It had been a long day, but a satisfying one, and the Cartwrights were relaxing in front of the roaring fire. Ben had challenged Adam to a game of chess, Joe was sitting with his nose buried deep in the latest dime novel, and Hoss was reading the Territorial Enterprise. There was silence in the room, only disturbed by the occasional 'check' from the chess players or a laugh from Joe.

The silence was interrupted by Hoss. "Hey, Pa, Adam, listen to this: 'It was decided today by the Town Council" he read out, "that those persons who own property in the town of Virginia City, the value of that property being in excess of one thousand five hundred dollars as determined by the property tax assessment, and who do not permanently reside in the town will henceforth be eligible to vote for and to run for election to the aforementioned council, at the next election to be held on November 16th.'."

He looked across to his father and older brother. "That means you can both vote, don't it?" he asked.

Ben glanced at Adam. "The property taxes I pay certainly will give me a vote-and it's about time too, I think. What about you, Adam?"

"Probably," his oldest son replied. "I'd have to check," he said, vaguely.

The rest of the family left him alone. They knew Adam. Adam undoubtedly knew to a penny exactly how much he'd paid in property taxes, but his business interests were not for public discussion.

"You're in check, Pa," he told his father, returning his attention to the game.

 * * *

Ben Cartwright looked at the five men sitting around his table. He shook his head.

"Look, gentlemen, it's an interesting idea, but no, I'm not interested in politics at all."

"Oh c'mon, Ben, you were going to run for Governor if Nevada became a state," George Devlin protested. "Now that they've changed the rules so that non-residential property owners can run for the town council, this gives us a chance to be represented as well."

The other men around the table voiced their agreement.

"There aren't many of us who can meet the property value requirement, Ben," his soft voiced friend Tom Anderson said, "and we need a rancher on that council. The townsfolk don't seem to realise that we rely on the town as much as they do, even if we don't live there. We buy our supplies there, our kids go to school there, we even go to church there. We have to abide by their rules, but we haven't had a chance to make them. Now we have."

Ben thought about what they were saying. They were right. For years the ranchers, although they provided much needed jobs and brought in money to the area, had been second class citizens in the town's eyes. Most of them still were, but he could run for council.

"I could, I suppose," he said doubtfully, "but there's enough folk who think the Cartwrights have too much power round here as it is. Isn't there anyone else?"

"No one else who could attract the same votes that you can, Ben, and there's not a lot of time -- it's next month, as you know," George told him. "There's a lot more folk who know Ben Cartwright as the most upright man in Nevada."

Ben reached a decision. "All right, then gentlemen, you have a candidate!" He laughed. "I wonder what the boys will think of this?"

* * *

In another house not far away, Adam Cartwright shook his head as he looked at his friends. "No way," he said, forcefully. "Run for the town council? You've got to be kidding!"

"But, Adam, you're the only one of us who can. We need some representation on that council, and you're the only one of us who owns any property in Virginia City at all," his best friend Ross argued.

"Look," Adam said patiently, "there's only four seats on the council anyway, and there is no way people are going to vote for me. I'm just 'one of the Cartwright boys'. I have all the disadvantages of being a Cartwright, and none of the advantages that my father would have."

"He's right, you know," Matt Devlin sighed. "Not actually being the boss is a big disadvantage."

He understood Adam's point. Even though he, like Adam, was his father's 'right-hand man'' when it came down to it, both young men knew people looked first to their fathers. Matt didn't know how Adam felt about it, but it sometimes really annoyed him. The Devlins owned a reasonable sized ranch but it wasn't anything like the Ponderosa. It must be even worse for Adam, Matt mused. Adam was college-educated, a talented architect and engineer and a wealthy businessman in his own right. Anywhere else he would be given the respect he deserved. Here, he was always in his father's shadow as 'just one of the Cartwright boys.' And probably would be even into his old age!

"I don't see why," Jim Watkins said. Jim was new to the area, having inherited his uncle's small ranch, the Bar W. Adam had instantly taken to him and had happily sponsored his introduction to the young ranchers of the area, but he was still in many ways an Easterner. The other young men tolerated him for Adam's sake, but his lack of knowledge sometimes exasperated them. How could anyone know so little about the west, they sometimes wondered.

"Another of Adam's strays," Ross had laughed to his still-new wife the first time he had met him.

"It's simple, Jim," Adam began to explain. "When we first arrived here, there were almost no white folks here. People came here partly because of what people like my father, and Cal's," he nodded towards Cal, "had already established. In a lot of ways my father IS Nevada-there wouldn't be a place like Virginia City if it weren't for his hard work. Even though many of the newer arrivals are suspicious of his influence and don't know what he did, he has earned an enviable reputation for honesty, integrity and decency."

"Yeah, but why doesn't that extend to you?" Jim asked, genuinely puzzled.

"Because I was just a kid. I worked hard, but people got in the habit of thinking of me as Ben's boy, Adam, not as a grown man. Even the new folks who arrive in town tend to think of me that way." He sighed. "So that's why people will vote for Ben, but not his boy, Adam. I thought we were going to play poker," he said, changing the subject.

His friends stopped trying to persuade him. Adam hadn't mentioned the other thing that marked the Cartwrights -- their reputation for being the stubbornest bunch you could find -- and Adam was the stubbornest of them all. Changing Adam's mind was next to impossible.

 * * *

He was surprised to find his father waiting up for him when he arrived home close to midnight.

"Pa?" he asked, a note of concern in his voice. "Is something wrong?" It was a long time since he had come home to find his father waiting up for him.

"No" Ben said, "I just have something to tell you, and I wanted your opinion before I tell the other boys about it."

Adam raised an eyebrow and grinned at his father. Pa looked almost like a schoolboy caught out in mischief, he thought.

"C'mon, Pa," he said. "What have you been doing?"

His tone intentionally echoed the one his father had used so many times to his growing sons, and Ben picked up the reference immediately. Only Adam could get away with that, though. He grinned in reply at his oldest son.

"Mind your manners, young man," he said with mock severity. "I haven't been doing anything -- perhaps I should say, "Nuthin' Pa", he teased, using the phrase his children used to use to get themselves out of trouble.

"Pa?" Adam asked, a little impatiently. It wasn't like Ben to beat around the bush and he was beginning to wonder if indeed there was something amiss.

"I've agreed to run for election to the town council," Ben said, without any further preamble, "and I was hoping you would help me in my campaign."

Adam smiled, pleased and relieved. "That's wonderful, Pa," he said holding his hand out to his father. "I'd be very happy to help. I thought you would-I told my friends so tonight. They wanted me to run, but I told them you would have a better chance of being elected."

"Do you want to, son?" Ben asked. He'd agreed to do so, but if this was something Adam wanted, he would withdraw from the election. Maybe it would give Adam a new career in politics-something to make his life more interesting. Ben was always worried that his very bright son would get bored on the ranch and want to leave, so anything that kept him interested and close to home was a good thing.

"No," Adam said. "I've no interest in politics."

"Neither have I," Ben told him. "This is more a way to make sure the ranchers' interests are represented. I don't care who it is, as long as it is someone who will do what is right for the people of the town and the people in the country."

Adam clapped his father on the back. "I think you'll do the job just fine, Pa," he said, as they went upstairs.

* * *

Later that week Ben came into the ranch house to find Adam sitting in his favorite chair carefully reading a sheaf of papers, a pencil in his hand. He looked an inquiry at his son.

"It's a list of the eligible voters, Pa. I know about half of them personally, and a few by reputation. You might know some too." He held the list out to his father.

Ben took it, and ran his eye down it, looking at the names Adam had marked.

"There don't seem to be many others here that I recognize," he said, sitting down opposite Adam. "I'd say we can count on votes from about a quarter."

"Sounds about right to me, " Adam said, "but I'm more worried about the others--the ones that will fight us every step of the way. Jonas Firth, for one."

"I agree," Ben said. "He could cause us a lot of trouble."

Little Joe stopped playing checkers with Hoss. "Jonas Firth? Isn't he the fella you stopped from pulling that scam on old Widow Samuels?"

"Yeah, Pa," Hoss added. "He said he'd git ya."

Adam glared at his brothers. "Pipe down, you two," he told them firmly.

There had been a lot of gossip following that aborted attempt. Strictly, Firth had done nothing illegal, just unethical, but when Ben stepped in, saving her home at the last moment, Firth had been publicly embarrassed. Firth had made a lot of noise about it in various bars around town, but that had been five years ago.

"That's water under the bridge. Forget it," Adam told his brothers. "I hear he's backing Len Hardwick to run for the council. He doesn't like the idea of 'out-of-towners' being able to have their say. We'll have to watch out for dirty tricks on his part."

"Do we know who else is running?" Ben asked, more to change the subject than anything else.

"I heard Frank Armstead was running again. I think he'll be easily reelected-he's done a good job. And John Carter's thrown his hat in the ring. He's a good man, and well liked by the store owners. I think you'll find the store owners will be backing him."

"If that's all then there won't even be an election," Joe said. "That means you'll be a councilor without even running a campaign, Pa!" he said jubilantly.

"There's at least one other person I heard had nominated," Ben said. "Now who was it? I remember now-Charles Harrison, the lawyer. He seems a decent enough type."

"Then that's five, if no one else is nominated. The nominations don't close till the end of next week, anyway," Adam said, pouring himself a coffee. "We'd better start planning your campaign, Pa. I think you ought to be prepared to hold a town meeting to tell people your position."

"Yeah, Pa, an' we can put posters up, too, advertisin' you," Hoss said.

Ben winced. The thought of parading himself in public like that was not entirely to his taste, but he knew that it was necessary if he was going to be elected. He had agreed to do it, so he would do it to the best of his ability. He didn't have to like it though. Hoss saw his face.

"Whassa matter, Pa?" he asked.

"I can't say I want to make a public spectacle of myself," he told his sons, "but I understand that it is necessary for me to make public speeches and so on. It is not necessary for me to advertise myself!" He glared at Hoss as he spoke.

"Sorry, Pa," he said hastily. "I was only funnin'."

"Don't," Ben said firmly. "We have more to worry about than silly jokes."

"We do at that," Adam agreed. "You two had better be prepared for people saying things about Pa -- and the rest of us -- that you don't like. And Joe, it is especially important that you keep that temper of yours under control. It won't do Pa's chances of election any good if you start trouble."

"Me?" Joe protested. "Why pick on me?"

His indignation brought a slight smile to his father's face, and a smirk to his older brother's.

"Because," Adam explained painstakingly, "your reputation for having a temper and being really easy to provoke has got you into trouble before. And it will this time. There will be plenty of Firth's men who would find it a very good idea to provoke you into a fight."

"Oh" Joe said, crestfallen. "Okay, I'll stay out of trouble."

"It might be better if you stayed out of town," Ben suggested. "There's plenty to do here."

Joe's disappointment was obvious. Adam took pity on him. "No, Pa," he said, coming to Joe's defence, "I think that might look like we're trying to keep him under wraps, and that will give them ammunition too."

"Yeah, Pa, I agree," Hoss added his mite.

Unexpectedly, Adam chuckled. "Pa, do you remember that piece in the paper about what the new German Chancellor said? About politics being the art of the possible?" Ben nodded, looking a little puzzled.

"What about it, son?" Ben asked as Adam laughed outright at his brothers' horrified expressions. They tended to make themselves scarce when Adam read political pieces out of the eastern papers.

"I was just you think it will be possible for us to get through this campaign without Joe losing his temper?"

His father and Hoss laughed too. Joe just glared at him. "Very funny" he snapped.

 * * *

The first opportunity for Joe to practice keeping his temper came the very next morning, when he and Hoss went into town to pick up supplies. They'd arranged to meet Adam at the Bucket of Blood for a beer before they went home. When they arrived, Adam was nowhere in sight. They had just fronted the bar with their beers when a man neither of them recognized came over to them.

"Well, now," he sneered, "if it ain't the Cartwright boys. I hear yore daddy is runnin' for council. Seems ta me Ben Cartwright should stick ta his cattle an' leave the runnin' of this town to them what lives here."

Joe bristled, but he replied, mildly enough, "Yeah, our Pa is running for council. And he'll do a good job of it too, when he's elected."

"Huh," said the other man, "Th' only way he'll get elected is if he buys his votes."

It was obvious that this man was trying to get Joe's goat, just as Adam had predicted.

Hoss laid a gently reminding hand on his brother's arm. Joe shook it off. Didn't Hoss think he was to be trusted? He took a determined sip of his beer, trying to keep his anger under control. How dare that fella suggest his father was anything other than honest?

"That's my Pa you're talking about," he said, trying hard not to let his indignation show. "I think..."

Adam walked through the swinging door to join his brothers at the bar. " I think it would be better if you finished that beer, Joe, " Adam told him calmly. "We've got work to do."

Hoss was relieved to see Adam. Quick-tempered Joe was unpredictable, but this time he would listen to Adam. Joe was relieved to see Adam too, but didn't miss the hardness in Adam's eye. Adam wasn't pleased either, but he would settle this peaceably. Joe could safely leave this in his older brother's hands.

"You know, Joe, a man doesn't get the reputation for honesty and decency that our father has without it having been earned, so don't worry what this man is saying. He's just trying to rile you."

He spoke to Joe but his clear voice carried across the room. Some of the men nodded in agreement. The rest went back to their poker and drinks, either disappointed or uninterested. Joe Cartwright would provide no entertainment today.

 Joe glanced round the room. His would-be assailant had disappeared, probably into the back room.

"I'm sure glad you turned up when you did, Adam," Hoss told him.

"Yeah, me too," Joe said. "I was having a hard time not punching his face in for what he said about Pa."

Adam patted his shoulder. "But you didn't, so that's good, Joe," he praised him. "But things are going to get a whole lot worse before the election. You have to try not to even reply to these people. Anything you say will be used against Pa if it can be."

* * *

Jonas Firth glared at the man who came sheepishly into the back room of the Bucket of Blood. He tipped the girl sitting on his knee unceremoniously off and pointed towards the door. Carrie left in a swirl of satin and lace, indignant at his rude behaviour. But then, what else could you expect of him? She went with him, partly because he was rich, but mostly because she was afraid of him. She watched as the Cartwright boys left . Joe Cartwright had an eye for a pretty girl, even if she would much prefer his older brother. She sighed to herself. That Adam Cartwright was such a handsome man. He always had a smile and a friendly word for her - he didn't treat a girl like dirt just because of the way she made her living. She would have liked to get to know Adam a whole lot better than she did.

"I'm sorry, Boss," the man said. "I just couldn't help meself."

"Listen Tyler, I told you you should only try to get at Joe Cartwright. If those brothers of his are around-especially Adam, you keep away. That Adam Cartwright is a cool customer. It's the young 'un we want. He's the hothead."

"Yeah but there was only that big dumb one-what's his name? Hoss - there, Adam came in later. How was I supposed to know Adam would turn up?" Tyler asked.

He had been brought into town by Firth and although he had heard about the Cartwrights, he didn't know very much about them. If he'd asked, he would have known Adam usually turned up in time to bail Joe out of trouble. It was well known around Virginia City that if you took on one Cartwright, you took on them all. And anyone who made the mistake of thinking Hoss was dumb usually ended up regretting it.

"Watcha got against them Cartwrights anyways?"

"I don't want those stuck up rich men sticking their noses into Virginia City business. The town council is for people who live here, not for people who just come in here when it suits them," he said, conveniently forgetting that Ben paid large sums to all sorts of town causes. "That's why I'm backing Len Hardwick. He's got links to this town."

Firth didn't tell his henchman that Ben had embarrassed him all those years ago. That was a private resentment, harboured and nursed for many years.

"You just do as I tell you and we'll have the council how we want it," he said, frowning.

He was wondering if it wouldn't be better to nominate himself, rather than backing Len. Oh, Len would do as he was told, but he needed to be sure that things would go his way. And his way did not include Ben Cartwright on the town council.

Tyler looked at his employer. "If that Adam Cartwright is so smart, why don't we jest put him outta action a while? No man is smart enough to stop a bullet."

"No, no killing. I don't want anythin' that'll possibly get back to me," Firth said.

Tyler smiled, unpleasantly. "Sure Boss. Nothin' that'll git back to ya," he agreed. He knew how to deal with Adam Cartwright now.

* * *

Ben Cartwright looked worried as Joe told him about their encounter with Tyler. He glanced across at Adam.

"I really think it would be better if Joseph didn't go into town for a while," he said. "I know," he said soothingly to Joe, "you didn't mean to start anything, but from the sounds of it, Firth's determined to start trouble, and he seems to know how to do it. Are you sure none of you recognized this man?"

"I don't know who he is," Adam said, "except that his name is Tyler. Roy told me," he explained in response to their surprise, "and he was met at the stage by Firth. So I think they are tied in together, but that's all I know. He isn't a gunfighter, though. At least Roy hasn't heard of anything, so maybe there isn't anything to it." He grinned suddenly at his father. "But Joe was doing fine, Pa. And Hoss was there. So I don't think we need to worry."

Ben raised an eyebrow. "I thought you said you didn't know anything about him," he said, amused, but not surprised, at the amount of information Adam had produced.

"I don't. Just what Roy told me," he said, as he made his way to the table where Hop Sing was setting out platters. "Let's eat, shall we?"

"Yeah" said Hoss. "I'm plumb near to starvin'!" He sat down and started to serve himself. Adam whipped the platter of steak out from under his nose and helped himself first. It wasn't that Hoss meant to take all the best bits, but he had learned through long experience that if he wanted a choice, he had to get in first.

"There's going to be a town meeting next Sunday where the candidates are giving speeches. I spoke to the guys at the Territorial Enterprise. They said they are going to be reporting on that meeting, and I've arranged for you to give a copy of your policy speech to them beforehand." He glanced up to meet his father's frown. "They'll still hear your speech, Pa. This just saves them from..."

"From what? Listening?" Joe laughed.

His brother and his father glared at him, and Joe subsided, embarrassed.

"I was only making a joke," he said defensively.

"It wasn't funny." Ben told him. "This is a very serious business, Joseph, and we all need to take it seriously. I told you that the other day. Understood?"

"Yes sir" Joe said, abashed.

* * *

The town meeting was, as the Cartwrights had expected, very well attended. The candidates for election had drawn their names out of a hat to see in which order they were to speak, and to Ben's pleasure he was last on the list. There wasn't anything unusual about the meeting-the usual promises to do right by the town, the focus on making it a safe place to live for its citizens, and so on. All the speeches were more or less the same, with a slight change in focus depending on who was giving the speech. The surprise came at the end, when Rev Jordan, who was chairing the meeting made a startling announcement.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, I have a special and rather unusual announcement to make. You all know that Mrs Henry Samuels died recently. We all thought she was a poor woman, but it seems that she was not. According to Mr Harrison, her lawyer, she owned part of a silver mine and she has left the sum of five thousand dollars to the town to be spent on its improvement. She wishes us to build a public building to be named after her late husband, but she leaves the choice of that building to the new town council."

There was a loud murmuring as people took in this surprising news, turning to each other to exclaim and comment. The reverend let them do so for a few minutes, but before he could call the meeting to order a loud voice cut across the chatter.

"Say, Reverend, how come the new council has to decide?' Once the first question came others followed it thick and fast.

"What kind of building, Reverend?" "Where's it gonna be built?" "Who's going to choose?" "How come ..."

The reverend held up his hands to quiet the astonished crowd.

"The choice has been left to the council, as I have said. Mr Harrison says that she wanted suggestions to come from the town. So until the election I will accept suggestions for the building. I will keep a list and give it to the council."

 On the way home, Adam was rather quiet in contrast to his brothers' enthusiastic congratulations to their father on his speech and their speculations about the kind of building that should be built with the money.

"That was a real surprise, wasn't it, Pa?" Joe remarked. "I bet you didn't know you were helping a wealthy woman when you saved her house."

"As it happens she wasn't wealthy then. The money only came in the last couple of years, so Charles Harrison says. He told me she wanted to repay the town for being so good to her when she was poor."

"Sure was nice of her though, Pa," said Hoss. "What kind of buildin' do you think the town needs?"

"I'm not sure. I'm thinking we could do with a better jail and sheriff's office, or a courthouse."

There was an odd noise from Adam. Ben turned in his saddle to look at him.

"Something on your mind?" he asked.

"Yeah," said Adam. "The last thing we need is a new jail. I think the money would be better spent on either a new school or a public library."

"Maybe. I think we'd be better sending a message to lawbreakers that we won't tolerate crime here in Virginia City. And much of my speech was about the need to keep the town and surrounding areas safe for the citizens." Ben's response was firm.

"Not that anyone will remember much of that speech" Adam pointed out. "I wish the Reverend had made his announcement at some other time. Everyone will be too busy discussing the news, instead of the policy speeches."

"I agree. I'll just have to give another one." Ben sighed. He didn't mind giving speeches, but this campaigning was taking up far too much of his and Adam's time. He had a ranch to run.

 * * *

No one noticed Adam's silence in the business of getting the horses bedded down and getting themselves off to bed, which was just as well because Adam didn't want to talk. He was thinking deeply. He was worried about his father's focus on law and order, and he very much wanted the council to consider expanding the intellectual focus of Virginia City. He had never been particularly in favor of his father's platform, but he had gone along with it. After all, it was his father who was running for the council.

But now there was something to make him want to change Pa's position. He believed, strongly, that education was the cornerstone of civilization. The important thing to do, he mused, was to come up with some convincing arguments that would persuade his father to go along with his idea about spending Widow Samuels' money. The only way to convince his father of anything was to produce carefully thought out arguments. Ben Cartwright was, in Adam's opinion, just about the most stubborn man on this earth. Just because he respected his father enormously didn't mean he always agreed with him. The fact of the matter was that he argued with his father a great deal. Adam's mind drifted back to the many arguments he'd had with his father over the years. Some of them he'd won, some he hadn't-but, he smiled to himself a little-they'd certainly had some remarkable ones! But he didn't want to fight with his father on this one. It was far too important.

He thought about his father. Sometimes Pa seemed to forget that he was twelve years older than his baby brother-and a grown man. No, that wasn't fair. He knew his father trusted him-he was his father's right hand man; he ran the timber part of their operation-the men accepted him as "Bull of the Woods"; he had unrestricted access to the ranch accounts; he was held in high esteem by many of the men in their employ. His father relied on his judgment and ability, but sometimes all that was forgotten-like last month when he had, he had to admit, been needling Joe for the sheer pleasure of stirring him up, and Pa had ordered them all to bed like ten year olds. He chuckled to himself. He had deserved it that time. But he needed his father to remember that he was a grown man in this discussion; to see the mature side of him. This was too important to him. There somehow always seemed to be enough money in town to pay for Sheriffs and deputies. Only a few weeks ago, the sheriff, Roy Coffee, had asked for the jailhouse roof to be fixed and the council had made the necessary funds available. There wouldn't be another good chance for a public library or a new schoolhouse for a while. Raising money for those was not high on the average citizen's list of good ways to spend property taxes.

* * *

"Pa" he said over the breakfast table the next morning, "I need to talk to you."

"Somethin' bothering you, older brother?" asked Joe, picking up on Adam's resolute demeanor.

"No, I just need to discuss something with Pa. You can stay or go as you like, just don't interrupt me," Adam told him.

Joe bristled, but he recognised the mood Adam was in, and knew the most sensible thing he could do at this moment was make himself scarce. Adam was bucking for a fight with Pa, and that was never pretty.

"Time to get to work," he said brightly, stuffing the last bit of hot biscuit into his mouth as he rose from the table. "Coming, Hoss?"

Hoss too had read the signs, but he wanted to stay. Adam might want his support. He glanced at Adam, who smiled and shook his head slightly. He didn't want anything to distract Pa from what he was about to say.

"Now that the boys have gone, Adam, what's on your mind?" his father asked pleasantly, pouring himself a fresh cup of coffee.

"I want you to support my idea of spending Widow Samuel's money on a new schoolhouse or public library," Adam said, directly.

He watched his father and waited for the inevitable objection.

"I told you last night, Adam," Ben said, frowning slightly, "that I'm in favor of spending that money to support law and order. I've decided to support the idea of a new courthouse. The town is growing and we need to make an important statement about how highly we value the law that has come to Nevada Territory."

"I understand how you feel, Pa," Adam told Ben courteously, "but I really think that we should look at bringing more civilization to the town. We've got law in plenty - Roy does a fine job - but we haven't been able to provide a library for the town. People don't want to spend hard earned money on what they consider to be frivolities, but since this is a windfall they might go for it."

"I don't believe they would," Ben disagreed. "People are much more interested in the safety of their families. I think we need to make a statement about our support for making Virginia City safe for people. I told you, Adam, that is the platform I'm running on, and I think this is just the thing to strongly underline my position."

Ben wasn't exactly shouting, but his voice had that stern tone that meant he didn't want to discuss it.

Adam tried once more. "I think that you underestimate the people of this town, Pa," he said. "I believe that once it is pointed out to them how much they and their children and the town's reputation will benefit they will go along with me."

"No," Ben said. "I think they would prefer security." He was about to tell Adam that it was time to go back to work when he saw Adam's face and hesitated a moment.

"Look, son, I understand how important education is to you, but I think now isn't the right time."

Adam could see he was making no headway.

"I don't think you do understand," he said quietly. "You sure you won't change your mind?"

Ben shook his head.

"Then I'm sorry, Pa. I'll have to resign as your campaign manager, because I am going to run for council myself." He swallowed hard at the look of dismay that crossed Ben's face. He didn't want to hurt his father. "I'll understand if you want me to move out during the campaign, but this is much too important a chance for me to let it go by."

There was a long silence. Ben forced a smile he wasn't feeling to his lips.

"I understand, son. I won't say that I won't find my campaign much harder to run without your assistance, Adam, but you need to do what you think is right," he told him. "You don't need to move out. This is your home. Your campaign will be strictly above board, just as mine is. I have no secrets from you." He held out his hand. "I wish you luck, son."

Adam's long fingers closed round his father's large hand, holding it firmly, trying through his grip to convey everything he couldn't find the words to say.

 * * *

There was a furor in the town when the final list of candidates running for the town council election was released when nominations closed just three days later.

George Devlin rushed over to the Ponderosa. "What on earth's going on, Ben?" he demanded. "How could you let the boy do that? It'll just split the rancher vote."

"Now calm down, George," Ben said. "In the first place, Adam isn't a boy-he's a grown man. At his age I already had two sons!"

Adam would have laughed if he'd heard that. His father frequently forgot he was a grown man, when it suited him.

"And secondly-what rancher vote? There are only about twenty ranchers eligible to vote anyway. It's the townsfolk who we need to get onside, and I don't need Adam to do that." He sighed. "I would have liked Adam by my side, but I've raised him to do what he thinks is right."

His words echoed those of his middle son when he was explaining to Joe just what was going on.

"But who 're we goin to support?" Joe had demanded. "We can't back both Adam and Pa," he'd said.

"Course we can," Hoss had said. "Neither o' you or me is eligible to vote anyway, so we can just go ahead and do jest the same for both o' them. You know, puttin' up posters and handin' out them pamphlets Adam had printed and if Adam gets some done for him then we'll hand them out too. No one will say anythin'. Adam's our brother and Pa is our Pa an' both of them have a right to our support."

Hoss grinned. "It's a good thing I don't hafta vote-I wouldn't want to choose between 'em!"

"Me either," said Joe. Then he grinned. "Hey, Hoss, wouldn't it be great if both of them could get elected?"

"It sure would, little brother," Hoss said. "It's possible, I s'pose, but it ain't likely."

 * * *

The first public speech Adam gave attracted a big crowd. Most of them came because they wanted to find out what was going on between Adam and Ben Cartwright. There is nothing like gossip to spice up an election campaign, but they were sadly disappointed. Adam gave a very good speech, extolling among other things, the virtues of education and the chance for Virginia City to become a modern centre of learning. It wasn't until question time that anyone even tried to raise the subject. The question came from the ever-present 'voice from the back of the room'.

"Hey Cartwright, why goin' against ya daddy, boy?"

Adam recognized Tyler's voice and ignored it except for a brief exchange of glances with Hoss. Matt Devlin, chairing the meeting, rose to ask if there were any questions, but before he could call on anyone, Tyler stood up and asked the question again.

"C'mon boy, you an' ya daddy had a fallin' out?" His tone was offensive.

At the back of the room, Joe leaped to his feet, but Ben beside him clamped his hand firmly on Joe's arm and pulled him down.

"Sit down and let Adam handle it, " he hissed in his ear. "Do you want the town to think there's something in it?"

"My father and I have different views on the way the money Mrs Samuels left the town should be spent. He holds one view, I hold another. You have heard his view at the speech he gave last night. You have heard my view tonight. I will be happy to answer any questions regarding my political views. Matt, any more questions?"

There were plenty of questions, but at the end the audience gave Adam a standing ovation. Many of the audience came up to shake his hand or clap him on the back. Adam walked down the aisle shaking hands and replying to the congratulations of his well-wishers and met his father, coming towards him. The curious watched to see what Ben Cartwright would do. If they'd expected fireworks, though, they were to be disappointed. He offered his hand to Adam.

"A fine speech, son. I'm proud of you." Adam shook the offered hand, smiling.

"Thank you, Pa" he replied. Ben put his hand on Adam's shoulder, and they left the hall together, Joe and Hoss in their wake. Political rivals, maybe, but the Cartwrights still presented a solid front to the rest of the world.

* * *

Jonas Firth watched them as they rode out of the town. He turned to Len Hardwick and Tyler and said, "I think the Cartwrights just made their first mistake. Splittin' their vote like that. Now we have to make sure that no one wants to vote for people who can't even keep their family squabbles to themselves." He smiled as he said this, but there was no humor in it.

Soon after that rumors started flying round the town-rumors about the Cartwrights. No matter where any of the Cartwrights or their supporters went there was gossip, instantly silenced when they came into the room. It was perhaps inevitable that Joe would be the first one of the Cartwrights to hear the rumors, and even more inevitable that he would lose his temper and try to make an issue of it. He came into the Silver Dollar one afternoon after picking up the mail and doing a few other errands in town for his father.

"Hey Sam" he greeted the bartender.

"Joe" Sam nodded politely to his young customer. "Your brothers with you today?" he asked hopefully.

"No, why?" Joe asked, taking a swig of his beer.

"I just wondered." Sam concentrated on polishing the bar. He liked the Cartwrights and he didn't like what he had been hearing. "Look, Joe, I think I oughta tell ya..."

He didn't get much further when a loud drunk yelled, "Hey Cartwright, is it true ya brother an' ya Pa planned this whole thing so they c'n take over this town?"

"Yeah, an it's a real shame, a boy goin' against his daddy like that. If Ben Cartwright cain't keep his boys in line, he sure can't keep the town in line!"

"Yeah, less'n his Pa thinks all his money'll get him elected!"

"Yeah" another voice chimed in, "an' where did young Adam get that house over on C Street?"

"You reckon his pa paid for it so's they c'n both run?"

"Nah," someone else said. "I heard Adam runs a cat house...."

The loud and taunting voices were too much for Joe. He slammed his drink down on the counter, headed over to the man with the loudest voice and took a swing at him.

"My Pa would never do anything dishonest," he yelled, swinging right and left, "and I'll take on anyone who wants to say so!"

His reaction was just what his opponents wanted. They turned on him eagerly, and it was only the intervention of the sheriff that broke up the fight and rescued Joe from the consequences of his own temper before he was too badly injured.

Roy hauled him off down to the jail, and got Doc Martin to take a look at him.

When Ben arrived to bail him out, Roy took him aside.

"Look, Ben, I understand why he did it, but you're gonna have to keep that boy out of town for a while. There are all sorts of rumors flying around about the Cartwrights. Nasty stuff. And you know what a hot head he is!"

"I know, Roy," Ben said. "But what can I do? There have always been rumors about the Cartwrights."

"Yeah, but not like these. Real bad things, Ben," he said, worriedly.

"What sort of things, Roy?" Ben asked.

"Oh, that you and Adam have had a falling out. That Adam is planning to take over the Ponderosa. That you can't even control your sons, so how can you expect to be voted for. That the Cartwrights want to take over the town. That there was something shady in the way Adam got his property in the town-and that Adam runs a bawdy house there." He looked a little uncomfortable at that one. "That you planned all along that you'd bring Adam in as a ringer at the last minute-that you are working together. And some even more unsavory things that I wouldn't even want to repeat."

Ben frowned. "We can't fight rumor. None of it is true, of course-except that I can't control my sons." He laughed, shortly. "Control my sons? Adam is a grown man-what do they expect me to do? Send him to his room if he disobeys me?"

Roy chuckled. Ben couldn't control his sons? He had seen Ben 'control' hard-headed Adam, and other men too, with just a look and a raised eyebrow. He'd been just as surprised as any to find out that Adam was running against his father. He'd known the Cartwrights since Adam was a youngster and he knew how close Ben and Adam were.

"I know you can't fight rumors. Can't you persuade Adam to withdraw?"

"No," Ben said shortly. "Adam has his views and I have mine. You know Adam. It might be better if I withdrew, but I made a commitment and I plan to see it through. Any idea who's behind the rumors? "

"My guess is Jonas Firth-those men at the saloon were his, but I don't have any hard evidence. Not enough to charge them with slander, anyway."

Ben shook his head. "Even if you did, I wouldn't press charges. It would just give credence to the rumors."

* * *

He was surprisingly forbearing about the fight Joe got into, much to Joe's astonishment. He bawled him out for starting a brawl, and restricted him to the ranch as a consequence, but he didn't have much to say about the reason for that brawl. Adam was far less understanding of his younger brother's exploits than his father was.

"What the hell were you thinking, Joe?" he demanded. "I told you that responding to their taunts would just give them ammunition. Now the rumors will have far more currency than they would have otherwise."

Joe was indignant. He'd tried to protect his father's and his brother's reputations and look at the thanks he'd got. Restricted to the ranch until Pa told him he could leave it-just like a little kid-but that was for starting a brawl, he had to admit. And now Adam was having his turn.

"I was just trying to protect my family!" he yelled back.

"How?" Adam enquired sarcastically. "By giving people reason to think there may be some truth in those rumors?"

Joe glared at him, but he couldn't say anything that would help. It was rare for Adam to be quite so mad at him. Adam was usually pretty understanding when he made a genuine mistake.

"I don't see why," he attempted to defend himself. "all I did was..."

"All you did was throw a childish tantrum without thinking through the consequences. Since when does Pa need you to defend his reputation anyway? His actions speak for themselves. The important," he stressed the word, "people know the truth and that's all that counts."

"Yeah, but what about you?" Joe countered. "They said you run a cat house on C street in that house you bought."

Adam stared at him in astonishment. "They said what?" he exclaimed, his face darkening. Then he suddenly laughed. "A cat house! Just wait till Sally Linton hears that! I'd back Sally against any number of Jonas Firths! She won't let them sully her reputation!"

 And that indeed proved to be true. Ben's friend Tom Anderson rode out to the Ponderosa to regale the Cartwrights with the story.

"You should have seen it, Ben," he laughed. "You know Sally-a redoubtable lady if I ever saw one. She marched into the Silver Dollar and backed Jonas Firth up against the bar in front of a large crowd of very interested bystanders."

Sally Linton was the widow of an old friend of Adam's, who ran a boarding house for young ladies in the house she rented from him. He had bought it to save her from losing her home when her husband had been killed in a mining accident, but she had always refused to accept the title from him. "You pay the property taxes!" she had told him with a laugh. "I can't afford to." She insisted on paying rent too, in spite of his objections, and he had enjoyed many an evening of her sharp wit and good cooking.

The family listened to Tom's story with pleasure and amusement.

"Jonas Firth!" Sally had shouted. "You wicked man! How dare you speak about my home like that?"

Firth, Tom said, had backed away from her as she shook her parasol in his face.

"Me? Miss Sally? What did I do?" he'd asked, ingenuously.

"What did you do?" she shouted. "Your men told Joe Cartwright that I run a...a bawdy house! You trampled on my good name and on the names of all those young ladies who reside in my home! I want an apology!"

"I'm sorry, Miss Sally," Firth had said. "I'm sure you've misunderstood,." he said, attempting to smooth things over.

"Misunderstood?" she said. "I understand what the term 'cat house' means, young man. And that's 'Mrs Linton' to you. I have no wish to have my name bandied about by the likes of you! Just because I am a female does not mean I am either deaf or stupid. Nor was I born yesterday. And not only to drag my name in the mud, but that nice young Adam Cartwright as well. A finer young man I have yet to meet and you smear his name as well! I want a public apology from you. In the Enterprise. In fact, we are going over to the newspaper office right now and I will tell you what to put in your advertisement."

In the face of her very public display Firth had had no choice but to do as Mrs Linton demanded.

"She kept poking him with her parasol," Tom reported. " The story's going all around the town. I brought the paper in so you can see the apology. Funny, she doesn't mention your name in it. She was more annoyed about them insulting you than her, I think, Adam."

"I'm glad she didn't," Adam said, reading the advertisement. "She's an astute lady, Sally Linton. She knows that it wouldn't help my cause if there was even the slightest suggestion of immorality attached to my name-even as a denial. But it's safe for Sally to be apologized to. She's worded this very cleverly indeed. The only one who comes out of it badly is Firth."

"Firth's not going to like this at all," Ben said. "I want you to be specially careful, Adam. Please don't go into town alone."

He glanced at his other sons. "Nor you two. I want you to be with someone reliable at all times." He glared at Joe as he spoke, who squirmed just a bit. "Not you, of course, Joseph. Anyway, you are not to leave this ranch. Neither Adam nor I require your help in our election campaigns."

Joe looked unhappy, but he knew better than to reply. Pa would cool down a lot quicker if he kept his mouth shut.

Tom Anderson stared at his friend. "Do you really think that's necessary, Ben? Surely Firth wouldn't harm any of the boys?"

"And what about you, Pa?" added Hoss.

"I don't plan to travel into town alone either, but it seems to me its Adam Firth is gunning for. Adam?" he asked, waiting for Adam to accept his edict

.Adam hesitated. "All right, Pa," he said finally. "I'm not convinced it's necessary, but if it will make you worry less..." His smile was one of deep affection.

Ben nodded, acknowledging Adam's reluctant acquiescence. "I do think it's necessary. Tom, Adam may be my political rival, but he is still my son. I don't want him to take unnecessary risks."

"I have work to do," Adam announced. "I'll leave you two to talk tactics without your opponents learning of your plans. I'll see you at the public meeting , Tom." He grinned at his father and left him with his guest.

 * * *

It was later that week that Ben decided there had been so many reports about a rock fall and injured cattle that he felt it needed to be checked out.

"I'd appreciate it if you'd go, son. With all the time we're taking with this election we can save some manpower if you go, especially if it needs your engineering expertise. There's no reason you can't be back well before tomorrow lunchtime at the latest. You've got your speech ready for the meeting tomorrow, haven't you?"

"Sure, Pa I'll go," Adam said, resigned. Riding up to the high country was not his favorite choice of activity. It was getting close to winter, and it was cold up there.

"Just be as quick as you can, Adam," Ben said. "I don't want you caught in the early snows. And be careful," he added anxiously.

"I'll be fine," Adam assured him. "There's no reason I shouldn't be back by tomorrow at the latest. If I'm really lucky I'll be back tonight." He touched his hat and rode off.

It was cold. He spent much of the ride turning the question of the election, his position and Firth over in his mind. The weather was just on the verge of changing-it was cold enough for it to snow, he thought. He pulled his heavy coat round himself tighter. He hoped the rocks were stable-then he would have a chance to get home tonight-late but at least he would be able to sleep in his own bed. He was getting too old to enjoy camping out-that sort of thing was best left to youngsters like Little Joe. He smiled wryly to himself as he thought about his little brother.

Sport whinnied, waking him from his reverie. "Shh, easy there, boy," he told the horse, patting his neck. They were just below the rock fall, and he dismounted so he could check it out.

"Looks stable enough," he told Sport as he tied the horse's reins. He went over to the rock fall, and examined it, shivering a little in the biting wind. It didn't look like it was going to cause any more damage, but he thought he'd better climb to the top to check. He had explosives in his saddlebags if he needed them, but he hoped he wouldn't. He climbed carefully to the top, negotiating the slipperiest and more unstable rocks, but generally not shifting much of anything at all. Once at the top he stood for a moment, surveying all around him. Whatever else he might do, this land would always be in his soul. He loved it so. But it was too cold to stand exposed like this. He climbed down again, carefully, but even as careful as he was he slipped.

"Damn" he thought as the contents of his pocket spilled over rocks. The wind caught something blue and whisked it out of reach. Adam left it. It wasn't important enough to go climbing for.

"Come on boy," he said he told the horse. "Let's go check out around to see if there are any cattle wandering around here where they shouldn't be."

He urged his horse to a trot and they began the tedious task of checking the various canyons and draws in the area. It was a pity, Adam thought to himself after several hours of fruitless and tiring exploration, that he hadn't simply gone home. He had found no injured cattle, nor had he seen any signs of injured animals-certainly no carrion eaters or wild animals. He glanced up towards the sky. There was definitely snow coming. There wasn't much light left, but the closer he got towards home before that snow hit, the less time he'd have to be out in it.

* * *

Ben glanced up at the darkening sky. "Maybe I shouldn't have sent Adam out in it," he muttered to himself. "I knew it was going to snow."

"What's that, Pa?" Hoss asked, hearing his father speak.

"Adam should have been home by now. He should have been home this morning," he told Hoss, worrying. The weather was miserable-he could see the snow clouds.

"Pa," Hoss said, "D'ya think we should go look for him?"

Ben thought about it for less than a second. "Yes, I think we need to look for him. I think we should send into town for Roy too. And tell the Reverend that neither Adam nor I will be at the meeting tonight."

"Send for Roy?" asked Joe in astonishment. "Why?"

"Because I'm afraid that something untoward has happened to Adam. And if Firth has anything to do with it..." he left the sentence unfinished. His sons knew the end of it without it being said.

"I'll go into town and see Roy. Hoss, you come with me. Joseph will stay here. It's too late to look for Adam tonight. It's too dark. But I'm sending a search party out first thing in the morning."

Ben rode into town as quickly as he could. By the time he got there the meeting was about to begin. There were rumbles and murmurings as people noticed or heard that neither of the Cartwrights were there. Their supporters were worried. It wasn't like Ben or Adam not to keep a commitment. There were sighs of relief as Ben strode into the meeting, along with puzzled glances. It wasn't like Ben Cartwright to dress inappropriately either, and everyone was surprised to see him in his work clothes. People craned their necks trying to see if Adam was there, but there was only Hoss. Murmurs flew about the room.

"Excuse me, Reverend," Ben said, politely. "I have something I need to say."

He turned to the audience and announced, " Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to apologize to you all tonight, but neither Adam nor I will be able to attend the meeting to give you our views tonight. Adam should have returned from a trip and I am concerned that something may have happened to him. He should have been back this morning. It may be nothing, but..." he stopped, unable to continue.

Reverend Jordan put a comforting hand on his arm. "I am sure everyone quite understands, Ben," he said softly. Everybody knew how much Ben Cartwright cared about his sons.

Len Hardwick rose to his feet behind the reverend. "Just because the Cartwrights can't give the town the benefit of their wisdom does not mean that those candidates who have managed to arrange their affairs so they can be here tonight should be penalized," he said with just the hint of a sneer in his voice.

"Yeah, he's right," called another voice.

"Let's hear what the serious candidates have to say!" yelled another.

It was obvious these were members of the Firth camp, but Ben didn't rise to the bait.

John Carter, Frank Armstead and Charles Harrison, the other candidates, had quickly put their heads together. After a brief consultation, Frank Armstead, as the only current member of the council made an announcement.

"Ladies and gentlemen, in the light of Mr Cartwright's obvious concern about the safety of his son, we think it would only be fair if we postponed this meeting to a later date. We would not wish to take advantage in such a way. I am sure, too, that many of you will be up at first light to help join in the search for Adam."

Ben smiled gratefully at them. " That is very kind of you," he said, touched, "but I was not suggesting you cancel the meeting. My private concerns should not affect the smooth running of the town. Please go on with your meeting. I am simply giving my, and my son's, apologies. We will hold another meeting once Adam has returned safely. Please excuse me, ladies and gentlemen." He left the stage to look for Roy.

* * *

In one corner of the large room, Carrie the saloon girl stared worriedly after him as he left with Hoss. Should she tell Mr Cartwright or the Sheriff what she had overheard? Would they believe her? Most people dismissed her because of the way she made her living. Then she remembered how Adam had touched his hat to her, just as though she was a respectable lady. She'd heard Adam was a lot like his father. And Sheriff Coffee was always polite to her. She made up her mind, and slipped out of the room while Jonas Firth wasn't looking.

 On the way to the Sheriff's office, Hoss said, "Hey, Pa, ya know that Tyler fella? Well, he weren't there. Lately he's always bin Firth's shadow, and I didn't see him anywhere."

Hoss' comment worried Ben even more. Had someone gone out to deliberately hurt Adam? Surely Firth didn't hate him that much? All right, he knew that being on the town council could be a stepping stone to a major political career, but surely it wasn't worth a man's life? It certainly wasn't worth his son's life. In his deepest heart, Ben was terrified for his son.

Roy Coffee met him at the door. "Roy, you've got to get a search party out. I can get my hands out, but there's a lot of territory to cover, and Adam could be very badly hurt." Ben told him urgently.

"Now just a minute, there, Ben," the sheriff replied. "You don't know that anything has happened to Adam. He might be at home now, worrying about you. Or he'll ride in tomorrow, with some perfectly reasonable explanation. We don't want to go off half-cocked here."

Roy was the voice of reason. Ben was feeling that maybe Roy had a point, when Carrie came in timidly.

"Uh, Mr. Cartwright, Sheriff, I think I have something to tell you," she blurted out before she could change her mind.

"What's that, Carrie?" Roy asked gently.

"I, well, I..I overheard Mr Firth's man, Mr Tyler and Mr. Firth talking one day," she said, looking at them both anxiously.

"Talking about what, Carrie?"

"It was just after you announced you would be a candidate and Mr Tyler said he knew a way to stop Adam. He said 'no man is smart enough to stop a bullet.' And Mr Firth told him not to do anything that would connect to him. But that was a long time ago."

Ben stared at her in dismay. "You see, Roy? I want you to arrest him," he said harshly.

"I see what? I have no proof Tyler, or Firth, did anything. And you don't, neither," he said pointedly.

"But it's true!" Carrie burst in , "I heard it."

"I don't doubt you did, Carrie," Roy said, "but we have no proof that anything's happened to Adam."

"Tyler wasn't at the meeting," Hoss offered.

"That's so, but we still can't do anything without any proof. I'll be out at the Ponderosa before first light and we'll look for Adam. But without a scrap of proof I can't go and arrest a man just because he threatened somebody. Hell, if I did that, I'd havta build a jail big enough to fit half the town in. You go on home, Ben, and I'll listen out and see what's what. Thank you for coming to tell me, Carrie. That was very brave of you," he told the girl.

She smiled at him wanly. "I hope I did the right thing, but Adam is always so polite to me," she half explained.

"You did the right thing," Roy told her. "Go on back now, before Firth misses you."

"Yes, thank you for telling us, Miss Carrie," Ben said politely.

Carrie went back, feeling that she had done her best to repay Adam for being kind to her.

 * * *

Dawn came and a sleepless Ben joined his sons and the hands to plan the search. Roy and a dozen men rode up too, including, to Ben's astonishment, John Carter and Frank Armstead. "Charles would have come too, but he's really not up to it," John Carter told him.

"I don't know what to say," Ben said, moved by their kindness.

Frank smiled at him. "We want a fair election, Ben. And if someone has hurt Adam because of this election, then none of us are safe. So it's important to show that we want to see fair play. Besides," he added, "We like Adam, and I for one wouldn't want anything to happen to him."

Roy assigned the men into teams so that they could cover the greatest area. Ben showed them the approximate area where the rock fall was.

"He may have injured himself on the rocks, or trying to fix it, " he said. "I shouldn't have sent him out there alone," he berated himself. "I told him to be careful in town. I didn't think anything would happen to him on our own land!"

"There's no point worrying about that now," Roy told him firmly. "What's done is done. The thing to do is find him. So he might be near the rock fall, or he might be somewhere between here and the high pastures. Keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary. Watch out for Sport too. He might have been spooked and run off. Or," he paused in his instructions to the men, " he might be hurt in some way or other. You know the drill, fellas. Three shots if you find anything."

He turned to the apprehensive father. "Ben, I think it would be wisest if you stay here," he said. "If we do find Adam, or Adam comes home, you will be able to let everyone know."

"No, I need to look for him," Ben said. "He's my son...."

"Ben, please," Roy said, staring his old friend down. Ben acquiesced. Roy was right, someone had to stay here. "Oh very well," he grumbled.

Hoss, John Carter and two of the hands were in one group, Joe was in charge of the team with Frank Armstead. Roy had a quiet word in both young men's ears.

"I'm sending them out with you because I want them kept safe. I didn't really want them to come-if someone has hurt Adam they are in danger too-but they insisted. Don't worry-they've promised not to take any risks, but you two know this land better than anyone. Keep them safe, boys."

Hoss frowned. He wanted to look for Adam, not nursemaid some townie, but he understood what Roy was asking. "If you tell them they hafta do as we say, then okay," he told the Sheriff . "I wanta find Adam."

They set off. Joe headed straight for the rock fall. He would start there and work in a spiral. Only for his family would Joe make Cochise work so hard. He watched carefully as he rode though-it would be a mistake to rush too much and possibly miss any sign of Adam, but he saw nothing that made him think Adam was about. Once at the rock fall he set the men to searching for any sign of Adam but all they found was signs that someone had climbed the rock fall. They were about to leave when one of the hands found a piece of blue bandana.

"Joe!" he called. "Look at this!"

Joe took one look at it and scowled. "Tyler!" he snapped. "If Tyler has done anything to my brother..."

"Now just a minute, Joe," Frank Armstead said, trying to calm the young man, "You don't know that he's been out here."

"Tyler had a blue bandana the day I got into that fight," he insisted.

Frank was a little worried. Roy had warned him that Joe Cartwright was a hothead, and had asked him to try to stop him if he did anything stupid.

"Not that I expect you'll get anywhere," Roy had added, "Even his Pa has trouble stoppin' him."

"That may be," Frank said sensibly, "but surely our priority is to find Adam. Tyler can wait." He had found the right words. Nothing was more important than Adam at this moment.

"Yeah, you're right, I guess," said Joe. They began their careful search for any sign of Adam.

* * *

Back in the town Jonas Firth sat in the backroom of the Bucket of Blood with Tyler across the table from him.

"I told you not to do anything to the Cartwright boy," he snarled at his sidekick. "Now every where I go in the town people are looking at me funny. And at Len here. We were making good headway with that rumor campaign. Now people will feel sorry for him. Jest what we don't need-a sympathy vote for the Cartwrights!

"But, Boss, Tyler protested, "I didn't do anything to him!"

"Then where were you the last coupla days?"

Tyler looked embarrassed. "I went over to Independence and I got rolled by a pretty little redhead," he admitted, shame-faced.

Firth looked at him in amazement, then he laughed. "That's really good, Tyler. I really like that story. You can start spreading that as your alibi." He laughed again.

"But Boss, I really did. I didn't do nothin' to Adam Cartwright."

If his boss didn't believe him, no one else was going to. He left, worried. He got more worried as the day went on, people stared at him and muttered, but said nothing to him directly. He began to get nervous. He was so worried that he jumped whenever anyone came near him. He took himself off to the saloon for a drink or three to calm his nerves. The men in the bar who had been so eager to drink with him now moved away when he came near them. It wasn't safe to be near anyone who hurt one of Ben's boys.

* * *

The election, though, was the last thing on Hoss' mind. He was more interested in finding his brother. He went to the east of the rock fall, and another team went west. They would cover the most ground that way. They set off through the quiet, snow covered landscape. Hoss watched the ground carefully as he rode, looking for any sign of tracks that might lead then to his brother. He didn't hold out much hope, though. The snow would effectively cover most tracks, he thought, so he was very surprised when they did find some tracks. It was a horse wearing shoes, but not Sport's. He knew Sport's tracks almost as well as he knew his brother's. Adam had been riding Sport for many years.

He stopped the others and pointed to the tracks. "I don't know whose tracks they are, but they ain't Adam's. The question is, do we follow these or do we keep lookin' for Adam?"

"Maybe the tracks belong to someone who is helping Adam," John Carter suggested hopefully.

Hoss looked at him pityingly. He'd told Roy that townies were useless, but he was too polite to say so . He shook his head instead.

"No," he explained. "That horse is carryin' a big man, but only one, so whoever it is ain't got Adam. There's only one set of tracks, and the tracks ain't deep enough for two."

His explanation helped him to decide. "We keep looking' fer Adam," he said.

But he was worried. Why should anyone be out here on the Ponderosa? Tyler was a big man and he hadn't been in town last night. If Tyler had done anything to his brother, he promised himself, he would make him pay.

They had been traveling for maybe another hour when they heard a horse whinny.

Hoss looked hopefully at John Carter. "That was a horse weren't it?" he asked, torn between hope and fear.

Carter nodded. "Sounded like one to me. Seemed to come from over there." he pointed as he spoke. The men urged their horses into a trot, listening all the while.

"Adam!" yelled Hoss with joy in his voice as he spied the chestnut. His face fell when the horse kept walking , but there was no response from Adam. "Adam?" he called again.

He urged his horse to a trot and caught Sport's bridle. Sport whinnied, pleased to see a familiar face.

Adam tried to raise his aching head.

"Oh, Hoss, 'bout time you got here, brother," he mumbled, then as if in the deepest part of him he knew it was safe to allow himself to let go, he slid off the horse, unconscious.

John Carter fired three shots, as Hoss caught Adam and lowered him to the ground. Hoss checked him out. The bandana round Adam's head was stiff with dried blood.

"He's got a head injury," he told John Carter. He looked at Sport standing there favoring the leg with a missing shoe. "Adam can't ride back, even if Sport was all right. He's too heavy for Chub to carry both of us. I'll stay with him. You three go back and get a wagon, and tell Pa Adam's still alive-and that he needs a doctor." he ordered. Even as they turned their horses, Hoss was already wrapping Adam in a blanket.

* * *

"Ben!" called John Carter as he galloped up to the ranch house. Ben rushed out.

"He's alive," John reported, "but he is injured. He has some kind of head wound and he's unconscious, but he recognized Hoss," he added with a brief smile, knowing how this information would relieve some of the worried father's anxiety. "I'll go get Doctor Martin."

Ben already had the buckboard ready, and loaded. He leaped into the driving seat with the agility of a man half his age, and with the hands leading the way, he headed off to rescue his injured son. Hoss had done all that he could for Adam by the time Ben got there, but there hadn't been much he could do. Adam had stayed unconscious the whole time. Hoss carefully lifted his brother up into the nest of blankets Ben had prepared.

"Sport's lost a shoe, Pa," he told Ben as he did so. "I'll bring him back. You take care of Adam. Adam's got a head injury, and a big lump on his head too," he said.

"Has he spoken to you at all?" Ben asked.

Hoss nodded. "Yeah. Told me it was about time I showed up," he grinned.

That was so typical of Adam, Ben thought, relieved. At least he hadn't lost his wits. By the time Ben got back to the ranch house the doctor was there, and the other search parties were returning. They carried Adam inside and laid him gently on the bed in the downstairs bedroom. He lay there, unmoving, as Paul Martin examined him.

"Well?" Ben demanded. "What's wrong with him? Has he been shot?"

Doctor Martin closed his bag. "No, he hasn't been shot, Ben. It looks like he hit his head on something, rather badly. He has the injury and he has another huge bump on his head. But it's not a bullet wound. I've cleaned him up and I found splinters of wood in it. I'm more concerned about the fact that he's still unconscious. It looks to me like that wound is at least twenty-four hours old. You know what to do-keep him warm and let him rest. See if you can wake him every three hours or so."

Ben nodded. He did indeed know what to do for concussion. He had had plenty of experience. "Could somebody have hit him?" he asked.

"It's possible," Paul replied. "But I don't think so. Not from the shape of the wound. Looks more like he hit his head on something. Accidentally. "

"I see. We won't really know until he wakes up, will we? I'll go tell everyone."

He left Paul with Adam and went out into the great room of the house.

"Thank you very much for coming, gentlemen," he announced to the men gathered there drinking hot coffee and sharing the late breakfast Hop Sing had prepared. "It seems Adam has hit his head on something, but Doctor Martin thinks he will be all right as long as he regains consciousness soon."

"So he wasn't shot, Ben?" Frank Armstead asked.

"It appears not, "Ben said. "Just an accident." Just an accident, he thought. Adam could still have died out there, but at least it was not the malevolent hand of man that had done it.

"I'm very relieved to hear it. Makes me feel safer, I have to admit." The men all left leaving the Cartwright family and Sheriff Coffee alone. "Good thing I didn't arrest Firth, ain't it, Ben?" he asked pointedly.

"Maybe," Ben replied. "But that I even had to worry about it shows what a snake he is. And Carrie did hear Tyler threaten him." He had a sudden thought. "There are going to be rumors flying around the town this morning, Roy. Keep your ear open-and keep an eye on that ...Firth. He might put two and two together and hurt her."

Paul came out. "I want someone with him for the next twenty-four hours. Keep him warm-if we are lucky he won't get pneumonia, but Adam's pretty strong. It'll take a few days for the concussion to clear-he'll need to rest. He'll need someone with him until he can stay awake."

Ben nodded. "I wish I knew what had happened to him, now I know he wasn't shot. I wonder who did this to him?""

* * *

Ben was to be very surprised when he learned that the culprit was in his own barn. It had been Sport who had injured Adam -Adam's beloved horse. Adam might not fuss over his horse like Joe did over Cochise, but the bond between the two was equally as strong. Sport had put his foot into a rabbit hole, and although he hadn't been injured, Adam had been thrown. He landed with a thud on his back and hit his head on a rotting tree root. Dazed, he lay there for a moment, disoriented, before he dragged himself to his feet. He leaned against a tree for a moment, then, feeling something running down his neck, swiped his hand over it. It came away, bright and sticky with his blood. He gingerly felt his head, and winced as he touched the sore spot. Must have cut my head on something, he thought to himself, as he tied his bandanna round his head to stop the bleeding.

He whistled for Sport. Sport came hesitantly, picking his way carefully, not wanting to put his foot in another hole. Adam bent and felt the horse's legs. He didn't seem to be hurt, but...Sport had a shoe missing. He cursed as he picked it up and tucked it into a saddlebag.

"So much for sleeping in my own bed, tonight. We'd better find some shelter-there's that old lineshack about three miles from here. If I'm lucky I'll be able to put your shoe back on," he told the horse.

He took Sport's rein in his hand, and began the long cold walk towards the shack. The only good thing about the snow storm was that with the snow the wind dropped a little-not much. Adam pulled his coat collar up around his neck and kept walking. His head was starting to ache. It felt like he had been walking for ever, when finally the shack appeared in the gloom. He took care of Sport's needs and then pulled open the shack's door. It was an old unused one-hadn't been stocked for a couple of years, and it was in a state of disrepair-but at least it was mostly out of the wind. He lit a fire, and fished out the packet of food Hop Sing had given him. The coffeepot in his saddlebag was not an unnecessary luxury, he had argued with Joe more than once. A man needed a hot drink when he was as bone chilled as he was. He settled down to sleep after he'd eaten. The cot in the corner of the shack was damp and musty, but it was still better than sleeping on the ground. He wrapped himself up in his bedroll, laid his aching head down, and fell asleep almost immediately.

* * *

The coming of the dawn sent a shaft of light right across Adam's face. He tried to roll away from it, but just rolled himself right off the cot. He lay there for a moment then hauled himself to his feet. He swayed a little as he stood up. His head wasn't just aching, this morning, it was pounding. He sneezed.

"Don't tell me I've caught cold!" he thought in disgust. "Well, I've gotta get home-and I'm going to have to walk"

He didn't bother with a coffee this morning. He tacked Sport and began the long walk towards home. The weather hadn't improved much, and the skirls of snow carried on the wind chilled him to the bone. He kept on walking, doggedly, but with each step the pounding in his head grew worse. Sport wasn't happy either. He nudged at Adam with his nose, plainly telling him he didn't want to be out in this weather any more than did the man. Adam had been walking for probably three hours when he decided to find a sheltered spot, just for a while, and sat down to rest. He closed his eyes just for a moment-his head hurt less that way, leaned back against a tree and promptly fell asleep He was only wakened by Sport nudging him insistently.

"What is it? Get off!" he snapped, before he opened his eyes and realized where he was. He put his hand to his head where the pain seared through him with the slightest movement. He made an attempt to get to his feet, but the movement simply made him sick. He leaned back against the tree.

"Well, boy, we've got two choices," he told the horse. "Either I send you home, and with a bit of luck my family will find me before I freeze to death, or I ride you without a shoe. Not much of a choice really. I can't be sure you'd even go home. I'm sorry, Sport."

He pulled himself up using Sport as a lever and somehow dragged himself into the saddle. Sport stood still, almost as if he knew his man needed his help, then he started towards home. Adam slumped over the horse's neck.

"Take me home, boy," he murmured then lapsed into semi consciousness, only staying in the saddle by the sheer force of his willpower. Sport kept going, walking slowly, trying not to put his weight on his shoeless foot. In spite of the soft snow, it was still painful for him to walk on it. He came to a large cave. He didn't want to be out in that snow and wind, and his man was limp. He didn't like carrying that dead weight. It made him uneasy. He snuffled but he couldn't smell any of those bad smells of mountain lion or wolf. He went into the cave out of the wind. Adam roused to consciousness.

"We home yet?" he mumbled. He dismounted, but he couldn't stay on his feet. He hit his head again, hard, as he crumpled to the floor of the cave, with Sport standing by, whickering anxiously.

Adam groaned as he came to. He clutched his head, and sat up, trying to work out where he was. Wherever it was, it was cold, dark and damp. He heard a snuffle.

"Sport," he said, recognizing the horse. "Where are we?"

He dragged himself to his feet, and almost fell again as multi-colored lightning flashed through his head, swirling in patterns that he never wanted to see again. He felt something hard behind him and leaned against it, fighting the waves of nausea that threatened to overcome him. The dizzy spell passed, and he tentatively opened his eyes again. It wasn't all that dark, he realized. In fact it looked like it was almost dawn. Surely he hadn't been passed out on the ground all night? Sport whinnied. He was cold and hungry and he wanted to go home. Adam poked around in his saddlebag. There were some oats there, he was sure. He found the package and fed the horse, and took a drink from his canteen. That was a mistake, as the sudden onslaught on his system simply made him sick again. He should have known better. He poured some water out for Sport. There wasn't much, but someone might as well benefit from it.

They went out into the cold grey light of pre-dawn. Adam could barely stand, and he leaned heavily on the horse. It had stopped snowing, and the wind had dropped. Adam remembered Sport's missing shoe.

"I'll have to ride you," he told the horse. "I might be able to stay in the saddle. I certainly can't walk."

He struggled up into the saddle, pointed Sport more or less in the right direction, and slumped over Sport's neck. His head was just too heavy to hold up. Sport headed for home. There was a warm barn and plenty of food waiting for him not all that far away, and even with his tender foot he made good time. Adam just lay there sliding in and out of consciousness again. He had used his last energy to get his horse and himself going. Now he just wanted to go back to sleep. If he had been aware, he would have realized he simply had concussion, but he wasn't in any fit state to think. He was cold, weary and he wanted to go home too. He slumped over Sport's neck only rousing when he heard Hoss' voice, calling his name.

"'Bout time you got here" he said as he slid into unconsciousness. He slipped into sleep as his family tended him, but he knew nothing more about it till he woke.

He slept for a couple of hours after Paul had gone, but when he woke his father was sitting right there beside him, dozing lightly.

"Pa?" Adam said softly, but with satisfaction. He was home. Ben's eyes shot open and he leant over his son. Adam licked dry lips, and Ben poured him a glass of water.

"Adam," Ben said, with a wealth of relief in his voice. "How are you feeling?"

Adam gave the slightest smile. "If I keep really still the fireworks don't explode in my head."

Ben wiped his son's brow with a cool cloth. "Can you tell me what happened, son?"

"I fell off my horse," Adam told him bluntly, his lips quirking just a little.

Ben stared at him in amazement. Adam was a skilled rider. "You what?" Ben exclaimed. "You haven't fallen off your horse since you were a kid. What happened?"

Adam smiled wearily. "Sport put his foot in a rabbit hole. We both fell." He looked worried and unwisely tried to lift his head.

"Is Sport all right?" he asked anxiously, wincing as the movement sent thunder and lightning through his head.

Ben pushed him down. "Paul said you are to rest. So stay put. Sport is fine. His hoof is a bit bruised and he'll have to rest it, but Hoss has put a poultice on it and he says he'll be fine. And since you aren't going anywhere for at least a week, you and your horse will both get the rest you need," he told Adam firmly." Now, I'll get you something to eat and you can sleep."

"A week? But there's the town meeting...oh I missed that, didn't I? I can't be in bed for a week. I've got an election to fight!"

"Don't worry. We'll work something out," Ben told him comfortingly.

Adam didn't look the least bit comforted.

"I have to, Pa," he repeated, getting more and more agitated. "I made a commitment."

Ben frowned, thinking about it. He understood Adam's dilemma. It mirrored his. He couldn't worry about an election with his son laid up, but he too had made a commitment. He didn't want Adam agitated, either. That wouldn't help his recovery. It was a pity they didn't live closer. Live closer! That was it! He brightened.

"How about this, son. We'll move into the International Hotel until the election. That way, you don't have to make those long rides, and I can keep an eye on you." They would be nearer to medical help, too, but Ben didn't mention that. He smiled. "But we'll take separate rooms-not even a suite, so you can run your campaign and I can run mine and no one can make nasty accusations of collusion. At least no more than they have already!"

Adam looked pleased as the anxiety washed out of his face. "That's a good idea, Pa. But what about the ranch?"

"Hoss and Joe can take care of it. Now, you rest today, and tomorrow we'll take the buggy into Virginia City."

Adam pulled a face. That would be an exceedingly uncomfortable ride, but having got so many concessions from his usually intractable father, he decided to let that one ride. He closed his eyes, happy for once to simply obey his father's order.

 * * *

Rumors about what might have happened to Adam flew around the town. Some thought he was dead, some that he had been shot, some that he had lost his wits. Some had heard about the strange horse tracks out on the Ponderosa near where Adam had been found. Others heard about the blue bandanna. People began to point and whisper. Tyler had been conveniently missing those days, hadn't he? And what had happened to his old blue bandanna? If it had been Tyler, then the smartest thing he could do was get out of town, was the general consensus. Ben Cartwright would never let anyone get away with hurting one of his boys! What would happen to the election ? Would the Cartwrights still run?

It was actually two days before Adam and Ben moved into the International Hotel. When Adam woke the next morning, even he had to concede that he wasn't going to be able to sit up for the ride into Virginia City, so he agreed reluctantly to another day in bed. He made Ben arrange another town meeting two days before the election, though, just so he could give the speech he had so carefully prepared. The relief Ben felt at Adam being alive and almost well made him indulgent, so he agreed. He spoke to the other candidates too, and asked them to also attend the meeting. Only Len Hardwick was reluctant, but even he could see that it wouldn't look good if he wasn't there.

Adam's supporters met in his room in the hotel. "Are you sure you're up to it?" Ross asked worriedly.

Adam gave them a painful grin as he lay back on the pillows on the bed. "Truthfully, no. I feel like hell," he told them. "But that is only for your ears. I hope I can give the world's greatest performance, tonight."

Matt stared at him. "You look like hell too," he told his friend.

Adam grinned at the comforting remark.

"Are you gonna tell us what really happened? Or do we have to find out from rumors? You know, according to one rumor I heard, you're dead."

His friends laughed.

"Do I look dead?" Adam asked.

"Pretty close to it, at the moment," Matt informed him callously. "You get some rest, and we'll see you later." He paused a moment. "I'm sorry, Adam, we didn't want anything to happen to you."

"What happened to me has nothing to do with the election. I'm not sorry I'm running. Anyway, come listen to my speech tonight."

His door opened and his father walked in unceremoniously. "You boys go now, and let Adam rest," he told them. They'd most of them known Adam and his father for many years-and not one of them would have considered defying Mr. Cartwright for a moment. They left. The only one who would defy him lay back on his bed and smirked at his father.

"Aw, Pa, you tryin' to make me look bad in front of my friends?" he whined in a pretty good imitation of a bad tempered kid.

Ben smiled. "Rest," he said. "You promised."

Adam sighed. He had promised. "Yes sir," he said, but his reluctance was only feigned, and his father knew it.

"Do you want some painkiller, Adam?" he asked anxiously.

"No, it's not that bad," Adam lied. The last thing he wanted just now was laudanum. He was having a hard enough time concentrating past the pain in his head as it was.

 * * *

The town meeting was very well attended as everyone expected it to be. There was nothing like gossip to fuel the flames of people's interest. Ben made Adam speak first. He didn't want him too tired to be able to answer any questions. When Reverend Jordan introduced him, Adam rose to his feet.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he began, " Before I explain to you why I believe that Mrs Samuels' money should go towards building a public library for Virginia City, I would like to clear up a little misunderstanding that seems to have arisen. As you all know, I missed the last meeting because I met with an accident while I was working on the Ponderosa. I have heard all kinds of rumors, but I want to lay these to rest. I was not shot, and there is no one to blame for my accident. At least, no one, unless you can blame my horse and a rabbit." He stopped, flushing a little. This was very hard for Adam. He was a man of pride and he did indeed feel a little foolish. "I tell you this, ladies and gentlemen, because I think it is important that we concentrate on the issues relating to our town, not on any external questions. Those issues relate to.... "

Ben stopped listening. He'd heard Adam's arguments before. He should have been mustering his own arguments but he wasn't even doing that. He just sat and watched the crowd listening attentively to his son, and alternately feeling pride in Adam, and relief that he was able to stand there and give a speech at all.

The meeting was a great success. All the candidates had given their platforms, and answered questions to the best of their ability. The townsfolk left the meeting buzzing with what they'd heard. Adam's injury was relegated, as he hoped it would be, to a mere curiosity. Ben came over to him.

"That went well, I think, don't you?"

Adam smiled in agreement. He leaned against the table, almost too tired to stand. His head was throbbing with pain, but only his father could tell that. The other candidates came over-all except Hardwick. He was off in a corner with Firth. They all congratulated each other politely.

Then Charles Harrison said, "I would like to thank you all, gentlemen, for a fairly run campaign. I wish you all the best-and may the best men win. I am sure that whatever choice the town makes will be the right one." He held out his hand first to Adam and then to Ben. There were handshakes all round.

"I'd better get this young man to bed," Ben said. "He's here against doctor's orders as it is. Goodnight, gentlemen." Adam had never been so relieved to be treated like a child in his life. He fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.

 * * *

Voting day dawned, clear and bright. If he'd believed in omens, the weather would have been one, Adam thought as he ate breakfast and dressed to go to the polls.

"At least I'll have one vote for me," he'd laughed to his brothers over breakfast.

Ben had told Hoss that on no account was he to let Adam out of his sight. He really wasn't well enough to be out of bed. Adam hadn't admitted it, but it was obvious to Ben that his head was still very painful. The dark circles under his eyes weren't the result of sleepless nights. Ben had sat with Adam long after he had gone to sleep, just enjoying listening to his son's even breathing, and rejoicing that Adam was still alive. So Adam had a nursemaid. He didn't really mind. The comforting bulk of his brother behind his shoulder made him feel safe. If he did suffer because of what Paul called 'his very imprudent actions'-the most imprudent being to get out of bed-then he knew Hoss would be there to pick up the pieces.

They stopped off at the Bucket of Blood on the way. Ben had told Adam of Carrie's intervention, and just because it hadn't turned out to be the case, it had been very brave of her. He wanted to thank her. Carrie was nowhere in sight.

"Where's Carrie, Sam?" he asked the bartender.

"Upstairs-third room on the right," he pointed towards the ceiling. "It seems she had an accident herself."

There was a strange note in his voice. Adam looked at Hoss, who nodded, and they headed upstairs to her room. Adam knocked on the door.

"Carrie, it's Adam Cartwright. May I come in?" he asked.

There was a muffled , inaudible reply. Adam took it as an invitation, and pushed the door open. It was a drab little room. There was a bed, a washstand and a chair. Carrie sat in the chair in the half-light of curtained windows. Adam went over to her, but she turned her head away from him.

"Carrie, I wanted to.." he stopped as he saw her face.

She had been beaten, it was immediately obvious. A bruised cheek and a black eye, at least. There was a bruise the shape of a large man's hand on her left arm. He wondered what else was bruised.

"Carrie, who did this to you?" he demanded.

"Mr....Mr. Firth. He found out I spoke to the Sheriff," she said sadly. "He got mad."

"He had no right to touch you, " Adam said angrily. "Have you told the Sheriff?"

She shook her head. "He said I'd better not complain to anyone, or he'd give me something to complain about." A single tear ran down her face. "He hurt me," she added, unnecessarily.

Hoss was as angry as Adam. "I'd like ta give that fella a taste of his own medicine," he said, his fists balling.

"So would I," Adam said, "but I've got a better idea. Why don't we take her to Sally Linton?"

"That's a great idea, big brother," Hoss exclaimed.

Carrie smiled tentatively, but it was obvious that the effort hurt. "No, you can't. What about the election? What will people say if they see you with me?" She looked up at him. The pain and fear in her eyes touched him. "I'll be all right," she said.

Adam shook his head. "It doesn't matter about the election," he said gently. "Your safety is much more important. I'm not leaving you where that monster can hurt you. Come on."

Hoss didn't even try to talk him out of it. Adam would do what he believed to be the right thing despite any possible cost.

"You want me ta carry ya, Miss Carrie?" he asked.

"No, I can walk, thank you," she said with pathetic dignity.

Hoss and Adam led Carrie down the street towards Sally Linton's place. Sally herself met them at the door. She took one look at poor Carrie's face and immediately led her inside. She didn't ask any questions.

"Get along with you, Adam" she told him. "You've got an election to win. I'll take care of this child."

She put her arm gently round Carrie's shoulders and practically shut the door in Adam's face, so he and Hoss headed off to the polling booths.

There was an unexpectedly large turn out. All the candidates' friends and well wishers were there, as well as the usual curiosity-seekers and hangers on.

"Don't forget to cast your own vote, Adam," called someone, laughing.

Adam grinned and went to do just that. He went around the crowd, talking to folk, answering questions and generally just trying to do what was needed. All the while Hoss moved along in his wake, keeping an eye open. Shortly before the polls closed Ben came up to him. Joe had stayed with his father today, although he had been torn by wanting to be with Adam. Ben had politely pointed out that he would like some company and support that day too.

"How's it going, son?" he asked, his keen eyes noting the pallor under Adam's tan. It was obvious to Ben that this was very much harder on Adam than he was prepared to let on.

"I'm fine, Pa," Adam told him, tiredly. "Just tired. I'll be glad when this is all over, one way or the other."

"Come on, let's go back to the hotel and have something to eat. It will take them at least a couple of hours to count the votes."

Ben put his hand under Adam's elbow to steer him towards the hotel. He felt Adam sag just the tiniest bit into his father's hand, then force himself straight again.

"You shouldn't be doing this, Adam," he said.

Adam shrugged slightly. "I know, Pa, but I made a promise."

Ben said nothing. What could he say? He would have done just the same.

Once at the hotel, Adam decided to skip a meal in favor of lying down for an hour. Ben arranged to have a light meal brought up, but he sent Hoss and Joe off to eat properly. Adam took off his jacket and tie and lay down on the bed. His eyes closed, he said, "Pa, I don't need you here. You go eat."

"No," Ben said. "In case you've forgotten, you have a bad concussion and you shouldn't even be out of bed. I'm not leaving you alone."

Adam didn't argue. He was already asleep.

"Hey c'mon, Pa, Adam," Joe yelled, bursting into the room an hour later. "They're gonna announce the election results soon. We have to be there!"

His eagerness made his father smile, but he said, "Quiet, Joseph. This is a respectable place!"

Adam had had his meal, and had shaved. "There," he said, "I still feel terrible, but I don't have to look like I do." He turned to his father. "Pa, no matter who wins the election-I want to thank you for your support, even when I chose to run against you."

He held out his hand in a gesture of love and respect. Ben took it, smiling slightly.

"That's what fathers do, Adam," he replied. "You ran a good clean campaign, son, and whatever the outcome, I hope you know how proud I am of you."

Adam smiled back. He knew.

"Will you two come on!" Joe called impatiently from the other room.

* * *

The crowd was gathered outside the sheriff's office where the counting was going on. The Cartwrights joined the crowd, exchanging greetings, when there was a loud shout.

"Cartwright!" bellowed Jonas Firth. "What have you done with my girl?"

Adam stopped, turned to face Firth and crossed his arms across his chest. Everyone who knew Adam knew that gesture. There was going to be trouble. Adam raised an eyebrow.

"Are you talking to me, Mr Firth?" he asked politely.

"Yeah, I'm talkin' to you. I want to know what you've done with Carrie. She belongs to me." Firth was drunk.

"I wasn't aware slavery was allowed in Nevada," Adam said coolly. "If you are talking about Miss McDonald, then she is currently staying with Mrs Linton. I believe she can decide for herself where she chooses to stay."

"Why you interferin'...I'll get you for that," he snarled. The Cartwrights moved closer to Adam. He could feel them just behind him.

"You won't be getting anyone," came another voice. "You're under arrest for assault. I suggest you come quietly. You're disrupting an important election." Clem Foster, Roy's deputy stood behind Firth.

"Who? Wha'?" he sputtered incoherently.

"Miss McDonald has accused you of assault and she is preferring charges," he was told.

"Good for Sally," Adam said. "I knew she would take care of Carrie."

"I don't like you getting mixed up with saloon girls," Ben remarked quietly in Adam's ear, "but in this instance I suppose I can overlook it."

Adam chuckled. "Leave it, Pa. I'm thirty, not thirteen."

 The door opened, and Reverend Jordan came out. "Ladies and gentlemen, I have the results of the election."

There was a hush. Everyone stared with interest at the Reverend.

"It is my privilege to tell you the results of the ballot held this day to elect the members of the Virginia City Town Council. Mr Frank Armstead, 205 votes, Mr John Carter, 174 votes, Mr Ben Cartwright, 159 votes, Mr Adam Cartwright 153 votes, Mr Charles Harrison 141 votes and Mr Len Hardwick 68 votes. That being the case, I duly announce that Mr Armstead, Mr Carter, Mr Ben Cartwright and Mr Adam Cartwright are legally elected members of the council."

There was a silence for a moment while the crowd digested this information. Both the Cartwrights had been elected! Then there was applause. Loud, rousing applause.

And over all the applause could be heard one voice.

"Hot diggety!" yelled Joe Cartwright.

 * * *

Later that week, Adam sat in his favorite blue chair and sighed softly. The first meeting of the Virginia City Town Council had been held at the Ponderosa, in light of Adam's injury. He was almost recovered, but the other members of the council had readily agreed to Ben's invitation to hold the meeting at the Ponderosa with the small bribe of one of Hop Sing's delicious meals.

"Something wrong, Adam?" Ben asked.

"No," Adam replied, slowly. "I was just thinking...I guess I'll never know."

"Never know what?"

"How much of the vote for me was a sympathy vote, and how much of it was because they agreed with my position," he said, a little sadly.

"It doesn't matter why they voted for you, " Ben said firmly. "Now that you have been elected, it is up to you to do the best job you can do. And I know you will do that."

"I suppose so," he said doubtfully. "But I still would like to know."

Ben shook his head. "You get that stubborn streak from your mother, you know," he said, grinning.

Adam grinned back. "Funny," he laughed. "I thought I got it from my father."

Ben chuckled. "So you got a double dose. But this is one time when being stubborn won't help. There is no way of knowing. Even you can't solve this one, Adam."

Adam sighed. "You're right, but I'd still like to know!"

Ben threw his hands up in exasperation. "Stubborn as ever!" he declared.


i  wrote this story simply to explain how it was that Adam and Ben were both on the four-man Virginia City Council in "No Less a Man  " -  but it doesn't spoil the episode if you haven't seen it yet.

Otto von Bismark , the German Chancellor, said "Politics is the art of the Possible" in 1867, so it would have been very fresh news!

 November 2001

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