Joe and Marie  -  A consummation to be desired?

By Lyn R.

Over the next few days they slipped back into routine and caught up with some of the backlog of work. Hoss was gradually regaining his strength and his arm was healing well. Little Joe was sleeping better now he had made his peace with his father, but he was still very withdrawn and avoiding going into town. He couldn’t get Marie out of his mind. One evening, restless and unable to settle, he rode up to his mother’s grave but it was a mistake. Joe remembered only too vividly how Marie had looked when he took her up there and the feel of her lips against his, her body against his. It had been a month since Joe last saw her, but standing up by the lake he felt as though he only had to turn round and she would be standing there, her presence seemed so real. Joe mounted Cochise and rode trying to tire himself out, he felt as though he had desecrated his mother's grave. It hadn't felt like that at the time, he loved her and Joe had been so sure that she loved him, it was just natural, but if all she wanted was his money that sullied everything. Joe rode for hours but he was unable to leave himself behind and eventually with the pinto getting tired, Joe went back home. Even then he lay sleepless in his bed. The rest of the family knew he was still upset about her but respected his reticence and left it for his pride to pull him round.

Adam couldn’t forget Carol’s suggestion about Marie’s possible motives. Hoss had told his brother the little he knew about Marie, admitting that she had seemed upset but Hoss had put that down to her apparent fear that Joe had committed suicide. Hoss had told Adam that as far as he knew she was intending to stay in town. Adam wanted to meet her and judge her for himself, preferably without her knowing who he was. He was convinced that there must be more about her than Hoss had seen, for her to have affected his little brother so badly. Adam knew that Joe was scared of seeing her again, his brother had avoided all the jobs, which might entail him going into Virginia City, which was very unlike him. Joe had even gone as far as writing out a temporary power of attorney so that Adam could reopen his personal account at the bank for him. His family had concurred in his avoidance of town and had avoided discussion which he obviously didn’t want, but they would all have given a lot to dispel the pain and misery which lurked in the back of his eyes even when he was laughing over something with them. To an outsider he might have seemed his normal cheerful self but the act wasn’t good enough to convince his family.

Adam had to go to town on Friday to collect the payroll. He warned his family that he wouldn’t be back until late maybe even the following morning as he had some jobs to

do. Ben and his brothers assumed that it was something to do with his house and Carole was the only one he told what he was actually planning to do. Adam was in luck, he managed to catch Don McBride at his house and explained that he wanted to talk to Marie, without her knowing who he was. Don agreed to keep quiet and ensure his girls didn’t say anything, trusting Adam’s word that he meant the young girl no harm. Adam just wanted her to be natural and from what Joe had said there was no way she would be herself if she knew who he was. Adam asked Don what he thought of the girl but that Don refused to answer, he’d leave Adam to make up his own mind. All he would say was that she’d been miserable since Joe left and hadn’t taken up with anyone else.

In fact Marie had spent a thoroughly miserable month since Joe left. At first she had been scared that Joe had killed himself and then when her anxiety about that eased, as she heard that he was with his brother, she had become sure that she was pregnant. Doc had confirmed it. It just didn’t seem fair that it should happen now. She had lived with Jim for three years and never become pregnant while he was around to look after her and now that she was on her own she was to bear his child. Marie didn’t know what to do, Annie, one of the older girls in the saloon in whom she confided, offered to take her to an old Indian woman who would abort her, but Marie couldn’t do it. She had loved Jim and this child was all that she left of him, but she didn’t know how she would manage to live once the pregnancy began to show and she had to leave the saloon. She had saved what she could but had nowhere enough to live on and none to turn to. She found each shift in the saloon harder than the last as she tried to remain cheerful as the men expected.

Then on the Friday evening a tall good looking cowboy started talking to her and took her over to a table. He made being cheerful very easy and she was able to keep him with her instead of being passed from one man to another as they got bored with her forced gaiety as had happened recently. Adam exerted himself to draw her out; he could see the same misery in her eyes as there was in Joe’s. For several hours he just chatted, letting her get used to him and relax. As she did so traces of the charm and gaiety which had attracted Joe were evident. Adam quickly came to the conclusion that she was by no means stupid and knew what his brother meant when he said she had never seemed like an illiterate saloon girl when they were together. They sat chatting for hours and Adam gradually drew her out until he felt confident enough to ask what was troubling her, a love affair gone wrong? Marie felt the need to talk and trusted this strange man. He was unlike the general run of cowboys and miners who frequented the saloons but she liked him and felt at ease with him. In some ways it was the same feeling she had had with Joe although he was more remote. She couldn’t imagine loving him but she could imagine him as a friend and that was what she desperately needed. Even now, although she’d only known him few hours she found herself pouring out her troubles as though a dam had burst. It wasn’t at all the behaviour expected of saloon girls but this man didn’t seem to mind. The compassion in his eyes encouraged her as she told him all about the man she loved and how she had had to send him away because his family wouldn’t approve and he couldn’t be happy away from them and his beloved ranch. She said bitterly “I told him it was a fool’s paradise. I’m an illiterate saloon girl I could never fit in with his family. His brother has degrees and things, he’s even been to Europe. He’d never accept me but Joe is very fond of his brother and his family. I’d take him with nothing but he’d never be happy away from them.”

Adam took her hand “You’re talking about Joe Cartwright?”

Marie had been so glad to unburden herself that she had become almost oblivious of him and let out far more than she had intended, she looked up at Adam “Do you know him?”

“Very well. We are close friends but don’t worry, nothing you have said will go any further unless you say it can.”

She still trusted him and as it was late Adam offered to walk her home. As they went down the street to the small room she had taken to save money, Adam said “Joe is still very miserable because you turned him down.”

Marie didn’t answer staring at her feet and Adam persevered “I don’t think his family would object once they got to know you.”

Marie snorted “His father disowned him because of me. Now I won’t marry him it’s cleared up but nothing has really changed.”

Adam kept hold of her arm, scared she would bolt on him, as he said “It wasn’t his father talking when he disowned Joe, it was pain and brandy.”

Marie stared at him “Who are you?”

“I’m afraid I am guilty of a slight deception Marie. I’m Adam Cartwright.” She tried to pull away but Adam had a tight hold “Please give me a chance to explain. What I said still goes, nothing will go any further without your permission.

Despite herself Marie found she still trusted this man and let him lead her into the small boarding house and up to her room. Adam let her go and sit down, leaning against the door himself “I’m sorry I hid who I was, but from what my brother had said I knew you wouldn’t be yourself if you knew. I wanted to know what sort of girl my brother had fallen so deeply in love with.” Adam tried to explain just why his father had gone off the deep end and assured her that his father hadn’t meant it, even on the day he said it. He described the woebegone brother who had joined him back east and how miserable Joe was, even now he had made peace with his father. Adam told her about his wife’s guess, that far from being mercenary she loved Joe and had just told him lies to get him to go home. Then he offered his help to both her and his brother.

Marie heard him out without comment her mind in turmoil and eventually Adam stood silent, she stared at him for a minute and then burst into tears. It was too late, it always had been. She was pregnant with someone else’s child and she could never marry Joe, much as she loved him, even though his family might agree. Adam moved forward and cradled the young girl on his lap; she was barely bigger than many children. He rubbed her back, as he had done so often with his young brother over the years and slowly she relaxed against him. She couldn’t tell him about the baby, it would alienate him and she couldn’t bear to see him turn away. Gradually her tears ceased and she sat up but she looked very bleak “I do love your brother, but it’s too late.”

“Will you at least see him, you’re both miserable. At least see him and talk, maybe it isn’t as late as you think.”

Marie slowly nodded “Alright I’ll talk to him. I owe him that much.” She couldn’t leave Joe to hear about her baby through the town gossip.

Adam kissed her forehead “I’ll pick you up in the morning and take you to him.”

She stared up at him “You’re so different from what I thought. What I had heard about you scared me more than anything else. Now I know what Joe meant when he said that you were also his brother. You’re both kind and trustworthy.”

Adam eased himself to his feet, “Get some sleep Marie. I want you to look beautiful for my brother.”

Marie lay awake staring at the ceiling trying to reorganise her thoughts. Joe’s family was no longer between them. Adam had made it very clear that he and his wife would welcome her and she had no fears about the big gentle man, who was the other brother. If the father had brought up his sons like that, she felt instinctively that he would come round. But now that she knew she was carrying Jim’s child she couldn’t marry Joe. She thought again about the old Indian woman. This child only a few weeks old was all that stood between her and her desire to marry the man that she loved. She tried to think of the baby as a nothing, Joe would sire his own children. Her problem was that the child was very alive to her, even though she had yet to feel it move, and she couldn’t murder her own child. She knew that she had to tell Joe, she owed him that much but she couldn’t begin to imagine how to tell him. Eventually exhausted Marie fell into a restless sleep.

Adam wasn’t sleeping much either. He was sure that Carole was right when she said the Marie loved Joe. Adam was equally sure that he could bring his father round, the misery in Joe’s eyes had nearly done that already. He had seen a glimpse of the real Marie, who had attracted his brother and was convinced that when she was happy she would bring his father round to loving her in her own right. But she still said it was too late. Adam sensed that there was something he didn’t know, but couldn’t imagine what it was. He drifted asleep on the thought that he had done his part in removing the main obstacle, the rest was up to his brother.

The following morning he hired a horse for Marie and picked her up. Adam helped her into the saddle and set an easy pace up to the lake. Marie rode easily but she was very quiet. Adam watched her closely but she seemed totally oblivious of him as she tried to work out what to say to Joe. In the early morning she looked clean and fresh, not at all like the usual run of saloon girls and Adam could sense the aura of innocence which had attracted his brother so much. Marie found herself very much at ease with this man, there was silence between them but it was a companionable silence. Adam took her up to the lake and asked if she had been there before, Marie nodded. Adam smiled “I’m not surprised I think it’s a favourite spot for all of us. I know Joe comes here often, not surprising with his mother buried here. I am going to leave you here and go and fetch Joe, will you be alright?”

Marie was glad of time alone to think and nodded “I’ll be fine.”

Adam helped her out of the saddle, made a fire and set coffee to heat, before giving her a large blanket to ensure she didn’t get cold. Then promising to be back in forty minutes he set out for the house. Marie sat wrapped in the blanket and marvelled that this man, who in prospect had terrified her, should be so easy to get on with and treated her like a lady.

Adam rode into the house and was in luck Joe was out in the barn. Adam wasn’t at all sure how his little brother was going to take his interference and he didn’t want to be disturbed, so he just asked Joe to take a ride with him. Adam just said that it was important but he would explain later. Joe looked quizzically at his brother but Adam was deadly serious, so he accepted what his brother said and saddled Cochise.

Adam rode halfway to the lake and then stopped and dismounted. Joe did the same and waited for his brother to say something. Adam saw the obvious question on Joe’s face “Before we go any further I’ve got to talk to you.” Now he had got Joe there he didn’t quite know how to start. Joe couldn’t make out the expression on Adam’s face, as his big brother tried to think of the best way to broach the subject

Eventually Joe said “Come on Adam tell me why you’ve dragged me way out here, it wasn’t to watch the grass grow.”

Adam sat down and Joe did the same. Adam put his hands up in a pacifying gesture “Please hear me out first Joe and then if you want to you can take a poke at me. I’ve been interfering again.”

Joe stared at his brother for a moment and then said “Marie?”

Adam nodded and Joe rolled over on his stomach and rested his head on his hands, staring at the ground “I’m listening.”

Adam said “When you came to us in Hillsboro I knew there were two things wrong with your story. I told you then, Pa couldn’t have meant to disown you and I didn’t believe you would have lifted a hand to him. I accepted from what you said that Marie was a mercenary bitch that you were well rid of. I thought that in time you had enough pride to pull yourself out of it. You know that I told Carole the gist of your story. She had a different idea about Marie. She said that if she had been in Marie’s position and I had come to her, disowned by Pa because of her, with signs of the quarrel only too evident, and you do have a very expressive face, she thought that she might have loved me enough to tell me that she wouldn’t marry me and that I should go home.”

Joe swung round resting on his side to stare at Adam “What are you saying?”

Adam smiled “We thought it possible that Marie put on an act to get you to go home and make it up with Pa. Because she loved you very much and knew you couldn’t be happy away from the ranch and your family.”

Joe lay there thinking about that and for the first time in weeks a spark of hope lit up his eyes, “You said you’d been interfering. What have you done?”

Adam sure now that his brother wasn’t going to take exception to what he’d done, told him about his meeting with Marie the previous evening. Finally Adam said, “I think I’ve dispelled her fear of your family and I am sure that she loves you and I think she would make a good wife, but all she would say was that it was too late. She did agree to come and talk to you and she’s waiting for you up at the lake. The rest is up to you.”

Joe sat up “Do you think Pa will come round?”

“I think the misery in your eyes these last couple of weeks have almost brought him round already and I think that once he meets her she’ll do the rest. I can see why you fell for her, she’s a sweet girl and very lovely.”

Joe sprang to his feet “I’m going to her.”

“It’s not plain sailing although I don’t know why. I promised to hang around to take her back to town if she wants me to. I’ll be at the bottom of the hill.” Joe nodded and swinging up on Cochise pushed his pinto into a gallop while Adam followed more sedately.

Little Joe rode up to the point and saw Marie sitting staring into space. He dismounted and ran over to her and had her in his arms, almost before she had realised he was there. For a moment she clung to him and returned his kiss and then broke away. Joe said, “Adam is waiting down the hill if you want him. He told me that you were lying that night when you said you didn’t love me.” He looked at her and read his answer in her eyes “You were lying and I was too upset to realise it.”

Marie couldn’t deny it and she nodded mutely. Little Joe pulled her close “It wasn’t necessary my love, its alright Adam approves and Pa will as soon as he meets you. You can’t back out now, there’s no need.”

Marie pulled away tears streaming down her face “Its no good Joe. Its too late, it always was.”

Puzzled Joe said “You can’t still be frightened of Adam, not now you’ve met him and he’ll soon talk Pa round.”

Marie shook her head “It’s not your family Joe, not now.” She turned away from Joe and sank to the ground and buried her face in her hands. Little Joe went down by her “If you love me and it’s not my family, what is wrong?” Marie was sobbing bitterly now but through her sobs Joe made out the word pregnant. He was stunned for a minute but then lifted her up and held her close “Are you trying to tell me that you’re having a baby?”

She nodded and for a moment wouldn’t look at him, but then she looked up “It’s Jim’s baby. I loved him and I can’t murder his child, so you see its too late it always was. I can’t marry you.”

Joe said “I don’t care I want you.” But Marie pulled away “I can’t marry you.” In floods of tears she ran to the horse mounted and headed down the hill to where Adam was waiting.

Adam was dismayed to see her in such a state but he had promised to take her home if she wanted him to. Now he mounted up and wordlessly set out to fulfil his promise. Marie knew she had no right to call on this man, having hurt his brother, but she trusted and relied on him although sure that once Adam spoke to his brother he would never want to see her again. Marie couldn’t stop crying and Adam avoided the main road for as long as he could. When he finally had to join it he stopped and pulling up close to Marie, wiped her face, and handed her his hip flask. She demurred but Adam insisted “Medicinal purposes. You’ll do as you’re told.” She nearly choked on the neat brandy but it quickly had effect. Adam damped his neckerchief and told her to wash her face, she would feel better. She did as she was told and gained some control “I don’t know why you’re bothering with me. I can’t marry Joe.”

“That’s between you and my brother but I don’t care to see people I like distressed. I want you to promise that if there is anything I can do to help, you’ll forget that I’m Joe’s brother. Just remember that I’m a friend and ask.”

Marie tremulously said, “I promise.” Even now she couldn’t help trusting this man and she was going to need friends. Just maybe he would understand and not turn away from her. Adam saw her to her room and then returned her horse to the livery stable. Then he headed back to the lake in case his brother needed his help.

Little Joe was sitting where she had left him. He was stunned by her news and, despite acknowledging the stupidity of it, he had to admit it hurt to know that she was carrying another man’s child. He had always known that she had been Harris’ lover but he had been able to ignore it, now with visible proof that wouldn’t be so easy. His immediate reaction had been that he still wanted her and now, having thought round in circles, the only effect of her news was to strengthen his urge to take her away from that life and protect her. He could understand her refusal to consider an abortion, but he had no intention of letting her refuse to marry him because of the child. Now more than ever she needed him. Joe was convinced that she loved him, it would have been so easy to claim it was his child, babies often arrived early, What worried him was the knowledge that he intended to deceive his family and he felt guilty about it. In the end he realised that he couldn’t carry it through without someone to talk to and he waited impatiently for his eldest brother’s return He needed to talk it over with Adam, to see if his brother thought that what he was planning was wrong.

Joe was glad to hear Adam ride up and went over to him “Was she alright?” Adam shrugged “She cried most of the way to town. Then we stopped and I gave her a drink repaired the worst of the damage. All she would say was that she couldn’t marry you”

Little Joe nodded but he didn’t look nearly as downcast as Adam had expected. “I need to talk Adam I’m going to marry her.”

Adam dismounted and moved back over to the fire and poured coffee “Okay Joe fire away.”

Joe took a deep breath and then said, “She won’t marry me because she’s pregnant and it’s Harris’ child.”

Adam was taken aback by that bald statement and didn’t know how to reply. Little Joe didn’t try to avert his gaze, just staring at his brother, until Adam swallowing hard said, “I’m sorry Joe I don’t know what to say.” Joe grinned wryly “Not exactly story book romance is it. It it doesn’t really alter anything I still love her and now more than ever she needs me.”

Adam sat staring at his brother, who in this instant seemed a stranger. There was an expression he had never seen before on his brother’s face and suddenly Joe seemed older and wiser, no longer his excitable little brother, he seemed to have matured. Adam realised that Joe knew exactly what he was going to do and that he would carry it through. Joe went on “I always knew she lived with Harris. Just because she’s carrying his child that doesn’t alter anything or make it any worse.”

Adam said, “Don’t answer if you don’t want to, but could it have been your child?”

Joe looked straight at his brother “Yes it could have been.”

Adam smiled faintly, “She’s a very brave young lady and very honest.”

Joe nodded “I know she loved Harris and she won’t murder his child.”

Adam gripped his brother’s shoulder “No. I can understand that. It’s an easy out but she wouldn’t take any of them “

Joe moved over to his mother’s grave and bent to clear some leaves “As far as the outside world is concerned I shall claim the child as mine, but I’m not sure about Pa.”

Adam went over and out his arm round his brother “The child will be yours Joe. We have always said that environment and upbringing counts more than heredity. The fewer people who know the better, then you won’t need to look for any difference in attitude to your first born The child will be a Cartwright and share equally with any others that we have. I see no reason to tell anyone else.”

Joe was relieved “That’s how I feel, but I don’t like deceiving Pa.”

“It will only upset him for no good reason, he’s not going to be best pleased anyway.” Adam was half expecting his brother to ask him to break the news but Joe had grown up suddenly, he would do his own dirty work. Joe straightened up “I’d better go home and tell Pa and then I’ll ride to town and make the arrangements for the wedding.”

“Bring her out to the ranch and give Pa a chance to get to know her and arrange for the wedding at the ranch like mine. It will help her if we show from the start that we are solidly behind her.”

“Do you think Pa will agree?”

“You tell him when the wedding is to be and about the baby and then leave him to me.” Joe turned away from his brother and swallowed hard “Do you think I’m doing the right thing Adam? It shouldn’t matter but I can’t deny it hurts.”

Adam put his arm round his brother’s shoulders “I know it’s not the best of starts to a marriage Joe and I’m not surprised it hurts but you love each other. I think she’s well worth it. Think about it as if she was a widow, after all Will loves Peggy and noone thinks anything of it. It’s the same thing.”

Joe nodded straightening his shoulder “You’re right and I do love her.”

“If you want to blow off steam I’ll be around.” Joe smiled affectionately at his eldest brother “You always are.” With that the brothers mounted up and headed for the house.

They rode in silence; Joe was trying to think how to tell his father. Adam just watched his brother’s strained pale face, but this was Joe’s fight, there was no way he could help except by being around when Joe wanted to talk. As they put the horses in the barn Joe asked his brother to get Hoss and Carole upstairs out of the way so that he could talk to his father without risk of interruption. He asked Adam to tell them about the baby and the wedding, he couldn’t face telling anyone else, it was taking all his time to prepare himself to face his father. Adam gripped his brother’s shoulder momentarily in support “Give me five minutes and I’ll guarantee the coast will be clear for you. Try and take it easy brother, everything will work out she’s a lovely girl.”

Joe watched his brother go over to the house, very grateful for his support. He was very tense at the thought of facing his father but he was well under control. Joe was deliberately, if unconsciously, thinking only of the practical details, people to tell, arrangements to make. He knew if he once allowed himself to feel he would never be able to face the world until he came to terms with himself. Time was one thing he didn’t have, he guessed Marie would be planning to leave town now and he wasn’t going to chase her around the country.

In the house Hoss was sitting by the fire chatting to Carole while Ben was working at the desk. Adam went over to his wife and kissed her. He whispered to her to get Hoss upstairs. Carole was puzzled, but as Adam winked at Hoss and went over to his father, she obeyed him. Adam gave his father the mail that he had collected in town and then, claiming he wanted to wash and change, said that he would fill all the news in later. Ben frowned at Adam’s attitude, he knew his son well enough to know that he was up to something. Ben watched the three of them go upstairs very puzzled, but then Joe came in.

Joe took off his hat and gun and then went and poured out two brandies. Ben sat watching Joe, even from his son’s back he knew that something was wrong. Joe came over to his father “Pa we started to have a talk before, the time has come to finish that talk.” Ben scanned his son’s white strained face and moved over to the fire accepting the brandy that Joe passed him. He sat down “Alright Joseph what has happened?”

Joe moved over to the fire and stood staring into it. For a long minute he couldn’t speak and then he swallowed hard, “I’m going to marry Marie in three weeks just as soon as we have had the banns read.”

Ben sat in silence just watching his youngest son. Joe went on “She admitted she was lying when she said that she didn’t love me. She wanted me to come home because she was sure I couldn’t be happy away from her and my family. Now it’s different she’s pregnant.” Joe stood head bowed and awaited the eruption.

Ben sat in silence for a minute, shocked at what Joe had said and he couldn’t deny that he was disappointed. He knew such things happened but had never expected to be faced with it by his youngest son. Then the tenseness in Joe’s whole form got to him and he said, “Come here Joseph.”

Joe turned and saw only compassion and hurt on his father’s face, no anger. He went down on his knees by his father and buried his face on Ben’s lap “I’m sorry Pa.”

Ben was puzzled, as far as he knew his son hadn’t been into town, and he asked, “How did you meet her again Joseph?”

Joe looked up “Adam brought her out to see me, she wasn’t going to come she was leaving town.”

Ben was amazed wondering why on earth his eldest son had got involved. Joe pulled himself to his feet “I’m very sorry Pa that we have inflicted a lot of gossip on you, but if the baby had been conceived two moths later I would have been delighted. Of all the time it could have happened I am so grateful it happened now, I know people will say that I have been trapped but it’s not true. I love her and I want nothing else but to marry her.”

Ben sighed heavily, but he said “You had better bring her out here to stay so that I can meet my new daughter-in-law.”

Joe knew how much that invitation cost his father but for now all he wanted was to get away on his own. “Thanks Pa. I’ll go to town now and bring her back tomorrow,” There didn’t seem anything else to say and Joe went out, grateful that at least the news was broken and his father hadn’t erupted at him.

Upstairs Adam had taken Hoss and Carole into his room and the Carole demanded “Right explain!”

Adam sat down on the bed and he told Hoss just what he had done in town and the success that he had had. Hoss asked, “What did you think of her?”

Adam smiled “I can see why Joe has fallen for her. I think given some security and happiness she will blossom out. She’s a very honest young lady and I liked her.”

Hoss was willing to accept his brother’s judgement, she had been very scared and unhappy the only time he saw her and although she had seemed insipid he guessed it wasn’t fair to judge he on that.

Then Adam went on to explain the difficulty he’d had in persuading her to meet Joe and the way she had left him in floods of tears, claiming that she couldn’t marry him. Carole and Hoss frowned wondering where this was going but Adam didn’t leave them in doubt. He said “I went back to the lake expecting Joe to be upset but he was very calm. He explained to me that she was pregnant and refusing to marry him but that he couldn’t let her refuse.” Adam let his wife and brother assume that the child was Joe’s and she was worried about further trouble with Ben if she apparently trapped him into marriage. Adam got to his feet restlessly and went over to the window “Joe is telling Pa now. I promised to keep you two out of the way. Then he’s going to town to arrange the wedding.”

Hoss stared worriedly at his eldest brother and Adam moved over to grip his shoulder “Take it easy Hoss. It’s an unfortunate start and the gossips will have a field day but Joe loves her and I am very sure that she loves him, so it could be a lot worse. All we can do is to show everyone that we are backing them both, all the way.”

Hoss nodded “Of course but how will Pa take it?”

Adam looked down into the yard “Well there’s Joe leaving now.”

Hoss sighed heavily, “He looks pretty despondent.”

Adam shrugged “It can’t have been easy to tell Pa. I think I’ll go and see how Pa is taking it.”

Hoss watched his elder brother go out and then looked over at Carole “If anyone can talk Pa into believing this is good for Joe it’ll be your husband, he has a derned persuasive tongue when he wants to use it.” Carole moved over to him “You look as though you need persuading yourself Hoss. The talk will soon die down, as long as they love each other that’s all that really matters.”

Hoss grinned up, very fond of his sister-in-law “If it makes that look fade from Joe’s eyes, I don’t care what the gossips say. I hate to see him look so derned miserable all the time.”

Carole linked arms with him “I know exactly what you mean and so must your father.”

Adam found his father sitting staring into the fire. He poured out two drinks and went and sat on the table facing his father. For a moment Ben didn’t look up but then he did and asked “Why did you get involved Adam? I thought it would all die a natural death, Joe’s pride is too great for anything else.”

Adam passed a drink over “I agree it would have done but I wasn’t sure that outcome was a consummation greatly to be desired.”

Ben frowned at that, but he just waited for his son to explain. Adam explained Carole’s suggestion of Marie’s motivation and then said “Like everyone else I assumed she was a mercenary bitch who had no use for Joe without the ranch, but then after Carole’s suggestion I stopped to think. If she was mercenary she had a funny way of going about it. She was pushing Joe away when he was already offering marriage. She could have presented you with a fait accompli and I would have thought our reputation round town, as a tight knit family, would have entitled her to expect that you would give in fairly rapidly. Instead of that she tells Joe that he is living in a fools paradise and refuses to marry him unless his family agreed. She seems to have been particularly frightened of me. Then when Joe turns up, the ravages of his quarrel with you only too apparent, she tries to send him home. It seemed at least possible that she did so because she loved him. I knew how much Joe loved her and I hated the expression lurking in his eyes every minute of the day. I knew he wasn’t sleeping and I’d have given a lot to dispel his misery. I’ve never seen him so deeply affected before and if she in fact loved him enough to send him away, then I thought she might just be the right person to be his wife. Anyway I had to find out Pa and the only way was to meet her without letting her know who I was.”

Ben nodded, he could understand how his son had felt, he had hated the misery in Joe’s eyes, it had haunted him at night, Adam sketched in everything that had happened in town and how he had finally persuaded her to at least talk to Joe.

Ben was silent for several minutes after Adam fell quiet and then he asked, “What did you think of her Adam?” He had a great deal of faith in his eldest son’s judgement.

Adam smiled slightly “I like her Pa. She’s very beautiful, ethereal almost, tiny and looks very fragile, but she’s strong. She was going to leave town and have her baby without even telling Joe because she wouldn’t come between him and his family. She lived with that gambler Harris for three years, without benefit of clergy, but I’m sure she considered herself his wife and that she loved him. She loves Joe and she’ll be faithful to him. She’s ashamed of being illiterate and knowing none of the housewifely duties, but she’s by no means stupid and she will learn. I think she will become a daughter-in-law you can be proud of and love in her own right.”

Ben wasn’t convinced, it wasn’t what he had dreamt of for his youngest son and knowing Joe’s fiery temper he dreaded the trouble it might cause.

 Adam pushed his point while his father was listening, “You have no choice Pa. Now she’s pregnant Joe will marry her even if it means leaving here. He seemed to grow up in front of my eyes this afternoon. He was suddenly no longer my younger brother, but a man ready to face his responsibilities on his own. In the course of nature she will be his wife for the rest of your life Pa. If you don’t want to alienate Joe you have to accept her and it will make for less friction in the years to come if you do it willingly. In twenty years time it won’t matter that she once worked in a saloon, or that she was pregnant before her wedding, but it will matter that her father-in-law always hated her and long before that you would have lost Joe.

Ben knew his son was right, he sighed “I told Joe to bring her out here to stay.”

Adam moved over and slipped his arm round his father’s shoulders. “Good for you Pa, but we must arrange for the wedding to be here and it mustn’t suffer in comparison with mine. We have to show the world we are welcoming her into the family. From a practical point of view it the best way of silencing the gossips and it’s only fair on Joe.”

Ben considered that for a moment and then nodded “I had been thinking of a quiet wedding but you’re right, it would be the worst possible thing.” After a moment’s silence Ben said, “I think I feel like a ride.”

“I’ll come along.” Ben shook his head “I want to be alone Adam.”

His eldest son protested “Doc said you were only to ride with one of us along.”

“I’ll be okay. I’m only going up to the lake. If I’m not back by dark you’ll know where I am but I must think.”

Adam had to accept that but he smiled at his father “It’s not a disaster Pa. They love each other and I think you’ll like her, if you just forget her past and that’s very easy when you are with her.”

Ben nodded, he would at least try but for now he wanted time to think and he rode out.

Adam went back upstairs, his father had taken it better than he had expected, although it was much more in line with his normal ideals than his recent behaviour had been. Adam put Hoss’ mind at rest, there wasn’t going to be another family rift. Then the three of them put their heads together to decide the best way of making Marie feel at home. In the end they came to the conclusion that all they could do was to show their willingness to be friends and leave her to make the first moves. If they tried to push it they were just going to overwhelm her. Carole was determined to make her wedding dress and at the same time show her how to sow, but Adam warned her to go easy. Marie knew she had been a schoolmistress and was already scared of her. Then as it was dinnertime they headed for food,

Little Joe headed slowly into town. He was glad to have broken the news to his father and quite pleased with the way Ben had taken it. He felt as though he was in a dream, or may be a nightmare, he was bitterly cold but he was just sitting outside himself, watching himself perform the practical necessities. He reached town and looked in at the saloon but she wasn’t there. He went onto the boarding house.

Marie had come in, thrown herself on the bed and cried for an hour but then she had got up and washed her face. She had to get out of Virginia City as soon as possible, it was only fair on Joe and essential for her own peace of mind. She knew that she couldn’t stand the thought of seeing him around town, the prospect every day of wondering whether she would see him was more than she could face. She wanted to break away now, a clean break and then face up to the future. She gradually pulled herself together and began to pack. She had nearly finished when there was a knock on the door. She went over to open it, expecting to see one of the girls, and was surprised to see Joe.

Joe pushed past her into the room, scared she would shut the door in his face. He looked round at the packing and asked, “Where do you think you’re going?”

Marie sat down on the bed “Anywhere away from Virginia City, it’s the only way Joe. You’ll soon forget me.”

Joe moved over next to her and took her in his arms “I don’t want to forget you. I want to marry you.”

“But the baby.”

“As far as the world is concerned it’s my child and I swear to you that I will never treat it any other way. I have already told my father that I’m marrying you in three weeks time and that you are pregnant. He said to bring you out to the ranch to meet him and to stay with us. Good job you are packed, we will be leaving for the ranch in the morning.”

Marie started to protest but Joe silenced her by firmly kissing her. Minutes later she pulled away “It’s no good Joe, it’s unfair on your family. You’re foisting a baby on them, which isn’t a Cartwright. You can’t live a lie. I won’t marry you.”

“You have no choice my darling. I’ll gag you and make the vicar marry us at gunpoint if necessary.”

Marie wasn’t at all sure of him in this masterful mood. She wanted nothing more than to submit all her problems to him and let him take care of her but she couldn’t. She turned to the window and, holding onto the sides needing the physical support, she said “It’s no good Joe, it’s not fair to you or your family.”

Joe went over and gently turned her round to face him. “I told Adam the whole truth. I needed to know what he thought. He said that we have always believed that upbringing and home background counted more than blood, so he believed that if the baby were brought up by us it would be a Cartwright. It would be my child in all important ways.”

Marie wouldn’t look at him “Adam must despise me.”

Joe shook his head “No why should he? Her said you were a very brave and honest young lady, it would have been easy for you to pretend that the child was mine. He also said that noone queried it when he was planning to marry a widow, with a young daughter, which was exactly the same.”

“He didn’t marry her?”

“No. One day I’ll tell you that story but my cousin Will did and he loves the girl, Peggy, just as much as he does his own twin daughters.”

Marie frowned “If you have told Adam, why not tell the rest of your family?”

“I thought about that but both Adam and I agreed there was no point. If they don’t know, then in years to come you won’t have to wonder if our first born is being treated differently because it isn't my blood." He kissed her “Please trust me, it’s not wrong. I love you so very much. Will you marry me?”

Marie stood for a moment staring at Little Joe, he looked so very handsome, his hazel eyes glowing, green, intense. She loved him so much and knowing everything he still wanted her. His brother, a man she had known for such a short time but quickly had come to trust, agreed with him. Finally she gave in and with a sigh of relief she nodded and then nestled in Joe’s arms. She knew there would be problems ahead, but she could see the love in Joe’s eyes and as long as that was there she didn’t need to fear for the future.

Joe held her tight, feeling as though he had come home at last. He knew in the back of his mind that the knowledge she was carrying someone else’s child was going to hurt but for now he could ignore it, with her in his arms, he could plan for the future. Eventually Joe headed for a hotel, arranging to pick her up in the morning. Now he had her promise to marry him Joe was no longer worried about her running away. Joe didn’t think that he would be able to sleep at all that night, there was so much to think about, but in the event he had hardly lain down before he was asleep, worn out by the emotional stress of the day. He slept late and it was nearly ten before he was ready to collect Marie.

Marie was ready and waiting. They made their first call on Don, to tell him that Marie was no longer able to work for him. Joe led the way in and for once the saloon was almost empty. Don was pleased to see them together; he liked Marie and knew how miserable she’d been since sending Joe away. Joe grinned at Don “I’d like to thank you for taking care of her of these last few weeks but she won’t be working here anymore, Marie is coming out to the Ponderosa to stay and in three weeks time you’re invited to a wedding.” Don was delighted for her, he had always thought there was more going on than Joe had let on in first bringing her in. He congratulated them warmly and Marie felt herself blushing but Joe just grinned broadly.

Then they headed down to see the vicar. Joe arranged for the banns and for the actual ceremony on the Saturday three weeks off. The first banns would be called that very day. The vicar wanted to know if the service would be in the church or, like Adam’s, at the house. Joe, hoping that his brother had been successful, said, “At the house I think but I’ll confirm that later.”

The vicar knew all the family well and that there had been trouble between Joe and his father over this girl, but he didn’t say anything just offering his congratulations.

As they left the church, to Marie’s utter horror, Joe announced his intention of seeing Dan de Quille. Joe laughed at the expression on her face. “Dan is an old friend Marie. I must tell him and we have to announce our engagement and the wedding date.”

“It will only be a quiet wedding, won’t it?”

Joe shook his head “No. I aim to have as big a shindig as we staged for Adam. I’m proud of my fiancée and I want to show her off. So everyone can see what a little beauty I have.”

“But Joe they’ll all know I’m a saloon girl.”

“I don’t care. It’s what you are that counts, not what you do. I’m not ashamed of you and I won’t have you ashamed of yourself. In three weeks you’ll be Mrs Joseph Cartwright, everything else is in the past.”

Marie was so scared at the thought of facing Dan that Joe laughed at her, but he gave her twenty dollars and told her to go and buy herself something in the store while he saw Dan.

Dan was surprised at the announcement but Joe made it clear he didn’t want to discuss it; so Dan just joshed him about copying his brother and congratulated him.

Joe hired a buggy and collected all Marie’s things before picking her up. She had brought a new hat for herself and with it on her self-confidence perked up a bit. However it soon waned as Joe drove towards the ranch. She was scared stiff of his father and his sister-in-law, although no longer of his brothers. Joe sensed her fear and chatted to her, trying to keep her confidence up, but in the end she was no longer answering. Little Joe knew she was scared but she had to face his family sometime.

They drove into the yard and Joe helped her down from the buggy “Welcome to your future home my darling.”

Marie stood looking at the house, with all the barns, stables and bunkhouses as well as the main house it was an impressive sight. Although of later years, since he had been trained, Adam had been known to wish that he had altered the respective sizes of certain features, the house showed his inherent feel for line and was impressive in its simplicity. Especially compare with the rococo mansions built in Virginia City by the new millionaires not knowing what to do with their money. Marie had heard a lot about the Ponderosa but this was so much more than she had imagined. She could see why Joe loved it so much but it just heightened her feeling of inferiority. It was so unlike anything she had ever known and she lost what little colour she had. Joe noticed but didn’t say anything, just putting his arm round her and leading her inside.

Ben had hardly slept that night, he knew what Adam had said was sense and he must accept this girl as his youngest son’s wife. It wasn’t at all what he had wanted for Joe and, knowing Joe’s fiery temper, Ben dreaded his reaction to the inevitable gossip. By morning he was thoroughly restless and it was impossible to settle to work. About mid-morning Hoss became restless and after an early lunch he insisted that he was going for a ride. Hoss was still very weak; it seemed to be taking a long time to recover his strength, although Doc was very pleased with his progress. Ben restless himself, and sure that Joe wouldn’t be back until late afternoon if he was making all the arrangements for the wedding, decided to take Hoss for a ride. Adam told them that were both mad, it was the blind leading the blind, but he could understand their urge to get out of the house so in the end he went out and saddled their horses. Adam did ask Carole to go along with them, just in case of trouble. She willingly agreed and Hoss welcomed her presence. Adam helped his brother into the saddle and told him to take it real easy. Hoss just grinned but Adam knew how weak Hoss still was. At least Carole could bring word if they needed help.

Thus when Joe and Marie went into the house, the only one there was Adam, wrestling with the accounts at the desk, He looked up on hearing the door and seeing Joe and Marie, he immediately came to his feet and grinning broadly said “Welcome to the Ponderosa Marie. You must be frozen, come over to the fire.” Adam led the scared girl over to the fire. Marie perched on the edge of the sofa, taken aback by the furnishings and all the books and guns. It was very obviously a man’s room although Carole had filled vases with flowers and made cushion covers to brighten it up. Although it was a very lived in room everything was top quality, but it was the sheer number of books that scared her and for a long moment she just stared round. Adam left her in peace and went out to the kitchen to ask Hop Sing for coffee. As they waited for the coffee Adam explained that Ben and Hoss had gone out for a ride, as they hadn’t expected Joe and Marie until later in the day. He smiled down at Marie “I sent Carole to keep an eye on them. I’m sure that Pa will be sorry not to have been here to welcome you Marie.” She looked up at him like a frightened fawn and Adam smiled reassuringly at her. Then Hop Sing came in with the coffee and Joe introduced Marie to the old Chinaman. Hop Sing bowed to her “Very pleased to meet you Miss Marie.” Then he turned to Joe “Very beautiful Little Joe.”

Marie blushed and said “Thank you” and Hop Sing left the coffee and returned to his own domain. Joe looked after him affectionately; he was very fond of the older man, who had been with them for as long as Joe could remember. He smiled at Marie “I don’t know what we would do without Hop Sing. He feeds us and his cooking is great and indirectly I think he rules us.”

Adam laughed “He certainly has a habit of getting his own way!”

Joe passed coffee to Marie, “You drink your coffee love, Adam and I will get the luggage upstairs.” She nodded and the brothers left her to get accustomed to the house while they moved her things into the guestroom opposite Joe’s room. As they worked Joe asked Adam what their father had to say. Adam was able to give him an optimistic report and finished up “As long as she makes you happy Pa and Hoss will soon accept her. Don’t worry, you look happier now than I have seen you since I left for the East. They’ll soon notice that and it will outweigh all other considerations.”

Little Joe was arranging some flowers in her room and Adam went down to talk to his future sister-in-law, Marie was standing looking at the map of the Ponderosa and whirled guiltily on hearing his steps on the stairs. Adam went over to her, “Make yourself at home Marie. If you want anything, just ask. You don’t have to be afraid to ask.”

Marie looked up at him “I don’t belong here.”

Adam took her by the shoulders and as she stared down at the floor, he gently tilted her face up to look at him. “Marie you do belong here. My little brother looks happier now than he has done since he joined me back East. You keep him happy that’s all we ask.”

Marie looked down again “How can he be? It’s not his baby.”

Adam forced her to look at him “It doesn’t matter Marie. Once he has held it in his arms, gone to it at night, played with it, it will be his child in every real sense. Maybe it’s not the best of starts but Joe needs you too much for you to let it matter. Blood isn’t that important. I never knew my own mother but Hoss’ mother and Joe’s mother became mine. They looked after me, cuddled me, played with me and they became my mothers.”

Marie frowned, puzzled “But your brothers?”

Adam smiled “Only half brothers, but it has never mattered. My mother died giving birth to me, Hoss’ in an Indian raid when he was only a few weeks old and Joe’s in a riding accident when he was four. We were brought up together and we are a lot closer than many full brothers. Blood isn’t that important.”

Marie stared at him as though she would find the truth in his warm hazel eyes. “Are we doing wrong in deceiving the others?”

“I can see no reason to tell them. Your baby will be a Cartwright because you and Joe will bring it up. So why complicate matters. I’d just like to say that you are a very brave and honest young lady and I for one would like to welcome you whole heartedly to the family. I’m sure the rest of the family will too once they have a chance to get to know you.” That was too much for Marie who found her eyes were full of tears. Adam sat down and settled her onto his knee, where she indulged herself in a good cry on his shoulder.

When Joe came down he found them sitting there, her sobs had subsided but it was a very tear stained face that she lifted to Joe. He came over and grinned at Adam “You’re a married man!” but Adam just laughed.

Marie was very sheepish as she said, “Every time I see you I cry all over you.”

Adam grinned “Yeah. I shall have to start carrying a dry shirt when I see you.” She scrambled off his lap saying, “I’m sorry “ but Adam said, “Don’t worry. Friends are supposed to be able to provide a shoulder to cry on and in a few weeks you will be my sister.”

Joe grinned at them, thanking his lucky stars that at least these two got on so well, very grateful for his eldest brother’s support. “Come on darling I’ll show you your room and you can tidy up before the others get home.”

Adam said “Do you want me to send the buggy back to town?”

Joe nodded and led Marie upstairs. She felt a lot better for giving way to her nerves and at least she has the backing of one member of the family. She was still surprised at how easy it was to talk to Adam and said as much to Joe.

 Joe shrugged, “When he wants Adam can get along with virtually anyone. He can also turn people away quicker than anyone if they push in when they aren’t wanted. Lots of people like and respect my brother, but I don’t think any of them really know him. He is unpredictable and they don’t understand him. I know Pa once said that only a woman, who really loved him, would ever really understand him. Usually I do but then he does something I just don’t get. He can read me like a book, even better than Pa and he always knows when I am trying to hide something or not telling the complete truth. It used to infuriate me as a kid; well I guess it still does sometimes. You see Pa was so busy with the ranch that Adam used to look after me. He taught me to read and write, ride, fight and shoot. He was the one who got me out of trouble most of the time and, apart from the time he was at college, he more or less acted as a second father. Guess in many ways he did for Hoss too, although he’s only five years older than Hoss. I guess that’s why we are so close.”

Marie stared at her future husband as he tried to explain a little more about his family, a life so different from anything she had ever known. There was so much that she had to learn.

They were still upstairs when Ben, Hoss and Carole returned. Adam heard the horses and went out in case his brother needed a hand. Hoss looked exhausted although they had only ridden a couple of miles. Adam went over to him and helped his big brother down. He drew Hoss’ left arm round his shoulders and put his own arm round Hoss’ waist to give him as much support as he could, Then as his brother looked so ill, he took Hoss straight upstairs to his own bed. Hoss didn’t even protest he felt too weak and tired. Ben followed Adam upstairs. Hoss had seemed okay when they reached the lake but he had watched his big son wilt on the way back. Ben helped Adam get Hoss into bed and they wrapped him up warmly as he was shivering. Once he was lying comfortably Hoss managed a grin “I’m okay just tired.” He was still bitterly cold and Adam said “I’ll go and get you some hot coffee, help warm you up.” As he went out Ben sat down by his son “We shouldn’t have gone so far.”

Hoss said “I’m sorry to be a nuisance Pa. I felt alright on the way there.”

“Easy son. You’re not a nuisance. You’ll gain your strength back, it’s just a case of time.” Hoss shut his eyes; he hated being so weak. Adam came back in and gave Hoss some coffee. Then he told them that Joe and Marie had arrived while they were out. He promised to get Joe to come and see his brother later, but told Hoss to get some sleep first. Hoss could barely keep his eyes open and once he had finished the coffee he grunted and burrowed down under the bedclothes.

Ben and Adam left him to sleep and Adam considered his father in some concern “You look as though you need some sleep too Pa.”

Ben shrugged his hand off “I’m fine. Where are they?”

“In the guestroom I think. She wanted to wash up and change.”

“Well I suppose Joe will bring her down to see me eventually.” Ben snapped, as he headed downstairs.

Adam saw Carole going into their room to wash up and he slipped along and asked her to stay out of the way for now. Then he knocked on the guestroom and when Joe opened it, Adam said “Pa’s home. Hoss was tired and is having a sleep. Carole and I are in our room, so if you want to see Pa the coast is clear.”

Joe had been wondering how to separate people so that Marie didn’t get overwhelmed and he grinned at his brother “Thanks Adam. Is Hoss okay?”

Adam grimaced, “He’s overdone it and he’s cold and tired, but he’s back in bed and he’ll be fine after a long sleep, I promised you would take Marie to see him later.”

“He always did hate to admit he was weak, even when it was obvious. Considering how ill he was he’s marvellous; it’s bound to take time to recover his strength.”

“I know but he gets bored tied to the house.” Then he headed of to join his own wife leaving Joe to take Marie downstairs

Joe went back in to join Marie “Adam has cleared the way, there’s only Pa downstairs. It’s time you met him.”

Marie knew that she had to do it but she dreaded this meeting and was as white as a sheet. Joe put his arm round her “It has to be done my love.” She nodded and let him lead her down.

Ben was sitting by the fire dreading the meeting almost as much as Marie. He knew that she would know how he had fought against this match and he still found it hard to accept the idea of a pregnant saloon girl as his son’s wife. It seemed to take forever but eventually he saw Joe leading her down the stairs and despite Adam’s description he was taken aback by her. She wasn’t at all what he had imagined and he acknowledged the justice of Adam’s phrase, ethereal described her perfectly, especially now when she was white with fear. Physically she had Joe made a very striking couple, Joe as dark as she was fair. Ben got to his feet and went forward to greet them. Little Joe proudly said “Pa this is Marie.” Ben stood silently for a moment then he put out his hand and Marie took it. Ben felt the coldness of her hand “You’re frozen come over to the fire, “ He led her over to the fire and she sank into a chair. Ben said, “You know I opposed this wedding. I was wrong; I should at least have done you the courtesy of meeting you before I judged you. Anyway that’s all in the past and all I can do is ask for your forgiveness and as long as you keep Joseph happy, you’re welcome in this family.”

Marie felt the tears in her eyes and without thinking she went and knelt down by Ben’s chair. She was very beautiful, as she looked up at Ben, the tears brimming over so that her eyes looked enormous. “I know I don’t belong here but Joe won’t listen.

Ben smiled down at her and lifted the girl up easing her down on the arm of his chair “It’s alright child, there’s no need for tears. Anyone who can make my son looks so happy belongs here and you are beautiful enough for the very best setting.”

Little Joe was grinning so widely his head was in danger of falling off as his father acidly pointed out. Then Ben told Joe to call Adam and Carole and pour out some drinks; he wanted to propose a toast. Marie was feeling one hundred percent better now she had met Ben As Joe went to call Adam, Ben turned back to Marie “Please forgive me Marie, I should have had more faith in my son’s judgement.”

“I know I’m not a suitable wife for your son but I do love him very much.”

“That’s the all important thing my dear and according to me eldest son you are eminently suitable.”

“I’m a saloon girl, I can’t even read.”

Ben smiled “It’s not what you were, but what sort of person you are, that counts. It’s what I have always taught my son but I forgot it. I paid dearly for my stupidity while Joe was away. Anyway you’re no longer a saloon girl and we can soon teach you to read if you want.”

Adam and Carole came downstairs and Marie rose to her feet and brushed the tears from her eyes as she faced the only other woman in this household. Carole went straight over to her and Joe introduced the two women. Then Joe went to collect drinks while the two women considered each other. Carole was very much bigger, some five inches taller and built on a more curvaceous model but in their own ways they were equally beautiful. The men stayed out of it, leaving it to the two women. Carole was the first to speak “I don’t care if it is pushy, will you let me make your wedding dress, you are beautiful and it would be sheer pleasure to dress you.”

It wasn’t at all what Marie had expected but she saw the friendliness in the older woman’s eyes and she smiled “If you would teach me how to sow at the same time, then I would be delighted.”

Joe let his breath out, not even realising that he had been holding it, and dropped a kiss on both women’s foreheads as he passed them their drinks. Ben smiled and proposed a toast “To the Cartwrights and the latest beautiful addition to the family. Long life and happiness to all of us.”

They drank and Marie felt herself accepted by this family, something she had never known. She grinned happily at Joe, the ordeal had been far worse in prospect than it had been in reality. She knew that both Adam and his father meant what they said, as long as she kept Joe happy she was very welcome and none of them would hold her past against her. The timing was excellent, as they finished their drinks Hop Sing called them to table for dinner. He had his own methods of deciding when the food was ready and it didn’t always have anything to do with cooking.

Joe led Marie to her place next to him with Carole and Adam opposite. Ben sat at the head of the table and considered his two sons. For so long he had waited for a daughter-in-law and now, almost as soon as Adam had given him one, Joe was proposing to add a second. This summer had made such a difference to the family and now with a grandchild on the way, things would really be different. Marie felt much happier but she still had to find her feet with this family. Adam smiled encouragingly at her and Joe sat close lending his support but she barely spoke and ate very little After dinner Joe took her outside to see round the immediate area of the house. Marie was glad to get off on their own; his family was more than a little overpowering. Little Joe had been delighted at the way his family had accepted her and Marie admitted, “They are very kind Joe. Not at all what I expected. I guess I should have known after I had met Adam as well as you. It is a beautiful house.”

“I hope you will be happy here my darling. I will build us our own house, just like Adam is but it will have to wait for the spring. We won't be able to move in until you have recovered from the birth of our child.” She nestled close to him at that, “I’m sure I can be happy here Joe. I shall be with you. I didn't think that would ever be possible.” Joe pulled her close. He still had to face his own feelings about the baby, which he was pushing to the back of his mind, but at least his family accepted her.

Soon after dinner Hoss woke up and Adam heard him stirring and went in. Hoss was preparing to get up but Adam stopped him. He felt his brother’s forehead and took his pulse. The pulse was rather fast and Hoss had a slight temperature so Adam said, “You’d better stay in bed old son. If you overdo it you’ll be flat on your back again.”

Hoss protested that he was fed up with bed but Adam threw his own words back at him “Don’t drive Pa to distraction. Make haste slowly.” Hoss remembered saying the same to his brother and grinned ruefully. Adam patted his shoulder “I’ll go and get you a tray. Hop Sing saved you some stew.”

Hoss gave way “I’ll be good.” Carole heard their voices and came to see how Hoss was feeling. Adam left them to chat while he went down and got food for Hoss and coffee for himself and Carole.

Ben was working and Adam just told him that Hoss was awake but was going to stay in bed for the rest of the day. Ben looked up anxiously but Adam was quick to reassure him “Hoss is okay Pa, but his pulse is a little fast and he has a slight temperature, so I’ve bullied him to stay in bed.”

Ben sighed, “I shouldn’t have let him go out, it was too soon.”

“There’s no real harm done and it’s made him admit to himself, just how weak he still is. He’ll be easier to control.”

Ben nodded letting his eldest son go back to his brother and tried to concentrate on his work, without noticeable success.

Little Joe had take Marie back to her room and left her to unpack. Hearing his brothers’ voices he wandered in to find them sitting drinking coffee. Carole had gone back to her room to cut out a new dress. Joe joined them and looked anxiously at his big brother. Hoss grinned resignedly “I’m fine Joe. Just this big bully won’t let me out of bed.”

Adam grinned, “For once in your life Hoss I even have the strength to restrain you physically. Push from one finger should just about do it!”

Hoss groaned “He sure makes the most of it, don’t he?”

Joe laughed but then suddenly serious he asked “Do you feel up to meeting Marie?”

Hoss grinned “Sure. I have met her before but it weren’t the best of circumstances, hope I didn’t scare her none.”

Joe went to fetch her and Adam got out of the way going downstairs to help his father. Joe brought Marie in to Hoss’ room and for a moment she stood looking at the big man in the bed. When she had met him before he had obviously been very worried, but now he looked ill and tired. Hoss spoke first “Hello Marie. I hope I didn’t scare you that time in town. I was just worried about my stupid little brother.”

Joe grinned “Just watch it Hoss. I may be your little brother but just at the moment I can handle you with one hand tied behind my back.”

Marie moved forward “I hope you’ll be better soon.”

Hoss shrugged “I’m okay now, just a bit weak and my rotten family won’t let me out of bed.” Marie smiled at him and for the first time Hoss began to see what had attracted his little brother initially. He grinned back, “Welcome to the family Marie. I sure hope you can keep my little brother under control.”

Marie couldn’t feel self-conscious with this man and soon she was chatting happily to the two brothers, much to Joe’s delight. Hoss, seeing the look that he hated gone from his brother’s eyes, was quite content to accept this girl whatever her past.

Over the next two days Marie came to know the Cartwrights and to relax with them so that they saw just what had caught Joe’s heart. Marie hadn’t forgotten what Ben had said about teaching her to read and write. She knew that Carole had been a schoolteacher and she wanted to learn. Marie didn’t have the nerve to ask Carole herself, although the older woman had shown herself very willing to be friends, and the two women were already working together on the wedding dress. Marie still felt very uneasy with Carole, especially after the previous evening. Adam and Carole had been wrangling over the respective merits of plays. It had started as a discussion of plays and Joe had even joined in for a bit. Marie sat watching the three of them but as far as she was concerned they might as well have been talking a foreign language. Ben and Hoss were discussing a report Ben had received on protecting newly cut wood and that was equally foreign to her. Then Adam and Carole abandoned plays and moved on to the merits of French and Italian in opera, quoting at each other to prove their point. Joe opted out at that, he didn’t speak either language and from the only one he had seen didn’t think much of opera. He caught Marie’s eye as she watched in horror as quotations in foreign languages flew back and forth, so Joe got to his feet “Come on love let’s get some fresh air.”

Adam looked up startled and Joe grinned, “You’ve lost me brother. I never could see what you liked about a lot of warbling in foreign languages.”

That description of grand opera had both Adam and Carole in hysterics and Joe led Marie outside. Joe pulled her close “Don’t mind them. When Adam gets in that mood Hoss and I have always ignored him. He’ll be quoting Latin and Greek next!”

Marie wasn’t really reassured, but she was determined to learn to read and then maybe one day she would be able to join in these discussions. She asked “Joe how did you learn to read?”

Joe frowned at the odd question coming out of the blue and thought about it for a moment. He could barely remember a time when he couldn’t read but slowly his memories came clear. “Adam taught me. I guess he taught Hoss too, with some help from Pa. I guess Pa must have taught him. Why?”

“I want to learn. Carole was a teacher, will you ask her to teach me?”

Joe sat down and pulled her down on his lap “Why don’t you ask her yourself, darling?”

“I don’t know. She seems friendly but I can’t help feeling she must despise me.”

Joe pulled her closer, burying his face in her hair, and then gently kissed her until he felt her relax a little. Only then did he try to answer her “I don’t think for a minute that Carole despises you. I was hurt earlier this year and Carole came out to nurse me and then later, when Adam was hurt before their wedding, she stayed here. I got to know her very well. She’s no more likely to despise you than Adam is. Why don’t you forget that she was a school teacher and give her a chance?”

Marie had to laugh at him but she still couldn’t ask Carole and Joe promised to do it for her. Joe had his chance the following morning. Adam had taken his brother out for a short ride at Hoss’ insistence, although he still thought Hoss was too weak and Ben had gone into town on business. Carole was sitting sewing the lining for Marie’s dress. Joe was very much at ease with his sister-in-law and he had no trouble in asking her for a favour. Carole listened quietly as Joe explained that Marie wanted to learn to read and had asked him to enlist Carole’s help. Joe was completely taken aback as Carole shook her head “I’m sorry Joe but I won’t do it.” Joe hadn’t even contemplated the possibility of Carole turning him done and Carole had to smile at the expression on his face. She put down her sowing and took his arm, leading him outside “Don’t look at me like that Joe. Let me explain.”

Joe nodded and they went over to the corral and leaning on the rails, looked up at the Sierra Nevada, beautiful now with their covering of snow. Carole turned to Joe “Why didn’t she ask me herself?” Joe was silent and Carole answered her own question "She's nervous of me. She’s at ease with Adam and Hoss and even with your Pa but she’s nervous of me. I can sense it. I don’t think I’m that terrifying a person so all I can imagine is that it’s because I was a teacher. I don’t know if Adam ever told you but when I first started seeing him I was nervous of meeting his family, especially you. You made me feel like the old caricature of a spinster schoolmarm, scared of her own shadow.”

Joe had to laugh at that “You were scared of me?”

Carol nodded “That was before I got to know you. It was the way you looked at me. Marie looks at me the same way. I’m not a person I’m just a teacher.”

Joe protested “I’m sure she doesn’t really feel like that.”

Carole looked questioningly at him “Are you sure Joe?” There was no answer and she went on “I like her Joe and I want to be friends. After all Joe, you and Adam are close, your wives have got to get on and anyway she is the only other woman around. I do like her, but we can’t be friends until she sees me as me, not just as a teacher. It would only make matters worse if I taught her to read. I’ll show her how to sow, cook, anything a housewife does. I can do that woman to woman, but I won’t take up anything which puts me in the position of teacher.”

Joe considered what Carole had said for a long moment and then he put his arm round her shoulders and kissed her forehead “Alright I do understand. I’m sure that you two will be friends. She is on the defensive at the moment and give her a chance.”

“Of course. I know how she feels, you are a very close family; it’s a little overwhelming to begin with. I do like her Joe and she is very beautiful. I hope we can become close friends.”

Just then Adam and Hoss returned. They hadn’t been far, only about a mile all told but it was enough and Adam helped his brother into the house and into a chair. Then he got Hoss coffee laced with brandy and handed it to his brother. Hoss sipped it gratefully and lent his head back closing his eyes. As Joe and Carole joined Adam, he signalled them away. Hoss was regaining his strength but very slowly and he was restless. Adam reassured them “He’s okay, just weak and he won’t admit it.” Carole stared at Hoss for a minute and then suddenly to the brothers’ surprise, she began grinning broadly.

Carole moved over to the dining room and called Adam and Joe over. She turned to her husband “Joe just asked me to teach Marie to read but I can’t do it.” Adam understood why she had refused without any explanation and he nodded. Carole went on “Why don’t you get Hoss to teach her. It will give him a nice sedentary occupation while he’s so weak and yet keep him busy.”

Adam and Joe looked at each other and Adam began to grin closely followed by his little brother. “It’s a marvellous idea, Hoss had plenty of patience.”

“Someone needs it around here!” Joe laughed “But you’re right I’m sure the big moose could do it.”

Adam turned to his wife “Of course he can and you can lend him suitable books to start on can’t you love?”

Carole nodded “of course and any advice that he needs but all it really needs is time and patience, because she is bright and once she gets started, she’ll just need the books and hints as to which are most worth reading.”

Joe said “Who is going to tell Hoss about his new job?”

Adam grinned “I think that’s up to you little brother, you have always been able to lead Hoss into trouble. I’m sure you can persuade him.” Joe wasn’t so sure, but he decided to make a try and if necessary call in Adam’s help later.

Hoss was asleep so Joe left him until later and went to see Marie. He told Marie about Carole’s suggestion and said that both he and Adam thought it was a good idea. She would be doing them all a favour in keeping Hoss quiet. Marie wasn’t sure, but as Joe seemed in earnest about it, she just accepted it; it was fine by her if Hoss really didn’t mind. Joe waited for his chance to break it to Hoss and he got the opportunity later that day. Adam and Ben were working and Carole had taken Marie off upstairs to cut out the main dress. Joe brought coffee over for Hoss and settled down to chat. Hoss knew his little brother too well and looked suspiciously at him “What are you up to Joe?”

Joe attempted to look innocent and failed abysmally. He said “You didn’t go far today and yet you’re exhausted.”

“You don’t have to rub it in. I’m as weak as a kitten, just don’t seem to be getting my strength back.”

Joe smiled “You are an awful lot better than you were Hoss. It’s just a matter of time. You were very ill. We just thought you might like a job while you’re stuck in the house.”

Hoss frowned, “What sort of job?”

Joe explained and Hoss reacted almost angrily. “You must be joking! I couldn’t teach anyone to read.”

Joe said, “We think you can and Carole will give you a few hints to get started and provide the books.”

Hoss shook his head “I’d like to help Marie but I can’t do it Joe. I don’t know how, I don’t even remember learning to read.”

“Will you at least talk to Carole about it? Adam could teach her but he has too much work to do and so does Pa. Carole won’t do it, she wants to be friends and refuses to act the schoolmistress.”

Hoss hesitated but as his little brother looked beseechingly at him, he gave way as he always had “Well alright I’ll talk to Carole but I don’t know how to teach anyone anything!”

Joe didn’t waste any time; he headed straight upstairs to fetch Carole. He told her that Hoss wasn’t sure how to start teaching someone to read. Carole went downstairs, leaving Marie to hem the under skirts as Carole had shown her. Carole went over and sat down by Hoss “Joe said you weren’t sure how to start teaching Marie.”

Hoss laughed “Not quite right. I said I wouldn’t do it. I just don’t know how.”

Carole said “It’s really easy Hoss, especially with an adult who wants to learn and Marie is bright.”

Hoss listened and much against his will with Joe and Carole ganging up on him he begrudgingly asked “Well how would I start?”

Adam wandered over with coffee and Hoss tried to get his support but Adam was on the other side and even his father joined them, anything that would keep his big son quietly in the house was an excellent idea in his opinion. With all his family against him Hoss conceded defeat “Alright I’ll give it a try but if it don’t work out, one of you is gonna have to sort out the mess. That’s providing Marie is willing to give it a try.” Joe promised that she was and Carole went to get some books and show Hoss how to start.

Ben and Adam went back to work and Joe joined them. Someone had to go to town, collect money and do the round of the ranch and someone had to go to Sacramento to settle up the details on the lumber they had sold to the railway for a trestle. Adam was proposing to go to Sacramento but Ben wasn’t too sure, it was a long ride.

Adam lost his temper when his father reverted to his concerns “I am fine Pa and anyway we have no choice. Joe has far too much to do here and I’m a damn sight fitter than you or Hoss.”

Ben glared at him “Don’t swear at me.”

Joe looked from one to the other as they glared at each other “Calm down both of you. Adam will be okay but why not take one of the hands along.”

Adam turned to his brother in anger, “I do not need a nursemaid!”

Joe put his hand up “Let me finish. I wasn’t suggesting you need a nursemaid but if you are going to be in Sacramento, you can pick up a few things. You said that next time you were there you were going into Tom Scott’s place to choose a thoroughbred mare for Carole and I’d like you to choose one for Marie too. Then with a wedding coming up, maybe you’ll have some more shopping to do and a hand can help you getting it home.” Adam had to laugh at the twinkle in his brother’s eyes and sank down into a chair. “Alright little brother, what do you want for a present that’s going to take two of us to carry?”

Ben was willing to accept that much of a concession from Adam and asked “Who will you take along?”

Adam ran quickly over the crew. Most of those who were close friends were needed where they were, or still away on the drive, but one of the men Jess Ballard had not gone on the drive as he had picked up a fever. He was over it now and rather restless, handling the ranch chores. Adam had always got on quite well with Jess so he decided to take him along. Ben was surprised; Jess was very much a loner. He had been with them for two years, a hard worker, but he had never seemed to make any real friends, not that he’d ever caused any trouble. Joe was still thinking about presents but he decided to pass the buck. “You never gave us any help when you were getting married now you can get your thinking cap on.” Adam threw a cushion at his brother “You’re useless.” The discussion headed back towards what Joe would need to get in town in order to pay the hands, many of whom would take a bonus and head down under to Frisco for the winter.

Later that evening Hoss started his first lesson. Marie was nervous but not nearly as nervous as the big man, The others left them strictly alone and after a few minutes both of them had calmed down. Hoss grinned at her “I’m no teacher Marie, my rotten family are using you to keep me quiet but maybe between us we can manage.”

Marie already sensed just how much patience Hoss had and she didn’t feel self-conscious about making mistakes with him, as she would have done with any of the others. She relaxed and Hoss started as Carole had shown him, by explaining phonetics and showing her how each sound she used in talking had a different symbol, Marie was determined to learn and she quickly began to catch on.

Meanwhile Adam and Ben were discussing wedding presents. It was somehow a more difficult problem than choosing presents for Adam and Carole, Partly because Joe was proposing to stay in the main house at least for the time being and partly because they didn’t know Marie very well.  Still decisions had to be made as Adam would have to pick up all the presents in Sacramento and he was intending to leave for there the following day. Ben knew that Joe was normally broke, unlike his brother, and he was proposing an early share out for their personal accounts. Adam told him that for once Joe had a couple of thousand dollars and, as he would be paying for Joe’s present to Marie and not demanding instant repayment, there was no rush. His mind at ease about that Ben reverted to the question of presents. Hoss had already decided; the Doc in Fallon had told him about a brand new machine called a stereopticon that was on show in Sacramento. It had pictures, which looked three-dimensional through a special viewer. Hoss had asked one of the men to go to town and wire Sacramento and ordered one for his brother. Adam was going to collect it and a camera for Joe to make up his own slides. The only thing Hoss didn’t know was how much it was going to cost, Adam laughed at his brother but he had to admit it was a good idea while he was completely blank. Ben was no better. Adam’s present had been cut and dried but this was much more difficult. He finally decided to redo Joe’s room for them with a double bed, bedroom suite, desk, dressing table, new carpet and furnishings. As time was short Adam offered him some of the items that he and Carole had bought in New York. They could order replacements. Ben accepted that gratefully and then with Carole’s help he drew up a list of things for Adam to get in Sacramento to complete the room. Ben was going to get everything ready in one of the guestrooms and then have the changeover done while the wedding took place, so that it would be a surprise. Adam tried rebelling at the things he was expected to buy. It was one thing to accompany his wife while she chose soft furnishings, another matter to do it on his own; but with the combined weight of his wife and his father against him he had to give in. He still hadn’t made up his own mind, but he could think on the way to Sacramento.

Adam wandered out to the bunkhouse and found Jess sitting whittling a stick over by the corral. Jess was about Adam’s age but a slighter build, only about five ten, slim and wiry. He was dark haired and tended to be very serious but Adam knew that given the right conditions Jess had a good sense of humour. It was one of the things that had made him consider taking Jess. Adam checked that Jess was fully recovered and said that he wanted Jess to ride with him to Sacramento the following day. Jess was surprised, normally the Cartwrights either went alone or in pairs on such trips. He couldn’t remember any occasion when they had taken a hand along. Adam recognised the surprise and grinned, “My family still seem to think that I need a nursemaid and, with Joe’s wedding in three weeks, none of them can spare the time. Add to which I have to collect presents and I may need a spare pair of hands.”

Jess grinned slowly “I’d be delighted. It will make a pleasant change.”

“Fine. Be ready to leave straight after breakfast, it’s a fair ride.”

That evening Adam spent time with his father going over the relevant papers and collecting all he would need to complete their contracts in Sacramento. With the flume repaired for them the lumber for the trestle had been delivered on time and Adam had the last two months payments to collect plus the completion payment. He was also going to negotiate a contract for the following year. It was late when he finished packing and he went up to bed, looking very tired. Carole was worried Sacramento was a long way and the winter weather was beginning to close in. Adam noticed but laughed at her “I’m just about fully fit again now my love and I promise I’ll take things easy. Don’t look so worried.”

Carole cuddled up to him “I shall miss you my love.”

Adam grinned, “That’s good! But I shall be back in a week with any luck and you have plenty to do to finish Marie’s dress and get the curtains made. I’ll stop by the house before I leave in the morning and make sure they have enough work to keep them going for the next week.”

Carole nodded “They understand you much better than me.”

“So I should hope, I am the architect in this family!”

Adam was away very early the following morning and when Joe came down to breakfast he found only his father and Carole. On hearing that Adam had already left he was annoyed, he had wanted a word. Carole said, “If its important you might catch him over at our house. He was going to stop off there first.”

Joe blew her a kiss “Tell Marie I’ll be back soon” and then he was off. Joe was in luck he found Adam just finishing up, while Jess waited over with the horses. Joe stopped by Jess “Try to stop my brother overdoing things. He’s not as fit as he makes out.”

“It’s not that easy Joe. He is the boss.”

Little Joe laughed “I know the problem, low cunning and a tired horse can help.” Jess grinned at him; the Cartwrights had always got on well with their hands without ever jeopardising their positions as the bosses, mainly because of their willingness to do any job that they asked the men to do.

Adam came over, surprised to see his brother. Joe grinned “Carole told me you’d be here. First choose a mare for Marie but see if you can get a pinto to match Cochise.”

Adam laughed “Alright and what else?”

Little Joe said “Just a hint. I heard Carole bemoaning to Marie that we have no dogs around the ranch and how much she missed having a pet. Scott always has puppies around and a guard dog might make her feel easier while you’re away.”

Adam was surprised “I wonder why she hasn’t mentioned it. Still it sounds a good idea to me. If he’s got one, which isn’t too big to keep in the house. Thanks Joe.”

Joe grinned “Take it easy.”

“You just try and keep Hoss and Pa under control. I’m fine.”

Joe swung up on Cochise “Some hope. You make sure you choose me something nice, brother. I know you’re the rich member of this family.”

Adam laughed “That’s because I don’t waste it!” and slapped Cochise on the rump sending his brother off home.

As Joe left, Adam and Jess rode out. For a while they rode in silence but then Adam decided to try and get to know his companion a little better. He started by asking what Joe had recommended, a lame horse? Jess had to laugh “You know your brother very well.”

“I ought to. Do you have any brothers?” It wasn’t normal behaviour to ask questions, many men weren’t even using their right names and Adam was prepared to back off, if Jess showed any dislike of the question, but Jess liked this man and he found himself talking for the first time in years.

Jess had been caught in the civil war. His family came from West Virginia that troubled state where so many had been torn both ways when Virginia seceded. Jess was two years older than Adam and had been twenty-three at the outbreak of war. He had two older and one younger brother. Both the older brothers were married to wives from the south, but the whole family was antislavery. Their mother was dead and their father wanted nothing to do with the war until the battle lines ran through their county. Eventually after weeks of fierce quarrels the four sons all joined up, the two eldest for the Confederacy, the two youngest for the Union. Jess sighed deeply as he remembered those days and he looked at Adam “Living here, where you were far from the conflict, I don’t know if you can understand?”

Adam considered him compassionately “I understand only too easily. The civil war didn't really affect us in Nevada to begin with. We weren’t even a state. Then in ‘64 Lincoln wanted us to become a state; he needed our votes to abolish slavery. We had both north and south here wooing us and the quarrels broke out here. Joe and I even came to blows over it. My mother was from Boston and I was firmly against slavery so I supported the north and wanted us to join the Union. Joe’s mother was from New Orleans and he was young. He disliked slavery but I don’t think he really understood what it means. He saw the northern states trying to force their will on the southern ones and thought they had the right to secede, govern themselves without northern domination. Pa and Hoss both felt it wasn’t our battle and we should keep out of it.”

Jess grinned “I think I’d have been with them and thanked God that I had the chance to keep out.”

Adam smiled “If there was such a chance our money denied it. We were already involved both sides needed the silver. Eventually both Pa and Joe voted for statehood and we joined the Union.”

Jess was puzzled “What was Joe doing voting, he could only have been a kid and I thought you said he supported the south?”

Adam nodded lost in the past “He did and he was only a kid not yet seventeen. When Pa agreed to vote for statehood that gave the necessary two-thirds majority. Judge Terry was representing the south and he knew he’d lost. But Joe was dating his daughter Morvath, and Hoss and I were away, so he risked demanding another delegate from the Ponderosa. We own so much land we were entitled to two delegates and Joe became the youngest one and his vote could decide the issue. Pa would only tell him to vote on the issue, not on how he felt about a girl or me, and Joe wouldn’t say which way he was going. Everyone knew that Joe and I had actually come to blows, but that had more to do with Morvath than the issue. Anyhow Hoss and I became involved when we found a young boy killed by Indians. He was carrying a letter pledging Nevada’s wealth to the English for guns. We read the letter and rode for Carson City. Joe insisted I be allowed to read the letter and the outcome was never in doubt. The only decisions was about the constitution.”

Jess had been watching Adam as he relived those days six years earlier. He knew that this man could understand the heartache of fighting against your own family, even though he was part of a much closer family than Jess had ever known. Jess went on to tell Adam how the home farm had been devastated in the fighting and his father had died of a stroke. His eldest brother John had died at Gettysburg and his youngest Billy had died in his arms at Shiloh. Jess had never heard about his other brother Frank and had no idea if he was alive or dead. Jess was wounded on Sherman’s march through Georgia and invalided out. Sickened by the whole war, Jess had headed west as soon as he was fit enough to travel. He had no ties to bind him to home, a home, which no longer existed, and he just wanted to get away from the bitterness. He had drifted round the mines for a while, but had wanted a job in the open air and thus ended up on the Ponderosa.

Adam could understand the bitterness left by those years and he said, “I was always very grateful that we lived here, where we didn’t need to get deeply involved. I did think of joining up, but there were always immediate problems here and with my brothers still young Pa needed my help. I think it would have broken Pa if Joe and I had joined opposing sides.”

Jess was quiet for a while but as Adam called a halt for lunch he looked up at his boss “I haven’t talked about those days for years and somehow it feels better just to talk it out.”

Adam swung down busying himself with the fire as he answered, not wanting to embarrass the hand “I know what you mean. It’s probably one of the main advantages of having a family. There’s always someone to talk to, I was in Europe for eighteen months and even though I made plenty of friends I missed having someone to confide in." Jess filled the coffeepot and brought it over and the two men ate in a companionable silence.

Hoss and Marie were making slow progress, but both were amazed at the speed with which the hours passed. She had been scared that she would bore the big man with her hesitant efforts, but Hoss had plenty of patience and he was even more delighted than she was, as she successfully spelled out simple words. Joe and Carole stood looking at the two heads bent over a book and Joe grinned, “That was an inspired suggestion Carole. I haven’t seen Hoss sit still in one place for so long in ages, not contentedly anyway."

Carole was pleased and as she said from the sound of thing Hoss seemed to be being successful. Joe laughed “The big galoot always had plenty of patience someone needed it in this family. It sorta missed the rest of us.” Then he had to head into town to collect money for wages and other supplies.

Joe had a busy day in town, finalising arrangements for the wedding. He had made many of the arrangements for his eldest brother’s wedding so he was able to clear the details fairly rapidly. There were a few comments from some of the men in the saloon when he went into the Bucket O’Blood for a beer. Word of her pregnancy hadn’t reached town but even so some of the comments were barbed, a Cartwright caught by a saloon girl. Joe was determined to hold onto his temper, he knew he would have a lot to put up with, but letting himself be goaded into a fight would only make matters worse. Joe ignored the taunts and drank his beer chatting quietly to Don and then left while his temper was still vaguely intact. He collected the wages and then headed up to Lake Tahoe. Joe knew that the comments he had met today would be nothing to those which would arise when they knew about the baby. He tidied up the graves and then sat staring out over the Lake. He tried to face the idea of the baby but somehow it wasn’t real and he just couldn’t sort out his own feelings towards it. Every time he tried to think out how he felt, his mind seemed to revolt, and he found himself thinking of anything but the child. Somehow the uncertainty of the sex of the child made it impossible to consider it as a real being and in the end, bitterly cold and thoroughly confused, he headed home.

It wasn’t the weather for camping out unnecessarily and Adam pushed on as fast as possible for Sacramento. It was about one hundred miles over the Sierras and he hoped to only make one over night camp. Jess tried to point out that he had promised to take it easy but Adam just laughed at him. This was taking it easy; he often made Sacramento his first stop. The men were getting on well. Adam had made it clear that he wanted to be treated just like any other cowboy and he would do his share of the chores, not given any special treatment just because he was part owner of the Ponderosa. Jess found him very easy to talk to and the two men chatted as they covered the miles, finding a surprising amount in common.

It was late afternoon and Adam was beginning to consider making camp as the light began to fade. He knew the trail well and had picked on a spot near water but well drained which he had used before. They were riding along a trail half way up a canyon wall with a sheer drop to the right, when Jess’ horse suddenly reared for no apparent reason, catching the cowboy totally by surprise. Unprepared Jess was thrown, falling down the canyon wall.

Adam was dismounting almost before he stopped to think and seeing the rattler, which had caused the trouble, he shot it before hurrying over to the edge. He could see Jess’ body about twenty feet below him supported on some scrub timber. Adam could see the precarious hold the roots had on the soil and they obviously wouldn’t hold the man’s weight for long. Jess wasn’t moving, whether he was unconscious or dead was a matter for conjecture, but if the former then the moment he regained his senses and moved would be his last. Adam saw all that in a glance and he was busily tying his lariat to Sport’s saddle-horn without giving it a second thought. With a thankful prayer that he was riding his own well-trained horse and not, as he had contemplated, the young palomino that he was training. Adam let himself down over the edge knowing that Sport would stand or back on his command. He had tied his lariat round his own waist and with a firm grip on it he began to lower himself down, a little way along from where Jess was lying, not daring to risk knocking any rocks down which might knock the man off his perch. Adam soon reached the same level and gradually worked his way across to Jess. He felt a great deal better when he had managed to loop the spare rope round the injured man. Then sure that Jess couldn’t fall far, Adam felt for his pulse but as he did so Jess moaned slightly and opened his eyes. Adam gripped his arm “Hold still, you’ll be fine.”

Jess slowly looked round and took in their precarious position, but he was still very dazed. Adam got himself wedged up against the rock-face and then helped the smaller man climb onto his back and lashed them together with rope, just in case. He told Jess to hold on tight and then called to Sport to back up. Sport slowly moved back pulling the two men up the cliff. Adam did his best to ward off projections from the cliff, while Jess held on for grim death but both men were bruised and breathless when they finally rolled over the edge onto the trail.

Jess made it back to his feet first and got his canteen, going anxiously over to his boss. Adam was still lying where he had fallen, both his back and stomach were making it very clear that although much better, they weren’t up to rock climbing. Jess was sore and his head ached. He still felt a bit dazed and knew just how close he had been to death, but he was more concerned about the man who had saved his life.

Adam lay still, his eyes closed, waiting for the pain to fade. He was as white as a sheet and the pain showed very clearly in the taut muscles round his mouth. Jess brought his canteen over and carefully eased Adam up a little and gave him some water. As the pain subsided Adam managed a grin “You okay?”

Jess nodded “Thanks to you.” He looked down into the canyon with a shudder “I guess I’ll never be closer to hell without actually shaking hands with the devil. I owe you a lot and I won’t forget it.”

Adam pulled himself to his feet using a nearby tree and straightened up a little shakily. “You’d have done the same. What I don’t understand is what a rattler is doing up here in this weather.”

Jess followed his gaze and saw the cause of all the trouble, but he shook his head, glaring at his horse “I don’t know, but my damned horse should know better than to fuss just because of a rustler.”

“If you’re okay we’d better move on. It’s a couple of miles to the nearest spot for a decent night camp.”

“I’m fine. I always did have a hard head, but you don’t look so great.”

Adam tried to tell him to stop fussing but he had to ask for Jess’ help to mount Sport. By the time they reached the place where Adam had decided to camp, his back had stiffened up and as he dismounted his legs wouldn’t support him and he could only stay upright by clinging onto the saddle. Jess swung down quickly and helped Adam over to a rock where Adam could sit down and rest his aching back against it. As he did so he realised just how cold his boss was and he collected both his own and Adam’s blankets and wrapped them round. Adam protested rather weakly that he’d be alright in a few minutes but Jess just grinned, “Sure you will! Just take it easy.” Adam leaned back and closed his eyes while Jess busied himself making a fire and getting coffee on. He found Adam’s hip flask and put a generous slug of brandy in the coffee he handed his boss. Adam was very grateful for the coffee but he couldn’t face food. Jess didn’t push him; he knew just how ill his boss had been earlier in the year and was scared that this was a recurrence. After a bit as Adam relaxed some colour came back to his face, much to Jess’ relief and they soon settled down for the night.

Jess was woken the following morning by the smell of bacon and coffee. Adam had slept very little as he was sore and aching, but he had waited until a reasonable hour before preparing breakfast. Jess came guiltily to his feet; it seemed all wrong for his boss to be cooking his breakfast and in most places he had worked would have meant instant loss of his job. To his surprise Adam grinned at him “It’s nearly ready. Don’t look so worried. Have my brothers been telling you what a lousy cook I am?”

Jess shook his head “You should have woken me.”

Adam laughed “Why? It only takes one of us to cook breakfast and even I can hardly ruin bacon and beans.”

Jess realised that Adam wasn’t going to pull rank on him and he shook his head, he should have known that, it wasn’t the Cartwrights way. All he could do was accept it. After breakfast they set out. Adam was determined to make Sacramento that night; he wanted a nice hot bath. Adam was very stiff and sore and the men rode mainly in silence. They reached Sacramento in the early evening and Adam was near exhaustion. He asked Jess to book them a couple of rooms at the Palace hotel and then headed down to the barbers where he knew he could get a bath. Feeling rather more relaxed by the hot water Adam headed for bed.

The following morning Adam got down to business and by late afternoon had a provisional order for lumber for the following year. He spent the evening writing out the contract on the agreed terms having ensured that Jess was enjoying himself. They had had dinner together and Adam told Jess to be ready to ride over to Scott’s ranch with him the following morning.

Once the contract was written Adam sat back and tried to come to a decision about his brother’s wedding present. He had no real idea and the only things he could think of were totally mundane. Eventually Adam decided to go down to the saloon for a drink hoping that it would lubricate his thoughts. He got himself a beer and then looked round to see if any of his acquaintances were there. He was surprised to see John McKay and James Flood coming over towards him.

John was the first to speak “I’ve been wanting to see you Adam. I have a proposition for the Cartwrights.”

Adam raised his eyebrow quizzically, “I’ve been out on the Ponderosa if you wanted to see me.”

John smiled a little self-consciously “It’s only blown up in the last few weeks and I didn’t want anyone to see me talking to you or your Pa.”

Puzzled Adam said. “I’m listening.”

Flood intervened “Not here. Would you join us for a drink in my room at the hotel, room 325?”

Adam nodded and Flood said, “Give us ten minutes and then come on up.” He left and Adam sat nursing his beer. He had seen the underlying excitement in the two men but he couldn’t imagine what all the secrecy was about. Their only real business connection was the Hale and Norcross mine and even if that was out of borrasca, which seemed unlikely, there was no need for secrecy. They still owned the majority of the shares. He gave them the requested ten minutes and then finished his beer and wandered back to the hotel. Flood’s room was on the floor above his own.

Adam knocked on Floods’ room and the two men let him in instantly, they had been waiting for his arrival. Adam accepted a drink and sat back to wait their proposition. McKay started the ball rolling “Adam I know the Ponderosa has been badly hit this year but from what I have heard you will still end up better than even?”

Adam nodded “Thanks to the guys who rebuilt the flume for me. We will end up with a profit.”

McKay didn’t bother to enquire any further, knowing that Adam wouldn’t disclose any details of his family’s financial position. He went on “You and your father both made large sums out of the Hale and Norcross?”

Adam nodded, that was a matter of record and he waited patiently for the older men to get to the point. McKay recognised his mood and said, “We have another proposition. Fair and O’Brien are in with us but we still need someone else to back us to swing the deal.”

Adam sat back crossing his legs and steepling his fingers “I’m listening.”

O’Brien was impatient and he announced baldly “We want to take over the Consolidated Virginia.”

Adam whistled softly at that, “Why? Other people have spent well over one million dollars exploring it without any success.”

McKay said “Jim Fair agrees with me, there is silver there. You know the mines Adam. The Ophir and the Gould and Curry were always amongst the richest.”

Adam sat back and sipped his whiskey. He knew the Consolidated Virginia, it originally consisted of six mines which took up the thirteen hundred feet between the Ophir and the Gould and Curry. Like so many of the other mines on the Comstock, Sharon for the Bank of California controlled it. At the moment the stock sat at a nominal dollar a share. The price of control would depend on how quickly Sharon discovered what was going on. Adam said, “I already own about six percent of the stock. I’ve kept it because as you say the Ophir and Gould and Curry were rich but after the last assessment I was tempted to sell out, cut my losses, and that shaft was abandoned. If you want to work through that shaft it will cost a fortune. You can’t afford it and neither can the Ponderosa.”

McKay nodded “I know that Adam but if we could cut in from the bottom of the Gould and Curry and drift northwards, that shaft is at twelve hundred feet and a tunnel would be below the workings of the Best and Belcher, the California and the Consolidated Virginia. It would be virgin ground and if there are any deep ore bodies we would strike them.”

Adam looked at the two men for a moment “Why should Sharon co-operate or are you contemplating taking over the Gould and Curry too?”

Mckay shook his head, “You know we couldn’t do that. We lost money on the Savage and the Bullion mines. That’s why we need you in on this. Sharon has said that he believes the Consolidated Virginia is worthless. I think he’ll back his judgement and allow us to cart worthless rock through the Gould and Curry, at not too high a rate. He wants to get back the money he lost over the Hale and Norcross. He’d have to agree a rate that wouldn’t put us off entirely. If we find rich ore, we can then finish the Consolidated Virginia shaft.”

Adam poured himself another drink and sat thinking as the two men watched him anxiously. Adam thought over all that he knew about Sharon and the way that he reacted, as he did so the scheme began to seem less fantastic. Sharon would back his own judgement and he would react in any way, which seemed profitable for the Bank. It was a gamble but Adam had always had a gut feeling that the Consolidated Virginia would come good, which was why he held the worthless stock. Adam refused to allow himself to be hurried into an answer and the older men knew him well enough not to try and rush him.

Ten minutes later Adam put his glass down “I could be interested. What are you asking us to take up?”

With a sigh of relief Mckay handed over to Flood who was the expert on the stock market “We need a controlling interest and we would like to have at least sixty percent. If things go well we may buy up all the outstanding stock that we can later. As the market stands at the moment, that would only cost about $25 000, but once Sharon works out what we are up to, that price will go up.  I reckon it may cost one hundred thousand dollars. Then we will need to levy an assessment of say $200 000. I am taking one quarter and so is O’Brien. John here and Jim Fair will take another quarter between them. We are asking you to take the rest. That would mean about

$75 000. That would give you twenty one percent of the stock including the six percent you already have. If we bought out the rest of the stock later we would make that up to 25%, one quarter share.”

Adam considered that and enquired “The assessment is on the assumption we can get Sharon to co-operate and allow access through the Gould and Curry?”

Flood nodded “I’m asking you to gamble $25 000 now Adam. You took over one hundred thousand out of the Hale and Norcross last year alone.”

Adam knew his own personal account would stand that without considering the Ponderosa account or his family but it was a gamble which could end up throwing good money after bad. His father had paid up to $7000 a share in the battle for the Hale and Norcross and had to unload at about $400. Sharon had lost even more heavily selling for as little as $41.50. Eventually Adam rose to his feet “I’m interested but I can’t answer for my family without discussing it. It will need a majority decision and I am not at all sure how they will feel. When do you need an answer?”

McKay shrugged “As soon as possible. We want to make a move and it’s a good time to buy stock, just before Christmas.”

Adam accepted that “I’ll sleep on it and then see what my family think. If they aren’t interested then I might just take it up personally.”

Mckay offered his hand “That’s as much as we hoped for just now Adam. We won’t press you.”

“I’ll be heading home to the Ponderosa in a couple of days and I’ll let you know within ten days.” The older men nodded and, thanking him, let Adam leave.

Adam went back to his room with plenty to think about, he sat down and made his own estimate of cost, having sketched out a map of the mine workings from memory. It was surprisingly accurate although he would never claim to know the workings as well as Fair and McKay, but he had been underground all too often. His estimates came out rather higher than Flood’s but if Sharon agreed to the shortcut, Adam couldn’t see it costing more than $150 000. He could afford it but it was a lot of money to gamble and would cut him closer than he liked if he lost, although with the main Ponderosa account untouched it wouldn’t be disastrous. If his father and brothers agreed to join him then he was only risking $33,000, which he could well afford. He knew Joe couldn’t, especially now with the wedding, but his father could and noone knew how much Hoss had, least of all Hoss. The more he thought about it the more attractive Adam found the idea.

Eventually knowing that he wouldn’t sleep Adam wandered out to get some fresh air, He was very attracted by the idea but decided he had better talk it over with Carole, especially if his father wasn’t interested. He had completely forgotten about wedding presents but as he wandered down the main street he suddenly came to an abrupt stop. He stood staring into a shop window remembering the first time that he had seen Marie. He’d asked Don to point her out and had stood at the bar watching her before joining her for a drink, She had been playing the piano in the corner, very quietly seemingly lost in the music. She’d had a very gentle touch and Adam had been impressed. He had forgotten all about it until now, when he saw a piano in the shop window. Adam headed straight over to the telegraph office and sent a wire to Don in Virginia City. It simply said, “Did Marie like playing the piano? Adam Cartwright.” Adam waited for an answer knowing that the Bucket O’Blood would be open for business and a short time later the reply came “Turning mind reader! She spent hours at it. Good too. Don” Adam grinned as he read the answer that solved one of his problems. He decided he’d better get his brother a token as well and decided on one of the brand new Winchester rifles just on the market, but he knew that Joe would be pleased if Marie was. His father wouldn’t object, even though the only place with enough room was downstairs, but it would only be temporary. Joe would build his own house in time. At least with one problem settled in his own mind, Adam went back to his room and slept like a log.

Adam was up early and went down to the store to check out the piano. He was no pianist but he could pick out a few notes and it seemed to work fine and have a good tone so he bought it. Adam arranged to pick it up later that day, although the shop owner was very pessimistic about his chances of getting it through the Sierra Nevada to Virginia City before spring. Adam just laughed at him; he would get it there.

His business in the shop completed, Adam went to collect Jess before heading over to Tom Scott’s horse ranch.

Jess was nursing a hangover and was very quiet as they rode out but Adam wasn’t sorry, he had plenty to think about. When they got to Scott’s ranch Adam was warmly welcomed. He had done a lot of business with Tom over the last few years as he and Joe had built up a herd of fine thoroughbred horses to interbreed with their cow ponies. Tom insisted they joined him for a drink and he wanted to know how things were going at the Ponderosa, having heard all sorts of rumours over the last months. Adam sat back and chatted for half an hour over a beer and then he said that he had a business appointment after lunch so he needed to get on and explained what he was looking for. Tom said that he had several thoroughbred mares, three years old which would be suitable for ladies to ride. Adam nodded “Fine but both of them are expert riders, I’m not looking for anything too placid.”

Tom nodded and took them out to the corral and had his men bring in half a dozen mares. One of the first in was a very prettily marked pinto and Adam had her brought over. He checked the mare and then swung up bareback to try her out. She wasn’t really up to his weight but in the corral for a short time it didn’t matter and he was pleased with her. She moved sweetly and had a soft mouth although not too keen on being ridden bareback. Adam negotiated for her and then checked all the others but they were too ordinary. He turned to Tom “Is that all you have?”

Tom shrugged “Well if it was for you I have another couple but they aren’t ladies horses.”

“Let me see them.”

“Sure” Tom gave the orders and his men brought in two more, the first was a chestnut with a white star, not flashy but with breeding in every line. Adam asked to try her but the mare was only just saddle broke and he waited for her to be saddled. Even then the mare tried to buck him off as soon as he mounted. Adam made it clear who was boss and put her through her paces. He was very impressed but as he dismounted Tom shook his head “You see what I mean, she’s no ladies horse Adam.”

“She has a very soft mouth and she can be trained. My wife is an excellent horsewoman. I’ll school her myself.” He was determined and Tom wasn’t going to argue himself out of a sale and they agreed a price. Then to Tom’s surprise Adam asked if he had any puppies. Tom did have some three month old puppies but they were mongrels, he didn’t have any pure bred dogs. Adam went to have a look and immediately fell for two complementary pups. One was brown with white markings while the other was black with almost identical white markings. The mother was a fairly large dog; part retriever but Adam couldn’t resist the pups as they tried to eat his boots, wagging their tails furiously.

Tom rooted around and managed to find a large basket for them and Adam settled for his purchases, Adam beckoned Jess over and they headed back for Sacramento both with a mare behind them. Adam found the basket very cumbersome and the puppies objected strenuously to this strange method of travel, but he was well satisfied with his purchases. On the way back to town Adam broke it to Jess that he was handing him the job of transporting a piano back to the Ponderosa, while riding on ahead with the horses. Jess was staggered at that but agreed that provided there was no more snow, then he could manage it in a week. Adam suggested he head out the following morning and Jess agreed. He offered to take the mares but Adam shook his head. “You’ll have your hands full with a wagon, I’ll manage the mares.” Adam got out his wallet and passed over some money “This should be enough to buy a wagon and two strong draft animals.”

Jess frowned “Shouldn’t cost that much.”

“Choose the best you can find, we’ll resell in Virginia City unless Hoss wants to keep them. You need good animals for that haul at this time of the year.”

“You leaving it to me?” Jess asked in surprise

“Sure I trust your judgement and I have other things to do, unless of course you’d rather swap and buy curtains and bed covers and ...”

“Not likely!” Jess said with feeling and Adam sighed, “I had a feeling you’d say that.”

Jess was delighted at the trust Adam was showing in him and he would have carried the piano home on his own back to ensure he fulfilled that trust.

Adam went into his business meeting and was pleasantly surprised at the speed with which everything was settled. Once again his position as lawyer stood them in good stead, as no intermediaries were necessary to complicate matters. In two hours he had a large contract for the following year signed and sealed, on terms slightly better than they had hoped for.

With his business finished, Adam headed out with his long shopping list. He chose a rifle for Joe with no trouble and picked up the stereopticon and camera for Hoss, but the soft furnishings took time. The stores were mainly filled with women and Adam felt as though everyone was watching him, by the time he had finished his mood was distinctly sour. He went over to the harness shop and had two collars and leads made for the pups while he waited. Then, although he was starving, he thought he had better check to see how much of a mess they had made in the pen he had built for them in his hotel room. Adam discovered as soon as he opened the door that the pen had not been effective, the pups nearly bowled him over. As he looked round the room at the chaos they had created, he began to wonder if dogs were such a good idea. They had chewed the rug, torn up some papers he had been working on as well as performing in several places. Adam put them in their basket and resignedly began to clear up after them. By the end of the night Adam was sure the puppies had been a very bad idea. They had whined continually and he couldn’t trust them to come on the bed with him. Eventually soon after four Adam gave up trying to sleep and got up. He had an early breakfast and got things packed. He took time to sort things out and balance the loads over the three horses and with the basket of puppies on Sport he eventually settled down for the long journey home.

At the ranch Joe had been very busy finalising the arrangements for his wedding. He also had to do a fair amount of work round the ranch, as Hoss and Ben were still not fit. Joe spent as much time as he could with Marie and sank exhausted into bed each night. Then his troubles started, he was restless and couldn’t sleep worrying about deceiving his father and worrying whether he would be able to fulfil his promise never to treat his oldest child differently. Joe knew himself well and already he had trouble in retaining his temper on being teased about Marie and he dreaded the day it became known about the baby, but it would have to be faced. Joe found himself counting the hours until they could reasonably expect to see Adam; he badly needed to talk to his brother.

Ben was gradually finding himself attracted more and more to Marie. She was very quiet still not entirely at ease with this family, but every so often she became vivacious and he could see why his son had fallen so heavily for her. Ben had come to accept that they were deeply in love and that Adam had been right when he said that the match wasn’t a disaster. Ben was delighted at the way Marie kept Hoss quiet and contented. She was learning quickly and Hoss was even more delighted than she was and willingly sat with her for hours. Hoss was still weak but beginning to regain his strength and he didn’t look nearly as drawn as he had done. Marie wasn’t having an easy time with her pregnancy. She was having severe morning sickness and giddy spells but she refused to worry about it. All the time Joe was close by and she could see the love in his eye everything was right with her world and she was happier than she had ever been,

The day that Adam left Sacramento Doc Martin came out to check both Hoss and Marie. Carole stayed with Marie as Doc examined her. Paul recommended that she rest as much as possible but everything was fine. Then before he went in to check on Hoss, Carole asked for a word in private. Ten minutes later she sat on her bed trying to control herself. Doc had confirmed that she was pregnant too. She had to get control or the rest of the family would guess and Adam had to be the first to know. It wasn’t until the Doc confirmed her suspicions that she realised just how much she wanted a baby. With it came the knowledge that it hadn’t only been her school teacher past which had put a barrier between her and Marie, but also her own unacknowledged jealousy about the baby Marie was carrying. As she sat hugging her secret to herself in delight she planned how she would tell Adam, There was only one choice, she had to go up to the lake and tell him there. In the few short months since their wedding with the picture ever by them, that spot had come to mean as much to her as it did to the rest of the family. She considered how to do it, because Doc had told her that she must not ride, especially in the early months, and it would take some ingenuity to persuade Adam to take her up to the lake in the buggy, without giving a hint of the true reason. As she tried to puzzle her way round that problem it suddenly dawned on her that Joe was giving Marie a horse she couldn’t use until the bay was born. Carole thought about the elegant buggies back east and decided to have a word with Joe maybe he could get one for Marie to use.

Carole went downstairs to look for Joe and was in luck. He was sitting wrestling with the books while Ben was up with Hoss and the Doc and Marie was resting. Having something else on her mind helped Carole to hide her secret and she went over to him “Can I have a word Joe?”

Joe willingly abandoned the books and joined her by the fire. Carole said “Adam told me he was picking out a mare for Marie on this trip.”

Joe nodded and Carole went on “One thing Doc mentioned upstairs, which I must admit I had never thought of, was that it is inadvisable to ride while pregnant.”

Joe sat back at that “Blast. I never thought of that.”

Carole grinned “You’re no expert on pregnancy, neither are the rest of us, but its going to be very awkward for her tied to the house if she can’t ride. The buckboard is very cumbersome. I was wondering if there was anyway to get a light buggy like the ones they had in Hillsboro. Something that she could handle alone.”

Joe sat staring into the fire for a moment and then, ever impetuous, he jumped up and kissed her forehead.  “Bless you Carole. I’ll find out. Tell Pa I had to go to town and I may be late.” Then he headed out.

It was very late when Joe got back but he was grinning broadly. Everyone except his father had gone to bed but Ben was sitting reading by the fire. Joe explained what Carole had said and told his father that he had investigated the possibility of obtaining a buggy in town only to learn that the most likely source was a new carriage shop in Carson City. He had headed down there and been in luck. They had two in stock and he had bought one and a buggy horse to go with it. Joe insisted that his father come out to the barn with him to inspect it. As they walked out Joe said, “They had a more fancy one, high wheeled.  Looked good, but I was scared it would overturn, some of the tracks round here are a mite rough. This one is real stable I brought it back cross country.”

Ben checked the buggy over and was most impressed but he asked Joe where he was going to store it if Marie wasn’t to know. Joe leant against it “I hadn’t thought of that.”

Ben smiled “I went by Adam’s house this morning and the stables are finished why not put it there.”

Joe jumped up and began to reharness the horse. Ben laughed at him “Tomorrow will do Joseph.”

Joe shook his head “Oh no. If I leave it Marie will be bound to get up early and come for a morning stroll.”

Ben clapped his son on the back “I am sure she will be delighted Joe. Once Adam and Carole move out, she will probably want to go over there sometimes and she will need transport.”

Joe couldn’t resist the chance to look around Adam’s new house; it was very impressive inside and out, although he couldn’t put his finger on why it should be. Joe spent several minutes staring at the view out of the master bedroom. He grinned as he did so, thinking of his sentimental elder brother ensuring the view of the mountains was the one he’d always loved. Joe decided then and there that when spring came and it was time to build his own home, he would get Adam to design it for him. He had toyed with the idea of doing it himself but he knew that he would never achieve the elegance that Adam would. Then feeling very pleased with himself he went home and slept better than he had for weeks.

Carole was very withdrawn over the next couple of days, but they assumed she was missing Adam and left her alone. She suddenly discovered a capacity, to sit and moon doing nothing, which she’d never had before. She thought about her son and wondered if he would be like his father, somehow she had no doubts it would be a boy. She longed to talk to someone about it, share her excitement, but she couldn’t do that until Adam got home and she waited impatiently.

It was late afternoon when he finally arrived, Hoss was out on the porch getting some fresh air and went down to greet his brother. Adam handed him the basket and told him not to open it and then led the horses over to the barn wanting to get them out of sight before the girls came out. He unpacked the vast quantity of things that he had bought and, leaving Kirk to look after the horses, he began carrying it in. He grinned at his family who were all by the fire “Be down in a minute” and he hurried straight upstairs to dump everything in his own room out of sight of prying eyes. Then he came down three at a time and went over to greet his wife. Once he had kissed Carole soundly he turned, with his arm round her, to say hello to the rest of his family. Hoss had come in with the basket and Adam asked him for it. He placed the basket on the floor and then opened it. Adam had stopped a little way short of the house at the nearby stream so that he could clean up the two pups, so he was able to lead then fairly decorously over to the fire. Carole and Marie both gave little oohs of delight and went down on their knees by the puppies. The two pups immediately saw attention and the one with black markings scrambled onto Carole’s lap while his brother got onto Marie’s. Adam had really intended to keep both, but seeing Mare’s delight, he said “I was going to ask you to choose but it looks to me as though the pups have made up their own minds.”

Carole was grinning hugely “How did you know that I wanted a dog?”

Adam smiled “A little bird whispered to me” and he grinned at his brother. Marie sat speechless for a moment and then looked up big eyed “Is he really mine Adam, I’ve always wanted a dog.”

Adam chuckled, “He seems to think so Marie and after clearing up hotel rooms behind the pair of them you are very welcome. Just one request please, try and teach the pups that rugs and papers are not to be eaten.”

Marie got to her feet and for the first time she went unsolicited to one of the family and standing on tiptoe gave Adam a kiss. Adam swung her up in his arms “You are very welcome my sister, but give Joe some credit. He suggested that dogs might be welcomed by both of you.” At that both girls converged on Joe and gave him a kiss. He stood with one arm round each of their shoulders and then grinning said, “I think you had better take the new arrivals outside. I don’t like the way they are sniffing” The pair of them went outside trying to think up suitable names.

As soon as they had gone out, Hoss asked what Adam had done with Jess. Adam grinned “He’s following on but he’ll be another three of four days. As Joe suggested I did need another pair of hands, wedding presents can be pretty heavy.”

Joe eyed his brother suspiciously and Adam just laughed “You can wheedle all you like little brother but you aren’t going to find out until your wedding day.”

Joe had to laugh “Trust you to find a reason to dispense with a nursemaid!”

Adam said, “I’m fine I told you I didn’t need one.” Ben was glad to see his son did look okay, albeit rather tired. Adam could see the query on his father’s face and he gripped Ben’s arm “I’m very glad to get home, fed up with all the shopping. Still I was successful, got the contract we wanted, better terms than we expected.”

Ben was pleased but said, “The details can wait until later. If you want to have a bath and change you’ve just got time before dinner, Hop Sing has plenty of hot water.”

Adam nodded “Sounds a great idea Pa. The trip seemed to take forever with those pups.” He mentally added two extra horses and all the shopping. “But could you join me Pa I’ve got an idea that I want to discuss.”

Ben was puzzled but nodded and Joe looked questioningly at his brother. Adam punched him gently “You were forever pushing me out of the way before my wedding little brother. Now you can take a dose of your own medicine” With that he headed out to the bathhouse. Ben promised to bring coffee in five minutes

When Ben went in he found his son soaking in the hot water and looked anxiously at him “You are alright?”

Adam grinned up affectionately at his father “I’m fine Pa, My back has about stopped playing up. I’ve not quite regained my stamina yet and the trip has tired me a bit more than usual but nothing much and I feel fine. Hoss is looking a lot better.”

Ben nodded “He is but its taking time, he’s still quite weak, Carole’s suggestion has been a godsend. He spends hours with Marie. Seems to enjoy it and from what I can hear he’s being successful, she’s making good progress.”

Adam said “I wanted to talk to you alone for two reasons. Firstly I finally decided to buy a piano for Joe and Marie, I wired Don and he said she loved playing, but for now it will have to stay downstairs here until Joe builds his house. I hope you don’t mind.”

Ben grinned “If she’s pleased Joe will be and it can’t be worse than your guitar!”

Adam laughed and threw the soap at his father, “I didn’t expect you to object. The second item is more important.” He told his father about the proposition put to him by Flood and McKay. Ben listened intently as Adam detailed exactly what had been proposed and his own estimates on the figures. Ben sat thinking for a moment without replying and then asked, “What did you tell them?”

“That I had to talk it over with you but that I was interested and might just take it up myself if you weren’t interested and that I would get back to them within ten days.”

Ben considered his son “It’s a gamble but I wouldn’t be surprised if they have read Sharon right. You say you’re interested, how far?”

Adam lent back against the end of the bath with his hands clasped behind his head and looked at his father “As you say its a gamble and I don’t think we should involve the Ponderosa at all, but as individuals I think its a gamble that’s worth taking. It’s a bit bigger than I really want to take on my own. If it fell through, with the new house, I would be rather tight.”

“I’ll think about it but I must admit I’m tempted. You’d take half, if I took the rest?”

Adam nodded “Unless Hoss wanted in.”

“He was talking the other day about doing something with his money it’s just mounted up. I’ll have a word with him.”

Adam grinned “If he wants in, we could split four ways and I’ll frank Joe’s share as an extra wedding present.”

“That’s a nice idea Son but if we do that we’ll split the franking as a joint extra.”

Adam laughed “Think about it we’ve got three or four days to decide.”

Ben nodded “I’ll let you get dressed in peace. We can talk tomorrow I think your wife has been missing you.”

Adam eased himself out of the bath “That’s mutual.”

Dinner was lively as Joe tried to wheedle out of his brother what he had been up to with no success whatsoever. Even Marie was chatting about the plans for the wedding not long off now and only Carole was quiet. As they went to get coffee Adam out his arm round her shoulders “You’re very quiet my darling, everything alright?”

Carole smiles up at him “Fine love but I have missed you. Do you think we could go up by the Lake? It’s a beautiful night. I know you’ve been riding a lot but if we take the buckboard we could take blankets against the cold, I’d like some fresh air,”

“Of course we can my darling. Let’s just have some coffee and I’ll go harness the team.”

Joe overheard him and offered to see to the team for his brother, wanting an excuse to go to the barn and check the mare that Adam had bought for Marie.

Carole was very quiet on the way up to the Lake and it wasn’t until they had settled down in Adam’s usual spot that she spoke. She nestled up to him “I have missed you.”

“I’m afraid you’ll have to get used to it my love. I did warn you I spend a fair time away on business.”

“I know but in our own home time won’t hang so heavily. I’ll have more to do, especially now.”

Something in her voice made Adam study her intently and she smiled up at him “We are going to have a baby Adam. The Doc confirmed it three days ago.”

Adam just stared at her for a moment and then he took her in his arms and held her very tight “My love.” He didn’t know what he felt an odd mixture of delight and fear, for a long while he couldn't look at her, burying his face on her breast, Eventually worried by the tension she could feel in his body, she asked “Adam you are pleased?”

Adam looked up at that “It’s what I’ve always wanted a child of my own, but I’m scared. Women die in childbirth and I can’t lose you.”

Carole smiled at him “People die of all sorts of things. I want to bear your child, I’m proud to bear him and I’m strong, I won’t die. The Doc says that I am the ideal build to bear children.”

Adam grinned faintly “How do you know it will be a him?”

Carole nestled closer to him “Illogical I know, but it’s a son I’m sure. With a man like you it can’t be anything else.”

Adam looked at her in horror, “Do you mean that we will never have a daughter to carry on her mother’s beauty?”

Carole laughed “Well maybe, but not our first born.”

Adam kissed her forehead “Okay when is ‘he’ due to be born?”

“The Doc reckons the end of June. He will be about six weeks younger than his cousin.”

Adam held her tight “The number of times I have dreamt of a wife giving me this news.” He shook his head “But you are more wonderful than I ever dreamt and this moment so infinitely more precious.” He kissed her gently “Why did you come up here to tell me?”

Carole laughed “With that painting in our room I am getting as sentimental about this place as you are. I sat and stared at it after Doc left and it just didn’t seem right to tell you anywhere else.”

Adam’s gaze fell on the buckboard and he asked anxiously “You are alright?”

Carole followed his gaze and kissed him “I’m fine Adam. I’ve never felt better. I hope it continues. Marie’s having a rough time with morning sickness and giddy spells. I only asked to come in the buckboard because Doc advises against riding, especially in the early months.”

Adam relaxed for a moment and then sat up as he thought about the horse he had bought for his brother, “Joe!”

Carole smiled “It’s alright. I told Joe that riding was ill advised in early pregnancy and he’s bought a light buggy for Marie’s use. Its stored in our stables until their wedding.”

Adam kissed her again “Well done my love I’d hate Joe to be disappointed in any way.” Then he lay back to adjust to the idea of a child of his own.

An hour later they headed back to the house to tell the rest of the family. The others were all sitting round the fire when Adam and Carole came in and Adam went and poured out drinks all round. Having handed them out grinning broadly he said “I have a toast to propose but first I would like to announce the prospective arrival of yet another Cartwright. Carole and I are expecting a baby at the end of June.”

The news didn’t really come as a surprise to his father and brothers they had read it in his face as he came in but they were all quick to congratulate the pair.

Adam lifted his gall “I propose a toast to the two new Cartwrights.”

They drank to that and then Ben went over to the two girls, who were sitting side by side on the settee, and smiled, “I propose a toast to my two beautiful daughters, who are carrying them. God bless them both.”

All four drank to that and Joe had a lump in his throat seeing how his father smiled down at Marie equally with Carole after all the troubles. He chanced to catch his eldest brother’s eye and realised that Adam knew exactly how he felt. Joe covered up by teasing Adam about copying him and then turned on his father “Does the idea of two grandchildren make you feel old Pa?”

Ben rose to his teasing and promised to show Joe that the ‘old man’ could still put his young whippersnapper over his knee if he got too far out of line.

It was a pleasant group but Adam eventually broke it up, after his long trip he for one was tired and he headed for bed. Ben followed his eldest son up but he stood for a long time staring out of the window. He knew how much Adam wanted children and he was pleased for his son, but he had seen the lurking fear in Adam’s eyes, behind the delight. Ben knew that Adam was scared of losing Carole and having lost his own mother at the moment of his birth, it wasn’t surprising. Ben guessed that his son’s worry would increase as Carole’s pregnancy progressed but knew that he couldn’t help, except by being around to talk. He could remember only too clearly his own fears when Inger and Marie were pregnant having lost Elizabeth. It was nature but he wished that there was some easier way to have children,