The Light of His Life



"I'm sorry, Mr. Cartwright," said Dr Anderson quietly. "I wish I could give you better news."

Adam Cartwright stared at him in dismay. "You're sure? Isn't there anything we can do?"

The doctor shook his head. "Medically, no. The only thing I can suggest is to take her out of this climate. Mountain air would be good for her."

"A vacation, do you mean?"

"Well a vacation would be good, but I'm afraid I had something more permanent in mind. Otherwise she'll just keep getting these attacks, and in all honesty, I don't know if she will be able to cope with another winter."

The doctor looked at Adam with compassion. He had come to know this family very well over the last few years, ever since Mrs Cartwright had become pregnant with their first child. They had married rather late in life, and it was readily apparent that they were a devoted couple.

He cleared his throat. "It doesn't have to be an immediate move. Now that she's recovering from this last attack, she should be all right throughout the spring and summer. You just need to get her away before late summer at the latest."

Adam swallowed, hard. "I see," he said bleakly. A life without Sara. He couldn't lose his Sara. It had taken Adam a long time to learn to love. He had never known his mother, and he had lost two stepmothers before he was 17 years old. He'd thought he'd loved other girls, but nothing could match the love he had for Sara. She was the most important thing in the world. The only other thing was his family. He would give everything he had for his family.

A voice echoed in his head. "Son, you know that I would give up the Ponderosa before I would risk my sons." How many times had he heard his father say that? And he knew Pa meant it. He could do no less. He brightened just a little as the idea took shape. He would take Sara home, to the Ponderosa.

"Doctor, how would the climate in Nevada suit her, do you think?"

The doctor looked slightly surprised. Nevada was a long way from Boston, and he hadn't considered somewhere so far, but then he remembered that Adam had told him once that his family lived out there.

He nodded, thoughtfully. "Nevada has good clean air" he said, slightly smiling. "Mrs Cartwright should improve out there. At least she would have a better chance. If that's what you decide to do, I would be happy to write to your physician there and give him the details of Mrs Cartwright's case." He shook hands with Adam, and left.

Adam closed the door quietly behind the doctor, and sat down heavily in a chair. He buried his face in his hands and sat like that for a very long time. A little hand tugged at his sleeve.

"Papa, Papa, don't be sad," said a little voice. He looked up and smiled at his small son. He pulled the child onto his knee and hugged him. This was his other reason for living. Little David Benjamin Cartwright was six years old and the apple of his father's eye. He worshipped his father and adored his mother.

He remembered his message. "Mama is asking for you, Papa. She said to say that you have to come to see her as soon as the doctor went." He tugged at his father's hand. He knew Mama wasn't well and he had learned very early in life that what Mama wanted, Mama got. Papa would do anything for her.

Adam went up the stairs to his wife's room and looked at her lying in the bed. Lord, she looked so pale. Dark haired and dark eyed, no one would have ever called Sara Cartwright a beauty, but her lively intelligence sparkled in her eyes, and her smile lit her whole face. That was what had attracted him to her in the first place. For the last seven years she had been the ideal wife and mother, and he adored her. He wasn't going to risk that.

She smiled up at him as he gently kissed her, and took her hand. "Darling, how are you feeling?" he asked.

"Never mind that, tell me what the doctor said. I wish he would tell me, instead of insisting on speaking to you privately," she said crossly, but her smile took the sting out of her words.

Adam took a deep breath. He couldn't lie to her. "Dr Anderson says that medically he can't do anything else, but he thinks that a mountain climate might improve your health." he temporized.

She looked at him. "I didn't think that he could help me much," she replied quietly. "He hasn't really done much more than tell me to rest a lot, lately. I was hoping that might make me better."

Adam grinned at her. "I wondered why you were following doctor's orders so well. I thought that was a bit unusual for you."

She chuckled. It was true that she wasn't always eager to follow doctor's orders, particularly when he wanted her to let others take care of her family. She loved Adam as much as he loved her. "Well, I can go to the mountains for a vacation. If David stays here with you we won't have to interrupt his schooling..."

Adam shook his head. "No, that won't work. Even if we could bear to be separated from you for the time it would take. Dr Anderson says it must be a permanent move."

She looked at him quizzically. "Adam, stop beating around the bush. What aren't you telling me?"

She knew him far too well. He stroked her hair gently, and came out with it. "I'm going to sell my practice and we're going to go home; to the Ponderosa. He thinks the air there will help you."

Her eyes opened wide in consternation. "But Adam," she protested, "You can't. You've worked so hard to build up your practice. It's your dream. I can't let you give it up just like that. I'll manage somehow...I'll rest a lot. I'll do whatever's necessary, but I don't want to spoil your dream..." and she began to cry.

It wasn't like Sara to cry. Her tears convinced him he was doing the right thing. Adam put his arms around her and held her tightly. Cradling her in his arms, he shook his head. "I was afraid you'd be hard to convince. I didn't want to tell you, sweetheart. The doctor was quite emphatic. It's not just your health that's at stake, my love. It's your life. He doesn't think you'll survive another winter." He smiled at her, lovingly. "Anyway, you promised me you'd never leave me, and if we don't go, then you can't keep your promise."

She clung to him, tears running down her face.

"Darling, you're the only dream I have. You are the light of my life. If I don't have you, then nothing's worthwhile anyway." He wiped her tears away, gently. "I've made my mind up. We're going." Then he smiled wryly. "You insisted on promising to obey me when we married. So consider this an order."

Sara smiled through her tears. They had had a major row when they were planning the wedding. Sara had insisted on promising to obey him, while Adam had been equally insistent that she didn't. Sara had won, but only by resorting to blackmail and telling him she wouldn't feel properly married if she didn't make that promise. He had given in because it had been so important to her. Privately, he had resolved not to give her orders, but he would if he had to. He wasn't prepared to give Sara up for any reason. Sara knew there was no way to budge Adam when he had made a decision. In her ruder moments, on the rare occasions that they'd fought about something, she'd called him 'pig-headed', but the truth was that Adam was just plain stubborn. When she had met his father, Ben Cartwright had told her that she was marrying the most stubborn man he knew. Adam had laughed. "Allow me to introduce you to the man who invented stubbornness" he'd said, bowing towards his father. It was that stubbornness that had got her to the altar, in spite of herself. She lay there in the bed, remembering.

 Adam had been in Boston for 12 months. He had met many young women with an eye for a handsome well off bachelor, but none of the young ladies that his Boston relatives kept introducing him to caught his eye. They were all so superficial. None of them wanted to discuss anything more interesting than the weather, or the latest gossip, he thought, as a book in the shop he was passing caught his eye. He went in. Pa would like that. The young woman behind the counter came up to him.

"May I help you, sir?" she asked.

"I'd like that book on sailing ships you have in the window" he said, and she was immediately taken by the deep melodic voice, and the charming smile that went with it. She accidentally knocked over a pile of books as she was reaching for the requested volume, and with a smile he had immediately bent down to help retrieve them. While he was doing that, Mr. Simmons, the owner, had come bustling out of the office.

"Really, Miss Lawson" he scolded. "We don't ask our customers to pick up books. They deserve better treatment than that. I'll serve the gentleman myself."

The handsome stranger had shaken his head. "No no, It was my fault. I'm more than happy with Miss Lawson's assistance." He smiled at her, and gave the ghost of a wink. "Perhaps you could gift wrap the book? And I was wondering about buying a complete set of Dickens. I think my father would like that too." Mr. Simmons had gone back to his office. A customer who spent that kind of money wasn't to be held lightly, although he would have to have a word with her about the proper way to treat customers, especially apparently wealthy ones.

She smiled back, and said quietly "Thank you, but are you sure you can afford these? They are very expensive. Mr. Simmons may scold, but I'm not in danger of losing my position."

He smiled that gorgeous smile again and said that he could. When she asked him where she should send the books, he told her that his father lived out west in Nevada, and he would send them himself. As she wrapped the books they chatted about different authors, and he showed himself to be very well read. Then he paid her, tipped his hat and left, again with that charming smile, leaving her wishing she knew more about him. She got her wish. He started coming in regularly after that, and they discussed books and music and theatre while he made his purchases. It seemed to take him a long time to make a simple purchase, she mused to herself one day, after he'd spent half an hour in the shop! She found out his name, too. Adam Cartwright. A nice name. A nice man.

This had been going on for a few weeks when one day he came in, and instead of buying a book, said diffidently, "I expect you'll think this very presumptuous of me, but I would be honoured if you would accompany me to the opening of the new museum exhibition of Egyptian sculpture."

She'd been a little bit hesitant, but she accepted, arranging to meet him there. Further outings had followed, but he insisted after the first one in escorting her to and from her home. She had been a little shy about telling him she lived in a boarding house at first, but when he had discovered this, he had roared with laughter. A strange response, she thought, until he told her about the first cabin he had built with his father in the foothills of the Sierras. After that she pressed him to talk about his home, and she had learnt much about him, from hearing him talk about his home and his much loved family.

 They had been courting for about six months when he had asked her to marry him. "Where else" he'd demanded, "was he going to find a wife who could beat him at chess?" She refused, but she wouldn't say why. He refused to accept no for an answer, and stubbornly insisted that she at least tell him why. It had taken all his charm and persuasiveness to get an answer, but she'd eventually explained to him that she thought she wasn't a social match for him. She had grown up very poor, and she had to earn her own living. She wasn't a society lady. Adam had been very surprised. He wasn't good enough for high society either, he pointed out. His entree into polite circles only came about through his partner, John Harrington, who came from an old established family. He had to earn his living too. He was wealthy, but that was because he had only himself to please here, and when he lived on the Ponderosa he invested his money wisely. It took a while, but finally he convinced her. And she did love him. She'd learnt by this time of his losses, and understood that he was giving her a gift that money couldn't buy-his heart. There had only been one condition on their getting married, once they resolved the obedience question. She refused to marry him until his father could come to the wedding. She couldn't afford to buy him a fancy gift, but she could give him something he would appreciate-his much loved father to be his best man on his wedding day. Pa Cartwright had come, and she had instantly taken to him. She could see where Adam had got so many of his traits. Adam had told her later that his Pa had taken to her too. He was glad of that. It made him sure that he was doing the right thing- not that he'd had any doubts!

 Fifteen months after the wedding David Benjamin, named for both their fathers, was born. That was when they'd first met Dr Anderson. The doctor had pointed out, not unkindly, that at 31 she was rather old to be having a first baby and it may be a difficult birth. It had been, and Adam had been terrified that he would lose her, but she did eventually recover. It was while she'd still been weak from the birth that she had her first bout with pneumonia. She'd recovered from that, and was apparently her old self again when she conceived their second child just after David's first birthday. This pregnancy and birth took an enormous toll on her, and the birth, which came prematurely, had been even longer and more arduous than the first. The baby, a beautiful little girl, hadn't lived. Adam had insisted on calling the child Perdita, and she was buried in the churchyard next to Adam's mother.

Dr Anderson told Adam that it was unlikely that Sara would ever have another child. She grieved about that for some time, but when Adam had come in one day and found her mourning the children she couldn't have, he told her with some asperity that he hadn't married her for her "breeding potential". He married her because he loved her and wanted her with him always. Besides, he added, they had David and each other. Life was complete. His description had made her laugh, and she had begun to come to terms with her loss. She was mostly disappointed for him. He loved children and he was so good with David. He loved to spend time with him, reading to him, playing with him, even when he came home tired after a hard day's work. She told him that one day, and he laughed. "The hardest thing about today was being civil to those idiot clients! Now, a day riding out on the ranges gathering up strays, that's hard work!" It was comments like these that told her how much he missed the Ponderosa, even though he loved the life he had established in Boston. She wondered what the Ponderosa was like. He'd told her about it a bit, but she had no notion really what it would be like. She hoped she would like it. She'd never lived in the country. Well, she thought, for Adam's sake she would learn to like it. She'd follow him to the ends of the earth if it would make Adam happy.

 Adam walked into the offices of Cartwright and Harrington, Architects, to be greeted by Miss Foster, their secretary.
"Good morning, Mr Cartwright" she said. "Mr Harrington asked if you would see him when you came in, please."

Adam nodded, and went into his partner's office. John Harrington had known Adam since their college days, and it had been his suggestion that Adam go into partnership with him that had finally encouraged Adam to leave the Ponderosa and go to Boston.

He rose as Adam entered the room. "Adam, how's Sara?" he asked. He had  given her away at their wedding. "You look really tired. Sit down. I'll get Miss Foster to get some coffee."

Adam sat, and looking up at his friend, he said, simply, and so sadly, it seemed to John. "The doctors can't do any more for her. They think she might do better in the mountains. I'm taking her home, John."

John nodded. "I see." He understood how important family was to Adam, and how much Adam loved Sara. He didn't try to dissuade him. "I'm not going to try to talk you out of it, Adam. I know your mind's made up." He grinned. "I've known you for more than 20 years, and the only person I've ever met who could change your mind is Sara. I'll just say this. You know that if you decide to come back I'll be here for you. Always."

Adam gripped his friend's arm. "I know John. I've always valued your friendship."

John looked at Adam thoughtfully. "Adam, you need to take things a bit easier. You do look very tired. I can run the practice. Those clients you've got aren't going to suffer if I take them over, and you just concentrate on getting organised. If you're not here they'll have to put up with me anyway."

Adam shook his head. "No, we don't have to leave just yet. It isn't that urgent. I can finish up with my current clients, and get my personal affairs sorted out. I won't leave you in the lurch, John. I've worked it out." John Harrington wasn't surprised. One of the reasons their firm had done so well was because of Adam's strong sense of responsibility and work ethic. The clients knew that Cartwright and Harrington would deliver.

Then Adam added, "I am tired. Some days I wonder if there's any point even getting out of bed, but then I remember Sara and David need me. I think they're the only reason I keep going." He rose to go to his own office and get to work, but he paused at the door. "Once we get settled at the Ponderosa, you could always come to visit. It doesn't take that long to get there." And he grinned. John had visited the Ponderosa but had been before the trains had gone through. It had taken him a month to get there. These days it didn't take much more than a week, travelling as fast as you could, although Adam intended to take it more slowly. Sara was too frail for an arduous trip.

John grinned back. "I might, as long as you promise that I won't get kidnapped this time." John's visit had been 'enlivened' by being kidnapped by a man who had mistaken him for Adam. He looked at his friend's worn face. "No one would confuse us these days," he said, patting his slight paunch. Adam was a little more thickset than he had been too, but what John had really been referring to was Adam's obvious exhaustion, not his own weight. Adam chuckled, and headed to his own office. As he settled down to work, he was slightly relieved that he hadn't had to argue with John. At least having a reputation for being hard-headed saved him from having to participate in futile arguments.

Joe Cartwright came into the Ponderosa's ranch house shutting the door with his usual exuberance. "Pa," he called, "I've got the mail."

Ben Cartwright almost automatically yelled, "Joseph, don't slam the door".

His youngest son equally automatically replied, not particularly contritely, "Sorry Pa." He grinned. "Pa, I'm 32 years old. Do you suppose you'll ever stop treating me as though I were Jonathan's age?" Jonathan was Joe's five-year-old son, his first child. Joe and his wife Prue lived with Ben, because, as Joe had said, "I can hardly leave Pa rattling around that big house with just Hoss and Hop Sing." Prue had been very disappointed. She had really wanted a house of her own, but she loved Joe and wanted to make him happy. She had accepted it, but she never stopped hoping that one day it would happen. After all, Joe worked with his father running the ranch. They saw each other every day anyway. So far, though, the time hadn't been right, and with two small children, Hop Sing's assistance was invaluable.

Ben considered Joe a moment and shook his head with a grin. "Perhaps when you stop acting as though you were Jonathan's age..."

Joe laughed. "You sound just like Adam at his grouchiest... oh, there's a letter from him. I hope Sara's better."

Ben agreed. Adam had sounded so depressed in his last letter, so worried about his wife's ill health. He opened the letter and began to read. The contents both saddened and pleased him. Pleased because he missed his eldest son enormously, and would be delighted to have him home. He liked his daughter-in-law, too. She had a happy knack of making friends and when he had visited them she had made him feel completely at home. Saddened because it was in many ways the end of a dream. Adam loved his architecture, and theatre and music so much. On the other hand, he loved Sara even more. Ben Cartwright understood the pain of losing an adored wife. He'd lost three, each after she had given him a son. He understood what Adam did not say.

When he had finished the letter he looked up at Joe. "Well son, it looks like your older brother is coming home. For good."
Joe looked at him. "Sara?" he asked sharply.

Ben smiled briefly. "No, she's still with us. Adam says Sara needs a mountain climate to survive. He's bringing Sara and David to live on the Ponderosa" he added. He handed his son the letter. "Read it for yourself".

Joe did. He had never met his sister-in-law, or his nephew. He wondered if he'd like Sara. Pa had liked her, and come home from his infrequent visits to Boston singing her praises. He'd said she was a perfect match for Adam, and this worried Joe just a bit. He didn't need another superior being around the place! Adam was 12 years older than Joe and had had a large part to play in his upbringing. When he'd been small, he'd sometimes wondered just how many fathers he'd actually had. He shrugged to himself. This was Adam's home too. They would just have to learn to get along. Over the supper table that night Ben made the announcement. Everyone was home that night; Joe and his wife Prue, with their 5 year old Jonathan and baby Anne-Marie, and Hoss. On reflection, thought Ben, his sons had chosen their wives well. Joe's wife Prudence was possibly the world's most unsuitably named person, as impetuous as Joe, but as easygoing and relaxed as Hoss. He was sure Sara would fit in. She was as intelligent as Adam, but her sense of fun made her a perfect counterfoil for his more serious nature. At least the marriages were happy ones. He just wished Hoss would find someone too. He wasn't getting any younger. Suddenly he felt a tug at his sleeve, and he smiled down at his small grandson.

Little Jonathan said indignantly "Grandpa, if you don't say grace Hop Sing will leave, and then what will happen to Uncle Hoss?" The family laughed. An old joke. Hop Sing had been threatening to leave for years, but they all knew he wouldn't. Ben said grace and they continued to discuss the news over their meal.
Packing up to leave Boston was a huge undertaking. Adam's architectural practice was a large part of his problem, because he insisted on finishing up the jobs he had in progress before he went. Packing up the house wasn't so difficult. He decided not to sell the house, because Sara loved it. She had cried when Adam had suggested it, and he didn't want to upset her more than she was already. It had been their first home, and she felt strongly about it. It was in a good part of the city, and he could rent it out. John would keep an eye on it for him. It was possible that the family might have need of a home in Boston in the future. The furniture and their other goods were either sold, or shipped across to Nevada. Deciding what was to stay and what to go created much discussion in the Cartwright household, but the one thing on which both Sara and Adam were agreed was that they would keep their books. Eventually it was all done, but it took nearly three months before Adam could finally get his family on the long road to Virginia City. They had taken it gradually, Adam ever mindful of his wife's poor health. Little David was as bright and as curious as his father had been at that age so at any opportunity he was off with the train crew.

"Adam" Sara worried, "do you really think its safe for David to go off with the train crew? He's such a little boy."

"I don't think we need worry. I'll keep an eye on him, and I've spoken to the train crew. They'll send him back when they've had enough of him. But don't worry, they like him. They won't let any harm come to him. Besides, it's not as dangerous as the wagon train!" he added with a smile. "He's a sensible little boy, and I've given him strict instructions not to get in anyone's way, and to come back when he's told." He could be trusted not to get up to mischief.

Adam told him as much, and he had nodded solemnly. "Yes, Papa. I promise. I'll do what I'm told" he said. He thought the world of his father, but he knew better than to step out of line. Adam was strict but fair. He always listened to what David had to say, but if he didn't like it retribution was swift and sure.
They stopped overnight in various places when it all got too much, and as Sara said, when she didn't think Adam could bear being squashed into one of those new, but dreadfully uncomfortable, railway Pullman carriages one more night. They hadn't been built for tall men. Finally, they reached Virginia City, to be met by the Cartwright men. In spite of all Adam's efforts, it had been an exhausting trip. Sara was feeling very tired, and her frailty was apparent. Even tempered as David was, he was still cranky, and Adam was worn out. Sara was taken aback by the crowd that met them.

Ben grinned at his son's raised eyebrow.  "Its not everyday the prodigal son comes home" he said, "and you are Adam Cartwright, after all!"

Sara was more than just a little puzzled. She understood the prodigal son reference, but the assertion that he was Adam Cartwright was incomprehensible. It seemed like such a peculiar thing to say. Who else could he be? Was there something Adam wasn't telling her? She knew they owned a ranch, and there wasn't any shortage of money-something it had taken Sara a while to realise-but she didn't know how important they were in this part of the world. Ben was rightly known as a cattle baron, and they were held in high esteem by the important people of this part of Nevada. Adam, even though he had been away for ten years was still well remembered. He had been well liked, and his many friends were delighted he had returned.

She was nervous about meeting the family until Ben put a comforting arm round her shoulders. "Don't worry" he said, smiling, "I know it's a bit overwhelming at first."

The greeting Adam received from his brothers amused her. Adam was a big man, but the man who picked her husband up in a giant bear hug was even bigger. "Adam" he yelled. "Its so good to see ya."

Adam, not usually demonstrative, thumped him back enthusiastically and said "Put me down, you big galoot. And let me introduce you to my wife."

He turned to Sara, and with a smile said, "Darling, this rampaging bear is my younger brother Hoss." He turned to a handsome, much smaller man, with brown hair and hazel eyes, and added, smiling broadly, "and this is my baby brother Joe."

Hoss raised his hat. "Pleased ta meetcha, ma'am" he said. Joe flashed her what Adam had once described as his 'killer' smile as he shook her hand. It was too. She smiled.  "Please, call me Sara. I am your sister, after all."

Hoss grinned, relieved. He'd been a bit nervous about a stuck up society lady, since she was from Boston, even though Pa had told him she wasn't.

"Ok older brother, lets get the bags on the wagon. I spose your other stuff's coming by freight." Adam nodded. The Cartwright boys swung into action loading the wagon, as if Adam had never been away.

On the way to the ranch, Sara looked around. It was beautiful up here, and she hadn't coughed much since they'd got to Nevada. Maybe the doctor was right. She looked eagerly for a house, but there didn't seem to be any in sight. It was a long ride, and they were all tired.

"Adam, when do we get to the Ponderosa?" she asked.

Adam looked surprised.  "We've been on Ponderosa land for the last thirty minutes" he said. "We'll be at the house in about a quarter of an hour or so."

Sara simply gaped at him. "I didn't realise...all this land is yours? The ranch is so big. I thought the Ponderosa was just the name of the house." She was visibly shaken.

He put his arm around her.  "What's the matter, darling?" he asked, puzzled. "I've talked about the Ponderosa often enough. We have about a thousand square miles. I thought you knew."

She leaned against him. "I never really thought about it, I suppose. I knew you had a ranch, but I didn't know what a ranch really was. I think I was thinking about the sort of farms they have in Massachusetts."

As they approached a long building built of logs, Joe announced with a broad smile, "The Ponderosa ranch house-the first design by an up and coming architect"

 "Joe" said Adam irritably, "cut it out."

"Well, son, you can't deny that it was your first design." said Ben proudly. He turned to Sara. "Did he tell you he was 14 when he designed it?"

Sara shook her head. He hadn't told her he'd designed it at all. As she went in the door she gave a gasp of amazement. The great room with its flowing lines was like nothing she'd ever seen before.  "Oh Adam, it's beautiful" she said. Although Adam didn't say anything he was delighted with his wife's reaction to the house.

A pretty, dark haired young woman carrying a baby came to meet them, "Hi, I'm Prue, and this is Anne-Marie." She pointed to the baby.

 "I'm delighted to meet you both," said Adam, taking the initiative. "This is Sara, and this is young man is David," he said proudly.

Prue smiled. "Jonathan is somewhere about...perhaps he can show David where his room is."

"And Adam knows where his room is," grinned Joe, "seeing as he designed it. Although we have altered it a bit to accommodate your wife. Moved some of those books to make a path to the door."

Adam took a swipe at Joe, who ducked and grinned. "Knock it off, Joe. I've only been home 5 minutes. And just wait till my books come from Boston." But the broad smile on his face belied the severity of his words.

A little Chinese man came bustling into the room. Hop Sing had been cook and housekeeper at the Ponderosa for many years, and ran the house like his own personal kingdom. He announced loudly "Supper ready in 15 minutes. You be ready to sit down and eat. Not let get cold." Then he turned to Adam, and as if Adam had never been away said severely "and you make sure you eat good supper Mr Adam. You too skinny!"

Adam grinned with pleasure and shook his hand. "This is my wife Sara, Hop Sing"

Hop Sing looked at her. "Missy Sara too much skinny too. You no eat in Boston?" Then he bustled out again, leaving Sara astonished and Adam laughing. The first family meal together for ten years was a rowdy one, at least on the part of the men. Sara was too tired and a little too overwhelmed to say much, and Prue was busy with the baby. Ben watched with pleasure as his sons picked up where they'd left off, all those years ago, but the age difference between them didn't seem so important.
Passing Adam a plate, Joe said, "Tomorrow morning, older brother, come down to the corral and pick out a horse. I've got three or four down there that might suit you, even though you are a citified dude!"

Adam was touched. Joe was probably the best horse handler he knew, and he was sure that one at least would be perfect.
"Thanks Joe. I did ride in Boston, but not every day. I guess I'll be a bit out of practice." He looked a little rueful. When he had returned from college it had taken a while to get used to long hours in the saddle, and he wasn't particularly looking forward to it.

"Oh, and I'd like to start teaching David to ride properly. Got a pony suitable for him?"

Joe nodded. "I picked out one of them too. Jonathan can already ride a bit, but they can learn together."

The two little boys looked pleased. They had been sizing each other up, and liked what they saw. The family didn't know it yet, but they were going to be very close, and they were going to drive the adults to distraction. Adam glanced round the table and caught sight of his wife. Sara looked weary. He had suggested that she go straight to bed when they'd arrived, but she'd refused. She didn't want to spoil the festivities, or for anyone to think she was too proud to join them. Adam had told her she was being silly, but she'd insisted.

He laid his napkin down and rose to his feet, "If you'll all excuse me, I've been very remiss. We've had a long day, and I think we all need to get some rest. Goodnight everyone." And he picked his tired son up and escorted his wife to bed.

Once Adam had gone to bed, Hoss turned to his father. "Pa" he said, "I thought you said it was Sara who'd been ill. Adam looks terrible."

His father nodded. "I agree. But he hasn't said anything to me about not being well. Perhaps he's just tired. Its been a difficult few months for him."

Adam had written to Ben frequently, but Ben hadn't shared all those letters with his other sons. Adam was a very private person, and frequently the only person he was prepared to share his problems with was his father. Ben was hoping that the Ponderosa would work its magic on Adam as well. There had been a great deal of sadness and pain in Adam's letters, and he had told his father of his tiredness and his depression, but as he'd said, he just had to keep on going. Ben glanced at his two younger sons.

"Boys, things have been very difficult for Adam. I think for the next week or so we'll just let him take it easy. Just let him do what he wants to do. OK?"

Hoss and Joe both nodded, but Hoss added thoughtfully, "but Pa, you know what a hard worker Adam is. He'll be itchin' to do his share."

Ben smiled, and turned his eyes towards the ceiling where, above him, Adam's wife and son slept. "True, but he does have other responsibilities these days. We'll just take our cue from him. And you boys have a chat with him about what he wants to do. You run the ranch these days."

Joe snorted. "We run the ranch with your permission, you mean! But we will have a talk. When he's ready."


 Morning comes early on a cattle ranch, and the Ponderosa was no exception. When Adam got dressed to come downstairs, Sara insisted on joining him. As she pointed out, she could always go back to bed, and she didn't want to make things difficult. She was tired of being an invalid. The children were up bright and early too. As they sat at breakfast the family discussed their activities for the day. Ben no longer assigned tasks to his sons; Joe was in charge of the timber and horses, while Hoss was mostly responsible for the cattle. Anything else was decided mutually since they all knew what was needed. As Hoss said, "You didn't live all your life on a ranch without knowing what had to be done!" And Ben now employed plenty of help. The Cartwrights' chief activities were supervisory and administrative, although they never asked anyone to do anything they weren't prepared to do themselves, and no one could keep Joe away from horses. But the first activity of the day was to get Adam mounted.

As he rose to join Joe at the corral Ben said, "Wait a minute, Adam," and went to the gun rack. Unlocking it, he removed a finely worked black gunbelt and silver handled pistol and handed them to him. "I've cleaned it and it's all ready for use-but I hope you won't have to use it."

Adam took his gun. He'd left it behind when he went to Boston. A man didn't have to be armed in the city; the snakes there needed to be handled differently. "Thanks Pa" he said, buckling it on. Its familiar weight was somehow comforting.

Sara stared in fascination at the gun as Adam fastened the gunbelt. She'd noticed all the men wearing guns but she hadn't thought about Adam wearing one. She'd told Adam that she would go to the ends of the earth with him, but now she was wondering if Nevada really wasn't the end of the earth. "Adam, is it really necessary to go armed?" she asked uneasily.

"You wouldn't want me exposed to the rattlesnakes around here unarmed would you?" he asked. He wasn't only talking about the slithery kind, either, but he wasn't going to tell Sara that! "I'm safer with it than without it." he added. "Its only for safety's sake, I hope I don't actually have to use it." Then he grinned. "I think I better go somewhere and practice!"

His brothers laughed. Adam had taught them how to shoot, and the three of them had reputations as some of the best shots in Nevada. Ben was no slouch with a gun, either. It wouldn't take Adam long to get his eye in. David was staring at his father openmouthed. He had never seen his father with a gun. Adam beckoned to him. He removed the bullets, and handed the gun to David. He took it eagerly. Adam showed him how it worked.

Then Adam said, "Now listen to me very carefully, David. You may not touch or go near any gun without my express permission. They are not toys; if you play with them someone could very easily get hurt. Guns are very very dangerous." He took the gun off his son and reloaded it. "This is something that I must insist on. If I find you've been touching any gun at all I will spank you. I will not tolerate any disobedience in this matter at all. No second chances. Do you understand?"

David nodded, wide eyed. "Yes Papa", he said. His Papa rarely threatened to spank him, and even more rarely did it, but he knew that he always kept his word.

"Good. Just remember what I've said. Let's go to the corral and look at horses."

Joe was looking very pleased with himself, thought Adam, but when they got to the horses he understood why. Among his prospective mounts was a horse that was exactly identical to the horse he'd had before he went to Boston, and it was already saddled. "Surely that's not Sport" he said, approaching the horse carefully.

Hoss shook his head, grinning. "Nup, we figger its Sport's son. Thought you'd like him. His personality's a lot like Sport's too."

Adam had liked Sport, although the horse had been strong willed- a good match for his owner, Joe had always thought.
"He got a name?" Adam asked, as he patted the horse and gave it a lump of sugar before swinging up into the saddle. The two, man and horse, seemed to take an instant liking to each other.

"Yeah," said Joe, pleased with his surprise. "He was a demon to catch, so that's what we called him! I'll just get my horse and we'll go for a ride." Sara had come out to watch with the children. She had seen Adam on a horse before, but the ease with which he sat the western saddle impressed her.

Adam reined in his horse. He squirmed a bit in the saddle; he was definitely out of practice! He sat astride Demon and thought about his move. On the whole things seemed to be working out well. Sara seemed to have recovered from the difficult trip, but it was still too early to tell how well she might respond to the change of air. He would have to get her to see Paul Martin soon, but she had been too tired. They had only been there a week. He liked his sister-in-law, and she had taken to Sara. She was, Prue laughed, the sister she'd always wanted but never had. Hop Sing too had taken a liking to Sara. She had good sense, he said, high praise from Hop Sing, and treated her like a princess. Prue joked that she was jealous, but no one took her seriously. Anyway, the family had learnt long ago that Hop Sing was a law unto himself. You didn't offend Hop Sing; it was more than your life was worth. He smiled slightly to himself. This had been the right thing to do. He missed his architecture, but he had Sara; a fair tradeoff, he thought. The only trouble was, that even though everything seemed to be right, he himself just couldn't shake off the exhaustion, and the disinclination to do anything. He wondered why counting your blessings was such a dispiriting thing to do. He glanced up at the sun. Nearly lunchtime. He'd promised David a riding lesson after lunch. Good thing he'd finished with those cattle! A voice broke through his thoughts.

"Hey, older brother" yelled Little Joe. "Gone to sleep on us?"

He looked up to find his younger brothers riding towards him. "No, of course I haven't. I was waiting for you, as usual. The cattle are in the pen."

Joe wasn't surprised. Adam was still old reliable Adam. What had surprised him was Adam's acceptance of taking orders from him. He'd expected at least some resistance on Adam's part. But the talk that Pa had suggested the brothers had was very interesting, and more than a bit worrying as far as Joe was concerned. He had never seen his brother so low before. Joe had been a little defensive when he first spoke to Adam. He and Hoss had  decided that Joe would talk to Adam, and he had chosen the time carefully. Sara was sleeping and David was playing down near the creek with Jonathan.

"Adam," said Joe, "Can I talk to you for a moment?" Adam was sitting on the porch, slumped in a chair, doing nothing. It was, thought Joe, most unlike Adam.

"Sure, Joe" he replied, "What's on your mind?"

Joe ran his hand through his hair. This was much harder than he expected. "I wanted to talk to you about your plans." he began. "You know I've been doing the day to day business of the ranch, and..."

Adam interrupted him. "And you want to know if I intended to come home and muscle in on your territory. Usurp your authority."

Joe was relieved. He should have known that Adam would know what he wanted to say. Adam had always known what he was up to. As a youngster he hadn't very often pulled the wool over Adam's eyes, and when he had he usually got caught out later.

Adam smiled mirthlessly. "I'll tell you the truth, Joe. I'm too tired to muscle in on anything. I've spent all my energy on getting Sara and David here and I honestly haven't thought past that. I'm certainly not capable at the moment of running myself, let alone the ranch. What I want to do is work on the ranch. I think I can manage that. But you're the boss. I'll do whatever you tell me to do-but don't ask me to decide anything. I don't think at the moment I could even decide what to have for dinner."

Joe was shaken. He didn't think he had ever seen Adam like that before. Adam had always been the strong one. Joe wasn't sure for a moment what to say. He reached out to Adam and squeezed his shoulder. "I'll be happy to have you work the ranch with me for now," Joe said. "Once you aren't so tired, we can have another look at things. And you know we'll all help you with Sara and David."

"Thank you, Joe" Adam said, but his smile just touched his lips. It didn't, thought Joe, seem real.

 Joe reported this conversation to his father and Hoss. Both men were concerned about him, but Ben most of all. Ben decided that what the boys could do best for Adam was simply let him be-work had always been a way for Adam to deal with his problems, but he thought Adam might benefit from a chance to unburden himself properly. Letters weren't really enough. Part of Adam's problem, he thought, was that he was grieving for the loss of his dream. Grief was something Ben Cartwright knew a great deal about. So Ben cornered Adam one afternoon, and almost forced him to talk. Ben smiled to himself. Adam may be married and a father but he was still his son, and the carefully instilled habit of obedience made Adam succumb to his father's gentle insistence. Besides, it took too much effort to resist his father. Ben could see the pain in Adam's eyes when he let his guard down just for a moment, and he felt it was important that Adam let go some of his pain. Adam had once claimed that the only way to hurt him was to kill him, but it just wasn't true. He locked his pain away deep inside, and shared it with nobody.

"Come on, Adam," he said gently, "you have to stop holding it in all the time. Talk to me, boy."

Even in his depression, Adam wondered when he was ever going to be old enough that Pa would stop calling him 'boy'. Probably never. It was, he knew, a term of endearment, although he hadn't thought so when Pa yelled at him when he was a child! Adam resisted but finally, it all came out.

"Oh Pa," he said. "It's all gone wrong. So many things should have been different. I'm so tired. I don't seem to have the energy to care about anything except Sara. I was so afraid I'd lose Sara. I couldn't bear to lose her Pa, she's the light of my life."
Ben nodded. He knew that particular pain all too well.

Adam continued, "I didn't think I'd care about anything else as long as I had Sara, but I'm so disappointed about having to give up my practice." He gave his Pa a twisted smile. "we were doing so well, John and I. We had so many new clients, and we were just taking off. Of course Sara is more important than anything else, but I still feel I've failed. And now I've come here...disrupted everyone's life...I've dragged Sara and David away from everything they knew, Joe's afraid that I want to take over from life's a mess...and ...Oh Pa, I've let everyone down." And Adam, strong, stoical Adam, buried his face in his hands and cried. Tearing, unpracticed sobs that nearly broke his father's heart. He cried for a long time. Ben held him in his arms as he had when he was a small boy and let him cry, just gently stroking him, but making no attempt to stem the tears. They were needed. When the tears eased, Adam felt as though the pain, too, was eased, just a little. For the first time for a long time he felt there might be hope for the future. "Pa, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have unloaded all that on you. You've got enough to worry about."

Ben smiled gently at his son. He wasn't just seeing a greying middle aged man. He was seeing a bright-eyed little toddler, perched on a wagon seat; a small boy holding his baby brother during a fatal Indian attack; an older boy, struggling with burdens too great for a boy to bear when his stepmother had died; and the young man who had been his right hand man, his partner, his solace and support who had helped his father achieve his dream and finally left the Ponderosa to find his own dream. He still loved this boy with all his heart, just as he loved his other sons.

"I think I can take it" he said dryly. "I'm pretty tough. Besides, I've had my share of dumping on you. And you know, there's nothing more important to me than my sons."

Adam's smile was tentative at best. Ben hoped he'd helped. He looked at Adam consideringly. "You're grieving, son. Allow yourself to deal with it. I know you don't feel like making decisions yet, son, but I think that's a good thing. Don't try. Just relax and refresh yourself. Give yourself some time. Once Sara starts to get better, and you aren't so tired, then you can think about what you want to do."

"Ok Pa. I think that's a good idea." Adam agreed. So Adam was riding the range, and taking orders from his baby brother.

One afternoon some weeks later Prue and Sara were sitting in front of the fire enjoying the silence. The boys were at school and little Anne-Marie was having a nap. From the kitchen came the homely sounds of Hop Sing preparing the evening meal. Prue was folding laundry. Sara sat quietly in the big blue chair with a basket of mending by her side and a torn shirt of David's in her hand, but she wasn't sewing. She simply sat and stared into space. Prue glanced up and to her dismay she saw two large tears slide down Sara's cheeks. Frail as Sara was, she wasn't a complainer. Prue admired the way she bore the burden of her ill-health with quiet dignity. In the three months Adam and Sara had been home, Prue had never seen Sara cry.

"Sara, whatever's the matter? Are you not feeling well?" she asked.

Sara smiled, but it was no happiness in it. "I'm fine, Prue. I was just...thinking about Adam." she said, wiping her eyes. "I'd like the Adam I married to come back. He had such a zest for life. He was always thinking, always working on some idea or other, or some new music or something. This Adam...well, he's so different to how he was in Boston. Since we came here, I can't get him interested in anything. He doesn't pay any attention to David, he doesn't even want to read, all he does is work himself into exhaustion, go to bed and sleep."

Prue put her arms around her sister-in-law. She didn't know Adam well, but she'd heard tales of Adam reading even while he was riding. Even she understood that for Adam not to want to read was Joe not wanting to work with horses, she thought. Absolutely out of character.

"He can't go on like this for ever. We'll find a way somehow." Prue tried to comfort her. "I did have an idea" she said carefully.

Sara looked inquiringly at her. "I think I'd like a home of my own. And Adam could design it."

Sara looked at her in amazement. "You mean you want to leave the Ponderosa? I don't want to drive you out of your home, even to get Adam back."

 Prue shook her head. "No, silly. We'd build a house on the Ponderosa. There's plenty of room for another house!" she chuckled. She sobered quickly. "I always wanted a home of my own. It was just that when we got married, Joe didn't want to leave Pa in this house with just Hoss. Now you and Adam and David are here, I don't feel like I'm deserting him. And it might be a good idea to get those two boys away from each other for some of the time, just to give us some breathing space."

She grinned at Sara, who smiled back feebly. "It might work, and getting those two boys separated occasionally might not be such a bad idea." she said.

Prue smiled. "It can't make things worse if we suggest it, can it?"

"No, I guess not," said Sara doubtfully, "but how are we going to do it? I think we need to enlist the men in this."

Prue nodded. "First, I need to talk to Joe, and to Pa. If they're not happy about the idea, then we'll have to think of something else." And she left, to find the right moment to discuss it first with her husband and then see what her father-in-law had to say.

That evening, Prue snuggled up to Joe and told him all about it. "It was so sad, Joe. Sara was so upset. She said Adam just isn't the same man she married. I wish we could help her."

Joe hugged her. "Sara's right about one thing" he said. "That isn't the same Adam who drove me crazy interfering in my life. Its just not like Adam to be so, umm, passive. I was happy he wasn't arguing with me, or ordering me around, but now I wish he would." Joe gave a funny half smile. Thinking about Adam like this upset him.

"Joe" Prue began hesitantly, "I had an idea. Do you think it would help...I mean...I always wanted a house of my own...could Adam design one for us?" she finished in a rush.

Joe stared at her. "I couldn't leave Pa to cope..." he began.

Prue interrupted him. "You wouldn't be. We wouldn't be far away, and it's not as if it would happen overnight. Now that Adam and Sara are here, the house is full, and the boys are so energetic. Please, Joe. Its not just for me. It would help Adam too. I talked it over with Sara." She looked at him so hopefully he couldn't resist her.

"All right" he said. "I'll see how Pa feels about it, then we'll ask Adam."

The next morning as Joe and Ben worked on a new horse contract Joe raised Prue's idea with him. Ben put down his pen and sat back in his big chair to consider his son.

 "Joe, it's a fine idea. I appreciated you and Prue giving up the idea of a house of your own when you got married." He smiled wryly. "The house would have been very quiet without you, but you do have to consider your wife's needs too. I've always known how much Prue wanted a house of her own, but I was very selfish in not encouraging you to build her one. Besides, its time my baby son left home!" and he grinned at Joe. "Every man needs to be the head of his own house. You need more privacy than you get here." He smiled. "I've always said there was land for you when you wanted it. I guess now I have to give you that land. But I don't want you to go too far away. I'd like it to be easy for the children to visit me. You pick out a location for your house, and we'll talk to Adam."

That evening over supper, Joe raised the subject with Adam. Adam had come in, as he did every night, tired to the point of physical exhaustion. There was a reason for Adam's hard work. It was the only way he was able to get any sleep. Even a bath didn't seem to liven him up as it had done. Joe had always found Adam's predilection for bathing amusing, but it distressed him to see Adam bathe only to get clean. The long relaxing baths were a thing of the past. Sara was right. He wanted the old Adam back too.

"Adam," he said. Adam was sitting, ostensibly listening to the conversation, but it was clear he wasn't hearing it. "Adam"

"Oh," he said. "You wanted something, Joe?" He sounded, as he did these days, flat. There was no emotion in his voice.

"Yeah," Joe said, discouraged. How could you talk to someone who wasn't there? "I was going to ask you, Adam," he hesitated. "I was going to ask you, well, Prue and I are thinking of building a house." He paused.

"Oh good idea " said Adam, sounding just as though someone had suggested a cup of coffee.

Joe took a deep breath, and said, very firmly, "Adam!" He finally got Adam's full attention. "I want to build my wife a house and I'd like you to design it." he almost shouted.

Adam looked at him. He shook his head. "I don't think I can do that Joe. You need a real architect." he said. "Thank you for asking, though." And he returned his attention to his meal.

Joe lost his temper. "Is that all you can say?" he yelled. "Thank you for asking? What kind of reply is that? I want my brother to build me a house and all he can say is "thank you for asking"?" He grabbed Adam's arm. "For God's sake Adam, what is the matter with you? You've got to come back to the land of the living sometime!"

Adam blinked at him. Something in Joe's tone must have finally got through. "I'm sorry, Joe. I'll think about it. Ok?" And he left the table abruptly.

Sara gazed after him, tears in her eyes. "I so hoped it would help" she said quietly, and she left the table to follow him.
"It's time Adam started to act as though he was a member of this family" Joe said angrily.

"Oh c'mon, Joe, Adam works real hard" offered Hoss, ever the peacemaker.

"Sure he does" snapped Joe. "But we don't need a 44 year old ranch hand. They're a dime a dozen. I want that Adam Cartwright know how. I need my brother back." He swallowed, hard. "I'm going to the barn" he announced, with the tiniest tremor in his voice.

Prue rose to follow him, but changed her mind. She watched him leave and said, sadly "When I first met Joe, one of his favourite topics of conversation was Adam. I got tired of hearing about Adam this and Adam that. He was so excited when he heard Adam was coming home. What are we going to do? He idolises Adam. And he's hurting so much." She sniffled.

Hoss nodded. "Yeah Pa, I agree" he said. "If we don't do something soon this is gonna tear this family apart. I reckon that Adam's worse now than when he came home. It's almost as if he's just given up."

Ben scrubbed at his chin. "To tell you the truth, I don't know what to do either. I've spoken to Paul about it but all he can suggest is to give him time. We've given him time, but I agree with you, Hoss. He is getting worse." He paused a moment. "Why don't you see if you can get him to talk, Hoss? He's always found it easier to talk to you."

Hoss nodded. "Sure, Pa, I'll try, but I dunno if it will do any good."

Ben sighed. He wanted his son back too. However, although they didn't know it, Joe's words had had an effect. For the first time for a long time Adam felt something. Not much, but the numbness in his soul began to crack just a little.
Miss Julia Darnell picked up David Cartwright's homework. It was just as she'd expected; poorly written and not properly completed. She sighed. David Cartwright was a bright child. He'd had high marks and very good reports from his teacher in Boston. When they'd enrolled him, it had been obvious that his parents were very proud of him. His work had been excellent at first but then gradually both it and his behaviour had begun to deteriorate. David's behaviour was impossible. He was unruly in school, and disruptive. He went out of his way to be naughty, rude and disobedient. Today he had spent a good part of the afternoon standing in the corner, since he'd tried to put Louise Taylor's braid in the inkwell. She would have to keep David after school again. She wondered which member of the Cartwright family was going to pick the two little boys up today. The only time she'd seen either Mr or Mrs Adam Cartwright was the day they'd enrolled David. She'd been told by other members of the family that neither of David's parents were well, but she had received notes from Mrs Cartwright. If she hadn't seen him that first day, she wouldn't have known Mr Adam Cartwright even actually existed. Mr Ben Cartwright the boys' grandfather, was an imposing man, and on the few occasions he'd collected the boys, it was clear that he didn't accept disrespect towards teachers by his grandsons. Both boys clearly adored him, but they knew their limits as far as Grandpa was concerned. One day David had been impertinent to her as Mr Cartwright walked in. He had immediately ordered him to apologise. For the first time for a long time, David had obeyed immediately. She sighed. She didn't quite know what to do with the child. She looked up from her musings to see Hoss Cartwright come in. She liked Hoss. The first time he'd come to collect the children she'd called him Mr Cartwright. He laughed and told her that between his father and his brothers there were already too many Mr Cartwrights and she'd find it less confusing if she called him Hoss. She was getting to know him quite well because of David's unruly behaviour, but even when David wasn't naughty Hoss would come in for a chat. Hoss found Miss Darnell very easy to talk to. He was just waiting until his suspicious little brother started asking why he was so eager to be the one who picked up the children!
"Good afternoon, Hoss" she said with a pleased smile on her face. Unlike many women, Julia Darnell didn't leave Hoss tongue-tied.

"Afternoon, Miss Julia" he said politely taking off his hat. "Jonathan tells me David's in trouble again."

She nodded. "I'm afraid so. He hasn't done his homework properly and he tried to put someone's braid in the inkwell. I don't know what I'm going to do with him, Hoss. He's just so difficult."

Hoss grinned. "That was the sort of thing Joe used to do. Adam would never have done that. Its kinda hard for him, Miss Julia, with his Pa not being well an' all. He needs his papa's attention, but Adam ain't up to it."

Miss Darnell put her hand gently on Hoss' arm. "I'm sorry to say, if his behaviour doesn't improve, I'll have to suspend him. I don't have time for his misbehaviour. There's a lot of other children in the class who need my attention." She looked sad. "I really don't want to suspend him, but it's getting to the point where I have little choice."

"Let me see if I can talk to him a bit, please Miss Julia. Give him another chance."

She smiled. "It will only be as a last resort, Hoss. If we all keep trying maybe it will help. I've written Mrs Cartwright another note." She handed him the note she had written for Sara.

Sara was very tired of getting letters home from school. Where David had been a happy obedient little boy, full of mischief, he was now simply full of trouble. The only person he wasn't naughty for was Ben. He had tried it a few times, and hadn't much liked the consequences. Grandpa had a hard hand, and he didn't tolerate naughty little boys. Sara knew that David was attention seeking, but although he got plenty of attention he wasn't getting it from the person he wanted it from. He adored his father, but since Adam's depression had started, he hadn't spent much time with him at all. And it got worse as time went on. When Hoss brought the children home from school he had to tell Sara that David had been in trouble again.

Sara sighed. "I don't know what I'm going to do with him. I've never known him to be so naughty. I'm beginning to wonder if perhaps we shouldn't keep him home for a while. I'm running out of ways to punish him, but no matter how much I punish him he just keeps on being naughty. I know what would solve the problem, but that's not going to happen."

Hoss nodded. "Miss Darnell says she might have to suspend him. She says she doesn't have time to deal with his antics and teach the rest of the class. I'm sorry Sara."

She looked sad. "I tried telling Adam, but I'm not sure he even heard what I was saying. Perhaps Pa might talk to him. David doesn't seem to be naughty for him."

 While they were talking David unwittingly resolved the problem for them. He was doing something very disobedient, and doing it deliberately. Ben had been cleaning the guns, and while his back was turned David sneaked a gun from the gun rack. He knew perfectly well it was naughty and was trying to be as difficult as possible. He took it out behind the barn and was playing with it. He'd 'borrowed' some bullets too, and he remembered how to load it from when his father had shown him. He stood with the gun in his hand and pulled the trigger. It was much harder to do than he'd expected. He was concentrating so hard on the trigger that the loud sound of the gun startled him and he yelled in fright. Adam was in the barn unsaddling Demon when he heard a shot and then a child's cry. He raced out, gun drawn, and stopped in fear at the sight of David standing there with a gun in his hand. The numbness in his soul vanished in the face of the terrible danger his beloved son was in.

"David put that gun down at once" he ordered in a dangerously quiet tone. David knew that tone. He obeyed, but he glared at his father.

"What the hell did you think you were doing? Didn't I tell you that on no account were you to touch guns without my permission?" Adam demanded, hands on hips, glaring at his son.

 David glared back at him. "Why should I do what you tell me?' he yelled back. "You don't care what I do anyway. You don't love me. You don't love Mama either. You made her cry. I don't gotta do anythin' you tell me." he said defiantly, but with tears running down his face. He stood there with his hands on his hips, a miniature copy of his father. The rest of the family had rushed out when they heard the shot. They saw David with the gun, Adam confronting him. Sara moved forward, but Ben, taking in the situation, put his arm round her shoulders to stop her.

He shook his head. "Let's leave them to deal with this. I think this might be just what Adam needs."

Sara watched her husband and son for a moment, then nodded. She trusted Ben. "I think you might be right'" she said quietly. "I think Adam loves David even more than he loves me. If anyone can get through to him..." Ben hugged her gently as she smiled waveringly at her father-in law.

Adam was stunned at David's words. He stared at him. Is this what it had come to? His little son's words had reached the depths of Adam's soul. He swallowed hard, and knelt in front of his son.  "That, my son, is where you're wrong. I do care. I care very much." said Adam, very very quietly.

Something in Adam's tone made David look at his father. "Papa?" he said hopefully. This sounded like his Papa was supposed to sound. Adam opened his arms, and David flung himself into them.

Adam held him tight. "Come on son, I think we need to have a talk, and not just about naughty boys who play with guns, and disobey their Papa." he said as he carried his son into the barn.

They were in the barn for a long time, and they did have a long talk, but when they emerged from the barn much later, Adam was leading David by one hand, and Demon by the other. David was rubbing his bottom, but his tear-stained face was wreathed in smiles. Papa had promised him a spanking if he touched a gun, and his Papa always kept his word. His Papa was back.

Adam bent down to him and kissed his forehead. "You give Grandpa the gun, and tell him you're sorry you took it. And tell Mama I'll be back later. Not to wait supper for me. I've got some thinking to do. Ok?" and he ruffled David's hair.

David smiled up at him. "Yes Papa." he said happily.

Adam rode up to the lake, to do some thinking. The lake was under his skin, he'd said more than once. He considered the events of the past few months, and finally realised that it was time to move forward. He couldn't just spend the rest of his life riding the ranges. Sara needed him, and so did David. Several hours later he walked into the big room. It was late. The children were in bed, and the rest of the family were sitting pretending to read. Joe was playing checkers with Hoss. They looked up eagerly as he walked into the room. Adam smiled at them, and for the first time for a long time, Ben noted with pleasure, the smile reached his eyes.

 "Um, Joe" he said "does that offer still stand?"

Joe looked puzzled for just a moment, then his face lit up. "It sure does, older brother," he said happily.

 "Then in that case," Adam said "I would very much like to design a house for you and Prue. And when I've done that. I'd like to consider what my options are. But I think I'll need an office in Virginia City." Sara burst into tears and Adam pulled her to him.  "I think you and I have some sorting out to do too, my love" he said as he swept her into his arms and carried her upstairs.


Even before Adam had finished drawing up the plans Prue decided she wanted to make the curtains for her new house. Both Joe and Adam had objected when Prue had first told them she wanted to make the curtains. They had enough money to pay someone else to do the work, and neither man wanted his wife to commit herself to such drudgery. But Prue had insisted.

"I want to feel that its my house," she told them. "I want to make it the way I want it, not just hand over the work to someone else. It won't be the same unless I do it. Please, Joe. And Sara says she'll help me." she said.

Joe looked at her. "I only wanted to save you work" he replied, "but if that's what you want, sweetheart, then you go ahead. I'll buy you one of those new sewing machines."

She hugged him enthusiastically. So Prue and Sara were making curtains.

Sara held up the curtain she'd just finished. "There" she said with satisfaction. "That's Anne-Marie's bedroom curtains finished. This is such a pretty print, Prue."

 Prue looked pleased. She glanced at her sister-in-law. Sara looked so much better than she had when they'd first arrived, and she said so.

Sara smiled. "I feel so much better than I did. My Adam's back, David's behaving, mostly, and that makes me happy. I haven't felt this well for a long time."

Hop Sing came in just then with some coffee. "Ladies take break now," he informed them. "Mr Adam say Missy Sara not to work too long." They laughed. Between Hop Sing and Adam, there was little chance of that! As far as Sara was concerned, Hop Sing was worse than Adam, because he was around all the time.

Sara took a sip of her coffee. She pulled a face. "Prue" she asked "Does this coffee taste funny to you?"
Prue shook her head. "No. why?"

"I'm not sure." Sara responded slowly. "It tastes ...sort of...umm...metallic" she produced.

Prue laughed. "Tastes fine to me. The only time I couldn't drink coffee was when I was expecting." She stopped and stared at Sara. "Sara, do you suppose...?"

Sara shook her head. "I couldn't be. The doctors were quite clear on that when...when Perdita died." She took another sip of coffee and wrinkled her nose at the taste. "But you're right. I couldn't drink coffee when I was expecting David."

Prue looked at her. "But could it be possible, do you think?"

Sara did some counting in her head. She looked at Prue, wide-eyed. "The dates fit" she said shakily.

Prue hugged her. "Oh Sara that's just wonderful" she cried. Then she stopped. Sara didn't look excited. She looked afraid.

"What's the matter?" Prue asked her. "It's such wonderful news. Adam will be so happy."

Sara swallowed hard and bit her lip. "I had such a hard time with my other pregnancies. They were very difficult. And the births were pretty bad." she said quietly. "I was so sick. I nearly died. I don't know how I'll cope."

"You'll find it much easier." Prue declared confidently. "Didn't you just say you felt really well? And you've got us to take care of you, too, this time." she said slyly. Casting aspersions on Adam was a sure way to get Sara to think of something else. Sara bristled. She wasn't having anyone, not even Prue, suggesting anything bad about her Adam.

Then she laughed. "OK, Prue, I know what you're up to. I think I'd better see Paul Martin before I start getting in a state." She had been seeing Paul regularly at Adam's insistence and she had come to know and trust him. "When do you think we can go? But you're not to say anything to Adam. If I am expecting, then he'll be impossible once he knows!" Both women laughed.

Paul finished his examination. "Well, Sara, it seems those doctors in Boston were wrong. You are definitely pregnant. I'd say about 3 months. And so far your health seems to be just fine. You're sure you've had no morning sickness?"

Sara giggled. "Just a dislike for coffee. It's nothing like last time. And Paul" she added just a little shyly, "I'd say exactly 3 months. I can tell you the date." She blushed.

Paul smiled. He knew which date she was talking about. "When are you going to tell Adam?" he asked.

She shook her head. "I'm not."

Paul looked surprised. "But Sara, he's the baby's father. He has a right to know..."

She interrupted him. "Yes, I know. I'll tell him, but not yet. He'll try to wrap me up in cotton." She looked at him anxiously. "Besides" she said seriously. "it's early days yet. No sense in raising hopes that may not come to pass."

Paul nodded. "All right. I'll leave it to you to tell him. But if I think it necessary I will tell him. I know you're feeling well, but we do have to keep in mind that your health isn't as good as we would like it to be. And your health, and the baby's are my primary concern." Then he smiled. "Oh. I forgot to say congratulations!"

Prue echoed her congratulations when Sara told her. She too felt that Sara was wrong in not telling Adam, but she could see Sara's point. It was indeed early days.
Prue, Joe and Adam sat at the table. It was covered with blueprints, and Adam was explaining to them what he'd designed. He'd spent some time discussing with them what they wanted in the house, and Adam was eager to give them everything they wanted. It was important to him that this house should be exactly right.

Finally Prue sat back and said, "Adam, its just perfect. Its just what I wanted." Adam looked at Joe questioningly
He grinned. "You heard the lady, older brother. Who am I to put my two bits worth in?"

Rolling up the blueprints, Adam rose. "Well then, since the plans are ready, I'll get the house underway. I'll do the specs and order the materials as soon as possible" He paused. "I'll have to do most of that in town, so that I can keep it all under control. It's a good thing I set up that office." He had set up an office, and his brothers had surprised him by having "Adam Cartwright, Architect" painted on the door in gold lettering. The plans were all finished, the specs all done and Adam had ordered the materials for the house. The timber was all to come from their own sawmill. He arranged for the first load of timber for the new house to be delivered, but when it arrived he was dismayed. For someone else's house it might be good enough, but he wasn't going to use that sort of lumber for his brother's house. Joe's house was going to have only the best. He spent the better part of the day examining the timber, but by suppertime he had reluctantly come to a decision. Over supper he broached the subject with his brother.

"Joe" he said hesitantly, "I don't want to you to think I'm trying to muscle in on you, but would you mind if I went out to the sawmill to supervise the timber for your house? The stuff they sent me today really isn't good enough."

Joe shook his head. "No, I don't mind. You know what you need better than I do anyway. I'll just take you out and introduce you to the men, and tell them to take their orders from you." As he said this, Joe had a idea. He'd have to check it out with Pa, since whatever he said, the fact of the matter was that Ben Cartwright's word was still law on the Ponderosa. Before he'd gone to Boston, Adam had been in charge of the timber operation of the Ponderosa, and had run it well and profitably. There wasn't any reason why Adam couldn't go back to doing so, was there? Joe had only taken it over, reluctantly, because Hoss had the cattle part of the operation under his supervision and Pa wasn't up to the long days it sometimes required. But no one could read a contract like Adam, not even Pa. There had been many times in the last years that Ben had looked at a contract and said, sadly, "I wish Adam were here". When there'd been time he'd written to ask Adam's opinion, but usually there wasn't time, even with the faster mail services these days.

 Joe mentioned his idea to his father. "What do you think, Pa? I'd be real happy to give the timber operation back to Adam." he said.

Ben nodded. "I think it's an excellent idea, son. It would be good for Adam, too. He'll need something more than just your house. I'll leave you to tell him about it. It's time we got his signature put on a few documents too, and down at the bank again. Time he started taking his place in this family properly." He paused a moment, thoughtfully. "But if he turns down the idea don't think he's rejecting you. I think he's ready for it, but I may be wrong." Ben had actually had the same idea as Joe, but he was pleased that Joe had thought of it for himself. Joe really wasn't as sensitive about being the baby any more. Having children of your own sure made you grow up.

"Sure, Pa," replied Joe. He didn't want to scare Adam back into his shell, either. He'd always loved and admired his brother, but now he was older, the relationship was more on an equal footing, and he was discovering how much he liked Adam, both as a friend and a man, and wanted to see him happy.

The next morning, on the way out to the sawmill, Joe told Adam his idea. "I think, older brother, its time you started pulling your weight around here" he began in a mock scolding voice. "You know how much I like horses and hate timber. I think you should take over the running of our entire timber operation, and that includes the sawmill. And you should do it soon. We've got this contract with an architect to provide the timber for housing, and he only wants the best."

Adam listened to him in mounting astonishment, but by the time Joe got to the end of his speech he burst out laughing. Joe joined him. "Joe, are you sure?" Adam asked. "I don't want to get in your way. I suppose you've mentioned it to Pa...?"

Joe laughed. "Yeah, Adam. I'm gonna make a decision like that without telling Pa. I may be 32 but he'd skin me alive!"
Once at the sawmill, Adam was introduced to the workers as their new boss. They all knew about the 'other brother' but most of them had never met him.

"Citified dude" thought Jack, the foreman. "Well, he won't be telling me what to do. I know about timber. He don't."

Joe went. He knew it was important for Adam to establish his own authority, and much as he would have liked to have hung around, he had work to do. Adam watched the work for a while, then he called the foreman and his second-in-command over and explained to them exactly what he wanted for Joe's house. Jack was surprised. This dude did seem to know about timber, but talking about cutting it, and choosing the right trees to fell for it, well that was something else again.

"Get that work in hand, would you, please, boys" he said politely. "Tomorrow morning I'll go out with the crews to choose the trees." Well, you couldn't expect a citified dude to sleep out at the timber logging. Guy hadda go home to sleep in a comfortable bed. Adam interrupted Jack's thoughts.

"I'd like to stay and get that started today" he added. "I really want to get Joe's house underway, but I said I'd go out to the lake to bring in those steers that are loose over there." And Adam turned to mount Demon. Suddenly there was an ominous rattle. Jack looked down. And froze.

"Stand still, Jack," Adam said quietly and with what seemed to be one simple movement, he drew his gun, fired and returned his gun to its holster. Jack gaped. The snake lay by his foot, its head blown off. He licked his lips. "Gee, Mr Cartwright," he said. "That was pretty fancy shootin'."

Adam grinned. "I've had lots of practice, Jack" He had been well aware of Jack's opinion, even though the man hadn't said anything. "Who do you think taught Joe to shoot?" he added. He smiled at the men and mounted his horse leaving the men staring after him and wondering. Adam grinned to himself as he left. The snake had been fortuitous, but it would take more than a bit of fancy shooting to get the men on side. Adam was remembering his return from college when it had taken the men time to accept a younger Adam as their boss. Things were different this time. He was older and wiser, and he was a lot better at handling men than he had been twenty years ago. It didn't take long for Adam to get the lumber cut for Joe's house. The men soon realised that he did know what he was doing, and this made them settle down quickly into accepting him as their boss. He was always polite, but they soon learned that you took no more liberties with Adam Cartwright than you did with Mr Cartwright, himself. Adam had high expectations, and insisted that they be met. The Ponderosa timber operation was soon being run with all Adam's old efficiency.

One evening Adam lay back on his bed watching Sara as she brushed her hair. He loved her hair. It was long and silky and he loved to run his fingers through it. There was something different about her, he decided. He wondered what it was. She certainly didn't look like the fragile, frail, woman he'd brought from Boston. He decided to ask her.

"Darling, there's something different about you. Are you putting on weight?" he asked hopefully. She had been so thin when they'd left Boston. To his surprise she blushed and giggled. Then she came over to sit beside him on the bed. Her eyes were filled with laughter. Adam was puzzled.

"I've got a confession to make." She smiled at him lovingly. "I am putting on weight, but its only temporary."

He looked even more puzzled. "What do you mean, it's only temporary? How can you put on weight temporarily?" He suddenly looked frightened. "There's nothing wrong, is there? Have you seen Paul?" he asked anxiously.

Sara decided to stop teasing him. "I'm sorry, darling. I didn't mean to worry you. I'm putting on weight because I'm going to have a baby."

Adam shot up. "What do you mean, you're going to have a baby? How...I mean...the doctors..when..." He was totally tongue tied. He pulled himself together and began again. "Are you sure?"

She nodded, her eyes alight with laughter.

"Darling, that's wonderful news, but have you seen Paul? How will it affect your health? I don't want anything to happen to you." He stopped and pulled her into his arms. "You know how much I love you."

Sara hugged him back. "To answer your questions. Darling, yes, I've seen Paul. He was as astonished as you, but he says everything's fine. I'm five months along and I've never felt better. So you are not to worry" she told him firmly. Then she grinned. "And yes, I do know how much you love me."

He stared at her. "You're five months pregnant and you didn't tell me? How long have you known?"

"I've known for a while, but Paul says everything's ok. I made him and Prue promise not to tell you."

"Prue knows too? I suppose everyone else knows but me?" he grumped.

Sara shook her head. "No one else, darling, I promise. I just didn't want you to worry, but I was going to tell you soon if you hadn't said anything because" she patted her stomach, "this little person is starting to show. And I so much wanted to share the joy with you. But I don't want you to wrap me up in cotton."

Adam wasn't sure quite how he felt about Sara's pregnancy. Certainly, he would love another child; he loved children, but she had had such a hard time. A child wasn't worth the risk of losing her. Pa had lost Adam's mother when he had been born, but Adam didn't think the exchange would be worth it. Not that he would blame the child, but he would rather have his Sara than any number of children. There had been times when he was young that he'd wondered whether Pa blamed him for his mother's death. Pa had always insisted it wasn't so, but Adam still wondered whether, given the choice, Pa would have chosen Elizabeth over him. Suddenly, he realised. After forty four years of wondering. Pa didn’t blame Adam for his mother’s death. He blamed himself, just as Adam would if anything happened to Sara.

Sara watched his face for a moment, guessing at his thoughts. Very softly she said, "I think everything is going to be fine. The doctors said I couldn't have another baby, but God thought otherwise. This child will be a gift from God, Adam. It won't replace what we've lost but it gives us someone else to love. And you have so much love to give."

Adam hugged her again as he thought about what she'd said. There wasn't anything he could do about it anyway. A thought occurred to him. He chuckled and said, "It will certainly give David something else to think about instead of mischief with Jonathan! I wonder how he'll feel? There'll be the same age difference between him and this baby as there is between Hoss and me."

When Adam told his father and brothers about the coming baby there was much rejoicing. Ben in particular felt that it would be good for Adam. But at the back of all their minds, in the midst of all the rejoicing, was the faintest tinge of fear; what if anything happened to Sara? What would it do to Adam?

David and Jonathan were certainly talented at getting up to mischief, and the Ponderosa was the perfect place for small boys to do it in. Once David had settled down with his father's gradual recovery he and Jonathan mostly just indulged in the sort of activities that any small boys get up to. It had taken hardly any time at all for them to become inseparable. David was much like his father but had his mother's sense of fun; Jonathan was a replica of his father. Hoss had once asked Ben if Joe's mother had been part jackrabbit, and with the reinforcement of Prue's impetuosity, Jonathan was almost unstoppable. As Ben said, the addition of David's intelligence to Jonathan's ability to create mischief was probably a recipe for disaster, and so it proved. David sometimes managed to convince Jonathan to shut up and let him talk their way out of trouble, more often Jonathan couldn't keep quiet and landed them both in the soup. Ben found their antics amusing, but as he pointed out, grinning, to their angry fathers, that was a grandfather's privilege. At the same time he wondered, wistfully, if that was how Adam and Joe would have been if there hadn't been such an age gap. Adam just laughed privately to Joe and made pointed remarks about Joe being hoist with his own petard, while their mothers just got exasperated. As Prue said one day, she never knew what particular mischief they were up to, but she could be certain that if they were out of sight they were up to mischief. Sara had chuckled at that and added, "Even if they were in sight they were up to mischief" as they came running out of the kitchen with Hop Sing yelling at them and waving a broomstick.

One afternoon they were trying to fly a kite they had made, when a gust of wind caught it and it landed on the barn roof. David could just see it, so they decided to get the ladder and climb up to retrieve it. Once they were up there, they took great delight in seeing who could climb the furthest up the sloping roof. David won and was perched on the gable when his father came riding in from Virginia City where he had been seeing the first of what he hoped would be many clients. He heard the boys' excited voices and looked up in horror to where they were on the roof. He paled. He couldn't shout at them-that might make them slip. Dismounting quickly he climbed the ladder, and called quietly to them.

"David, Jonathan" he called. "Come over here." They took one look at his face and obeyed, climbing carefully down the ladder. They knew they were in major trouble.

Adam stood there looking at them with his hands on his hips. "Just what did you think you were doing? Don't you have any idea just how dangerous it is up on the roof? You could have been killed!" They stood in front of him silently, not daring to speak. Adam was really angry. When he was really angry, David knew, he didn't shout. He spoke in a controlled, cold voice that made him feel awful inside. Adam turned to his son. "I thought you had more sense. Of all the stupid things to do. And you are older than Jonathan. You should be looking out for him, not putting him in danger, climbing up ladders and on the barn roof."

David looked unhappy. "But Papa" he tried.

Adam glared at him. "I can think of not one single thing you could say that would excuse you climbing on the roof." he snapped. Just then Joe came in. He had had a long day chasing strays, and he was tired.

He heard Adam and exclaimed "They were doing what?"

"Your son and mine, younger brother, were climbing on the barn roof." Adam informed him.

"Climbing on the barn roof!" he repeated in horror. "Jonathan Adam Cartwright," he yelled, "Are you out of your mind? You know better than that. You've been told about climbing up things without permission. Take yourself off to your room and go to bed. Perhaps going without supper will remind you not to be so stupid." And he helped Jonathan off towards the house with a stinging smack to his rear. David moved to follow him.

"Oh no you don't," said Adam, grabbing him by the collar. "I haven't finished with you yet. The first thing you can do apologise to your Uncle Joe for putting your cousin in danger, and tomorrow you can apologise to Jonathan."

David gulped, tears in his eyes. "I'm sorry, Uncle Joe" he whispered. He looked up at his father. "I didn't realise it was so dangerous Papa. I didn't think about it. We just wanted to get our kite down." He sniffed, and his lip trembled
Joe was touched by the child's obvious distress. He whispered quietly to Adam. "Go easy on him, Adam. He's only a little boy, and Jonathan was up there too."

Adam snorted. "He's only a little boy, but he isn't stupid. He should know better." Adam turned back to his son. "You can go to bed right now without supper too. But if you ever go climbing up ladders and onto roofs without permission or supervision again, I will give you a spanking you won't forget in a hurry. Do I make myself clear?" His voice was cold.

David nodded. "Yes sir" he quavered, scared. He was crying. He hated his Papa to be mad with him. Adam pointed silently to the house. The two men watched as the little boy trudged dejectedly across the yard, head hanging.

"I hope the threat's enough. Seeing them up there took ten years off me." Adam said anxiously. "It's no wonder I'm going grey". He ran his hand through his hair. "It's no wonder Pa went grey so early, when I consider some of the things you got up to," he teased his brother. "In fact I expect you were the one who gave me my first grey hair!"

Joe grinned at him. "Who, me?" he said, looking the picture of innocence. Adam grinned back and reached out with one hand to roughly caress Joe's neck.

The brief moment of connection made Joe decide to take the risk. "Uh, Adam, how are you feeling?" he asked.

Adam glanced at him, but he didn't pretend to misunderstand him. "I just take one day at a time, Joe, but every day is less difficult than the one before it. Don't worry about me."

Joe nodded. That was more than he'd actually expected to get from Adam, so he wasn't surprised when he changed the subject, saying, "We'd better get these horses bedded down."

As he unsaddled his horse Joe asked "How did your meeting with Horrie Baker go, Adam?"

"Fine. He wants me to build a place like the Lundsberg place-you know that one out on the Reno road."

Joe nodded. "Yeah, I know the place. Can you do it?"

Adam grinned. Joe didn't know much about architecture, but he was trying. "Of course I can. It's not particularly architecturally challenging. I'm hoping I can interest him in some modifications. There's a couple of other men who are interested in the latest in architectural fashions," he added, pleased. "Pa was right when he said now was a good time to be setting up a practice in Virginia City. It is booming."

"Huh" snorted Joe, "How often have you known Pa to be wrong?" he asked.

Adam grinned back at him. "On occasion, younger brother, on occasion-but not often!"

 The two men continued to bed down the horses in companionable silence for a while. Adam was thinking. He was trying hard to remember if he'd known about Jonathan's middle name. He was shaken by the fact that Joe had given his son his name. He was getting on very well with both of his brothers, but it was very difficult not to get on with Hoss. He'd sometimes wondered before he had left for Boston, if Joe had actually even liked him much, and here he had bestowed his name on his first son. He couldn't remember. He'd have to ask.

"Joe, did you ever tell me that you'd given your son my name?"

Joe was surprised. "I'm sure I told you. I wrote to you."

Adam shook his head. "I don't remember. You might have done, but that would have been when Perdita was born," his voice caught. He still mourned the little daughter he'd never known. "and Sara was so ill. So maybe you did. I'm sorry I don't remember, Joe. I don't know what to say."

Joe smiled. "Well, I couldn't call him Benjamin, because you'd already grabbed that." He glanced at his brother. "So I thought I'd name him after the other man who influenced me, and did such a good job of raising me."

Adam swallowed the sudden lump in his throat. "I wasn't even sure that you liked me much..."

Joe chuckled. "Yeah I know. I did kinda give you a hard time when I was growing up, and I know I wasn't particularly fair to you when you said you were leaving for Boston. I didn't want to lose my older brother again. I'm sorry I made it so difficult for you, Adam."

Adam gave him a half-smile. "I guess you made up for it by giving your son my name." Then he added, a little shyly, "This seems like a good time to ask. I'm not getting any younger. Sara's illness has made me conscious of that. I'd like to ask you ...I'd like to name you as David's and the baby's legal guardian if anything should happen to me."

Joe was surprised. He would have thought that Adam would name Pa, but realistically he or Hoss were the better choice, and although Hoss was good with children, he didn't have as good a head for business as either of his brothers.

He patted Adam on the shoulder. "You didn't need to ask, older brother. You know I'd take care of them...and I'm honoured that you would trust me with them. But nothing's going to happen to you. You're a Cartwright." Then he grinned. "C'mon older brother. If we don't get these horses bedded down we'll be in trouble with Hop Sing-and that's much worse than being in trouble with Pa!"

The new house was proceeding well, and was almost finished when Prue decided she wanted a house-warming party. She insisted on having it before they'd actually moved in, because that way, she said, they wouldn't have to worry about people maybe damaging their new furniture. Joe laughed at her, but gave way. It didn't matter to him, but he conceded she did have a point. Anyway, Joe wanted to show off his big brother's handiwork. It would be a fine way to help Adam build up his new practice. Before the party, Hoss came looking for Sara. He really liked Sara. Far from being the stuck up Boston lady he'd feared, she was a sensible down to earth lady who he found really easy to talk to. He found her sitting quietly sewing baby clothes. He sat down next to her and picked up the tiny dress she'd been working on. She giggled to herself. It looked so silly in Hoss' big hands.

"Hi Sara" he began. "I wanted to ask you something." He was so kind and gentle. She had been a tiny bit nervous of him when she'd first arrived, but it hadn't been long before she saw the man under that large exterior.

"What is it Hoss?" she asked him.

He fidgeted with the tiny garment in his hands. "I wanted to ask someone to the party Prue's having, but I dunno if she'd wanna come with me. "

"You won't know unless you ask her" she pointed out with a slight smile. "I don't know why any woman would refuse you anyway, Hoss. You're such a nice person."

"Well, ya see, she's a lot younger than me. I thought maybe she might not want to go out with an older man."

Sara chuckled. "Adam's older than I am. And wasn't Joe's mother much younger than Pa? Age doesn't really matter very much, Hoss, if you care about each other. Who did you want to ask?"

He blushed a bit. "Miss Julia" She thought for a moment...who was Miss Julia? Then she remembered Miss Darnell's name was Julia. Hoss was sweet on the schoolteacher! That would explain why he'd offered to collect the boys so often! Hoss wouldn't have had a chance to see her all that often lately. Since Adam had started getting better, he had made it a point to collect the boys from school whenever he possibly could, even if they had to sit in his office and do their homework while they waited for him to finish something. In Boston, Adam had collected David after school almost every day. He wanted David to feel that his Papa was interested in him. David had been still disobedient at first, just testing, but it didn't take long for him to settle down once he knew things were getting back to normal. Miss Darnell was pleased. David's grades and his behaviour were much better.

"Why don't you collect the boys tomorrow? Adam will be up at the Baker construction site, so we won't even have to tell him why." And she shared a conspiratorial smile with Hoss.

"Uncle Hoss" yelled Jonathan rushing to meet him after school the next day.

Hoss hugged both little boys as they leaped on him. "Just a moment boys, I hafta go see Miss Julia for a minute."

"I haven't been bad, Uncle Hoss," David said anxiously. Adam had had some pointed things to say to his son about appropriate behaviour in the schoolroom, and made sure David knew what the consequences would be.

Hoss laughed and patted him, comfortingly. "No,no, it's something I have to ask Miss Julia. You two wait here and then we'll go get some candy."

Miss Darnell smiled as he entered the schoolroom. "Hello, Hoss" she said, pleased to see him. She'd missed their chats.

"'Afternoon, Miss Julia" he said. He hated asking women out on dates. He was aware that he wasn't the handsomest man in the world, and he was afraid they'd laugh at him. He took the plunge. "Uh Miss Julia, my brother's givin' a housewarming party. I'd be honoured if you'd attend it with me" he said, nervously twisting his hat in his hands.

Julia was surprised. "Me? Why Hoss..." she thought for a moment, then nodded firmly. Why not? Just because she was the schoolmarm didn't mean she couldn't have fun too. And a Cartwright party-she hadn't been in Virginia City all that long, but Cartwright parties were reputed to be the best.

"All right, Hoss. Thank you for asking. I'd be delighted to attend the party with you."

Hoss beamed. "I'll come and pick you up in good time for it" he said happily. "Goodday Miss Julia". Julia was happy too. She liked parties, and she liked Hoss. A lot. She'd seen him with the children and she knew he was kind and caring, and she wanted to know him better.

Sara and Prue decided that they'd invite some special friends to dinner first on the night of the party. They asked their husbands and father-in-law for a guest list, which included Paul Martin the doctor, and the now retired Sheriff, Roy Coffee. It also included, to Hoss' pleasure and his brothers' surprise, Miss Darnell.

Joe pulled Adam aside. "I knew those women were up to something," he said grinning, "but I never expected this!"

Adam smirked. "I didn't either, but we should have worked it out, younger brother, since he's been so eager to collect the boys from school. I hope you like her."

Joe shrugged his shoulders. "It doesn't matter if I do or not. If he's found the girl he wants to marry, then we support him, don't we?"

"Of course" said Adam raising one eyebrow. "That goes without saying. I think the women like her though, and that's important. But it is only a first date, Joe. Let's not jump the gun." He watched his wife and his sister-in-law encouraging Julia to meet everyone. They were already treating her as a member of the family. If Sara and Prue had anything to do with it, the path of true love would run as smooth as they could make it!

The party was a success, with lots of music and food and laughter. Joe was delighted with the impression Adam's fine design and careful attention to detail made. It was a very fine house, even if it was, as some people teasingly said, 'out in the middle of nowhere.' Adam was happy. The house had reached even his high standards, his practice was establishing itself, and the timber operation was showing a profit. As far as work was concerned, life couldn't be better. The only thing that worried him was Sara, although he really had nothing to worry about. Unlike her previous pregnancies, she was radiant, although she still couldn't drink coffee. Adam was afraid for her, and for himself, a little too. How would he bear it if anything happened to her? So he watched and waited, anxiously.

They had hardly got to bed after the party when Sara was woken by her labor pains. She woke Adam. "Adam, Adam, the baby's coming. " she said excitedly. She was afraid too, but she wasn't going to let Adam see that. "Please, go and wake Prue, and Hop Sing and get Paul."

"I'll wake Prue, but someone else can get Paul. I want to stay with you. And what do you want Hop Sing for?" he asked in surprise.

"No" she said vehemently. "I want you to get him. I don't want you here. Please Adam. I'll worry about you otherwise. And I want Hop Sing because he says he has some special tea that will help."

Adam wasn't happy, but he acquiesced. Sara's needs were all that were important just now.

 He woke Prue, who threw him out. "Go away," she told him. "Sara doesn't need you here."

Joe sympathised. "I'll come with you to get Paul. Sara's right. You need something to occupy yourself with." He put his arm round Adam's shoulder comfortingly. "Don't worry, Adam. She's in good hands. Hop Sing's done this before."

Adam was well aware of that. Hop Sing had helped with Joe's very difficult birth. They rode as quickly as they could to Virginia City to get Paul, but he was at a neighbouring ranch. Adam was beginning to get worried. They had been gone almost four hours by the time he and Joe arrived back at the Ponderosa.

He rushed in. "Pa, Pa! How is she? Is she all right?" His anxiety was evident.

"Prue was just down here. She says Sara's doing fine." his father said soothingly.

Paul followed him into the room." Take it easy, Adam. I'll see how she is and let you know." And he went upstairs leaving the anxious father pacing the floor. Hop Sing brought him coffee, which he drank without even noticing. He heard Sara cry out in pain. He rushed to the stairs, only to be held back gently but firmly by Hoss and his father.

"No Adam" Ben said firmly. "You know they don't want you in there."

Adam sank down onto a chair. "What have I done, Pa? How could I do it?" he asked in despair. "How can I put the woman I love through such pain? How can any man do it?" Ben just patted his shoulder. There wasn't anything he could think of to say that would be remotely comforting. He'd wondered the same thing himself. There was another cry, followed by a thin wail. Then silence. Adam leaped to his feet, desperately wanting to know, to go to his wife, but knowing that he wouldn't be welcome if he did. Paul appeared at the top of the stairs.

"You've got a beautiful daughter. Mother and baby are just fine. Give us ten minutes, then you can come and see her," he said.

Adam closed his eyes, and said a silent prayer of relief. His father and brothers congratulated him loudly, so when Paul reappeared he didn't even see him. "Adam" he called. "What are you waiting for? Come and meet your daughter." Adam rushed up the stairs, two at a time. He paused in the doorway, then tiptoed into the room. Sara was propped up in the bed, her eyes closed. She looked tired, but so happy. She opened them when he kissed her and smiled up at him, radiant.

"I'm fine Adam. It was hardly anything at all. It was nothing like the others." She smiled. "I didn't think Paul would even make it."

He sat next to her on the bed and kissed her again, gently. "I love you" he said.

She smiled, tiredly. "I love you too. Isn't our daughter beautiful?" Adam took the baby from Prue, and cuddled her. "She is." he said quietly. "Almost as beautiful as her mother."

"Have you thought of a name?" Prue asked.

Adam nodded. He spoke, but it was to Sara. "You are the light of my life, darling. And this little one just adds to that. I know we talked about Elizabeth if the baby was a girl, but I want to tell the world about my joy in you. I'd like to call her Lucy Elizabeth, unless you object?

Sara shook her head, smiling. "Lucy is just beautiful. A beautiful name for a beautiful baby. And she has a wonderful father too."

She held Adam's hand as he held the baby. "Where's David? He should see his little sister. And Pa should see his granddaughter."

Ben came in holding David's hand. He led David over to the baby, and bent to kiss his daughter-in-law. "She looks just like your mother, Adam," Ben told him. That was hardly surprising. Both her parents had the same coloring as Adam's mother.

"Look David," said Adam softly. "This is your little sister Lucy. Isn't she beautiful?"

David looked. The tiny dark haired baby didn't look particularly beautiful to him, but he had more sense than to say so. He tentatively touched the baby's tiny hand, and the little fingers curled round his tightly. He looked up at his father in delight. "She's so little. Can I hold her?"

Adam debated with himself just for a moment. "Of course. You sit down here, and I'll put her in your arms. Make sure you hold her head."

David held his little sister. "Hi Lucy" he said. "I'm your big brother David. You an' me are going to have lots of fun together. I'll look after you. I'll always be here for you."

Ben was touched. Adam had said much the same thing when Hoss had been born. He looked at his son, gently cuddling his son as he held the baby, and his wife. Sara was radiant and the joy on Adam's face was blinding. Paul decided the little family needed some time together. He chased everyone else out.

Ben walked down the stairs deep in thought. He had only seen that look of sheer joy on Adam's face one other time in his life-the day Little Joe had been born. He wished he'd been with Adam when David had been born. He rather suspected that Adam's face would have had the same expression. He hadn't been there. The ranch had needed him, and when he had written to Adam to say he wouldn't be there for the birth, but he'd get there later in the year, Adam had written back telling him he understood. He wished even harder that he'd been there for Adam when Perdita had been born. But Jonathan had been due about then and this was Joe's first child. He thought Joe needed him more than Adam did. Adam had been through the experience once already. None of them had expected the baby to die. He hadn't even gone when Adam had written so simply, to tell him of the baby's death and Sara's illness. He'd always thought that Adam would ask if he wanted him there. He should have known better. Adam never asked. Ben thought about it. Somehow Adam's needs always seemed to come second to other things. His wedding had waited on his father's convenience. His recovery had been necessary because "it was tearing the family apart" to see him so depressed. Not that he'd not wanted Adam well on his own account, but he never seemed to think of Adam's needs, or put them first. Adam had had no childhood because his childish needs had had to give way to Ben's dream. Yet Adam never seemed to hold a grudge. His response was usually a quiet "I'm all right, Pa" or "I understand, Pa". There had only been a few times when Adam had refused to understand. He fought so hard to go to college. The ranch needed him, Little Joe needed him, Ben had told him. He had only given his permission because he'd been afraid Adam would go without it, and maybe not come back. And when he'd wanted to travel, to see the world, before going into practice with John, he'd put off his departure twice because the ranch needed him. He shook his head. He'd have to try to do better. Adam was a fine man, but he wasn't sure now if it was because of him or in spite of him, Ben chastised himself. Adam deserved to be happy. Perdita would always be in Adam's heart, but he hoped little Lucy would help give Adam some of that much deserved happiness. He looked up to see Adam coming down the stairs cuddling David. "They're both asleep." he reported. There was something different about Adam, Ben decided, besides the broad smile. He walked taller, lighter, as though he had shed an enormous weight that was almost too great for him to bear. Ben nodded to himself. He had. Adam had been so afraid for his Sara. There was nothing left for Adam to worry about now.

Some days later Adam rode up to the lake again. The last few days had been hectic and he needed some thinking space. He sat on his horse and stared at the lake. He'd been up there for quite some time when he heard approaching hoof beats. He didn't turn around. He knew who it was. "Hi Pa" he said, without even looking.

Ben chuckled. "I thought you might want to talk," Ben said. "Get some of those thoughts you insist on bottling up off your chest."

Adam smiled. " You won't go away till I do, anyway, so I might as well talk to you. Do you remember telling me once, a long time ago, that the Ponderosa was the nearest thing to heaven we will see on this earth?" he asked.

Ben nodded. "I still feel the same way."

"Well" said Adam, "I thought you were exaggerating, then. But I've travelled and I've seen some beautiful sights, but there haven't been any that match the beauty of this place. But it's not just its beauty. My heart belongs here. It's taken me a long time to find that out. I was happy in Boston, Pa, even though I missed you and the Ponderosa. I thought I had all I needed, at least until Sara's life was in danger. Twelve months ago I tried counting my blessings and wondered why thinking about what I had was so depressing. Today I think about what I've got and I feel nothing but joy. But I think I know why. You were right. I was grieving for what I'd lost. Now I know what I gave up isn't as important as what I've got." He grinned at his father. "There are only two things a man needs in this world, Pa. A loving family and a place to belong. And I've got them both." Adam patted his father's hand resting gently on his arm and turned back to watch the lake.

Ben Cartwright's eyes misted. Adam had always had the first, and now he had finally realised that the second had been there, just waiting for him. For the first time in his life, Adam Cartwright was truly at peace.

The End

Note: Fortunately for us, depression is now treatable with good therapy and appropriate medication. Telling people to ‘pull themselves together’  or to ‘get over it’ is about as useful as trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon.