t slept all night. Ed Baxter took a seat beside Hoss who leaned towards him. “I thought you were printing some leaflets, Mr. Baxter?”

“I have,” Baxter replied, “I got them printed out and in packs for distribution but -”

Joe shook his head and raised his eyes heavenwards “What happened?”

“There was a break in. They were all taken. All of them.” He glanced over his shoulders and saw Hawkins eyes staring at him. His face visibly blanched and he moved back into his seat, fumbled and dropped his hat. Joe and Hoss looked at one another and felt another stab of misery pierce their hearts.

Brooks entered looking as though he was suffering from a massive hang over. He sat down and waited for the sounds of everyone settling back into their seats before he nodded over to the usher to declare the proceedings open.

His eyes turned towards Ben who sat with dignity and calm, as though he were seated in his own sitting room entertaining guests. It would have been impossible to have fathomed out what he was thinking just by looking at him. Adam sat beside his father, poised and also outwardly calm. Dressed in a white shirt, black string tie, and a dark jacket the young man looked handsome and too much like his father for Brooks to feel comfortable.

Manson announced that he would like Adam Cartwright to take the stand. There was something like a sigh that rippled through the room. There wasn’t the clapping that Ben had received the previous day, but when Adam sat down and faced the crowd he saw many an encouraging smile, nods of the head and other indications of support. He straightened his pants, the dark grey striped ones he favoured and looked at Manson as though to say ‘I’m ready, do your worse.’

“Let’s first examine the reason for your venturing on to the land adjoining Mud Creek. Why did you go onto that land, knowing that it had been sold to Mr. Hawkins only recently?”

Adam paused a moment and looked quickly over at Hawkins who sat staring at him and doing a good impression of a wooden statue. “I’d only seen Hawkins briefly since returning back from a cattle drive and he struck me as an astute man, someone who wouldn’t throw good money after bad. It didn’t make sense to me that a man like him would buy land that was of no value at all. I wanted to find out what had suddenly made it so valuable, apart from adjoining the Ponderosa that is …”

“Objection -” Whittaker said immediately, “The witness is insinuating ulterior motives on behalf of Mr. Hawkins, who, may I add, is NOT on trial here.”

From the back of the court room a woman’s voice said quite clearly, “No, but perhaps he should be.” and a murmur of agreement rippled through the townspeople giving Joe and Hoss some hope that quite lifted their spirits. Brooks gavel banged down “Silence. Silence. Any more comments like that and you’ll be removed from the court room.”

“So you’d made the assumption that Mr. Hawkins was an astute man and decided it was an unwise move for him to have purchased that land …”

“He was either that or a very stupid one.” Adam murmured casually and although Ben groaned inwardly it amused some for laughter, abruptly silenced, was heard. Adam frowned, “No one wanted to buy that land, it was worthless. When I rode out that day I noticed how close our herd was grazing to it … and the only thing I could think would put any value to it was …” he paused again “there were a lot of gulches, box canyons and such there. You could hide a whole regiment of soldiers or tribe of Indians there and no one would notice.”

“Objection -” Whittaker said and immediately Brooks said sustained before turning to Adam “Mr. Cartwright, please refrain from making accusations that could infer that Mr. Hawkins has any ulterior motives towards you or your family. When your lawyer asks a question please answer directly and to the point.”

Adam nodded “I’ll answer truthfully – and to the point.”

Brooks opened his mouth, then closed it. If Adam Cartwright was so willing to put his head in a noose so be it. He looked at Whittaker who shrugged; the same thought must have crossed his mind as well.

“On the basis of scouting around the area you decided to move the herd elsewhere and realised that some cattle had been rustled?”

“We did.”

“Did you have any suspicions then as to who were involved in the rustling?”

“Suspicions aren’t any good without proof.” Adam replied.

Brooks again interrupted “Just yes or no, Mr. Cartwright.”

“Yes, I had my suspicions.”

“Did you voice them to anyone?”

“Not outside the family.” he cleared his throat and raised his eyebrows.

“What led you to suspect that Mr. Byrnes was receiving stolen Ponderosa beef?”

“Deuce Martin. He’d always been pleasant enough over the years, but from the first moment I saw him on returning to town he acted like a scared rabbit. And also Clem Foster mentioned that Deuce had told him that the café was getting top quality beef from a different supplier. Clem said -”

“Objection … what the witness is saying is mere hearsay. Unless Clem Foster comes here and tells us Deuce Martin told him anything personally, that has to be struck off the record.”

Adam lowered his head and surveyed his boots, then looked at Manson who seemed suddenly lost for words. After some seconds silence Manson gathered his wits and said “Unfortunately Deputy Foster was attacked last night and is severely ill, he won’t be able to tell anyone anything for quite a while yet.”

A hush settled on the court, Sally Byrnes brow creased into a frown and she looked intently at her gloved hands while Adam turned to look over at his father and brothers. Joe nodded and smiled as though to encourage him…Hoss did likewise but Ben remained staring at the far wall just as Adam had the previous day.

“Apart from these suspicions, Mr. Cartwright, was there any other reason you would suspect stolen Ponderosa Beef turning up at the café?”

“The conversation I overheard between Deuce Martin and two of Hawkins Men. Cole Matheson and Bert Fuller.”

“Can you tell the court what you actually overheard?”

“Bert Fuller was telling Deuce that they were glad to get the meat off their hands, he said dead steers don’t bring in any money. Matheson told him to shut up, said he talked too much. Deuce was told to expect a delivery at mid-night, but he told them that Mr. Byrnes wasn’t happy about it, that Clem Foster had been in the restaurant talking about the rustled Ponderosa stock and had made Mr. Byrnes nervous. He said that even Sally had noticed her father had acted strangely. Matheson assured Deuce it would be the last delivery for a while.”

Both Manson and Adam paused there as though expecting Whittaker to bring up some objection but surprisingly he didn’t. “So what did you do then?” Manson asked.

“I made a mistake.”

“Why?”

“I should have got the sheriff and brought him to hear what was happening instead I went to my father and told him.”

“Why do you think that was a mistake?”

“Because the sheriff would have arrested the men responsible having heard it for himself. My Pa, on the other hand, trusted Byrnes and wanted to hear it from him, one way or the other. Unless Mr. Byrnes owned up and was prepared to go to the sheriff himself, it would have just been our word against him and the others.”

“You went to see Mr. Byrnes and Deuce Martin was there?”

“He was.”

“Was it a heated conversation between the three of you?”

Adam glanced over at Sally who was sitting with a rigid look on her face as she stared at the wall behind him. He frowned as he said “It was friendly enough. Then when I told Mr. Byrnes about what I’d heard, Deuce tried to run off, Mr. Byrnes grabbed at him, and Pa asked for an explanation. Voices got raised but it wasn’t an angry altercation. Sally came out to see if everything was alright when Deuce started shouting his denials and tried to run off again.” he shook his head, “Everything was settling down and Mr. Byrnes was saying to Pa that they’d always been friends, that he could be trusted … then some shots were fired from the doorway, Mr. Byrnes fell, we fired back.”

“Adam, did you shoot Mr. Byrnes?”

“No.”

“Did your father?”

“No.” He looked over at Brooks and then returned to Manson “We needed Mr. Byrnes alive, we needed him to confirm that the beef was stolen and who his supplier was … it was not in our interests to kill him.”

A small pucker furrowed Sally’s brow at that comment and she once again stared down at her gloved hands as though in deep thought. Manson looked over at Whittaker, “Your witness.”

Whittaker stood up and approached Adam and looked at him thoughtfully, he rocked back and forth on his heels for a while before asking Adam why it was that throughout the trial it seemed that Mr. Hawkins was more involved in the issue that Miss Byrnes? Adam merely shrugged and said quietly that perhaps it was because he was … the other man nodded.

“You really didn’t like the idea of Mr. Hawkins being your neighbour, did you?”

“No.”

“Yet you didn’t know him. He came into Virginia City when you were absent from town and you only met him once, but you formed an opinion about him and made every effort to blacken his name whenever you got the chance, didn’t you?”

Adam raised his eyebrows “You can usually tell the kind of man by the men he hires.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“The first day we got back into town one of Hawkins’ men tried to pick a fight with me. I got told about things that were being said about us in town, people were walking on egg shells, scared to talk, scared to step out of line… all in the space of a few weeks while we’d been away. I didn’t blacken Mr. Hawkins’ name …” he paused “I didn’t have to.”

“Mr. Cartwright I’ll let that remark pass for now, but please refrain from commenting about Mr. Hawkins in such a manner.” Whittaker frowned, tried to recollect his thoughts and then said “This so called conversation you mentioned that took place between Deuce and two other men -”

“Cole Matheson and Bert Fuller.” Adam said bluntly, and then gave a dry smile “Just in case you’d forgotten their names.”

“This so called conversation where was it held?”

“In an outhouse that runs down the side alley adjacent to the café.”

“At what time?”

“About 9.30 in the evening.”

Whittaker turned to the jury “I have a list of names of witnesses who can confirm that the men Adam Cartwright accused were in Gil’s Saloon at the time of this alleged conversation. No one can be in two places at the same time.” he turned to Adam, “Even you would agree with me there, wouldn’t you, Mr. Cartwright.”

“Deuce Martin -”

“Unfortunately,” Whittaker smiled coldly, “Deuce Martin is still unable to be in court for cross examination.”

Adam glanced over at Manson who lowered his head into his hands and seemed bereft. Adam looked again at Whittaker, “Well, seems last night was a busy night, first Clem and then Deuce -”

Brooks banged his gavel “Mr. Cartwright, I’ve warned you before, please refrain from making such comments. Just answer the questions you are asked.”

Adam gave a slight roll of his shoulders in a shrug and looked at Whittaker who looked back at him. “Mr. Cartwright, you have quite a reputation in the area as a man quick with your fists and fast with your gun, as you proved the evening you assaulted Mr. Fuller in the Sazarac saloon. That was the same evening you claim to have overheard the conversation between Deuce Martin, Mr. Fuller and Mr. Matheson, wasn’t it?”

“It was – yes.”

“Why did you attack him?”

“I did not – attack him that is -”

“Witnesses claim you struck him several times and left him on the floor.”

“I -”

“Mr. Cartwright, did you tell your father about this conversation?”

“Yes.”

“Did you tell him this lie knowing that he would confront Mr. Byrnes and with his quick temper shoot him?”

“No.”

“Did you shoot Mr. Byrnes?”

“No, I did not shoot Mr. Byrnes.”

“You persist in claiming you overheard the conversation between those three men?”

“I do.”

“You admit that you assaulted Mr. Fuller?”

“I did not assault Mr. Fuller -,” Adam said between gritted teeth.

“Very well, you admit that you struck him?”

“Yes.”

Whittaker shrugged as though implying that there was no difference and it was irrelevant. He walked away “No further questions.”

Adam looked at Manson who shook his head. The cross examination was over.

Manson now faced the jury and made his plea for a verdict of Not Guilty, case unproven. Whittaker made a passionate plea for the right verdict to be brought in, that of Murder.
The jury left the court room and entered another room that was locked by Hanson and posted a deputy by the door.

“What now?” Ben asked Manson who merely said “We wait.”

“For how long?” Joe glanced at the clock, “How long do you think it’ll take?”

Manson could only shake his head. Looking over at the other table where Sally was talking quietly with Hawkins and Whittaker, Joe took a deep breath and walked towards her only to be stopped by Cole who stepped into his path and looked defiantly at the young man with the coldest palest blue eyes Joe had ever seen.

It took only two hours for the foreman of the jury to give the verdict … GUILTY.

Chapter 20

Even though Adam had anticipated that verdict over the past two days he still felt his knees weaken and it took some strong self control to remain rigidly straight backed with his face totally blank. Beside him Ben gave a slight growl in the back of his throat, his first thought being for Adam, the unfairness of it all, his young son being hanged for nothing. He gulped back anger and like Adam stood poker straight.

The hardest thing to bear as they stood there was hearing Joe’s involuntary ‘Oh no’ quavering from the poor lad’s trembling lips and Hoss’ intake of breath and sudden movement that made the chair in front of him move several inches across the floor.

Ed Baxter cried “This is a travesty. A travesty.” and shook his fist at Hawkins and Whittaker who were standing close to Sally, preventing her from seeing any of the Cartwrights.

Barney stood up, his burly figure knocking Mr. Baxter to one side and turned to the jury “How many pieces of silver did they pay you, you yellow skinned sheep.”

Adam cast a glance over his shoulder and managed a half smile at Joe as Hanson slipped the handcuffs on his wrists but Joe didn’t see it, he was still seated, his head hanging low as waves of nausea swept over him. Hoss had his hand on Joe’s shoulder and was staring at Adam and Ben his mouth working but no words coming from it. Ben didn’t look back he couldn’t bear to see his younger sons, not now, even though he knew he and Adam were innocent, he still felt as though his brow were branded with the letter M for Murderer.

Manson was talking to the Judge, begging him for a stay of execution, urging him to consider a re-trail or even changing the verdict to imprisonment. Brooks, for reasons of his own, was only wanting to get out of the court room. Ben’s dark eyes, and courage, Adam’s youth and good looks, unnerved him. He knew there were things said in the cross examinations of both men that blared out their innocence. He had hoped against hope that the jury would have the guts to declare the men innocent, anything than have to leave knowing he had condoned in the murder of two innocent men … he felt sick; he pushed Manson to one side and rushed out of the room slamming the door behind him.

The sunlight seemed too bright as they stepped outside the building and both Ben and Adam were forced to lower their head as it blared into their eyes. Mrs. Gilbertson ran up and clung to Ben’s arm “It ain’t true, it ain’t, is it, Mr. Cartwright?”

Ben shook his head “No, it isn’t true, Mrs. Gilbertson.” he raised his voice a little to be heard by any others there “As God is my Judge I swear it.”

Bert Fuller swaggered alongside them “Well, He didn’t do a very good job of saving your necks, did he?” he laughed.

“Please, Mr. Cartwright, please do something and get free?” Mrs. Gilbertson sobbed, “Whose going to help me find Millie’s killers if you ain’t here to help?”

Hanson came and pulled her away, telling her that he’d track down those killers but she shrugged him off and ran home to her husband. Here and there groups of men and women gathered, whispering and looking over at the Cartwrights as they made their way to the jailhouse. “We’ll think of something, Ben, Adam.” someone yelled, “We’ll get you free, don’t you worry none.”

Adam felt as though he was walking on water, he wasn’t sure how he managed to keep upright and then suddenly Fat Fuller’s face lunged in front of him, leering and laughing “Don’t you be getting any ideas of getting help from any of them sheep. They won’t be of no use to you and your daddy.”

Pent up anger and frustration flared up inside of Adam and without even thinking of any consequences he lunged at the fat man, his shoulder struck him in the chest and then he brought up his manacled hands to swing down towards Fuller only to have them gripped tight and when he looked up he saw Hoss who only shook his head and whispered, “It’s alright, Adam, it’s alright.”

Bert Fuller rolled about the dirt for a while and yelled “Did you see that, did you see, sheriff? What you going to do about it? Ain’t’cha going to do something about it?”

Hanson turned round and glared at Fuller and told him to shut his fat ugly mouth and then returned to the task of guiding his prisoners to jail.

The pulse in Adam’s temple was beating and his mouth was twitching as though the energy caused by the altercation was still raging within him. Ben side stepped slightly so that his shoulder touched that of his sons and when Adam glanced over at his father Ben smiled and nodded “It’ll be alright, son.”

Adam bowed his head and followed the sheriff. How often had he heard his father say those words. In the desert when they had no water, and when on a raft fighting the wild white waters raging over rapids. ‘It’ll be alright, son.” Ben had always said, and somehow, it had always turned out to be ‘alright.’

Joe trailed behind his father and brothers as though he were mounting the gallow steps himself. He pulled his hat lower to shield his eyes and looked at his fathers silver grey hair gleaming in the sunlight and Adams’ black hair curling rebelliously over his collar. He drew in his breath and paused as someone tugged at his sleeve. He looked down at Jimmy whose eyes were full of tears and who couldn’t get the words out of his mouth for sobbing. For a moment Joe wished he were able to do that, just find a place and sit down and sob.

He nodded though and gave the boy a pat on the head and watched as he scampered ahead, and then a hand splayed across his chest and stopped him dead in his tracks. He looked up at the face and saw Cole, deadly mean, and the thin lips parted in a grimace of a smile “We’ll deal with you, sonny, later.” he jerked his thumb in the direction of the Cartwrights now mounting the steps to the jail “After the show’s ended.”

*****

Sally Byrnes was hustled out of the courtroom and to Mrs. O’Shaughnessy’s home where she was given something to drink and eat. Grief and anger had walked hand in hand within her heart the past few days. Now there was only anger and resentment. She listened to Mrs. O’Shaughnessy’s soft voice pleading with her to put in a plea for clemency, to search her mind in case she had been mistaken. After a while she stood up and thanked the woman politely and then with icy coldness said “The Cartwright’s have got what’s due them, they killed my father. I’m glad they’re going to hang.”

“You can’t mean that, Sally.” the older woman cried with the colour draining from her face but Sally only nodded “Oh yes, I do. I do.” she said with all the vehemence she could muster in her voice.

Hawkins smiled as he heard her and looked over at Mrs. O’Shaughnessy “You’d better watch your mouth, Ma‘am, you don’t want to be talking too much like that, some people in town won’t like it.”

Mrs. O’Shaughnessy watched Hawkins take hold of Sally’s arm and lead her to the café. She thought over what he had said, the way he had looked and then had to grope for the arm of the chair in order to lower herself down as her legs went suddenly weak beneath her.

*****

Adam accepted the coffee from Hanson and sat down on the bed. He stared at the hot brew and then turned to his father “Er – when exactly have they set the time and day? I kind of didn’t hear.”

Hanson sighed, so under the tough exterior the lad had been shocked after all. He turned the key in the lock “6 in the evening on the 25th.”

“So soon?” Adam sipped his coffee “They sure are in a hurry to get rid of us, aren’t they?”

He hadn’t expected an answer nor did he get one. Ben walked to the window and clasped the bars, “I know Deuce is a weak snivelling wretch but I somehow hoped he would come and muster up some courage to tell the truth.”

Adam shrugged and walked over to the cell door “Sheriff, I was thinking -” he paused as Hanson drew closer. “Those steers that Hawkins sold to Byrnes had to be butchered first. That means their hides had to be hidden someplace. Couldn’t you send some men to look over the ranches Hawkins has purchased and see if there is any sign of them there?”

“Clem Foster already thought of that, Adam. He turned the places upside down but found nothing, not even a hoof print.”

Adams face fell and his colour faded slightly, “Well, I guess that’s all then -.” and he picked up his cup and swallowed down some more of Hanson’s foul brew.

“For what it’s worth, Clem Foster and some of the other deputies also had a good look around that land down by Mud Creek. There was no sign of any cattle ever having been taken across that land or hidden on it, not anywhere.” he paused and looked at them both, “Clem Foster had a lot of faith in you two, he was convinced he’d find the proof he needed to let the town know you were innocent. He’s paid a heavy price for that loyalty now.”

A cough from behind the sheriff made him turn to see Harry Forsyth standing there, hat in hand, and his two chins wobbling along with various other parts of him, he stepped forward “Kin I have a word with Mr. Cartwright and Adam?”

Hanson stepped back to allow the man to get closer to the two men, not surprisingly Adam got to his feet and walked over to the window, effectively turning his back on the fellow. Ben nodded and smiled “What can I do for you, friend?”

Forsyth shook his head “Sure wish you didn’t call me that, Ben, I ain’t been much of a one for you. Fact is we stood out as long as we could against Fletcher and Stuart but – but we all got businesses in town, or daughters … they never did find young Millie’s killer did they? None of us want our girls to have to face that.”

Ben nodded “I can understand you difficulty, Forsyth.” he sighed, “I know it’s going to be hard for you all.”

“What is?”

“Living with Hawkins in charge.” Ben said softly.

“- and with your consciences.” Adam added for good measure.

Forsyth nodded “I know, Adam. I don’t think I’m ever going to come to terms with mine.” he cleared his throat, “All of us, on the jury, I mean, those of us who have known you for so long, Ben, we know you couldn’t have killed Zedekiah. But -”

“That’s alright, Forsyth. It may be best if you just went now – if you don’t mind.”

“No hard feelings, Ben?” Forsyth put his hand through the bars to be shaken but Ben, kindly hearted though he was, found he couldn’t bear to touch the man’s flesh but walked away to join his son at the window.

*****

Cy Hawkins approached Sally and looked at her thoughtfully. It seemed to him that she had several times looked doubtful as to her stand during Adam’s cross-examination. He watched as she walked to the window and stared out into the street.

“What do you intend to do now, Miss Byrnes? Is there anything I can help you deal with here?”

She turned to him, nervous, not of him, just nervous. The past few days had been turbulent and had made her twitchy and unable to think straight. She looked again at the near empty streets and shook her head “Its’ so quiet out there. There’s usually so much bustle, people going on about their business.”

“Folk may be feeling a mite confused just now. Too many changes what with the Cartwrights getting hanged in two days time.”

“Yes. Two days. It isn’t long, is it?” she frowned and sighed, and then pulled her shawl closer around her shoulders, it felt as though someone had walked over her grave as the saying went. “I think I’ll open the café tomorrow.”

Even he looked surprised, he hadn’t expected her to rally quite so soon, but then he smiled, she was obviously of sterner stuff than he had anticipated. She darted a glance in his direction and then returned to the window. “Things need to get back to normal. If the café is open and people see that the Cartwrights don’t rule my life, as it obviously does theirs, then things will settle down more quickly.” she nodded and raised her chin, “Besides, there’s a good amount of meat going to waste in the storeroom …”

****

Joe and Hoss removed their hats as they entered the jail house. They had been to the hotel and washed their faces, changed back to their workaday clothes. Ben greeted them warmly, but Adam remained by the window, staring out at the sky and watching the clouds scud by.

“Well, boys.” Ben stopped, cleared his throat, “Now, look, there’s still a lot that can be done. It’s not all lost yet.”

“Sure, Pa.” Hoss nodded and clamped his lips together to stop them quivering.

“Yeah, if you say so, Pa.” Joe’s voice was croaky, as though he had a sore throat, and when Ben asked if he was alright he said he was just fine. He didn’t like to admit he’d had his head down the latrine vomiting for the past half hour.

“First thing – find Deuce Martin. Whatever he put in his statement is irrelevant now. He left here because he knew he’d lied but hadn’t the courage to admit it in court. We need him to tell the truth.” Ben’s dark eyes looked into theirs, “Do the best you can, boys.”

“Is there nothing else, Pa?” Joe asked and glanced over at Adam who had turned now and was walking towards them, “You alright, Adam?”

“Yeah, I’m alright, Joe. You just take good care of yourselves. Try not to tangle with any of Hawkins men, they’ll be looking out for you both now.”

“I guess they would a that,” Hoss said quietly. “I saw Mrs. Foster, she said Clem was going to be alright but he’s got a real bad concussion, can’t remember a thing.”

“I saw Mrs. O’Shaugnessy,” Joe heaved in a deep breath, “She said Sally Byrnes refuses to change her statement. She wants you both -” he swallowed and shook his head, “Anyway, we’ll go now and see if we can find Martin.”

They shook hands and parted. Ben stood against the bars of the cell door and watched them until they were gone from the room then he joined Adam to watch them ride past the end of the alley.

“Do you think they’ll find him, Pa?” Adam turned a quizzical eye to his father and Ben shrugged, “I hope so. Let’s hope he’s still alive when they do.”

Chapter 22

Joe was paying Zeke Jackson some money for stabling Sport and Buck when Hoss joined him at the livery. “What took you so long?” he snapped and then felt immediately sorry for on top of everything else the last thing Hoss needed was an uppity little brother.

“I jest seen Mrs. Watkins.” Hoss said, “She’s Deuce Martin’s landlady.”

“Ah, did she have any idea where he may have headed?”

“He has family in Genoa.”

“He has? I never knew that before, reckon that he’d head that way?”

“Possibly.” Hoss removed his hat and wiped his brow, he was sweating and it wasn’t even that hot. “I saw Sally Byrnes too, she was coming out of the café as I passed it.”

“Oh.” Joe’s shoulders slumped, “What did she have to say for herself?”

“Only that she was opening the café. She’s expecting a busy day -”

“Alright, you don’t have to spell it out.” Joe interrupted and cleared his throat, and followed his brother to where they had left their horses. “Genoa then?”

“Yep, reckon so.”

“Let’s hope we find him sooner rather than later.”

They glanced back over their shoulders at the jail house as they left the town, hoping that their father and brother would realise how much they were thinking of them, how much they longed to find all the answers that would open that cell door and set them free. Both knew that wasn’t likely to happen; both wouldn’t admit that to the other.

Hoss was an expert at reading sign, and he soon located a spot where Deuce had stopped to camp. Of course Joe didn’t mention anything but even he recognised the man’s bandana which had been left snagged on the branches of a shrub close to the remains of the charred wood he’d used for his fire.

“You know, you wouldn’t think anyone so stupid would even be asked to take the witness stand,” Joe murmured as he looked at the bandana, “Who’d believe him anyway?”

“Enough,” Hoss’ shoulders slumped and he pushed the bandana into his pocket, “Folk who want to believe Pa and Adam guilty would believe every word that came out of that lying mouth of his, because they’re too skeered of Hawkins to say any different.”

They rode onwards, it was not a difficult track to pursue as the road to Genoa was well used and well known by them both. Twenty plus miles of reasonable straightforward terrain would see them in Genoa by sunset. It was Joe who noticed the saddled horse grazing just to the left of the roadway and after searching through the saddlebags they soon found out it was the horse Deuce had taken from the livery. “If his horse is here, he can’t be very far behind.” Joe observed stroking the animal’s sleek neck.

“It’s a wonder no one else thought to bring it in,” Hoss muttered, “Less it ran off up in them rocks.” he frowned “What you looking at, Joe?”

Joe sighed and looked over at his brother “I think we’ve found Deuce Martin, Hoss.”

The drop from the roadside wasn’t so deep but enough for anyone to claim the man had fallen from the saddle and broken his neck. The brothers had other thoughts about that as they heaved the heavy body of the dead man across the saddle of his horse. Joe wiped his brow and nodded “We’ll take him to the sheriff, no point in taking him all the way back to Virginia City. I’m tired and hungry, and I need to think.”

*****

They didn’t want to waste time, moments and hours spent elsewhere from their father and brother, so after eating at some restaurant they mounted their horses and made their way back to Virginia City. The best will in the world isn’t always the maker of the strongest of men able to resist the need to sleep and as Hoss said, they needed to keep their wits sharp to think things out, they couldn’t afford to miss a chance by being to fuzzy headed due to lack of sleep.

En route between Genoe and Virgina City they made a stop over camp and despite the nervous tension gnawing at their guts they rolled into their blankets and attempted to sleep.

Despite his eyes burning from lack of sleep Joe couldn’t shut his brain off and drift into slumber no matter how he tried. He stared out at the stars and couldn’t hold back the tears anymore than he had at other times since the trial had begun. He heard Hoss movingc and hurriedly wiped his eyes and nose and cleared his throat.

“You alright, Joe?”

“Yeah, yeah, sure, Hoss.”

“I can’t sleep, dang it.”

“No?” Joe cleared his throat again “Neither can I.”

“Listen here, Joe, we gotta think up some kind of strategy.” he got to his feet and joined Joe by the small fire. “We ain’t gonna let them hang Pa or Adam, are we?”

“No.” Joe’s voice was firm, “No.” he repeated and turned to Hoss, “I’m glad you said it, Hoss, I’ve been trying to think of how to say it to you although -” he shivered, “Hoss?”

“Yeah, Joe?”

“What kind of strategy were you thinking about?”

“First thing we git back home. We find ourselves some buffalo rifles, and -”

Joe stopped him “Pa don’t want us to fight, Hoss. You know what he said?”

“Shucks, how else are we gonna stand a chance of getting them free, Joe? D’you reckon that Hawkins and his men will just stand aside nice and polite if we ask them release our Pa and Adam?”

“No, of course not.” Joe frowned, “But Pa’s last wish would be for us not to make trouble, you know he’s told us once, and I for sure know he’ll tell us again because he knows us well enough, well, he knows what we’d be planning to do.”

“I ain’t gonna let them git hanged. Look, Joe, there ain’t nobody in town got the guts to do anything for them. They’re just a bunch of -”

Again Joe interrupted “We can’t say that, Hoss. Baxter’s tried and so have some others.”

Hoss frowned, “Alright, so they have, but there’s a whole lot of others who ain’t. What we gotta do is go home, get the rifles and hide ‘em, so that way Pa won’t know, will he?”

“Where will we hide them?”

“We’ll think of something.” Hoss frowned, “Reckon it’s an odd time to hang anyone, in the evening time when it’s dark.”

“Hoss, it’ll mean shooting the hangman and his partner -”

“Yeah, but what choice we got? Once that noose is around their necks he could open the trapdoor anytime, and we’d need to be quick, Joe, real quick.”

Joe nodded, “Hoss, you know it means we could be killed? There’s only two of us and there’ll be a whole lot more of them.”

“You can stay home if you want to, Joe. If it worries you – I mean – sure I know it means we could be killed, but is life worth living without Pa and Adam?”

“Some would say so.”

“Think about it, Joe. I ain’t going to expect you to do anything you don’t want to do, especially as it might be the very last thing you get to do.”

“I know that,” Joe sighed and closed his eyes, “I know that, Hoss.”

*****

Ben Cartwright closed his eyes and thought of his sons, Adam, Hoss and Little Joe. He thought of them as boys, and remembered them as babes. He thought then of their mothers, Elizabeth, Inger and Marie. So many memories, so many dreams … he sighed and shook his head, where had the time gone to, and why did it all have to end like this, now.

He heard Adam move and wondered if he was sleeping. It seemed to him that Adam hadn’t slept in a long time, and hoped that this night – this last night – his son would be able to get some rest, even if it meant some hours passing faster as a result. At least in the morning he would wake up.

“Pa? You awake?”

The whispered words drifted over to him and he sighed, “Sure, son.”

“I was thinking about that newspaper article that Ed Baxter was going to print tomorrow. Do you think it will be worth it? I mean, how many people will actually be around in town tomorrow to read it?”

Ben drew in a deep breath and shook his head, “I don’t know, Adam. Perhaps enough people will.”

“And then what? Do you reckon they’ll get the courage to go to battle against Hawkins and his men? The Seige of Gil’s Saloon – you can just see it now – except that it won’t happen.”

“Adam, I think Ed Baxter feels he needs to do something even if it is late in the day.” Ben sat up and scratched his head, then swung his legs over the edge of the bed to sit up and face his son, even though the cell was lit by a lamp positioned some distance from them by the door to the sheriff’s office. “At least he’s trying to do something.”

“Fair enough.” Adam replied sombrely and folded his arms behind his head, his eyes fixed to the darkness preventing him from seeing the ceiling.

“I know it’s hard to forgive these people, Adam, but you have to find it in your heart to do so. They’ve been our neighbours and friends for a long time, we’ve shared a lot of things with them, good times and bad, and – and we can’t really blame them for what’s happened here, after all, fear makes cowards of the bravest of men.”

“I know that too.”

“If – if the worse happens tomorrow and – Adam – what I’m trying to say, son, is that should sentence be carried out then you, and I, will be facing the greatest Judge of all. If we can’t forgive our neighbours now, how can we expect to be forgiven ourselves?”

“I know, Pa. I know what you’re saying.”

Adam’s voice was emotionless, the deep timbre of his words hung heavy in Ben’s heart and the older man sighed and returned to his bed, resting his head on the thin lump of a pillow. He closed his eyes. At 6 of the clock, in the evening, he would be closing his eyes forever.

It wasn’t fair the voice in his head kept saying, not for Adam, not for him. His lips moved in prayer and as he prayed he asked himself if he had really forgiven these people as he had told Adam to do. He hoped that he had, he hoped that he had been forgiving.

Adam remembered how Mr. Oliver had come in and said he had sent off a telegram to the Governor explaining the situation. He remembered the man wiping his sweating palms on a handkerchief and saying how as soon as they get a reply they’d be on the way to getting them both a pardon, no doubt about it after all wasn’t the Governor an old friend of Ben’s? But then hadn’t Judge Nathan Brooks been a friend once upon a time? Where was he now? According to Sheriff Hanson, Brooks had got the stagecoach out of town just an hour after the trial had ended.

His thoughts turned to Sally Byrnes and he wondered if she would ever know how to forgive. Would she one day visit their graves and say ‘I forgive you, Adam Cartwright. I know you didn’t kill my father.’ Adam paused and frowned, no, she should have to say “I KNEW you hadn’t killed my father’ because that was the more honest thing to say over the grave of a man she had condemned to his death.

He worried about Joe and Hoss. He knew that had he been on the other side of the cell and it had been Joe or Hoss standing by their father tomorrow evening, then he would not be standing there watching and weeping. He knew exactly what he’d be doing even if he died doing it. But then Pa – he sighed – it wasn’t what Pa would want because he couldn’t bear the thought of seeing his other sons cut down by gun fire as the last sight his eyes rested upon.

What a mess. He scrunched up his eyes and placed a hand over them – it was all such a mess. And his father expected him to forgive them? He lay there very still for some moments and then got to his feet and walked to the window to look up at the stars and to search for the feeble moon he had sought earlier. This was his last night on earth … God help him.

Chapter 23

Sleep was so elusive. In a way Adam longed for sleep to come so that the morning would arrive and that day would be done and over with. But at the same time he wanted to hold onto every moment as though it were precious, because that was what life was about, it was precious.

He had pins and needles in one leg, and moved a little to ease it off. He was restless. He wanted to get up and walk about, pace the floor, kick at the wall. He knew that would make Ben anxious, and tonight of all nights, he didn’t want that for his Pa. But he couldn’t stay still on that bunk any longer and got to his feet and walked to the window and looked out into the darkness. He raised his eyes to the night sky and watched as a star fell gracefully to earth, trailing behind it a fading blaze of light. In the velvety darkness of night other stars spun, twinkled, shone. Shadows swayed within shadows as the buildings of the town seemed to huddle closer together. The dog was howling now, howling at the moon as though it knew and understood what it was like to have a broken heart.

Ben Cartwright glanced over at his son and sighed. Adam sat with such stillness, his face raised to the moon as though, like the coyote, he could have howled a long wail of grief. He stood up and walked to Adam’s side,

“What’s on your mind, son?”

Adam said nothing for a while. It seemed as though he were going to ignore his father’s question, then he sighed and gave a half smile,

“I was just remembering things,” he said in a quiet almost shy way of speaking, a way that he could adopt when with his father, because there was no one else who understood or knew that softer more vulnerable layer of his heart..

He looked down at his feet, it was not a cold night, a spring night promising a warm day.

“Remembering what? What kind of things?” Ben’s voice gentled, as he prepared himself to listen to revelations that perhaps he would regret hearing later on.

“Oh, things from way back, when we were alone, before Inger -” he paused and cleared his throat, “and then, afterwards, with Hoss.”

“Life certainly got more interesting with him around, didn’t it?” Ben smiled gently, so many memories. He shook his head, sometimes so many could weaken a man, he turned away and back to his bed. He looked back and the moon shone and he could see his son’s silhouette, so still, looking out through the bars. “Adam?” The other man turned, a dark shadow among shadows, “Adam, are you afraid now?

Adam didn’t reply immediately, his lips tightened imperceptibly and then he frowned, “Perhaps I should be, but no, I just feel numb, I just feel – nothing.”

*****

Hoss Cartwright dismantled the rifle and checked each separate piece carefully. He fumbled in the drawer to pull out a box of cartridges and then looked up at Joe who was busy doing just the same.

“It may not work,” he said quietly.

“How many more times do you have to tell me, I know that,” Joe’s voice snapped back, snap – just like a piece of elastic twanging back when released after being pulled to full stretch.

“Still, we gotta give it a try, huh?”

“Yeah,” Joe wiped his nose on the back of his hand and sniffed, he looked up at his brother, “What do you think they’re doing right now, Hoss?”

His brother swallowed the lump in his throat, and then shook his head, he didn’t want to think about it. Deuce Martin may have testified, had he been alive, but then again he may not have done. Either way the hours spent hunting for him had been futile. Someone should have gone looking for him long before now.

Hop Sing came in with coffee, everything rattled. He couldn’t speak, he was heartbroken, and broken hearts didn’t go along with chatter, instead he made lots of coffee and the cups rattled as he set everything down on the table.

Hoss poured out the coffee, he kept his head down because he wanted to do more than just think. He had asked Adam once what word could be used when someone wanted to think more deeply than usual about something important in their lives and his brother had said he probably meant, meditation. So that was what he was going to do now, a bit of meditation.

He sat down in the red leather chair that smelt of his Pa, and of his Pa’s smelly old pipe that they all tolerated because at the end of the day they felt Pa deserved some kind of treat. Hoss heaved a sigh, sniffed, and wiped his eyes. Across the room Joe glanced up, firmed his mouth and said nothing. Hoss gulped down some more coffee, then he stood up and put down the cup and saucer, “I’m gonna go git some air.” he muttered and walked quickly out of the room.

*****

Joe wiped his mouth on his sleeve and looked away from the door as his brother slammed it behind him. He wanted to yell out that he was suffering too, but then, Hoss knew that already. Hoss knew him inside and out, and at times, Joe sniffed, over these past few days, he had got to know a lot more.

He sat down on the chair that Hoss had just vacated and put his face in his hands. It was such a slim chance that this was going to work. He shivered, what if it didn’t? Should they have tried to break jail? No, Hawkins men were all over the town, they’d have been noticed and arrested too. Better this way, at least – he drew in a shudder of a sigh – well, at least they could try and perhaps die with them. The Ponderosa didn’t matter compared to the lives of his Pa and brother.

So many memories, so little time. He wanted to know that his father would be there waiting for him when he returned from riding the cattle, or checking the timber. He needed to know that Adam would be there, no matter how grumpy, so that he could be reassured that he was cared about, protected. He gulped again; Adam had always been there to protect him, even when they argued, even then.

He didn’t want to think anymore. He put the rifle down and went upstairs to his father’s room. He sucked in the smell of him, filled his lungs with the essence of all that was his father. Tomorrow, Pa, he promised himself, tomorrow I’ll get you free. They won’t hurt you, Pa, they won’t, I won’t let them hurt you.

He stopped short at Adam’s door. Just leaned his head against the door frame and wept.

*****

Hanson brought them coffee and something to eat. Ben sat up and rubbed his face and looked over at the other man who sat on the rumpled bed opposite, “Did you get any sleep, son?”

“Sure, Pa.”

Ben nodded and it was Hanson who poured out the coffee for Adam and handed it to him, “Here you are, Adam”

“Thanks, sheriff.” Adam raised it to his mouth and paused, “Sheriff, could you bring me some paper and a pen or pencil?”

Hanson nodded, glanced at Ben and quietly left the cell. He returned later and gave Adam the things he had requested. Ben was reading his bible in an undertone and Adam had been listening. He retreated to his bunk and smoothed the paper out on his knee and began to write. On his bunk, Ben watched for a little while, and then lowered his eyes to continue his reading. Adam scowled, the pencil was too blunt and he had to press hard against the paper to write, and some of the paper had torn, eventually he gathered his thoughts and began to write.

Chapter 24

Adam slowly folded up the chess board while Ben slipped the pieces into the velvet lined box. A long time ago Adam’s grandfather. Abel Stoddard, had given it to Ben as a gift and as the pieces were dropped into their allotted spaces Ben remembered that day as clearly as though the old man were standing next to him.

“Mr. Cartwright? Adam?”

Both men paused and looked around, smiled when Jimmy came to the door with Hanson standing right behind him, “He asked to see you.” the sheriff said shortly, and pushed the boy forwards so he was closer to the bars.

Jimmy whipped off his hat and held it tightly against his chest. He didn’t want them to see how his heart was thumping so much. He licked his lips and glanced over his shoulder to watch as Hanson left them alone to join his deputy by the door.

“Adam did you tell ‘em what I said to you? About Deuce seeing those men in the barn?”

As though appreciating the need for privacy he whispered his question so that Adam had to hink for a moment before answering in a lower tone. He cleared his throat and grimaced, then bent a little to come down to Jimmy’s level, “I told them all that was necessary, Jimmy.”

“I jest wondered if you did because – because I can’t see how they would think you did that to Mr. Byrnes if’n they knew.” the boy’s big round eyes looked from one to the other of them, and Ben reached out and stroked the boy’s head and smiled reassuringly at him. But it didn’t satisfy the boy for once again he said, “You sure you told ‘em?”

“Jimmy, you’ll understand more about what’s going on as you grow older.” Adam replied quietly, “I reckon you’ll even know more about all this than we do.”

“D’you reckon so?”

Adam smiled and nodded. The boy looked at Ben, “Mr. Cartwright, can I do anything for you now? Is there anything you want ?”

Ben frowned and then smiled, he picked up the chess board and the box containing the ivory pieces “Well, Jimmy, I could do with knowing that these are going to a good home. You promise me you’ll look after it, won’t you?”

“I will, sir.” he took the items that were passed through the bars to him and then left, although Hanson stopped him at the door and asked him if he’d like to earn a nickel “Yes, sheriff, sure would.”

“Come back later and get Mr. Cartwright and Adam something to eat from the café. You’ll be doing them a big favour and you’ll earn yourself some money too.”

Adam looked at his father and smiled, then gave a slight twitch to the shoulders and walked to the window to look out. The sky was blue, it was a spring day, and the air smelt fresh, in fact, it was a good day to be alive.

*****

In Gil’s saloon there was laughter, and loud boastful talk. Bert asked Cole where Hawkins was, only to be told that he had business elsewhere but would be in town for the hanging. “You and the boys best get collecting firewood, the boss likes a good blaze when there’s a night hanging.”

Gil watched the men go and felt sick at heart. He wished he had the courage to tell them to clear out and then lock the doors behind them so they’d never get back in, but he was alone there, his staff had abandoned him for the day and wanted nothing to do with him, his saloon or his clientele.

*****

Hank Friedlander and his son stepped back from the gallows they’d just finished building and nodded in mutual satisfaction. It was a sturdy edifice for the final outcome of the law. They put away their tools and picked up their jackets and walked slowly to the wagon so they could get home. They didn’t want to be in town when the time came for the hanging. It wasn’t because they were afraid their handiwork would let them down at all, they just didn’t want to witness the deaths of two fine men.

Mrs Baxter pushed open the door to the café and waited for Sally Byrnes to come from the kitchen area with notepad and pencil in hand. The smile froze on the younger woman’s face as Mrs Baxter stood with hands folded neatly at her waist, almost as though she were in an attitude of prayer. “What can I do for you, Mrs. Baxter?”

Esme Baxter took a deep breath and stared at Sally before she spoke, “I want you to tell the truth, to go over there and tell the sheriff exactly what you did see.”

“I already have, I’ve told the sheriff and I’ve told the whole town. They know what I saw and the right people are getting the right punishment for their crimes.” she slapped the notepad down “Is that all you have to say?”

“Miss Byrnes, Sally, I’m begging of you, please re-consider, please think about what you’re doing?”

“I know exactly what I’m doing, Mrs. Baxter.” Sally walked deliberately to the door and opened it wide, “Good day to you.”

She took a hurried glance to where the gallows stood. It was the first time she had actually seen it and as Mrs Baxter scurried down the road Sally watched as the hangman tossed the nooses over the bar, two thick hemp ropes dangled leaving two shadows floating in the road.

*****

It was 4 in the afternoon when Joe and Hoss rode into town and tried to ignore the gallows and the two nooses. They made their way into the sheriff’s office and spoke to their Pa and brother and listened as Ben told them in a calm and distinct manner that there were still three options, three things that could still swing things their way.

Joe listened and wondered if Adam believed the things would work as he looked at his brothers face that looked so bleak, so empty. “And talk to Sally Brynes again, she may just change her statement.” The words rang around Joe’s head, already aching because he’d been clamping his teeth so tight. Talk to Sally Byrnes? He could have laughed the suggestion out of town had he not been so desperate and like all drowning men who clutch at straws he nodded and agreed that yes, they’d go and see her – again.

If he hadn’t been so wound up like the spring inside a clock he would have seen the stranger in Zeke’s stables and he wouldn’t have reacted like he did either when they had accidently knocked into each other. Thankfully Hoss was there to calm him down and the stranger brushed it off and left them alone. The buffalo rifles were carefully stowed away among the tack in the stable and then they made their way to the café.

“You’ve got to calm down, Joe.” Hoss whispered.

Sure, he knew that, but how does a man calm down knowing there were less than two hours before their Pa and brother died. Then when they saw Sally she swore blind that she had nothing to say other than what had already been said, there was no way she was going to change what she’d said.

“I knew it.” he hissed at Hoss after his brother joined him outside, having made his own plea to Sally’s conscience, “I knew she wouldn’t change what she’d said.”

“She’s hurting, Joe, she’s hurting real bad inside.”

Joe shook his head, he was hurting too, the pain ran through him, from head to toe. Surely Hoss felt it too? He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and glanced around the town, “There’s no one around?”

“They’re too scared of Hawkins to come out,” Hoss said quietly, “They don’t want to see Pa and Adam die either, Joe.”

“Is that meant to make me feel better about them?”

“Look, you go and find Barney. I’ll go check on Pa and Adam? That alright by you?”

Joe nodded, he glanced over at Gil’s saloon at the sound of laughter and raucous cheering. It made his stomach churn over.

Time was ticking away, relentless, unyielding. Hoss stood before Ben and Adam and listened to talk about petitions and newspapers, and then Ben looked at Hoss very sternly and told him there was to be nothing else, nothing to help them that went beyond the law. Hoss wondered if he had gone pale, he felt pale, he thought of those rifles stacked away neatly in Zeke’s stables and felt guilty but he didn’t back down despite Ben saying very carefully “You’ll be shooting at our friends” and when Hoss darted a look over at Adam and wondered what he was thinking, Ben added “Promise me, there will be no violence.”

Outside and the cool air brushed past his face and cooled down the heat he felt from knowingly defying his Pa. Young Jimmy was coming out of the café now, swinging the can that held the food for Hanson’s prisoners. It just happened that Fat Bert and several others came out and saw him, by the time Hoss had reached the boy Bert had fouled the food and was laughing. He sure thought he was a funny man, Hoss thought as he brought his foot down heavy on the fat man’s hand.

Odd how that stranger kept turning up, always seeming to be there. Joe came over and said there had been no sign of Barney Palmer at the Flats, no one had seen him. One of their other straws was floating away, floating away, just like the others. And that was it really, there would be no late edition of the newspaper denouncing Hawkins and edifying the Cartwrights, there would be no petition and from Sally no retraction.

At the back of Hoss Cartwright’s mind were the words Lassiter had used ‘Aiming to have a small revolution, hold back for as long as possible.”

He and Joe stared up at the sky, looked at one another and walked to the stables. Young Jimmy ran into the jail house with the can of food and stood there with his mouth open as Adam and Ben were led from the cell. Hanson turned to him as the deputy pulled Ben’s arms behind his back and began to tie his wrists together, “Alright, Jimmy, well done, lad. Here’s your nickel.”

“I don’t want your nickel, I don’t want it” he looked at Ben and Adam and tears gushed up into his eyes.

“It’s alright, Jimmy.” Ben said but his voice sounded different somehow, Jimmy saw the way Adam glanced quickly, anxiously, at his father, before turning back to look at him. By the time they were tying Adam Cartwright’s hands behind his back Jimmy was running out of the road back to the café.

Hawkins rode into town, and the fires were lit. Jimmy ran down the back alleys to home and threw himself into his mother’s arms and wept. “I tried to help ‘em, Ma. I did, I did.”

At the door of the café the stranger leaned against the door frame and watched as the two men were led from the jail house. There was no great crowd watching them, although unbeknown to themselves there were many in their homes praying for them. There was Hawkins, and there was Cole and Fat Bert and the others all standing as the flames took on a resemblance to hell and the two men made their way slowly up the steps to the waiting nooses.

Chapter 25

Despite keeping a straight back and a dignified appearance Ben Cartwright was inwardly broken. The thoughts and anxieties for his younger sons kept intruding into his mind and disturbing the calm that he had forced himself to wrap around him like some protective barrier. But the inevitability of it all, the waste and the heartbreak, brought renewed anguish. He raised his chin and kept his eyes fiercely ahead of him.

Adam had thought that walking to his death would be just about the longest distance he would ever have to go. The numbness that he had mentioned to his father previously was now ruffled by a feeling that something was going to happen. His eyes looked at the laughing, jeering faces that resembled demons in hell as the flames of the fires flickered over their countenances. He could briefly see the café and wondered momentarily if Sally Byrnes was getting any enjoyment from watching this sad and sorry procession to the scaffold.

They had reached the foot of the gallows now and Adam was led to the front, ahead of his father which caused Ben’s stomach to turn over with grief. A hand reached out to assist Adam up the first steps but the young man shrugged it off with a disdain that caused the man to step back as Ben passed by rather than offend him also. Step by lonesome step, and each one weighed upon their hearts like millstones.

Joe and Hoss… the names beat like a pulse through Ben’s mind, what were they doing, what were they planning. Their very absence indicated trouble and in his dire thoughts Ben imagined them coming out, guns blazing and then falling, dying, under a hail of bullets from Hawkins and his men.

‘Pray for them, pray for them.’ was like a refrain beating through his head as he followed Adam up the steps and then stood by his son’s side. He couldn’t bear to look at his the younger man’s face, he wanted to say ‘I’m sorry, I wasn’t the father you needed now, I let you down.’ and he wanted to shout out to Joe and Hoss ‘whatever you’re planning – leave it, leave it and go home. Go where you’ll be safe for a while longer at least.’ He refused, as did Adam, having his face covered. He had nothing of which to be ashamed, nor had his son, he wasn’t afraid to die, not now.

Adam felt the rope go over his head and around his neck, the knot tightened. He stared ahead and listened to his fathers voice softly intoning a prayer. He knew he should be praying but all he could think was “Boys, if you’re planning on doing anything, it’s about now…”. He kept his chin raised and just stared and waited … oddly enough, he had never felt so calm.

Joe and Hoss stood at the door of the stables deaf to Zeke’s thuds and thumps from the feed box where they had tipped him and locked the lid down. Neither of them had spoken much to the other, neither of them thought for a moment that the stranger in town would be coming out there to help them. This was purely a Cartwright matter, the family against Hawkins and his men.

Joe’s headache had gone, and he felt curiously detached from everything. They knew exactly which men to aim for, and he stood behind his brother and waited for Hoss to speak. The rifle was in his hands, and he waited …

Hoss licked his lips and watched the proceedings from the doorway. The flames from the fires helped a lot, he saw Adam and Ben mount the steps and the nooses put around their necks. He knew that they would be asked if there were any last words which meant valuable minutes on their side, he hauled in a deep breath.

In the café Sally Byrnes was staring at the mark on the dirty window that Lassiter had made, and heard him say “It’s not very clean” and whatever else he said fell on deaf ears, she could only remember the things that Jimmy had said, the way Hoss had spoken, so gently, to her ‘You’re the only one can save my Pa and Adam now, Miss Sally.’ and yes, she knew it, she was the only one.

She turned away from Lassiter and remembered how he had said a man was known by the men he was with, and she knew he was right, she knew it. She ran to the door and looked beyond the flames at the two men standing there, tall, straight backed, dignified. She’d danced with Adam several times, they had laughed and enjoyed each others company, and Ben had been a good friend to her father, a good friend.

Hoss didn’t turn his head he just said ‘Now!’

As they walked out into the road Sally left the doorway and ran, she was screaming and despite the noise Hawkins men were making Hanson heard her calling “Sheriff – Sheriff”.

There was a confusion of noise … buffalo rifles sound louder than most when they spit out lethal death, and Lassiter’s gun rattled in answer to Hawkins and Cole’s and then men were falling, and Sally was sobbing in Hanson’s arms and the nooses were being removed from Ben and Adam’s necks.

Once again Adam felt that strange weakening in the knees, and Ben wanted to sink down and just pray his thanks for their deliverance, but Cartwright pride prevailed and they walked down the steps with the same upright dignity as they had mounted them.

Safe. All four of them. Joe made some quip about ‘Glad we didn’t leave it any later, huh, Pa?’ and Lassiter was leading Sally back to the café, followed by Hanson who wanted to get more details from her while his two deputies collected up the wounded and left the dying and dead stretched out on the dusty road.

*****

I stood there a moment just looking down at the envelope as the memories flooded in and swamped over me. I don’t think I would ever want to experience that horror again, not ever. I smoothed out the page and looked at my brother’s writing and smiled. Perhaps he had forgotten what he had written all that time ago.

As I return to the table where the lamp light is shining I recall to mind several other things that happened after that evening. Hawkins and Cole died, Lassiter’s gun saw to them, and Fat Bert and two other men died later from the wounds from our rifles. We never saw Lassiter again after that, although we heard occasionally about a man bearing that name who was looking for the other men who had killed his father. I often wondered if Hoss and I would have been doing the same had things not turned out as they did.

Sally Brynes came some days later to the Ponderosa to talk to us but we were busy on the range so never saw her. She wrote a letter and then some weeks moved on. Last I heard she got married to someone in Sacramento. The café became another saloon when Gil’s closed down.

Mr and Mrs Georgeson found out the killer of their daughter. It was Cole, the man with those cold blue eyes. But he’d already received his justice, probably the only kind he’d have understood. Funny, one of Hawkins men said that Fat Bert had laughed at the thought of Pa reading his bible, he’d said ’Perhaps he’s praying for one of them miracles.’ Well, perhaps Pa was, I know I did a lot of praying those few days. As it happened we got ourselves the miracle.

Now I turn my attention to the letter and even as I start to read it my heart begins to pound and my head thuds just like it did that long ago day …

“Dear Hoss and Joe,

Well, I’m sitting here with a blank sheet of paper before me and a head full of memories and thoughts of you both, not knowing really what to write.

What does a man write with so little time left to live? I sit here in this cell and all I can think about is the unfairness of it all. Blind justice sure was blind in the cruellest sense of the word when they dished out the sentence for Pa and me. I doubt if there was anyone more surprised about the verdict than Pa. Guess I am just that much more cynical, but he put a lot of stock in the friendship of these townsfolk here and I am angrier at his disappointment in them and the calm manner in which he has accepted all this, than I am for myself.

I don’t know if we will see you again before we go out for sentence to be executed. I do know that Pa meant it when he asked you both not to do anything stupid at the execution. I know you both well enough to feel pretty sure that you have hatched up some scheme between you both but -, well, I guess I just don’t want to have my last minutes on earth resembling some kind of bar room brawl. If it is at all possible it would be better for both Pa and me to die with some dignity.

It is a strange feeling really. I was so angry before, but sitting here in this cell and watching Pa as he calmly composes himself to face the Greatest Judge of all has in a way numbed my feelings. I am no longer angry nor disappointed. I can well understand how the townsfolk feel. Fear is the greatest emotion and the most manipulative. And these folks are scared yellow that’s for sure. Tomorrow they will be feeling even more scared because they will know that they too have to face God and unlike Pa and me, they will not be innocent of shedding innocent blood.

Having said that, they are still your friends. Still the folks you have known, been schooled with, faced hardships with, over the years. Don’t beat them about this, they’ll be feeling wretched enough and will have to one day face the consequences of their actions.

Pa and I have talked a lot about this situation. He says that in the Bible we are assured that God will avenge the righteous. I don’t know if I fit into that category, but I know I am innocent. Just as Pa is, and I feel sure that somehow, we shall be avenged.

In some kind of odd way I don’t even feel as if I am going to die. I just have a strong feeling that somehow or other Pa and I will come out of this alright. Of course, if you get to read this letter, well, then I was wrong.

You know, Hoss, Joe, how much I love you both. I can’t wrap the way I feel in fancy words, but I pray to God that he keeps you both safe. May your days be long and happy ones, Joe, Hoss.

There is so much I want to say to you both, perhaps, God willing, I will be able to say them to you. Face to face. If not, so be it.

Pa has closed the bible now and indicates to me that the time has come for us to get ready. I have said my prayers with him that we may depart this world in peace. He looks at me now and smiles. I know he has written to you both already. His eyes are clear and his hand steady. So also are mine. I feel some pride that I can die by my father’s side. That in itself is some blessing.

Be careful. Now I must close this letter. Suddenly I want to say much more, time runs out, I somehow feel that you will not get to read this rambling mess of words. God help me if I am wrong.

My love to you both, forever and forever, amen.

Your brother, Adam.”

***The End***

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