Joe and Marie – part 2 Marriage

By:  Lyn R.


Adam was tired but after Carole’s news he couldn’t sleep. He lay next to his wife for hours as she slept. In one way he was delighted, he had always wanted children of his own and yet at the same time he was petrified. If she had been precious to him before their marriage, the last months had made her double important to him, as he had found everything he had ever dreamt of in marriage. The mere thought of losing her was like an icy grip on his heart, but he knew that she wanted children as much as he did and it had to be faced. Adam tried to be logical and consoled himself with the thought that most women had babies with little trouble and at least they had an excellent doctor on call. Paul had saved all their lives in the past and all the Cartwrights had a great deal of faith in him. Eventually in the early hours he fell asleep and Carole, who had been aware of his restlessness, let him sleep late.

Marie was having a miserable time with her pregnancy but she had managed to hide it from Joe fairly well and only Carole really knew what she was suffering. On the other hand she was luxuriating in this life, so different from anything she had ever known. The family had accepted her and she was gradually relaxing with them. Even her fear of Carole had largely disappeared; it was difficult to remain nervous with someone who has held your head while you are sick. Anyway Marie had seen how fond Joe was of his sister-in-law. Marie could face the future now, she knew there would be trouble when word of her pregnancy got out but with the family’s backing and Joe’s love she could face it. Carole came into join Marie as soon as she was up and dressed, a habit she had formed as the first two hours were usually Marie’s worst. Now that Carole knew that she was pregnant too, the women quickly fell into a discussion of babies. Carole knew rather more than Marie did but even she had never handled a very young baby. They had both heard all manner of old wives tales but had no idea which were true. It gave them unlimited room for discussion.

Joe had ridden into town to confirm some arrangements for the wedding, now only nine days off and when Adam came down he found only Ben and Hoss at table. They were discussing the Consolidated Virginia proposal and, to Adam’s surprise, Hoss was very enthusiastic. Adam poured himself some coffee and waited for Hop Sing to bring him some food and considered his big brother “Not like you to be so interested in mines. Why this one?”

Hoss grinned “A couple of years back, when they dug that abandoned shaft, Dan explained to me why he thought it was worth trying. He holds about five percent of the stock and he was sure that it would come good eventually, I toyed with getting some but never got round to it. If Dan, Mckay, Fair and you two think it’s a good gamble, then I want in.”

Adam laughed “I like the order you put us in big brother!”

Ben smiled at his sons, “Okay we take up that quarter share but as four individuals, not the Ponderosa. If the assessment is high I don’t want the ranch involved.”

Adam said “I made that clear initially but I’ll write it in the agreement.”

Ben said “I told Hoss your suggestion about franking Joe’s share and he’s with me. We will make it an extra joint wedding present, Can you arrange for future assessments to be sent to one of us and not to him?”

Adam nodded “Sure. It’ll be easier if I settle all the details and put up the money for now and we can settle up later. I’ll go and see McKay tomorrow.”

Ben was pleased with that suggestion, “Fine, we can get the agreement sign faster if you handle it.”

“I’ll also arrange for our housewarming party. I had intended to make it the 1st but I think I’ll put it off a week, otherwise it will be too close on Joe’s wedding. Is he intending going for a honeymoon?”

Ben shook his head “No Marie isn’t really up to travelling at the moment. Joe said that they will stay here and maybe take a trip next year, once the baby is born. Will and Laura can’t make the wedding but they are coming for Christmas. I wondered if you and Carole could put them up?”

“We’d be delighted. I’ll drop him a line when I go to town. I want to tell him about the baby anyway. Does he know about Marie?”

Ben shrugged “Joe talked about writing to him but I don’t know whether he has got round to it yet.” Then he pulled out the contract that Adam had signed in Sacramento and asked for some details about the negotiations.

Little Joe had completed his arrangements in town, now everything was arranged for the wedding and there was nothing more he could do until the day or so before the ceremony. Joe rode back from town via the lake. With all the practicalities under control he had to think about Marie and the child. He guessed more than she realised and had a fair idea what a miserable time she was having so he had been to see Doc in town. Paul had been very honest with him, Marie was very tiny and might find giving birth difficult. It was far too early to say for sure and he reassured Joe that often the tiny fragile looking women had it far easier than one would ever expect. Paul did promise Joe that he would keep a close eye on Marie for him and that he would keep Joe informed.

Joe left the Doctor’s even more worried than when he had gone in. Joe hadn’t thought about the birth until the previous evening, when he had seen the fear in his eldest brother’s eyes, but at least Carole was the right build for child bearing. Joe went into the saloon for a beer but a few barbed comments nearly lost him control of his temper and he rode out heading up to the Lake.

The child was just beginning to show now although the full skirts they wore hid it from general view. Joe knew that Carole had designed the wedding dress to hide it, but they wouldn’t be able to keep it quiet much longer. He knew it would be far worse in town when word spread about the child and he wasn’t at all sure that he would be able to keep hold of his temper, it had been hard enough today. Up by the lake Joe tried to think things through and come to terms with himself about the baby. As Adam had suggested he tried to think of it as a widow with a young child but he couldn’t help feeling jealous of his brother, everything was so right in his brother’s marriage and at the moment wherever he looked he seemed to face problems. Joe tried to remember what Harris had looked like, what sort of child would he have sired, but he couldn't, just a vague impression of a tall dark haired man. Now that he could see signs of the baby it had become more real to Joe, but he couldn’t imagine it at all, The only babies that Joe had come into close contact with had been Laura and Will’s daughters but the twins had been seven months old. Joe had seen young babies but they all looked the same to him, usually rather red, wrinkled toothless and crying. Joe sat staring out over the lake for several hours, wishing that things could be different but with one firm exception, he loved Marie and wanted her for his wife and nothing could change that.

Joe was still there in the late afternoon when Adam rode up to the lake. Adam had been seeing to some last minute details at his house, which was now practically finished, the bookshelves were being fitted and then they would be able to put the carpets and curtains in. Adam had headed up to the lake, needing time alone to think about Carole’s news and try to pull himself out of the grip of fear, which had caught hold in the early hours of the morning. Adam saw Cochise as he dismounted and cursed slightly under his breath, but however he felt he was still concerned about his youngest brother and he went over to Joe. “Do you want me to leave Joe?”

Joe was relieved to see his brother and he reached up to grip Adam’s arm “No stay. At a guess you’re here for exactly the same reason I am. You’re scared stiff at the idea of Carole going through the ordeal of giving birth.”

Adam sat down next to his brother “How did you know?”

Joe smiled “I saw it in your face last night. It made me think about Marie and I went to see Doc while I was in town.”

Adam sensed something in his brother’s voice and looked questioningly at Joe who went on "Doc is a little concerned about Marie, she's very small and it could cause trouble.” Adam bit his lip thinking about the petite blonde and felt almost guilty. “I see. Carole says that Paul told her she was the ideal build, but then from all accounts so was my mother, but I killed her.”

Joe gripped his brother’s arm a little tighter wanting to argue that point, but decided now wasn’t the time. “Paul says that it is totally unpredictable, sometimes those he worries about have the easiest time. The trouble is there isn’t anyway we can help. I know nature designed women to cope, but when you love them it seems wrong to inflict such trouble on them,”

Adam nodded “That’s exactly it Joe. You put them in the position of risking their lives without even being able to help, I know Carole wants children as much as I do but even so.” He broke off and Joe moved closer putting his arm round his brother’s shoulder “You know Adam just because your mother died in childbirth it doesn’t mean Carole will. If her mother had died you might have cause to worry.”

Adam forced a smile “Logically I know you’re right and most women have no trouble or the human race would be a in a bad way but somehow I don’t feel logical.”

Joe grinned “They always say that first time fathers fuss the worst, I reckon we are prime examples.”

“Well at least I’m not the only fool!” Adam turned to meet his brother’s gaze “Thanks Joe, I feel better.”

“Come on I’m cold and it must be near dinner time.” Adam nodded and the brothers rode home in companionable silence.

As the day of his wedding approached Joe was becoming more and more withdrawn. He still felt slightly guilty at deceiving his father but he couldn’t tell Ben. His father had taken it all very well considering and seemed to be growing fond of Marie. Joe would be glad when everything was settled; he wasn’t looking forward to facing all the people at the wedding but it had to be done. Joe was avoiding his family although he spent long hours with Marie, who was even more scared than he was.

Adam and Carole were busy arranging their new house and Hoss was helping them, glad to get out of the house for a bit.

Ben was worried about his youngest son sure Little Joe wasn’t sleeping but he respected his son’s reserve. On the Tuesday before the wedding everyone but Ben and Joe had gone to bed. Joe had been up to the Lake and came in cold and tired. Joe went to get some coffee and at Ben’s request got some for his father. Ben added a tot of brandy to both and they sat by the fire for a while in silence. Ben put his cup down “Joseph I am very sorry for the way I acted.”

Joe looked up at his father in surprise “I thought we agreed that it never happened.”

“I know but that was before I met Marie. Adam said that she was the right girl for you and that I’d come to love her in her own right. I just wanted to tell you that as so often your eldest brother has proved right.”

Little Joe went over and perched on the arm of his father’s chair and put his arm round his father’s shoulders. “Thanks Pa that means a lot to me. I know the gossips will be out in full force but I can cope with all my family firmly behind me.”

“You know it will only make matters worse if you lose your temper.”

Joe nodded “I’ll try Pa but you know me,”

Ben nodded “Try not to worry about it son, there won’t be much comment under our roof.”

Joe said “I hope everyone comes and they don’t cut her, that’s what I’m dreading.”

Ben smiled “I shouldn’t worry Joe this is Virginia City not Hillsboro’ and money talks. Plenty of people are accepted with far worse backgrounds simply because of their money and noone is going to snub the Cartwrights. Oh maybe some people will some from the wrong motives but everyone who matters, who are your real friends, will come to wish you and your bride well.”

Joe knew that his father was talking sense and he felt calmer than he had in days. He slid down to the hearthrug and lent against his father’s knees, “It’s been an odd year, disastrous in some ways, and yet we end it with six Cartwrights instead of four and two babies on the way. Things are going to be very different with young children around.”

Ben gripped his son’s shoulder “I know what you mean and yet sometimes it doesn’t seem long since you were crawling around under our feet. It will be good to have babies here again.”

“I never thought that I would have your eldest grandchild, I always took it for granted Adam would.”

“Well you haven’t beaten him by much and, with babies erratic habits, it is still possible for them to arrive the other way round.” Joe didn’t answer and Ben asked quietly “No second thoughts Joe? Even Adam had cold feet the night before.”

Joe grinned affectionately at his father “I love her Pa and Adam has shown what a happy state marriage is. I’ve never seen him look happier than he has these last few months.”

“I know he and Carole are perfectly suited. That’s why he’s so scared now she’s pregnant.”

Joe looked up swiftly at that “Has he said anything?”

Ben shook his head “No but it’s lurking at the back of his eyes. I always knew he would be. I suppose it was bound to happen. He won’t talk about it yet, maybe nearer the time. I know how he feels I felt it with both Hoss’ mother and yours. So helpless.”

Joe nodded “That’s what he said. I hadn’t really stopped to think before but the fear in his eyes when he told us made me frightened for Marie. Even the Doc is slightly anxious as she’s so tiny.”

“I had thought that myself but the Doc was worried about your mother as she was so slender and in fact she had much the easiest time, while I lost Elizabeth. The Doc said that she would have no trouble, she was the perfect build, but that didn’t stop the fatal haemorrhage. I know it’s no use to say don’t worry, but don’t forget that we have a first class doctor here for them and try to stop Adam brooding. He might listen to you.”

Joe nodded “Sure Pa, they’ll both be fine and we will have two bouncing babies next summer.” They sat in silence for a minute and then Joe stifled a yawn and headed for bed.

Ben sat on staring into the fire, thinking of his wives and his sons. He was glad that both Adam and Joe had found happiness and he was looking forward to having grandchildren but he couldn’t deny the thought that the house would seem empty with only himself and Hoss in it. Still he thought things could have been far worse. At least his sons were remaining on their ranch and not off somewhere to build their own lives alone. The Ponderosa had given them all roots and a purpose and held them together; he loved his land, not least for that. Ben went out and stood looking up and the snow-clad Sierras thankful that the year, which had threatened so many disasters, was ending well and he said a silent prayer of thanksgiving and for his sons’ continued happiness.

By Thursday the house was in turmoil as Hop Sing and his helpers again ordered everyone from the kitchen, while the rest prepared the house for its second wedding in less than six months. They sadly missed Hoss’ strength in carting furniture around but while he was a lot better he still hadn’t regained his full strength and Ben had forbidden him to do any heavy lifting. He was keeping a close eye on Adam too, but his eldest son seemed okay. In fact Adam was very stiff, he had kept Carole’s new horse out of sight until he had a chance to school it, but thus far he had to admit the horse was winning. She allowed him on under protest but anything fancy and he was likely to end up flat on his back. Adam was still sure that she could be trained but had to admit it would be a long job. As Carole wouldn’t need the horse until after the birth in June he has plenty of time. Impressed by the buggy that Joe had bought Marie, Adam had ordered another similar one for Carole which would hopefully arrive for Christmas, For now Adam’s main aim was to ensure that his little brother’s wedding day was as happy as his own had been.

Little Joe had had a long talk with both his brothers before deciding to ask Hoss to act as best man as Adam had done. Joe pointed out that Hoss had had the rehearsal now it was time for the main performance. Adam punched his arm at that but in fact was delighted to see the excitement in his brother’s eyes after he had been so withdrawn recently. Joe had relaxed after his talk with Ben and was looking forward excitedly to his wedding. Carole had insisted that Marie take it easy upstairs while the arrangements were underway. Claiming, with some justification, that she would only be in the men’s way and stop Joe doing his share as he ensured she didn’t strain herself. Marie suddenly scared about the whole thing allowed herself to be bullied into resting.

Ben went upstairs to finish arranging the new furniture for Joe’s room to be moved once the wedding was in progress. He heard sobbing coming from Marie’s room and was about to go and fetch Joe or Carole, when on impulse he decided to comfort her himself, He opened the door and saw her lying head buried in her pillow sobbing. Ben went over and sat down on the bed lifting her up gently “Easy child, there’s no need for tears.”

Marie shrunk back “I’m sorry.”

Ben gently pulled her close and rubbed her back as he had with all his sons over the years, stroking her hair. “Nothing to be sorry for Marie. Just nerves. You’re not having second thoughts are you?”

She sat up and looked at him “It’s not right. You’ve all been so kind but it’s not fair on Joe. All those people will laugh at him caught by a saloon girl.”

Ben smiled “I don’t think so. I think most of them will envy him for catching such a beautiful young lady. Marie I know I fought against it to begin with but now please believe me I will be proud to see Joe marry you. I’ll be proud to have you as a daughter-in-law and very happy because I know you love my son and will make him happy. Noone who knows Joe can miss seeing just how much in love he is, the same as we can and they will be pleased for him.”

Marie stared at him for a moment and then she smiled tremulously and relaxed against his shoulder “I can see why you have such wonderful sons Mr Cartwright.”

“Thank you child, but as in two days you’ll be my daughter don’t you think you’d better join the boys and Carole and call me Pa?

Impulsively she kissed his cheek “I’d like that.”

Little Joe had come up to make sure that Marie was alright and opening the door saw her kiss his father. He came over grinning hugely “Hey Pa! What do you think you are doing, trying to cut me out?”

Ben grinned “I’d be tempted but for some unknown reason she loves you.” Joe aimed a punch at his father which Ben blocked and then Ben said “Well I have work to do even if you don’t” and left the pair alone.

As he went out Marie turned to Joe “Your father is a wonderful man Joe.”

Joe hugged her “Well we have always thought so. Mind you he has a fair old temper if he doesn’t get his own way. You’ll hear some rows, probably from our house even if they take place here, but they always blow over.”

Nearly everything was ready by the evening and they were sitting around drinking coffee when a horse came in. Ben looked round “Anyone expecting a visitor?”

They all shook their heads and Adam got to his feet “I’ll see who it is.”

He went out into the yard and to his delight saw his cousin dismounting. Adam called for Kirk to take the horse and taking Will’s arm asked “What are you doing here, Joe said you couldn’t make it?”

Will grinned, “I really couldn’t miss Joe’s wedding and I had business in Sacramento, so I rushed it and awarded myself a couple of days off. I’ll have to leave on Sunday morning but at least I get to see the wedding.”

Adam smiled broadly “It’s good to see you, I know Joe will be pleased. Come meet the bride. Joe did write you?”

Will nodded “I know she’s pregnant. Laura is really looking forward to Christmas and the chance to talk babies with Marie.”

Adam realised that his own letter must have missed Will and said “She’s not the only one Carole is pregnant too, due the end of June.”

Will turned to his cousin in delight “Congratulations Adam I’ll bet you’re thrilled.”

“Just a bit.”

As they moved into the light of the porch Will scanned his cousin’s face “Well I must say you look a hell of a sight better than when we left. Marriage must agree with you.”

Adam grinned “Marriage with Carole does! Come on in the others will be wondering who has arrived.”

As he went in Will was pleased to see Joe’s honest delight; at one time they hadn’t got on very well. Will explained how he had managed to get away and Joe said “Well I’m sorry Laura and the kids aren’t here but I’m very glad you are. May I introduce my bride-to–be Marie. This is my cousin Will.” Marie came over rather hesitantly but Will grinned broadly “You said she was lovely Joe and for once you weren’t exaggerating. You’re a lucky guy.”

Joe clapped his cousin on the back “I know that.”

Hoss came back in with food and coffee for his cousin and Carole went up to see to a guestroom for him. When she came back down will said, “Adam tells me that congratulations are in order. Laura is already dying to get her for Christmas and talk babies with Marie and she’ll be thrilled to hear that you are pregnant too.”

Marie had been wondering whether he knew about the baby but this statement and the grin he gave her put her mind at ease. He knew and he didn’t care either, so she smiled back at him.

The following day Adam suggested that Joe take Marie for a drive and take Will along so that they would have a chance to get acquainted. Joe took the hint realising that his family had presents and things to organise and wanted them out of the way. He promised not to be back before four o’clock and took a packed lunch.  Joe had told Marie the story about Will, Laura and Adam and she was surprised how well Will was accepted by the family after Adam had been badly hurt; but Joe explained that they all knew that Will hadn't meant to harm his cousin, had fought against it. Now that he had finally come home again, he and Adam were good friends.

Adam had to go to town to sign the final agreement on the Consolidated Virginia and deposit a cheque to enable Flood and O’Brien to start buying shares. He agreed to pick up the flowers on the way back. Once his business was completed he went into the Palace for a drink and Dan came over to join him “Hi Adam, you keeping out of the way while the work goes on?”

Adam groaned “No such luck. I did most of it yesterday, I’m only glad I had an excuse to stay out of it before my own wedding,”

 Dan glanced around before quietly asking, “How is Ben taking it now?”

Adam grinned “He likes Marie and is delighted to have her join the family.” Dam looked surprised and knowing all the all too accurate stories which had been flying around earlier in the year Adam could understand why but he went on “I mean it Dan, She’s a sweet girl and Joe is so happy we can’t help but be pleased,”

“Well I’m glad to hear it after all the rumours when Joe left.”

“That’s forgotten now and I think tomorrow’s wedding should go as well as mine did. You’ll be out early I suppose?”

“About ten if that’s okay?”

Adam nodded “You’re very welcome Dan but don’t be surprised if you get pressed into last minute chores.”

“I won’t” Dan toyed with the idea of asking Adam about the rumour doing the rounds that Marie was pregnant but decided against it. If it was true then he hoped the wedding would be over before the Cartwrights found out about it. Then Adam excused himself “I’d better be getting back we want to arrange all the presents out of the way before Joe and Marie get back from their picnic.”

Adam went straight home and spent five minutes showing his father the agreement before going over to his own house to collect the various presents that were stored there. Adam took José and Jess with him to help load the heavier items like the piano. His house was now finished and nearly all the furnishings had been installed. Hop Sing had recommended a cousin Kam Su and Adam had taken an immediate liking to the man. Kam Su was already installed and had been seeing to the supplies. Adam intended to finish the move the following week once Joe was safely married. He resisted the temptation to inspect the house, there really wasn’t time, and began loading. The various things that Ben had collected for Joe’s room and the piano were loaded on a wagon and Adam sent Jess off with that. With José’s help he collected the million and one small presents which had arrived and harnessed up the buggy Joe had bought. Adam drove the buggy back and was even more impressed with its stability. Adam had the buggy put in the barn and Kirk promised to polish it until it gleamed. Then Adam went in to join his father. Ben had decided to put the presents apart from his own in a spare guestroom. It was a precedent set at Adam’s wedding and for Marie’s sake seemed worth continuing. As before he arranged things in order but Adam’s present couldn’t be hidden so that would be the first. There was a very respectable pile by the time they’d finished and with those, which would be arriving the next day with the guests to the wedding, it was virtually identical to those Adam and Carole had received. Much pleased at the good auguries the three took a break. Carole had been helping Hop Sing and she brought coffee in for them. She assured them that Hop Sing was excelling himself as usual. She busied herself arranging all the flowers as the men had their coffee. They had a very good selection and Carole made a very good job of arranging them. Adam sat back watching her as she moved round the vases, she was very graceful and he was smiling to himself. Hoss noticed and prodded his father. Ben followed his big son’s gaze and grinned “I only hope that Joe’s marriage is as happy.”

Hoss grinned “It starts with the same advantage, they are in love. I just hope everything goes off well for them tomorrow.”

Ben shrugged “Well everything is ready and I don’t see any real reason to worry.”

Hoss sighed “I just hope that noone pushes Joe into losing his temper, you know what he’s like.”

“I don’t think that anybody will push under our roof but keep an eye on him just in case.”

Hoss nodded “Sure. In some ways I’ll be glad when it’s over.”

Adam came back to earth at the moment and looking over at his father and brother asked “Why the long faces? It’s a wedding not a funeral.”

Ben said, “We were just hoping nothing happens to upset Joe or Marie tomorrow.”

Adam said “Joe will be okay, he knows its important not to lose his temper and there will only be any trouble if someone has too much to drink. We can keep an eye on any likely troublemakers. It will be fine as long as we show how pleased we are.”

Ben nodded “Sure it will. Now don’t get Joe worried,”

Nearly everything was ready. The final arrangement of the furniture had to wait until after dinner. It was nearly time for the others to get back and Ben went up to ensure everything was hidden.

As he did so Adam heard the buckboard come in and went out to meet them. The three of them had had a very pleasant day. Marie liked Will, he was good company, but she found it difficult to see how anyone could choose Will rather than Adam. Her initial liking of the man had grown as she got to know him better and she could see just why Joe cared so much about his brother. Will was nice but he was much more like the men she was used to than the other Cartwrights. Still it had been a very pleasant day and had taken her mind off tomorrow. She was dreading seeing all those people and was praying for the strength not to let the Cartwrights down. Joe knew how scared she was but there was little he could do to help, except stay by her in support.

Carole went up with Marie when she went up to change. Marie was glad of the older woman’s calm presence. Slowly Marie calmed down and Carole came and sat by her “I do understand how you feel Marie. I was petrified the night before my wedding. Scared of all the people and Adam was stuck in a wheelchair and I wasn’t sure how he’d stand up to all the excitement. When I went to join him in front of the Reverend, I was terribly happy but I couldn’t see for tears. We had a wonderful day and so will you. Don’t forget that everyone coming to the actual wedding ceremony and the breakfast are close friends and are fond of Joe. They will be very pleased to know he’s found happiness. In the evening some won’t be so close, but you can avoid them.”

Marie lent against Carole “Am I doing the right thing Carole?”

Carole smiled down at her “I think you’ve only got to look at Little Joe to know the answer to that. He was so miserable before, even after he’d made peace with his father.” Marie nodded “I guess so but I’ll be glad when tomorrow is over.”

Carole left her to calm down and went downstairs and joined Ben who asked, “Is she okay?”

Carole nodded “Yes scared and nervous but okay. She needs a good night’s sleep and she’s not going to get one as things stand. Do you think we could put a few drops of laudanum in her coffee, to make sure she gets some sleep?”

Ben nodded “Of course we can Carole. I think that’s a good idea. Will you stay with her in the morning?”

“Of course. She will be ready on time and beautiful, I guarantee it.”

Little Joe was restless and he couldn’t face dinner. He went out to the barn and began to polish the buggy ready to present it to his bride the following day. Kirk came in and was about to complain as he had just spent two hours polishing the buggy until it shone, but he could see that Joe was barely aware of what he was doing, so Kirk slipped out again.

When they had eaten Adam left Carole to stay with Marie and he went out to his brother “Do you want coffee or a drink Joe?”

Joe shook his head “No thanks but will you come up to the lake with me?”

“Of course I will Joe, just let me get my coat.”

Joe nodded “I’ll saddle up.” Joe was mounted and waiting when Adam came back out. Adam threw Joe his own coat and then swung up on Sport. The brothers rode in virtual silence up to the Lake and then Joe dismounted and sat down by his mother’s grave and buried his face in his hands. Adam moved over behind him and gripped his brother’s shoulders “Easy Joe.”

Little Joe looked up at his brother “It’s ridiculous Adam, but I’m scared stiff.”

Adam smiled gently “I know exactly how you feel little brother. You’ll be fine when the time comes.”

“You’ll stay close by Marie, just in case won’t you?”

Adam nodded “She’ll be fine Joe, but one of us will be close at hand so don’t worry.”

Joe lapsed into silence and sat clasping his knees staring out over the Lake. It was very cold but clear and the Lake sparkled in the moonlight. Slowly Joe lay back and let the peace of that spot sink into his body and he gradually relaxed. Adam stood on the point remembering his own illogical fears the night before his own wedding. Joe seemed calmer that had had been and yet Joe had more to worry about. Joe watched his eldest brother, grateful for his presence but not really wanting to talk. There was no need for words, Adam knew exactly how he felt without them. The brothers sat up by the Lake for several hours hardly speaking but eventually Joe said “I guess we’d better get back I’m thoroughly cold,”

“Whatever you want Joe. I’m okay if you want to stay here.”

Joe gripped his brother’s arm “I’m fine now Adam. Let’s go home.” When they reached the house only Ben was up. He smiled at his sons “You look cold. I’ll get coffee.” The three of them sat by the fire and Joe asked how Marie was, Ben told him that they had put a few drops of laudanum in her coffee to ensure her a good night’s sleep and Carole had checked that she was sleeping peacefully. Ben and Adam sat chatting with Joe until past two, and then Joe decided to try and get some sleep.

Even so Joe was up early and inspecting the weather when Adam came out to join him, Joe turned to his brother “At least the weather is co-operating.”

Adam grinned, “You look nervous little brother.”

Joe freely admitted it “I’m petrified. I’ve never been married before.”

Adam laughed “It’s not difficult you know. You can’t even forget your lines. Come on little brother come and have some breakfast, its going to be a very long day.”

Carole was laying the table when they went in and she grinned at Joe. “Marie is still asleep. I’ll take her up a tray later.”

Joe bit his lip and rather tentatively asked, “Will you stay with her please. She doesn’t have anyone.”

Carole kissed his cheek “Of course I will Joe. It’s my job as Matron of Honour.”

They had persuaded Will to give her away rather than one of the immediate family and Carole was determined to do everything she could to ensure Marie’s day was as happy as her own. She could remember just how thrilled she had been to have the support of her parents on her own wedding day.

Adam knew that his brother’s fears were all for the girl upstairs, fear that she would be slighted in some way and Adam was determined that nothing should go wrong. Carole was sitting finishing the bouquet when Ben and Hoss came down. Ben said, “Marie is up and moving around.”

Carole smiled and said, “I’ll go up.” She collected a tray and disappeared up the stairs.

Joe watched her disappear and turned to Adam “I’m very grateful to Carole.”

Adam grinned, “No need Joe, she’s very fond of you both and since she discovered that she’s pregnant too the pair of them seem to be getting on very much better.”

Joe nodded and then sank back into his own thoughts staring into the fire.

Carole found Marie sitting staring out of the window and bullied her into eating some breakfast. Marie didn’t want to but Carole insisted. “If you are anything like me, you will be much too nervous to eat anything later. Hop Sing prepared wonderful food for our wedding and I think Adam and I were the only ones not to do justice to it.” When Marie had eaten, Carole began to brush out the younger girl’s hair. Marie relaxed as she did so and Carole said, “Little Joe looks petrified. I know Adam was. Men are funny. It’s what they want and yet the prospect of the ceremony terrifies them.”

Marie hardly heard her as Carole chatted. She stood up and surveyed herself in the mirror “The baby shows.”

Carole considered her “Yes in that night-dress it does but not much and it won’t show in your wedding dress. That’s why we cut it the way we did.”

Marie bit her lip “Everyone will guess.”

Carole shook her head “No reason to. All they will see are a very beautiful bride and groom. With Joe as dark as you are fair, you make a very striking couple and they will see two people very much in love.”

Marie nodded slowly “I don’t know why but he does love me,”

Carole sat down on the bed “Once Joe said to me that Adam was a very lucky guy to have me look at him the way I did and that he hoped one day to find a girl to look at him that way. I said that he would and you do. That’s what he needs love and companionship. They have all the material things they will ever need, so love is all that we can give them, but when you see how happy it makes them then you realise that its enough.”

Marie put her hand on Carole’s arm “Thank you.” On impulse Carole put her arms around the smaller woman and hugged her “I’ve missed my family and I always wanted a sister.” Marie finally relaxed with her and returned the hug. Then Carole said “It’s gone ten, we have three hours to turn out a beautiful bride, let’s get at it.”

Downstairs Joe found time hanging heavily on his hands. There was no point in getting changed yet and everything was ready. He sat staring into the fire, not noticing his father and brothers chatting round the desk. Then Ben called him over, “Joe, come here a minute we have one wedding present for you which we don’t want anyone else to know about, so we’ll give it to you now.”

Puzzled Joe moved over and perched on the desk and looked round his family, all three grinning broadly but none of them seemed prepared to say anything until eventually Joe said “Well don’t leave me hanging, what are you talking about? Someone explain.”

Ben looked at his eldest son “Your story Adam.”

Adam nodded and then turning to Joe, he said “Alright Joe. All it really is, is a share in a gamble. If it pays off even you will find it difficult to waste the money. If it doesn’t you don’t lose because we are paying for your share between the three of us, as an extra.” Then he roughly outlined the plan to take over the Consolidated Virginia and the terms they were in on. At the prospect of fighting Sharon again Joe’s eyes sparkled and he was delighted to be part of it. He grinned broadly at them and said thank you, then laughed at his eldest brother, “It had better pay off brother I’d like to be as rich as you are.”

“No chance Joe, it slips through your fingers!"

Joe punched his brother’s arm and then inspected the deeds of agreement and said, “I wonder how long it will take Sharon to catch on?”

Adam shrugged “The longer the better but after the Hale and Norcross he doesn’t trust any of us and will be keeping a close eye on us. We can’t hope to so it as easily as you did then.”

Just then they heard Dan arrive. He had brought Beth out with him and Ben went out to greet his old friends. As they came in Beth went over to Joe, “Congratulations Joe. Is she as lovely as Dan says?”

Adam answered for his brother “She’s a lovely girl Beth in every way. We’ve all grown very fond of her these last few weeks.”

Ben added  “Yes and she even seems to be able to keep him under control.”

That seemed to Joe a good time to disappear and he went up with Adam to get changed. Joe was very tense and Adam poured him a brandy “Calm down Joe everything is under control.” Joe took the brandy and went over to stare out of the window “I just wish it was over.”

Adam moved over behind his brother and gripped his shoulders “I know how you feel Joe but forget the people and everything else. Just remember the Vicar will be waiting in just over two hours to join together in the sight of God, two people who are very much in love.”

Joe lent back against his brother and for a long moment didn’t speak, then he turned to look at his eldest brother “You once said we were alike sentimental and romantic.” Adam nodded “I also said that you would find true love.”

Joe nodded “I have but I didn’t know it could hurt so much.”

Adam knew what his brother meant, but for a moment he didn’t answer, wanting to help his brother. Then he said “The hurt will go Joe, once she has found her feet again and you’ve held the child and come to love it, the pain will seem like a bad dream.”

Joe said, “It’s only partly the baby. It’s just that I know what people will say and I don’t want her hurt.”

Adam said “Our real friends will know you are in love and will accept it and think no more about it. Do you really think that its worrying any of the family now they’ve got to know Marie? Its not very unusual you know. The rest don’t matter.” Joe didn’t answer but Adam felt him gradually relax and eventually Joe pulled away “I guess I’d better get changed.” He smiled at his brother “Thank you brother.”

Adam patted his shoulder and then headed of to his own room to change. He knew his little brother was under a considerable strain but he had great faith in Joe’s ability to carry everything off well and Marie had proved herself no coward. Adam was standing staring out of the window when Carole came in to collect her own dress; she was going to change in Marie’s room. She went over to her husband and Adam put his arm round her pulling her close for a kiss. As he released her he asked, “How is Marie?”

Carole shrugged “She’s nervous but she’ll be fine. How about Joe?”

Adam smiled down at her “About the same as I was, nervous and excited. Everything will be fine.” Carole kissed him again and collecting her things headed back to Marie. Adam changed rapidly and then went down to allow his father and Hoss a chance to get ready. They looked questioningly at him but Adam just grinned.

By the time they were back down the Vicar had arrived and the first of the guests were arriving. There had been a lot of speculation as Joe’s rows with his father had been common knowledge and people were wondering how the Cartwrights were taking this latest addition to the family, so different from Adam’s bride. Several people asked where Carole was and were surprised to hear that she was acting as Matron of Honour, but none of them had the nerve to ask Adam how the family felt. Adam was chatting with Philip and Roy when Ben and Hoss came down. He excused himself and went over to them “Is Joe nearly ready? It’s half twelve.”

Ben said “I looked in, he’ll be down in a minute.” Adam nodded and circulated amongst the guests again. He saw Joe coming down the stairs a few minutes later. His brother was a little pale but perfectly composed and Adam was glad to see a sparkle of excitement in his eyes. In fact Joe had been ready for some time but didn’t want to face other people. His father had given him a brandy and Joe had come down ready to do battle with anyone who said a word out of place. He was marrying the woman he loved and the only other people that he cared about backed him and he had got to the stage where he didn’t give a damn what the rest of the world thought. Provided of course they didn’t say a word to upset Marie. Ben and Hoss had also seen Joe and they grinned at Adam. Little Joe looked very smart, for once he had copied his eldest brother and was in a black suit with a frilly white shirt and no jewellery until he got his wedding ring, which was also just like Adam’s. Ben had a lump in his throat as he watched his youngest son, so long the baby of the family and now soon to be a father in his own right. Little Joe headed straight over to the Vicar and had a word with him and Hoss joined him. Joe demanded “You’re sure you have the rings, come on show me.”

Hoss grinned broadly and showed the rings and then slipped them away putting his arm round Joe’s shoulders “I’m getting expert at this little brother.” Joe squeezed his arm and then began to say hello to the other guests. They were all old friends and he didn’t expect any trouble although once or twice Adam saw him tense up as he read speculation in the eyes of a couple of the older women; but Joe had himself well in hand and only his family spotted his reaction. Then as 1 p.m. approached, Ben and Adam began ushering people to their places ready for the ceremony.

Upstairs Carole and Marie were ready. Carole had made a superb job of the wedding dress, basing it on one she had seen in New York. Once Marie was dressed and her hair done and the veil Carole had worn placed on her head, Carole took her across to Adam’s room where there was full-length mirror. The dress was designed to accentuate her ethereal quality and had a satin under-dress with filmy lace covering. Fitted to the bust and waist but then fairly full with a lightweight train. Marie considered herself in the mirror. It was the first time she had worn the dress, only the satin had needed fitting. She knew that she had never been more beautiful and the dress was so elegant so unlike the tawdry finery of the saloons. It also, as Carole had promised, showed no sign at all that she was pregnant. Impulsively she lifted the veil and kissed Carole “Its beautiful. I never dreamt that I could look like this.” Carole smiled “Every girl should look beautiful on her wedding day, Little Joe has every right to be very proud.”

Marie held her head high “I can face the world in this. Is it time?”

Carole nodded and carefully rearranged her veil “Now careful down the stairs. I have your train and here’s your bouquet. You hand it to me when you join Joe okay?”

Marie, her heart thumping with excitement, nodded and the two girls went out to join Will, who was waiting for them, He signalled Adam and then went over “You look radiant Marie, its a beautiful gown. Joe is a lucky man.”

Little Joe was standing by Hoss waiting for his bride, praying that she was alright. He had seen Carole sowing but had no idea what sort of gown she had in mind and he let out a little gasp of surprise when Marie appeared. She was so lovely and so elegant. The rest of the guests were taken aback apart from Adam who knew what Carole had been aiming at, but even he smiled appreciatively, she had succeeded admirably. Marie looked as though she had stepped out of a fashion plate, more beautiful than most of them had ever dreamt of. She knew it and it gave her the confidence and poise to carry off the elegance but she only had eyes for Joe as Will led her up to his side. Joe took her hand and as she handed her bouquet to Carole, Carole had her thanks as Joe gave her a grin and a look of heartfelt gratitude. He murmured “You are beautiful”. Then the service began and somehow they were oblivious of everyone except each other and the vicar. As the vicar finally said “I pronounce you man and wife.” Joe felt as though a great load had been lifted from his shoulders, as though until that moment he had feared that something would happen to prevent it. Now with her by his side he could face the world and he gave her such a cheeky roguish grin that she couldn’t help smiling up at him. Joe lifted her veil and kissed her and then he went over with his family to sign the register. He looked so happy that Marie had to be happy and the family, seeing it, was all grinning broadly. The four men insisted on kissing the bride and Joe went over to Carole, he gave her a hug and kiss, “I don’t know how you did it, but that dress is magnificent, she looks like a queen.”

Carole smiled “I’m glad you like it Little Joe. I said it would be a pleasure to dress her, she’s so very beautiful, especially now she’s so happy.”

The register signed Joe led his bride outside. It was too cold to stay out long but they had to allow Hop Sing time to get the tables laid so they had cleared the barn and decorated it. Adam and Hoss went over to start pouring out sherries while Joe introduced his bride to the guests, very few of whom she knew. It didn’t take long and with Joe’s arm round her shoulders, she managed to answer them fairly easily, When they were all in Ben went to his new daughter-in-law and bore her off to get a sherry. He smiled down at her and told her how lovely she looked, she smiled up at him and Ben put his arm round her “Welcome to the family Marie.” Everyone noticed the little passage as Ben had intended and then both Adam and Hoss descended on her as well. It was obvious to everyone that the Cartwrights were putting up a united front but as Dan, Roy and Philip stood watching them Dan said, “I wasn’t sure before but I think Adam was telling the truth, they are all fond of that girl.”

Roy sighed “I sure hope so. Especially if that rumour is true.”

Once everyone had drinks Joe beckoned Adam over and asked his brother to bring out the buggy and the horses that he had bought for Marie. Adam slipped out and went over to the other barn to collect them. Kirk helped him harness up the buggy horse and then he led both horses out and tied them to the hitch rail. He went back over to the barn and signalled Joe. Little Joe went over to Marie who was still with his father “Most of the presents will wait until after the breakfast but I’d like you to come and see what I have bought you.” Marie looked up at him and Joe took her hand “Come on my love.” He led her out and everyone followed. Joe took her over to the horses and the buggy. Marie stared at him in disbelief “They are mine?”

Joe smiled at her “You’ll need transport especially when Adam and Carole move out.” Marie stroked the pinto’s nose and then excitedly inspected the buggy. Then oblivious of everyone she gave Joe a big hug. Joe kissed her delighted that she liked his presents. Marie had been dreading being tied to the house unable to ride, and she was thrilled with her elegant buggy. Then Hop Sing called them for food. Ben and Adam began ushering people in and Joe took his wife back into the barn and alone for a moment he held her close. “You’re so very beautiful my darling.” Marie safe in the haven of his arms stood quietly. This moment had seemed so impossible and even now she could hardly believe she was really his wife and the past was just a bad dream. They stood quietly together until Hoss came over to collect them “We’re all ready Joe waiting for you.” Joe kissed her and then led her over to the house.

Marie walked in between the two brothers, head held high. She knew that she was lovelier than she had ever been and she knew there was no need to worry about the future, not now. Whatever happened Joe and his family would take care of her and for a girl who had for years fought alone, it was a wonderful feeling, the first security she had ever known in her life. She took her place next to Ben and grinned wickedly at Adam who was sitting opposite her. She had a lot to be grateful to him for and she had quickly grown very fond of her brother-in–laws. Adam grinned back, glad for her sake and Joe’s that she was so happy. Then Hoss had to read out the messages. Most of Joe’s friends were present and there were nowhere near the number of telegrams that Adam had had, but there were some oohs as Hoss read out congratulations from both Edwin Booth and Charles Dickens, Joe grinned at his eldest brother as Marie amazed looked at him. Joe whispered that Adam must have been busy, he knew them both but they were good friends of his eldest brother, Then it was Joe’s turn to make a speech. He had thought a lot about it and was determined to keep it light. He thanked them all for coming and all their good wishes and gifts. He finished up that despite various suggestions that he was just copying his eldest brother, he wasn’t really. Just that Adam had shown what a happy state marriage was and when he had found his beautiful bride, he had no fears of losing his so-called independence. That raised a laugh and as they settled down again Ben asked them to return to the barn for coffee and liqueurs while Hop Sing cleared the room.  He went on, “We are following precedent and the bride and groom will open presents upstairs and you may all see them later."

Only the seven Cartwrights and Dan were going up to open the presents. Ben made sure that Marie and Joe were the first to go in, knowing that Adam’s present would be the first thing that they saw. He slipped into Joe’s room. Four men had been working hard everything had been ready in Adam’s room and they had used the connecting door and had almost finished, Ben looked round pleased with the effect. It would be done by the time they had opened the other presents.

Meanwhile Marie and Joe had gone to the guestroom where the presents were waiting. Adam and Carole were right behind them. Joe opened the door and let Marie go in first. She walked in and then stood stock still with an audible gasp as she saw the piano. Joe was surprised but then looking at the expression on her face he just stood and watched her. For a long moment she didn’t move and then as though in a dream she went over to it and sat down and began softly playing Green-sleeves. Only then did Joe move to pick up the card and read it. Marie looked up at him and Joe smiled and gave her the card. Then he turned to his brother who was standing just inside the door grinning widely. The look Joe gave him was thanks enough for the hours Adam had spent puzzling and he just shook his brother's hand, Joe went over to Carole but turned as Marie came to her feet. Marie oblivious of everyone, even Joe, went to Adam, her eyes were full of tears. “I didn’t know how you guessed Adam. I missed my music. You always know and I owe you so much, how can I ever thank you.” Adam wiped a tear from her cheek “No tears and no thanks needed. I am just glad that Joe has given me such a beautiful and dear sister.” Adam took her in his arms and kissed her and Joe turned to Carole and gave her a hug not to be left out. He grinned down at her “I’m glad Adam was married already or he’d have been cutting me out.” Marie looked at him at that still with Adam’s arm round her shoulders, but when she saw the grin, she smiled back. Adam said “There’s something else on the top Joe. I didn’t think a piano was quite you.” Little Joe went over and opened the parcel with the new rifle in it. He was delighted and grinned widely at Adam “Thanks big brother. You’ve done us proud and I must say it will make a change from your guitar.” Adam laughed “I had an ulterior motive, maybe Marie will teach me to play.” Then Hoss interrupted “Hadn’t you better open the rest Joe or the other guests will be on us.” Joe nodded and with Marie’s help began to open the pile of packages. At one stage Marie opened a parcel with a pair of objects in it. Adam and Carole took one look at the expression on her face and burst out laughing.

Marie hesitantly turned them over and asked “What are they?”

Adam shrugged “God knows but if you should find out let us know.” Marie giggled at that and returned to her job of opening parcels,

Ben stood watching his sons, glad to see them so happy. Dan came over “You’re getting to be quite the patriarch Ben.”

Ben grinned, “Yes only Hoss to go, now. Typical I wait for years and then Adam and Joe choose the same year. Its gonna be quiet round here when Joe moves out too. Still that won’t be until next summer. He’ll leave building until the spring.”

With most of the parcels out of the way Joe was busily undoing Hoss’ present under Marie’s interested eye. At first he was thoroughly puzzled but then he remembered what the Doc had said and the light dawned and he showed Marie how it worked. He was fascinated not least with the camera and grinned broadly at Hoss “You seem to be making a habit of getting the unexpected big brother!”

Hoss said "There’s one condition attached little brother. We are not sitting still for hours for you to record us for prosperity.”

Joe giggled “Of course not Hoss I wouldn’t want to break it! “ and got cuffed for his pains, Joe was puzzled, there was one present missing but Ben didn’t leave him in suspense “If you’ve finished in here I have something to show you.”

Joe took Marie’s hand “Lead on Pa.” Ben just grinned “I think you know the way to your own room Joseph.”

Puzzled Joe went across to his own room and opened the door and then stopped dead. It was all new. Ben had put a lot of thought in to his selection and had done miracles in the short time at his disposal. He had made a comfortable and cosy looking bed sitting room for two and as Joe took it in he began to grin widely. Then he turned and went over to his father and gave him a big hug.  Marie able to see for the first time, went in and wandered around. She was touched at the thought and planning her father-in-law had expended and when the others crowded in for a look she went over to Ben and standing on tiptoe kissed him. "Thank you very much Pa.” Ben grinned at her pleased with her reaction “You’re very welcome my daughter.”

Dan watching was now entirely convinced, she was fitting in as well as Carole had and he was glad for his friends especially as he was sure the rumours were true. There was something in the way that she moved here amongst her new family when she had relaxed, that made him sure she was pregnant. Despite that he knew Joe well enough to be sure it was a love match and he was sincere in his congratulations to his young friend.

Ben, Adam, Carole and Hoss went on downstairs to greet the arriving guests and Joe took his wife in his arms and held her close. She snuggled up against him “Your family put a lot of thought into their presents, I still don’t know how Adam could have guessed how much I missed a piano.”

Joe smiled down at her “Adam has a habit of noticing things. I am so glad you two are friends.”

“I don’t see how anyone could fail to be. Its funny to think how the idea of meeting him terrified me,”

Joe didn’t bother to point out that even after meeting his brother many people were still terrified, especially if Adam wanted it that way, he just kissed her and then said “It’s time we went down.” This was the time both of them had been dreading, the arrival of people who weren’t old and close friends, but it had to be done.

Marie looked very pale as they came downstairs and Carole went straight over to them and bore her off to have a drink. Dan and Ben were standing with Hoss as the girls went by and grinned appreciatively at them Dan said, “Well at least you have two real beauties in the family.” Certainly they were a pretty sight Carole as dark as Marie was fair and the two heads close together as Carole reassured the younger girl, Dan went on “You’ll have to choose a redhead Hoss to complete the collection.”

Hoss grinned “Not me, someone has to look after the old man.” Ben thumped his big son but he was grinning broadly as Hoss wandered over to join his sisters.

Joe was greeting the guests and Adam stayed close to his brother. If trouble was going to occur it would either be now or later when someone had the chance to get drunk. There were a few caustic comments but Joe turned them away without trouble and when Adam saw his brother’s jaw begin to tighten, he interrupted and suggested to Joe that it was time to start the dancing. Joe nodded and willingly left his post by the door. Things went well and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. Joe gradually relaxed as it became obvious that noone was going to say anything under their roof. Marie remained tense but she had herself well under control. She wouldn’t dance much that was the one time when the baby made its presence felt, but she did dance a couple of times with Joe and once with Adam. The rest of the time she chatted with the men she knew and one of the family stayed close at hand unobtrusively,

Then it was time for the cake to be cut. Joe called for quiet and Hoss went to fetch it. Hop Sing had made the cake in the shape of their initials J and M and decorated it with the view over the lake. Joe stood studying it and then descended on the kitchen. He said thank you to Hop Sing in private but then insisted that he came out and take his bow. Once the cake was cut, Ben proposed a toast to the happy couple and Joe again said thank you. As the party split up again Joe signalled Adam over “Will you keep an eye on Marie for me for a minute?”

Adam looked anxiously at his little brother “You alright?”

“Just a headache. I need some fresh air I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Adam gripped his shoulder “Everything is fine Joe but I’ll watch out.” He watched Joe slip out and Ben came over worried. Adam smiled reassuringly at his father “It’s okay Pa. just all the excitement. It’s been a bit of a strain and he has a headache wants some fresh air for a few minutes.” Ben nodded but he went out after his son. Joe had gone over to the corral fence and was sitting on it. Ben joined him but he was reassured as Joe smiled at him, "I’m okay Pa but it’s very stuffy in there.” Ben said “Sure Joseph” and they sat in companionable silence for a few minutes.

Inside the trouble that they had been dreading all evening was threatening to materialise. A young cowboy, son of one of the neighbouring ranchers, wanted Marie to dance.  He had seen a fair amount of her in the saloon and he had had too much to drink. When Marie said no he grabbed her arm, Adam was by them instantly and he took the man’s arm forcing him to let go. “The lady doesn’t want to dance. It’s her day and her choice.” The man was about to say something but he caught Adam’s eye and decided against it, he wasn’t that drunk, instead he said “Sorry Ma’am.” He fled and Adam slipped into the chair next to Marie “Alright?” Marie smiled at him "Fine thank you Adam.” Adam was glad to see that noone else seemed to have noticed the slight fracas and then seeing Joe come back in he suggested that Marie fulfilled her wifely duties and get her husband a drink which she did very willingly.

Joe waited until midnight and then told the band that he wanted a waltz and announced that he was closing the dance, he and his wife were leaving. Adam stood watching appreciatively as his brother said thank you again and goodnight from the stairs, remembering doing the same a few short months earlier.

Once they had see all the guests off, Ben Adam, Carole and Hoss sat round the fire with coffee. Will had to get an early start and had already headed for bed. They were pleased with the way things had gone. Hoss said “Thank God there was no trouble and she certainly looked beautiful,”

Adam grinned at his big brother “Nearly as lovely as my bride was.”

Ben laughed at his son “I think they were both equally beautiful it s just that you prefer brunettes and Joe prefers blondes. Still all in all it was a good day. I hope they enjoyed it.”

Adam stared rather sombrely into the fire, "I think they are glad that it’s over but it will give them a good memory to look back on.” Then noticing how tired and drawn Hoss was looking he got to his feet, “Come on it’s been a long day and I think its time for bed.”

Upstairs Marie exhausted had quickly slid into sleep but Joe lay wide-awake, cradling her slight body in his arms. He was relieved that the day had gone so well and happy that against all the odds Marie was his wife with the full backing of his family, but he had a stinking headache from the tensions of the day. Joe knew that he still had to face the gossip once word of her pregnancy leaked out and unable to relax it was nearly dawn before he finally fell into a restless sleep.

Adam was the first up the following day and only his father joined him for breakfast. There wasn’t much to do around the ranch as winter closed in but Adam wanted to finish the move to his new house. He was checking around to see which of his books he wanted to take with him and which were more conveniently left at the main house, After a while he sat down by the fire and stared unseeingly into the flames.

Adam was still miles away when Joe and Hoss came down. Marie was sleeping late and Carole had only wanted coffee, which Adam had taken up, she was busy listing what she still needed from town. Joe and Hoss had breakfast and then Joe asked, “What’s up with Adam, Pa?”

Ben shrugged “He’s been miles away for the last hour.”

Slightly concerned, Joe went over and sat down by his eldest brother, but as Adam looked up at him, Joe was shaken at the expression on his brother’s face. Adam looked so sorrowful that he could have lost his best friend. Adam quickly did his best to hide his feelings and before Joe could say anything he teased his brother “How does it feel to be a married man Joe? Guess with you about to be a father we’d better stop calling you Little Joe!”

Joe laughed but he could still see unexpected pain in Adam’s eyes. Soon afterward Adam excused himself saying that he needed to check with Kam Su. Joe watched puzzled as his brother rode out but just then Marie came downstairs and he forgot Adam as he hurried over to Marie. It wasn’t until much later when she sat playing her new piano, engrossed in her music that his thoughts reverted to his eldest brother.

Adam had stopped off at his new house to collect a final list of supplies from Kam Su. Then he wandered through the house; the downstairs and the master bedroom were beginning to look liveable although some of the spare rooms were still totally bare. Adam looked around as though he had never been there before; it seemed to have nothing to do with him. Then thoroughly confuse he headed up to the Lake. He sat staring out over the water, feeling much the same as he had the night before his wedding. He had always wanted his own home and he had spent many happy hours designing it and arranging to furnish it. Now he didn’t want to move, he couldn’t imagine leaving the house which had been his home for over twenty years. It wasn’t until he looked around the bookshelves and pictured the main room once he removed his books, his guitar and the foils, that the idea of leaving really hit him. All of a sudden he didn’t want to go, the house he had designed so carefully seemed totally alien. For a long time he sat by the Lake knowing that he was being stupid but unable to throw off his sudden black mood. He sat by the lake for hours until thoroughly cold he was driven home.  He didn’t want to see anyone but he needed hot coffee and a drink, Carole was still upstairs so he couldn’t even go to his room to be alone. Adam got coffee and went over by the fire but after a while he couldn’t bear the anxious looks he was getting from the rest of the family and he went upstairs and into one of the guestrooms. Carole heard him come up and looking out saw him go into the spare room. Puzzled she waited for him to come out thinking that he had gone into collect something but she soon realised that she was wrong. She wandered downstairs wondering what her husband was up to, she had been surprised when he didn’t appear for lunch.

Marie couldn’t resist her piano while Ben and Hoss were engrossed in a report in timber preservation so Carole wandered over to join Joe who was vaguely reading by the fire. For a minute she sat listening to Marie “She’s very good Joe, lovely soft touch.”

Joe grinned, “Its amazing how far she can reach along the keys. Her hands are tiny compared to mine but I can only reach one note further. My little finger just doesn’t go at that angle.”

Carole grinned, “She’s very supple, that’s why she’s so graceful.”

Joe nodded and then suddenly serious asked, “What’s up with Adam today?"

Carole shrugged “I’ve hardly seen him, he’s been avoiding me.”

Joe put his arm round her shoulders “Don’t look so worried you’re in very good company, he has barely noticed that the rest of us exist either. He’s always had moods when he just wants to be on his own. I guess we all do at times. He’ll snap out of it.”

Carole grinned “Sure Joe I guess there are rather a lot of us around at the moment, he’ll be better when he’s got his own study to hide away in.”

Joe nodded “Yeah we’ve always used our rooms, it’s not so easy once you’re married.” Carole relaxed with her brother-in-law and then Marie came over to join them and they chatted happily about the previous day’s events.

Adam stood staring out of the window in the guestroom. He only wanted to be on his own but having missed lunch; it would cause too much comment to skip dinner as well. Eventually he went down but although he kissed his wife he was very quiet and didn’t eat much. He spent the evening buried in the lists of supplies for the new house. Ben watched his son, puzzled at the time he was taking over a job he would normally clear in under an hour. Ben gave Adam a list of supplies for the main house to order in town but as his son obviously wasn’t feeling sociable he left Adam alone.

When they went to bed Adam apologised to Carole for being like a bear with a sore head all day. Carole gave him a hug “I don’t mind love, you can’t always be in a good mood, but is there anything wrong?”

Adam shook his head “No, it’s just me. I guess I was more worried about Joe and Marie yesterday than I had realised. Just reaction. Stupid isn’t it, Joe’s the one who should be having reaction and he’s happy and contented.”

Carole knew just how much Adam fussed about his younger brother but she wasn’t convinced that that was all, still he obviously didn’t want to talk and so she left it. Adam lay awake for hours visualising the room that had been his sanctuary for so long after he had moved out in a couple of days.

Adam was up at dawn, leaving Carole fast asleep. He got coffee and wandered outside. Joe was up early as well, Once awake he didn’t want to disturb Marie and got up, he saw his brother and wandered out to join Adam. Adam was still deep in his black mood but he managed to grin at his brother and chat easily. Joe wasn’t fooled but if Adam didn’t want to talk he knew he would never be able to force his brother.

Adam was restless and although it was still early, he told Joe that he was heading for town, he’d eat there. He asked Joe to tell Carole and their father.

Adam rode off as Ben came down and slightly concerned Ben asked Joe if he knew what was wrong with his brother. Joe shrugged “God only knows, Maybe he’s just restless with the prospect of moving to his new house. He’s not saying anything.”

Ben wandered over to the window, it was going to be very odd to have Adam living up the road in his own house. Still at least now he didn’t have to fear his son would leave home again.

Adam rode slowly into town knowing that all his family were puzzled by his attitude, but he couldn’t snap out of this black mood. They all knew him too well for any act to convince them. Adam pulled himself together as he hit the bustle at the edge of Virginia City and spent a very busy morning ordering supplies. He was able to get everything that he wanted and arranged for them to be ready to be collected the following day. Eventually his business finished he went over to the bank to finalise an authorisation for drawing money in Frisco from his own personal account to facilitate buying the stock that they wanted in the Consolidated Virginia.

Adam hadn’t bothered with breakfast and hadn’t eaten much the previous day, so hungry he headed over to the Bucket O’ Blood where Don served a good steak. So far noone had made any comments to him about Marie, just people saying how much they had enjoyed the wedding. Among the old established families in town and those who knew the Cartwrights well, their solid backing of Marie was having its desired effect. None of them, not even a couple of inveterate gossips amongst the women in the store, had the nerve to ask Adam the truth of the rumours flying round town.

Adam went into the saloon and ordered his steak. While he waited he had a beer, and sat at the bar chatting to Don. Don had liked the pretty young girl and had been very pleased to see how happy she was and how well accepted by the family.

Just as his steak arrived, five miners came in. Adam knew the leader slightly, known as ‘Bull’ Pardoe, he had a reputation as a fighter with the miners and with Roy as one of the town’s troublemakers.  Adam ignored them and settled down to eat his meal, but it soon became obvious that they weren’t going to ignore him. Pardoe chuckled and pointed at Adam “The high ’n mighty Cartwrights came down with a bump eh! How do you like it Cartwright a saloon slut for a sister. I’ll bet your wife ain’t pleased.” Adam concentrated on his steak paying absolutely no attention to Pardoe but that just seemed to enrage the man, He went on “The clever Cartwrights, yet your brother is caught by the oldest trick in the book. How does he even know it’s his kid on the way? He weren’t the only one to enjoy her favours was he boys?” That raised great guffaws of laughter from his men and Adam was absolutely furious but he managed to hide his feelings. He knew that he couldn’t afford to lose his temper and was just thankful that Joe wasn’t with him. Adam solidly went on eating ignoring the men, Don watched anxiously and sent his swamper to collect Roy in case of trouble. Pardoe by now furious at being ignored edged closer to Adam “What’s the matter Cartwright, you yella, or can’t you be bothered to defend your sister’s honour, ‘cos you know she ain’t got none.” That raised another laugh from his companions but Adam still ignored them. He finished his steak and stood up, handing over payment to Don, “The steak was as good as usual Don but since when did the riffraff come in here? I thought they used the saloons on ‘D’ street.”

Pardoe flushed angrily and moved to block Adam’s path. Adam’s right hand was close by his gun and for the first time he looked at Pardoe, meeting the other man’s eye, as he said icily “You’re in my way.”

Pardoe was a bully but he knew Adam’s reputation both with a gun and his fists. All his own men were behind him unable to intervene as Don pulled out a scattergun. Odds of one against one weren’t Pardoe’s cup of tea, even though he outweighed Adam by a good thirty pounds, and hating every second of it he found himself unable to meet Adam’s gaze and he stepped aside.

Adam saw Roy in the doorway and walked over to join his friend knowing that his back was safe with Roy and Don there. Adam forced a grin “Just the man I wanted to see. Can we talk please Roy?”

Roy nodded and led the way out and as they did so the grin vanished and Roy was amazed at the sheer fury showing on Adam’s face. He had seldom seen his old friend so obviously furious. In fact Roy could only remember two other occasions. Once when Adam had broken up a fight between a very young Joe and a professional heavyweight, when his fury had been aimed at the crowd who had let the massacre continue. The other time when he had been accused in court of perjury, concealing evidence and being a professional gunman when they were trying to break the power of Kessler. Roy frowned “What happened in there Adam?”

Adam shrugged “It doesn’t matter but I want some straight answers Roy,”

Roy nodded “Alright Son but you sure didn’t make a new friend forcing Pardoe to back down like that. He’ll hate you Adam and he’ll try to get his own back,”

Adam shrugged not obviously concerned “I can handle him,” They headed over to the jail and Roy poured out two coffee. Adam said “Just what rumours are doing the rounds Roy?”

Roy had guessed what Adam was going to ask but he didn’t like the job of telling his old friend. He sat down and stared into his coffee sup. Adam sighed, “I need to know Roy. Exactly what is being said. I have to warn Joe, You’re a good friend please will you just tell me.”

Roy knew that Adam was right it would be easier if they knew and he said, “There’s two or three rumours Adam. One I’d guess was true, the others are nonsense but they were bound to arise. You have been too successful, people are jealous. Now they got the chance to snipe at you and they’ll take it.”

Adam nodded “I realise that Roy and it won’t be the first time.  What’s being said?”

Roy played with his cup and then sighed heavily “Sorta general rumour says that Marie is pregnant. That’s true ain’t it?”

Adam nodded slowly “Yes it’s true, How did you know?”

Roy shrugged “Just something in the way she moved. Dan noticed it especially when she was upstairs alone with you lot opening the presents.”

Adam grinned, “I’m glad we didn’t know there were any such rumours a couple of days ago,”

“We hoped that it wouldn’t reach you. That automatically leads on to folks saying that Little Joe’s been trapped into marriage. I don’t think that anyone who knows him will believe that. You’ve only got to look at them to see that’s a love match for sure.”

“It is. We know that. What else is being said?”

 Roy got up and wandered over to the stove to pour pout more coffee, not knowing how to tell his friend, Adam could see the tension in the older man and asked again “Please Roy just go on. I need to know the worst,”

“It’s just jealousy Adam, One of the saloon girls started a story that it wasn’t even Joe’s baby, said Marie told her it was some other fella’s and then everyone chipped in. Half the riffraff in town are claiming it could be their’s and having a good laugh at your expense.” Roy looked over at Adam, who was tight-lipped and pale with sheer fury, not helped by having no way to vent it. Roy moved over and gripped the younger man’s arm “I’m real sorry Adam. None of your friends believe a word of it, They are in love and accidents happen. The gossip will die down, a new story come up, but they’re having a field day at the moment.”

Adam nodded, “Thanks Roy. I can’t say it’s unexpected. Joe knew it would happen. In fact its the only thing that’s bothering him, inflicting gossip on Pa. Otherwise I think he’s tickled pink at the idea of beating me to the first grandchild. Still maybe we’ll still beat him at the post.” Roy looked puzzled and Adam slightly sheepishly said, “Carole is pregnant too, the family is growing.”

Roy clapped him on the back and offered his congratulations before reverting to Joe “Try and make Joe see that it will all die down quicker if he just ignores it.”

Adam nodded “He knows that Roy and I can at least warn him what to expect but I don’t know whether he can ignore it. I found it bloody hard. Its so unfair she’s such a nice girl and I’m very fond of her.”

Adam headed for home with plenty to think about. At least the anger he’d felt and the problem of warning Joe had effectively dispelled the black mood he’d fallen into over the last two days. He hadn’t taken Roy’s warning about Pardoe very seriously and the furthest thought from his mind was trouble. It was only three in the afternoon but it was already beginning to get dark as the evening drew in and the sky was covered in dark forbidding clouds. Adam guessed the first snow would soon fall on the lowlands and he hoped it would hold off for another three or four days until they had completed their move. He was busy planning exactly what he needed to do letting Sport pick his own way along the road that he knew so well, when suddenly a shot rang out. Adam felt the draft of it and then a voice came ordering him, “Hold it Cartwright or the next one is in your back.”

Adam had no choice and when ordered he dismounted and took off his gunbelt. His Winchester was taken from his saddle and then the five men who had been in the bar emerged and surrounded him. Pardoe grinned “We’ve been waiting for you Mr High n’ mighty. You took your time. Still some pleasures are worth waiting for. Mount up.”

Puzzled Adam did as he was told. One of the men took his reins and led him off into the trees, Adam knew Pardoe was out for revenge but he couldn’t see anyway out of this predicament so he went along hoping for a chance to break free. It was all so futile and unnecessary just because he wouldn’t be goaded into a fight. They went about two miles until they came to a clearing where Adam was told to dismount. Then Pardoe grinned at his mates “Now we’ll have that fight. Mr Yellow Cartwright can’t run to the sheriff now.”

Adam forced into a fight was not adverse to getting his hands on Pardoe, but the odds were five to one and he knew his back would still not take too much punishment. Then to his surprise Pardoe said, “This here will be a fair fight. Cartwright against me. You four keep out of it.”

Adam was very puzzled, Pardoe outweighed him but he was good with his fists and had quite a reputation as a fighter. He was fairly confident that he could hold his own in a fair fight with Pardoe, At the very least he would hand out a fair amount of punishment and anyway if Pardoe thought he could take control why had he climbed down in town? Then one of the men Clem spoke up and Adam realised something was planned. “That’s all very well Bull but this guy’s been east, learnt all their dirty tricks. That ain’t fair, we outghta even things up first, “ Bull nodded “Sure” and at that Clem hit out with his gun barrel, The muzzle of the heavy colt bit deep into the biceps of Adam’s right arm. It was a coldly calculated brutal attempt to put Adam’s right arm out of action and it succeeded. Adam couldn’t help the cry of pain, the sudden agony in his arm was so unexpected. His right arm was on fire and useless and he cradled it to him breathing hard as he fought for control, now more than ever he needed his wits about him.

Pardoe grinned “I guess that’s fair now with his dirty tricks.” That comment more than anything else made Adam pull himself together; anger clearing his head, a one-armed man against a two-armed man thirty pounds heavier, very fair!

Pardoe came at him and Adam was slow to react with the pain in his arm and he took two heavy blows to the head and fell to the ground. He fell on his crippled arm and the agony gripped him again. He rolled away knowing he had to use his brains if he wasn’t to be crippled for life, His main advantage was his speed and as his head cleared he came up swiftly from the ground and moved forward. Pardoe had a big paunch and Adam aimed one blow straight into it. Pardoe careless with a crippled opponent gave Adam all the time that he needed and Adam felt his fist sink deep into the man’s belly and with relief he realised that the man was soft, too much beer, too much living on his reputation. Pardoe doubled up and Adam grabbed his right wrist and using all his strength he threw the larger man flat on his back. Pardoe lay stunned and Adam got an interlocking grip to maintain control. Pardoe’s four cronies stood stunned at this unexpected turn of events but Adam was too far away from Sport to try for him easily, Pardoe stirred and Adam looked down at him expecting trouble and twisted slightly to demonstrate his ability to break Pardoe’s wrist at will. Clem saw that his attention was distracted and launched himself at Adam and using his gun hit again at the already damaged biceps. The pain was as bad as Adam had ever known and he couldn’t keep his hold on Pardoe. He fell to the ground and rolled in agony and Clem followed up kicking at him. One kick landed on Adam’s injured arm and another catching his back sent a wave of pain from the old injury. Adam knew that he could be kicked to death and with an effort he got control and taking his chance he grabbed Clem’s foot and twisted sending the man heavily to the floor. Adam rose to his feet and faced Pardoe. He knew that he had to get away now while he still could and he moved forward taking a lot of punishment, but ignoring it until he got a chance to get a blow through to Pardoe’s jaw. Adam put all his weight behind the blow and Pardoe fell like a log. Adam kept moving forward and pulled himself onto Sport and sent him off into the trees. None of the others seemed disposed to stand in his way with Bull Pardoe flat out at his hands for the second time and Adam twisted and turned away through the trees. His gunbelt and winchester had been placed on the saddle and at least he could defend himself. At first the adrenaline was enough to keep him alert but when it became obvious that noone was following it lost its effectiveness, Adam slumped forward cradling his arm only really aware of the pain and leaving Sport to take him home through the growing dark.

Joe had been over to Adam’s house with a load of curtains which Carole had finished making. He had then taken a short trip up by the Lake and as it was getting dark he was heading home. He was about halfway when Cochise whinnied. Joe pulled up as he heard another horse answer. Joe was puzzled the other horse seemed to be moving very slowly and he couldn’t imagine who would be up there so he went to investigate. It was very dark at the edge of the trees but Joe could just make out a horse and rider and Sport glad to see something familiar, with his master acting so strangely, moved towards Cochise. Before Joe had thought it out instinct came to his aid and he moved alongside Sport “Adam what’s wrong?”

Joe could now see the shape of the rider slumped over the pommel and he was very worried but Adam stirred at the familiar voice and raised his head “Joe?”

Joe pulled in as close as he could “What’s happened? How bad are you hurt?”

Adam was too full of pain and too weary to answer for a moment and then he said, “I’ll be okay. Take me home Joe.”

Joe was very worried but unable to do anything, without a light and with the house close by, took Sport’s reins and led him home, very thankful that it wasn’t far.

When they reached the yard Adam said, “Don’t scare the girls.”  Joe patted his arm “I won’t you just stay put take it easy while I get some help, don’t worry.”

Joe dismounted and hurried in; only Hoss was there all the others were upstairs and Joe said, “Hoss come and give me a hand. Adam’s hurt, he’s outside.”

Very puzzled Hoss came over and Joe grabbed a lamp and led the way back out, By the light of the lantern they could see the bruises and blood on Adam’s face. Adam was barely conscious now that he had reached home and help he was having a job to hang onto his senses and hardly aware of his brothers. Hoss frowned as he studied his brother “He’s taken one hell of a beating. Let’s get him down.” Hoss was still not fully fit and he hadn’t the strength to lift Adam down. Joe spoke to his brother “Come on old son just one more effort, let’s get you down.”

Adam tried wearily to do as his brother asked and Hoss trying to help took hold of his right arm. At the touch the pain flared up again and Adam screamed. It was quickly bitten off but his brothers looked at each other horrified and worried as Adam moaned “Don’t touch, please don’t touch.” As gently as they could they helped him down; by which time Ben was at the door. He had heard the scream of a man in agony and come to investigate. He held the door open as his brothers helped Adam in. They got him over to the sofa where he collapsed murmuring “Carole, don’t frighten Carole.”

Ben gently took his left hand “Easy son Carole is upstairs with Marie, who wasn’t feeling too well. They are having trays upstairs and we won’t tell her until we’ve got you cleaned up.” Adam nodded gratefully.

Hoss had gone to the kitchen for hot water and bandages so Ben turned to Joe “What happened?”

Joe shrugged “I don’t know, I found him halfway from the Lake. He was letting Sport find his own way. It’s his right arm. I don’t know whether it’s broken. Hoss touched it that’s when he screamed.” Joe bit his lip anxiously taking in the bruises and obvious pain on his brother’s face.

Ben had been closely looking at his son “No bullet wounds but someone has given him a beating.” Adam lay back eyes closed trying to pull himself together, then he heard his father say “Adam do you need Doc?”

Adam opened his eyes slowly painfully against the light and focused on his father’s and brothers’ anxious faces.” No need Pa. Nothing he can do, I’m so tired I just want to sleep.”

“Alright Son. Let’s get you up to bed. He carried Adam up to one of the guestrooms and then slowly with infinite care for his right arm, he got his son undressed. Then he did what he could to clean up Adam’s face, but he left the swollen arm strictly alone. Adam bore his father’s ministrations in silence but once he was settled with his arm cushioned on a spare pillow he finally let go and slipped into something between sleep and unconsciousness. Ben left Joe to watch him; sleep was the best cure anyway and went down to get himself a drink. He found Carole sitting by the fire. Marie had gone to sleep and she’d left her to rest. Ben went over to his daughter. “Please take it easy Carole. I’m afraid Adam’s been hurt. He’s not too bad as far as I can tell, but he’s been in a fight and taken a lot of punishment.”

Carole came to her feet, white as a sheet “Where is he?”

“Upstairs asleep in a guestroom. He didn’t want to worry you. Joe is with him.” Carole ran upstairs and Joe, hearing her footsteps opened the door and moved aside as she went to Adam. He looked a lot better since Ben cleaned him up but the marks of the fight still showed very clearly and Carole stared down at him in horror. Joe moved over and put his arm round his sister “He’s okay Carole just worn out.”

She swallowed hard “What happened?”

Ben said, “We don’t know he’ll tell us in the morning. He was too tired to tell us anything but the only real damage is his right arm, that’s rather swollen.”

Carole bit her lip as she studied Adam, he was very pale apart from the red marks where fists had hit, She didn’t say a word but gradually reaction set in and she began trembling, Joe felt it and pulled her close “Easy Carole. He’ll sleep off the worst effects by morning. He’s been in fights before. He won’t wake up for hours so why don’t you come and lie down.”

Carole looked up at her brother “I’ll sit with him,”

“It’s not a good idea Carole, he doesn’t need you now, not until he wakes up and you’ve got the baby to think of. You’ve had a shock and you’re freezing, The best place for you is bed with a hot drink. It’s what Adam would want all he kept saying was not to frighten you.”

Ben chipped in “Joe’s right Carole, Adam will sleep till morning,”

Carole allowed them to bully her and once she was in bed. Joe brought her some hot milk. Ben had put a few drops of laudanum in it to ensure that Carole got some sleep. Joe sat by her trying to reassure her until she seemed doze and then he left her to sleep.

Ben had put Adam in the room next to his and he left the door open so that he would hear if Adam should wake. He was very restless all night wondering what had happened but only twice did he hear a sound. He got up each time but Adam was fast asleep, just moaning as the pain from his arm caught him as he moved.

All three of them were down early for breakfast; Adam was still fast asleep. Hoss said “Pa, should I go to town and get the Doc?”

Ben shook his head “Adam said that there was nothing the Doc could do. Let’s at least wait until he wakes up and then we can see how bad that arm is,”

Joe pushed his food around on his plate “Its not like Adam to scream, it must be bad.”

Hoss had been haunted by that all night “I didn’t mean to hurt him.” Joe cuffed his brother “Of course not you big ox. There was no way you could tell.”

Ben considered his younger sons, both looking very worried, but he decided “I still think we wait, but if he’s not awake by ten I’ll wake him. We ought to know what happened if only to stop Carole getting too upset,”

Hoss nodded “I think I’ll go and sit with him for a while.”

“Okay Son, call down if he stirs.”

Joe watched his brother go up the stairs as though the weight of the world was on his shoulders. He sighed heavily, “Hoss couldn’t have known, he was only trying to help. It could just as easily have been me.”

Ben gripped Joe’s shoulder reassuringly “Don’t worry Joseph, Hoss will be fine when Adam wakes up. He’s just worried.”

Upstairs Hoss stood by his brother’s bed and silently apologised for hurting him. He scanned his brother’s face even in sleep the lines of pain were deeply marked and occasionally as he stirred he moaned slightly. Hoss had been sitting quietly by Adam for nearly two hours when Carole came in to join him. She felt much calmer for a long night’s sleep and was now able to accept Ben’s statement that there was nothing seriously wrong. She smiled at Hoss seeing the worry on the big man’s face. Hoss was relieved to see she was calm and forced a grin “He hasn’t stirred all night. Pa said that he’ll wake him up at ten if he’s not woken up. Just to make sure that he doesn’t need Doc.”

Carole nodded and Hoss went on “I’ll bet someone else has a good collection of bruises this morning, Adam is good with his fists. I would have thought that it would need more than one man to do this to him.”

Carole felt the tears stinging her eyes as she looked down at her husband thinking of him fighting somewhere alone, taking a beating. She remembered Adam’s anger when Joe was so badly beaten. This wasn’t in the same category but like Adam then she just wished she could make whoever did it pay and was surprised at her own vindictiveness.

Joe was in with his wife, Marie was feeling much better after a good night’s sleep but Joe waited until she had eaten the breakfast that he’d brought up before telling her that Adam had been in a fight. She was immediately anxious about the man to whom she owed so much but Joe did his best to reassure her, “Adam’s taken a fair bit of punishment, nothing serious although he’s hurt his arm somehow. Still he’ll be fine in a couple of days and I’ll bet there’s at least one other person feeling sorry for themselves this morning,” Then as it was nearly ten o’clock he left Marie to get dressed and went over to his brother.

Ben had brought up coffee and brandy and was standing staring down at his eldest son as Joe came in. Ben wasn’t sure whether he was doing the right thing in waking Adam or whether he’d be better to leave his son to sleep off his pain. He looked at Carole and knew for her sake, and that of the unborn child, he needed to wake his son. Ben sat down on the bed and gently cupped his son’s face in his hand “Come on Adam wake up Son.” Adam stirred slightly and Ben went on “Easy Son wake up.” Adam forced his eyes open and saw his wife and father staring anxiously at him. He forced a grin “Hello darling, Pa, don’t look so worried.”

Ben got up and with Hoss help eased Adam up while Joe pushed in pillows to support him. The movement hurt his arm but he restrained the moan and Ben offered him coffee. That was one offer he wasn’t about to refuse and he gratefully took the cup Hoss offered him, draining it almost without stopping and accepted a refill.

Ben said, “I’m sorry we had to wake you Adam but I need to know what happened. First of all how bad is your arm? Do you need Paul to come out?”

Adam shook his head “Nothing he can do.”

Ben wasn’t convinced “Can you move your arm and your fingers?” Adam proved that he could under his father’s eagle eye, slowly moving his fingers, wrist and arm. Everything worked but it was all too obvious that it had hurt him badly and he lost all trace of colour, even his lips going pale. Ben wordlessly poured him a large brandy and passed it over. Carole was almost as pale as her husband and Joe put an arm round her to reassure her. Adam drank the brandy and then reached out with his left hand to Carole “”I’m okay my love. No need to look so worried. My arm is just bruised; it’ll be fine in a few days. I’m just tired and a bit bruised no more.” Carole didn’t look convinced but she managed a smile for Adam and lent forward to give him a kiss. As she sat back Ben asked, “What happened Adam?”

Adam looked at his youngest brother; it wasn’t easy to tell Joe all that was being said. Ben caught his gaze and asked “Would you rather tell me and I’ll fill the others in later,”

Joe looked down at his brother guessing that it was something to do with him and Marie and he smiled at Adam “We’ll all have to know eventually Adam. Go ahead.”

Adam reached out to Joe and his brother took his hand as Adam said, “I’m sorry Joe.”

Then leaning back on the pillows Adam told his family about the scene in the saloon and what he had forced out of Roy. Joe got to his feet soon after Adam started and stood staring out of the window his back to his family. They all knew him well enough to see the tension and the anger in the way he was standing. As Adam finished up with leaving town he came to a stop, Ben motioned Hoss to fetch fresh coffee and left Adam to relax with his wife while he went over to his youngest son and put an arm round his shoulders “East Joseph. It’s just jealousy. As Roy said none of your friends believe a word of it We certainly don’t, we know Marie too well.”

That made Joe feel worse if anything and he was on the verge of blurting out the whole truth to his father when Adam, guessing how his brother felt, said “Easy Little Joe.”

Joe bit his lip but he kept quiet and by the time Hoss brought up fresh coffee he was sufficiently calm to be able to turn and have coffee. At least the only reaction amongst his family was sympathy for him and Marie and anger at the gossips. They sat drinking coffee in silence each deep in their own thoughts.

Then Joe said, “I don’t get it Adam if you made Pardoe back down without a fight, how were you hurt?”

Adam grinned ruefully at his brother “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Not giving him what he was asking for, I humiliated him making him back down in front of his cronies and Roy warned me he would be after revenge, But I didn’t take it very seriously.” His family waited for him to go on but Adam was miles away and eventually Carole asked, “What happened darling?”

Adam came back with a start and asked for more coffee, Hoss poured him some and Adam sighed, “Not very bright I walked straight into an ambush. Pardoe and his four friends were waiting for me on the road home. They took my guns and led Sport off into the woods for a couple of miles so that we wouldn’t be disturbed. Then in a clearing told me to get down. I really didn’t have any choice except to play along and wait for a chance to make a break. Once we’d all dismounted Pardoe said I couldn’t now get out of a fight. I was quite willing to get to grips with him, I was still furious over what he’d said but it was five to one. Then he told the others to stay out of it. It had to be a fair fight between him and me,”

Joe snorted “Fair fight! He must outweigh you by at least thirty pounds.”

Adam smiled faintly “You have no faith in me little brother Don’t you think I could handle him?”

Hoss spoke up “You’d have my money every time Adam. You know how to use your fists. But it’s too even, why didn’t Pardoe go for you in the saloon if he thought he could handle you. He must know your reputation.”

Adam twisted slightly to meet his big brother’s eye “That was exactly what I was wondering. Then one of his cronies, a man called Clem. I’d like to get my hands on him. He said it wasn’t fair I’d been back east and learnt all their dirty tricks, he reckoned he ought to even things up a bit. It was obviously prearranged Pardoe grinned and the next thing I knew Clem hit out with his colt right across my biceps.”

His father and brothers were horrified, they knew how much damage a pistol whipping could do, a colt was a heavy weapon. Each of them was furious in their own way Joe jumped to his feet “They can’t do that to you.” Adam managed a grin “Easy little brother they did it.” Hoss put his hand on Joe’s arm “Pipe down Joe. Carry on Adam,”

Adam sighed slightly “I had expected something but not that and I reeled away, Pardoe was waiting and he packs a wallop. It only took two punches and I went down, Then I heard Pardoe say something about it being fair now, that helped, made me really angry. Cleared my head marvellously and Pardoe was convinced I was beaten and got careless, he’s been living on his reputation too long and drinking too much beer, I got one good one into his paunch with my weight behind it and he went green and doubled over, I managed to get a grip and throw him and got an interlock on him. I guess it only took less than a minute and his mates were sort of stunned,

Joe grinned widely “Well done Adam that’ll show them.”

Ben was more concerned with how else his son had taken punishment and asked, “What happened then?”

Adam said bitterly "Clem helped out again, he caught me with his gun on the same spot and I couldn’t help it. I collapsed let Pardoe go and just fell. Clem began kicking at me and got one on my arm and one on my back. I knew I’d be badly hurt unless I did something so I managed to grab his foot and sent him flying, Then I went for Pardoe, I had to get to Sport. I kept moving forward until I saw a chance to get a good one in and put him down. That’s where I got most of this" he fingered his face. “I got on Sport and fled. They didn’t follow and I headed home until I met Joe.” Adam lay back, worn out and Ben considered his son carefully “You handled it well Adam I think you were lucky to get away without considerably more damage.”

Adam could only agree and Ben went on “There’s no real damage to your back?”

Adam shook his head “No Pa. I’m okay just sore and tired.”

Carol stirred for the first time “I wish I could shoot. I’d show them!”

Adam grinned, rather lopsidedly, at that “My what a wildcat of a wife I have.”

She looked rather sheepish “Are you hungry?”

Adam yawned, “Not really. All I want to do is sleep I’m so tired.”

Ben helped Adam to lay down again “Best thing for you Son. We’ll leave you in peace.”

“Thanks Pa.” Then Adam turned anxiously to look at his youngest brother “Joe hold on a minute will you.”

Little Joe came over and sat down on the bed as the others went out, “You look whacked Adam can’t it wait?”

“No. I want your promise Joe. Don’t go into town.”

Little Joe erupted at that “You were hurt because of me and Marie! You don’t think that I’ll let them get away with what they did to you?”

Adam smiled faintly “That’s why I asked you to wait. You can’t change anything Joe. You’re only half Pardoe’s weight, he’ll kill you and I’ll still be just as sore. There’s no proof for the law, my word against five of them. Anyway the main reason he waylaid me was because I’d humiliated him in front of his men. Nothing to do with you. If you get involved I might as well have lashed out in the saloon when I wanted to. Noone will believe you’re going for Pardoe in revenge for me, they’ll all think its because of what he said. That’s exactly what you have to avoid.”

Joe wouldn’t meet his brother’s eye so Adam sat up, wincing as it pulled on his sore back and jarred his arm, and threw off the bedclothes. Joe frowned “What do you think you’re doing?”

“If you won’t give me your word I’ll have to get up and keep an eye on you.”

Reluctantly Joe grinned, “That’s blackmail Adam. Lie down, you’ve got my word. I suppose if it comes to it I took a worse beating for you and Carole in the spring.”

Adam grinned “I never thought of that Little brother. I owe you two at least another two or three like this.”

“Get some sleep you big bully. I won’t claim them.” Adam relaxed now he had his brother’s word and let Joe tuck the blankets round him again. He was asleep before his brother even left the room.

Joe went downstairs and poured himself a drink; he had seldom felt such fury as he had in the last hour. Both over the things that were being said and the brutal attack on his brother and he felt drained. He drank a large brandy and then went over to Marie, who was softly playing her piano. Joe dreaded the prospect of telling Marie what had happened but she had to know. His father and Hoss were busy at the desk and Carole had gone to her room to recover her own equilibrium. Joe led Marie over to the fire and sat down with one arm round her shoulders while he told her all that Adam had said, including his promise to his brother. Marie sat white-faced as she listened and as she heard about the attack on Adam the tears fell slowly down her face. She could visualise so clearly the man that she liked so much alone and hurt, fighting for his life. As Joe finished his story Marie shook her head, tears falling faster “I knew I shouldn’t have married you Joe. I knew it would cause trouble. Adam’s badly hurt and it’s all my fault. Where will it end?”

Ben didn’t want to interfere but hearing that he couldn’t help himself. He moved round in front of the sofa, sat down on the table and took her hands in his “Look at me child.”

Marie raised her head from Joe’s shoulder and looked up at Ben with her tear stained face. Ben went on “You married my son because you loved and needed each other. If the riffraff in town try to cause trouble, it’s because Joe is a Cartwright and we are too successful. They are jealous. Adam didn’t get hurt because of you. He got hurt because he humiliated a bully in front of his mates. Pardoe had to re-establish himself. You are part of our family and we are all proud to have you. So you don’t ever say that you shouldn’t have married Joseph.”

Little Joe sat watching his father and he felt immensely proud of his Pa, as Marie lent forward and kissed Ben. Joe felt a lump in his throat to see those two so close after all the trouble. Marie went back to the piano and lost herself in music, playing slow sorrowful folk songs.

Late in the afternoon Adam woke up again and slowly dressed. He sat on the bed for a few minutes to recover and then went over to his own room. Carole was downstairs and he rummaged in a drawer for a sling. Once his arm was settled in the sling he felt better and, after taking a couple of minutes to recover, he slowly made his way downstairs to his family. They were all gathered round the fire waiting for dinner. Hoss was the first to notice his brother and came to his feet “Adam what you doing out of bed.” Hoss hurried over to the stairs and gave his brother a hand over to a chair by the fire. Adam sat down gratefully but he grinned at his family “Don’t look so worried I’m okay. Anyway I’m hungry I’ve missed three meals.”

Ben knew that his son had good recuperative powers and there wasn’t much wrong, Adam was just sore and bruised. He went into the kitchen and warned Hop Sing to lay an extra place as Adam was down for the meal.

Marie went over to Adam and kissed him “I’m sorry Adam.”

He grinned at her “I’m okay. You feeling better?  Pa said you weren’t too well yesterday.”

Marie smiled at him “Fine now, I guess it was reaction after all the excitement.”

Adam asked, “Will you play me something while we’re waiting for dinner?”

Marie went over to the piano and sat down “What do you want?”

“Some of the old ones, Scarlet Ribbons, Greensleeves, Barbara Allan. You know.” Marie began to play and Adam relaxed back in the chair and listened smiling gently, as Carole perched on the arm careful of his bruises.

Carole cut up Adam’s food for him but he proved his point he was hungry. About an hour after dinner Ben suggested that Adam might feel better for a hot bath, there was plenty of hot water, it should help his arm. Adam eased himself up at that “Sounds like a good idea to me.”

Ben went off to organise it. He had no intention of leaving Adam alone just in case and he waited to help his son out of his clothes. Adam laughed “Now I know what Hoss meant. Both he and I are singularly inept with our left hands. I can’t really see why buttons and buckles prove so difficult. I can manage easily with my right hand and Joe has no trouble left handed.”

Ben helped his son into the water and Adam lazed back letting the heat of the water ease some of the tension and soreness from his body. Ben looked down at him “What have you been doing Adam? You didn’t get some of these bruises yesterday. They are days old.”

Adam had avoided telling his father that he was schooling the mare for Carole and having considerable trouble with her. Now he admitted it and Ben erupted, “You fool! Do you want to go back to a wheelchair? The Doc specifically said to wait at least until spring and preferably a full year before trying to break horses, in order to give your back a chance to heal fully.”

Adam tried to pacify his father “I’m not breaking her Pa. She’s already saddle broke.”

“I suppose you got those bruises sitting in the saddle? It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, its the falls which can do the damage. You are to stop it immediately!”

Joe heard the row and came in “We can hear you two all over the house.” Ben looked up, his temper broken. Joe went on “Take it easy Pa, he’s not well enough to be bawled out.”

Ben looked down at his eldest son who did look very drawn and tired, not that Adam was attempting to hide his feelings for once, if it would help him out from under. Ben snorted “We’ll talk it out later. Joe’s right. Do you want a drink?”

“Just coffee please.”

 Ben went out to fetch the coffee, leaving his sons together. Adam grinned, “Thanks for the rescue Little brother. I really didn’t feel like an argument.”

Joe was far more solemn as he considered his brother’s swollen arm “How do you feel?”

Adam yawned widely “Sore and tired but I’ll be fine in a couple of days, so stop looking so worried.” Joe helped his brother out and got him dried and back into bed. Carole came and sat by him and Adam managed to convince her that he was okay so that she gradually calmed down. She sat by him long after he had drifted asleep before finally creeping in next to him to go to sleep herself.

The next day at breakfast Ben tried to persuade Adam to give up the idea of moving for a few days, but Adam wouldn’t listen. He knew that his right arm was going to be virtually useless for at least a week and anyway nearly all the heavy work was done and he had plenty of help. He agreed to act in a supervisory capacity only, at least for the day, and spent a very contented and busy day keeping Carole, Hoss Joe and Marie busy packing his things ready to move on the morrow.

Just before dinner while the others were cleaning up, Ben and Adam were sitting by the fire. Ben said “Has Joe said anything to you about those rumours?”

Adam shook his head, “Not a word but he seems remarkably cheerful.”

Ben sighed, “That’s what worries me, he’s putting on a good act but I’d rather he talked about it. He was furious when you told us and if he keeps it bottled up he’s bound to explode.”

“He knew what to expect Pa. It’s no worse than he thought it would be. I don’t know if he’ll manage to keep his temper anyway. I was hard pressed to keep mine under control and Joe’s always been more impulsive than I am.”

“It’ll die down much quicker if we don’t rise to the bait,”

“Pa, Joe knows that as well as we do. Anyway maybe we’re worrying unnecessarily. He seems to have suddenly matured these last few weeks and he’ll do anything to stop Marie getting hurt.”

Then the others came down and the subject was dropped. Joe was very quiet over dinner and Adam wasn’t altogether surprised when his brother asked “Do you feel up to a ride Adam? Just up to the lake.”

Adam looked questioningly at Carole but she and Marie were busy making paper patterns for baby clothes. “I’m busy darling. Go get some air if you feel like it.” Adam nodded “Okay Joe I wouldn’t mind getting some fresh air.”

Ben helped his son into his thick logging coat while Joe went out to saddle up for his brother. Ben guessed that Joe wanted to talk to his brother and just warned Adam to take it easy and not to get too cold.

The brothers rode in silence up to the Lake. The Sierras were covered in snow and the ground out on the promontory was hard frozen. The first heavy snow on the lowlands couldn’t be long delayed. It was too cold to sit still and the brothers walked slowly along the shore. After a while Joe said “I nearly told Pa about the baby.”

Adam nodded, “I know but there’s no need. I told you before, once you have cuddled it a few times, been woken up in the night by it and rocked it to sleep; it will be your baby in every real sense. Even if it was yours the same rumours would be flying around town. You know Virginia City as well as I do, you must have realised they were inevitable.”

Joe shrugged “I guess I never thought about it. It’s like the baby, every time I try to sort out my thoughts, my feelings on the subject, my brain goes into revolt and I find myself thinking about anything but...” He sighed heavily and Adam squeezed his shoulder gently. “I know what you mean Little Joe I guess its some sort of defence mechanism of nature’s to stop us driving ourselves mad.”

Joe stared out over the lake “What I really dread is going into town but I must go in and the longer I leave it the worse it will be.”

“Do you want me to come in with you?”

Joe shook his head “No thanks. I have to face it on my own and not let anyone suggest that I’m hiding behind my family. I don’t know if I will be able to keep my temper, I can only try. If I’d been with you in the saloon I’m sure I would have gone for Pardoe, but now I know what to expect maybe I can manage better. I’ll help you move tomorrow and then the next day I’ll go to town.”

Adam put his arm round his brother’s shoulders “Your friends don’t believe the gossip Joe and it’ll soon die down. Something else will come up in a couple of weeks to replace it. These things never last long.”

Joe nodded and then staring despondently out over the Lake he said, “They hurt enough while they last.”

Adam squeezed his shoulder “You’re only really worried in case it upsets Marie. She’s strong; she’s proved that. I think she’s only worried about the effect on you and to a lesser extent the rest of the family. Talk to her Joe, explain that it’s hardly the first time we have been the subject of town gossip and it won’t be the last. Explain that we are only concerned about the opinions of our friends not the town riffraff.”

Joe looked doubtful, he had avoided talking to Marie about it not wanting to hurt her. Adam guessed as much and he went on “When I was ill before my wedding Pa told me not to under rate Carole. That she was as strong as I was and that there was no need to try and avoid letting her know the worst. I fought against it, but when I finally gave in, I think it was a great relief to both Carole and me.  Marie’s your wife to share everything, the good and the bad. Give her a chance and I think you’ll both feel better.”

Joe didn’t answer but he pulled away from his brother and walked back to the point. He was thinking over what Adam had said, he had a great deal of faith in his eldest brother’s judgement. Adam slowly followed and when he reached his brother Joe gave him a grin “I’ll give it a try Adam. You’re right about one thing I don’t care about the gossip unless it hurts Marie. It goes too far for any of our friends to believe it.” Adam was glad to see his brother looked calmer and they headed home.

They were both thoroughly cold and were glad to get home and get some coffee and sit by the fire to warm up. Ben noticed his youngest son looked more cheerful but he made no comment, more concerned about his eldest who looked exhausted, still Ben restrained himself. He was glad when Adam headed upstairs with Carole a few minutes later.

Adam was sore, tired and chilled to the bone but he gradually warmed up with Carole curled up next to him. Carole went to sleep but although Adam was comfortable and relaxed, he couldn’t sleep. He lay quietly by his wife, but it was memories from the past, which filled his mind. This room had been his, his sanctuary for so long. He could remember so many occasions when he’d fled up here needing to be alone, times when he had been ill and stuck in bed for weeks on end. He stared at the door between his room and Joe’s remembering the early years when he had gone through to his very little brother when Joe had a nightmare. Other times when they were older and he had been so glad to see Joe come through to him in the long dark early hours when he was ill, restless or unhappy. Now they both had wives but they were still close and, as that evening had shown still needed each other. In the future he might still stop over here occasionally, use the room when he wanted to change, but it wouldn’t be his room in the same way. Eventually with the thought that at least nothing was changing with his brothers, Adam did doze off and got a couple of hours sleep.

Adam woke up early and got up quietly not wanting to disturb Carole, he headed down for coffee. He took his guitar down and gently strummed it, noticing for the first time the clear mark on the woodwork where it usually hung. He sat staring into the fire and recognised that he didn’t want this comfortable room of so many memories to change. He decided to leave his guitar and the foils, he could always use Carole’s guitar for now and he had been meaning to treat himself to a new guitar for ages anyway the foils were no use without Joe or Hoss to play with.

Ben wandered down and joined his son; it was going to seem very odd with Adam living in his own house, even though it was only a short distance away. Ben knew that he was going to miss his eldest son, they had been close companions for most of the last thirty odd years, still this time Adam wasn’t going far. In many ways Adam had always been the closest to his father, they shared many of the same loves. Ben had a distinct affinity for Adam’s thoughts and now he knew how Adam felt, excited and yet sorrowful. They sat in companionable silence until the others came down.

The morning passed quickly as they loaded two wagons. Joe was collecting the foils and Adam’s guitar when Adam stopped him “They stay here Joe.” Joe grinned at his sentimental eldest brother. He could read Adam very easily, at least in this sort of situation, but for once he didn’t tease, knowing he was going to miss having Adam there, even if he was only going to be half a mile away.

After lunch they all rode over to Adam’s new house. It was the first time that Marie had seen it and Carole showed her round. She was very impressed and Joe put his arm round her “In the spring we will choose a spot not too far away and then I’ll get Adam to design us a house. We can tell him what we want, but he’d make a much better job of it than I could.”

Marie snuggled up to him “I couldn’t manage a house like this Joe.”

Joe grinned, “I remember Carole said much the same but most of the work is done by Kam Su. I don’t think we need anything quite as big as this. Adam has many good friends from the east, even England. People like Edwin Booth, who is coming for Christmas and he wants room for them to stay. Most of my friends are close by. I’ve never wanted to travel as much as Adam has, so we’ll only need two or three guestrooms. At a pinch there’s always the main house.”

Marie smiled starry-eyed “That will be fun designing a house but just now you had better go and get Adam settled in or he’ll be hurting his arm.”

Joe hugged her tight, complaining light heartedly “Sometimes I think you worry more about my brother than you do about me.”

Marie laughed “Liar Joe. You know how much I care for you; but I am very fond of your brother and I owe him so very much.”

After working hard all afternoon, the house began to look lived in, if only as Adam said by the amount of rubbish on every flat surface. There was little more that the others could do to help, Adam and Carole had to sort out the small things for themselves. Ben looked round grinning “I think you’ll get on better if we leave you in peace.”

Adam sighed and then smiled at his family, showing his dimples, “We’re very grateful for all the help. Maybe in about a year we’ll be straight!”

Hoss looked round “I kinda doubt it, Still at worst you’ve got several empty rooms you can always dump everything out of sight.”

Adam grimaced “I don’t know how I’ve managed to collect so much stuff.”

Joe laughed “I do brother, you’ve never learnt how to throw anything away.”

Ben clapped his arm round his youngest son’s shoulders “You’re a fine one to talk! I had to sort out your room young man. You haven’t even thrown out that first gun that your brother carved for you twenty years ago.” Joe just grinned and the four of them headed back to the main house leaving Adam and Carole to settle in.

As the others left Adam and Carole looked at each other and at the mess. Carole said hopefully “It’s only superficial chaos darling.” Adam didn’t look convinced and then Kam Su came in and began clearing one end of the table “Dinner time”

Adam grinned at his wife as Kam Su went back into the kitchen “You know he’s already showing signs of becoming another Hop Sing. I’ve a feeling that he is going to rule us with an iron fist.”

Carole laughed “Maybe but as long as he cooks as well as Hop Sing I don’t care. I’m starving.” They both made a good meal and then tackled the chaos with renewed energy. Adam got their bedroom reasonably straight and then called a halt for the day. That night in bed he lay looking round his new room. In most ways it was a replica of his old bedroom but the connecting door now led through to the nursery and it was an odd feeling to think that his own child would be sleeping there next year. Eventually worn out he fell asleep.

Back at the main house Ben was very pensive. Marie and Hoss had both gone to bed but Joe knew that he was too restless to sleep and would only disturb Marie, so he was busying himself rearranging the books ton the shelves to hide the fact that some had gone. In fact Adam had left so many it wasn’t a difficult job. Eventually he went over and joined his father “ Don’t look so miserable Pa. It’s only fifteen minutes walk away.” Ben smiled ruefully, looking up at his youngest son “I’m pleased for Adam, it’s what he always wanted but it seems odd not to have him living here.”

Joe grinned, “It could have been much worse. He might have stuck with his original plan and stayed in Europe.”

“I know Joseph. Many men lose their sons completely they go to make a life of their own. At least with the Ponderosa all of us have a purpose, a life, and now with you two settled I can be fairly sure that none of you will leave. Hoss has always been more closely tied to this land than you two, he won’t go.”

Joe sat down on the hearthrug and lent back against his father’s legs “Don’t you believe it Pa. This land is bred deep in all of us. It wasn’t until I left this summer and faced the idea of never coming back that I realised quite how much the ranch means to me and I’m sure that Adam found the same in Europe. We could no more leave this land for good than we could kill ourselves. I’ve a feeling it would be much the same.” Ben ruffled his son’s hair and they sat in silence both thanking God for the many good things that he had given them.

The next morning at breakfast Joe announced his intention of going into town for the mail. Ben said “I’ll ride in with you.” Joe was about to explode and Ben went on hastily “I have business at the bank, the taxes are due.” Joe subsided although Hoss still looked worried. As Joe took a tray up for Marie, Ben tried to reassure his big son “He’ll be okay Hoss. He’s got to face town and the sooner the better. We can’t wet nurse him; he’s got to face this on his own. I’ll ride home with him just to make sure there’s no repetition of what happened to Adam.”

They rode to town in silence, Ben didn’t need to say anything to his son, and Joe knew what he had to do without any pushing. Ben casually arranged to meet Joe at the Washoe club for lunch at one p.m. Joe went and got the mail and picked up a few items which Marie had asked for at the store. Noone made any comment to him although he got a few sideways looks from some women in the store. Joe decided to take the bull by the horns and made his way down to the Bucket O’Blood.  Don was delighted to see him and before Joe even reached the bar Don demanded to know how married life was treating him.

Joe grinned, “Just great.”

Don poured him a drink and then lowering his voice asked, “Did Adam have any trouble after he left here the other day. He had a row with Pardoe and then the next day Pardoe looked as though a tornado had hit him.”

Joe had guessed that Pardoe wouldn’t want the story, of how he was beaten by a one armed man thirty pounds lighter than he was, to get around. Little Joe knew Don would soon pass the story round and he told Don in great detail how his brother had been ambushed and deliberately crippled, but still proved too much for Pardoe, not once but twice. A little of the fury he had felt when Adam first told them came through and Don recognised it. He could understand how cross they had been, he knew the brothers were close friends too and he felt anger himself as Joe told him what had happened. Joe had just finished and was drinking a beer when Pardoe and his cronies came in. Pardoe wanted revenge on the Cartwright family and was quite prepared to go for this the smallest member of the family. He glared down at Joe “I wonder you have the nerve to show yourself in town. Whose brat is that prostitute fathering off on you?”

Joe felt his temper rise, but he had himself well under control and he laughed “Words can’t hurt, especially lying ones, but from what I hear they are the best you can manage.”

Pardoe furious moved closer to Joe “I’ll show you.” Don quickly sent his swamper to fetch Roy, the two men looked almost absurd against each other. Pardoe was so much bigger than Joe, he was four inches taller and some sixty or seventy pounds heavier. Joe grinned even wider “Just be careful Pardoe. I may be smaller than my brother but I would reckon to be able to handle him if he was one armed.” At that provocation Pardoe launched himself at Joe. The saloon had suddenly filled as word of a fight quickly spread. Many heard Joe’s comment but only Don understood it then.

Joe side-stepped as Pardoe came at him, leaving his move to the last minute and planted his left fist in Pardoe’s gut. Joe didn’t put too much power into the blow but Pardoe’s own momentum carried him onto it. It was the same spot that Adam had hit so hard only three days before and it was obvious to everyone that it had badly hurt Pardoe. He lost colour as he staggered, fighting to keep his balance. Joe stood deceptively casual, hands by his sides, he knew he didn’t dare let Pardoe get his hands on him or he could really be hurt. He baited the man again, wanting to keep him too furious to think straight. “Adam said you were soft. He’s right, too much beer, Bull that’s your trouble.”

Bull came at him again but Joe wasn’t there, he’d stepped behind Pardoe and as Pardoe turned round Joe got in one good punch to the jaw and then moved back out of range. Pardoe moved forward determined to get the smaller man in a bear hug where his advantage of weight would tell. Joe didn’t have too much room to manoeuvre, the saloon was full, everyone pressing in to try and see. Joe jabbed out a few punches but Pardoe ignored them and managed to land his first punch on Joe’s head. Joe his head ringing was trying to work out how to avoid a bear hug when a shot rang out from the door and Roy pushed his way in, ordering “Break it up.”

Pardoe glared at him “That your new job sheriff, protecting the Cartwrights?”

Roy looked at Pardoe’s face still well marked from his fight with Adam and now with fresh bruises from Joe and then at Joe himself, totally unmarked and not even breathing hard. “It seems to me that you’re the one who needs protection Pardoe, not them, but I reckon you ought to pick on someone your own size.” There was a murmur of agreement from the crowd, especially as Don had been passing round the background of the attack on Adam. Pardoe realised that the feeling was running against him and shoved his way out, even more determined to get his own back on the Cartwrights.

Joe joined the crowd at the bar and several of them insisted on buying him a drink. They were all eager to hear the full story of the treacherous attack on Adam and Joe was very willing to fill them in. Then one of the cowboys Johnny, who had been at school with Joe and knew him well, risked asked about what Pardoe had said. Joe pulled a face “I was cross I must admit but really its laughable. I guess everyone in town knows Marie is pregnant.” He grinned ruefully “Pa wasn’t best pleased with me but even he had to admit that accidents do happen. In some ways its a good thing, I’ll beat Adam to the eldest of the next generation unless the babies really act up.”

Johnny whistled “Why is Carole pregnant too?”

“Yeah you can’t turn round at home without falling over baby clothes between the pair of them. Anyone would think they were both having triplets, the babies aren’t even due until the summer. I reckon Adam will have to build a third house for Pa, Hoss and the pair of us. Still you know marriage has great advantages.”

Johnny raised his eyebrows questioningly “Such as?”

Joe grinned wickedly, “Well a warm bed for a start.” At that all his friends started laughing and Joe took the opportunity to look at his watch and excuse himself, he had to meet his father. Well pleased with the way things had turned out, but still very tense, he went down to the Palace Saloon. He was too early to meet Ben but he knew he wouldn’t have been able to keep up the act much longer. He got himself a whiskey and then went over to join Dan, who was as usual scribbling his copy at a corner table. By his unique devious methods Dan had already heard of Joe’s abortive fight and Adam’s run in with Pardoe; he was glad to see Joe to get the straight story. Joe filled him in with full details and took the same line over the rumours “We were all a bit annoyed at first, but now they have got so farcical, you have to laugh. Pa was furious with me at first. I expect Roy told you that you were right. Marie is pregnant and Pa didn’t approve of me handing us to the town gossips on a plate. Still even he had to admit that accidents happen. All I can say is thank God it was now.”

Dan nodded “The rumours to put it mildly have got a bit far-fetched.”

Joe grinned, “You’re not kidding! They are so far-fetched that I’ve given up getting cross, they make me laugh.”

Dan wasn’t quite convinced but Joe didn’t push it, changing the subject and chatting seemingly easily about other things. Slowly Dan became more convinced but when Joe had finished his drink he excused himself and went to join a couple of friends at the bar. The barkeep Quincy asked about his fight and Joe laughed it off, it barely counted as a fight. He said “Pardoe is just trying to get his own back on us after Adam humiliated him in town and then rubbed his nose in it by beating him twice while one-handed.”

Quincy rubbed a glass and taking care not to look at Joe asked “What about the things he’s been saying Joe?”

Joe grinned, “Got sorta far fetched ain’t he. We were talking about all the rumours last night and as Adam said they add up to some physical impossibilities!” Then he changed the subject. Joe had never been more grateful to see his father. Ben joined him at the bar and after one glance at his son ordered two brandies. He grinned at his son “I always need a brandy after paying the taxes, still its done for another year.” Ben could see the tension in Joe’s eyes but he could only silently congratulate his son on the act he was putting on. Joe read the support in his father’s eyes and relaxed slightly but he was glad when Ben moved upstairs. They got a small table on their own in the corner and Joe quietly filled his father in on the trouble with Pardoe. Ben wasn’t too pleased but he agreed Joe had had no choice. Ben was concerned knowing that Pardoe couldn’t afford to let it drop. He’d have to try for revenge on both of them or he would lose face and his position as a town bully. Joe agreed but just shrugged “Sure Pa but nothing’s changed, he already had to get back at Adam.”

Ben frowned, “One thing has changed Joseph. All the time only a few people knew what happened on the trail, he could afford to take his time. Now that you’ve told the whole town he’ll have to act quickly.”

Joe thought about that for a moment, “Okay that’s true but surely that’s an advantage. We’ll be on our toes and ready for trouble.”

Ben admitted that his son was right but warned him, “Just make sure that you do. I’ll drop by Adam’s on the way home and warn him to be ready for trouble.” Their food arrived and Ben ate rapidly. Joe wasn’t really hungry and was only toying with his food so Ben proposed that they head home. Joe gratefully agreed. They rode in silence, Ben respecting his son’s reticence knowing the strain that Joe had been under. He wasn’t surprised when Joe said, “I’ll see you later.” and headed up towards the lake.

Joe was so tense that he was feeling physically sick and he needed time alone before he could face Marie. She knew him so well and he was determined not to let her know how upset he was but she was almost impossible to deceive. He at least had the consolation of knowing he’d handled it well and had kept himself under control.

Ben went straight to Adam’s house, needing to talk to his eldest son. He was pleased with the way Joe had handled things in town, it had had an effect already as he’d had a couple of people josh him about the rumours.  Beforehand none of them would have dared to mention them to him. On the other hand there was the situation with Pardoe and the strain that Joe was under and Ben wanted to talk it over with Adam, think out the best way to help his youngest son.

Adam knew Joe had been intending to go to town and had been thinking about his little brother all morning. Carole was too busy to notice until lunchtime when Adam was barely touching his food and obviously miles away. When Adam told her that Joe had gone to town, she needed no further explanation for his preoccupation. She said, “Joe will be okay. He knows how important it is to keep control.”

Adam sighed heavily “Sure, he’ll stay calm for Marie’s sake, but that won’t stop him being hurt.”

Carole had no answer for that and she let her husband slide back into his revery, aware that only Joe himself could convince Adam that he was alright. There was too much to do for Adam to sit and brood as he tried to find sensible homes for his own belongings. He knew from past experience that what seemed sensible at the time would be the last place that he’d think of looking when he required a given item. Still it had to be done and maybe in six months time they would know where things were.

Adam had been arranging the books in his study and had sat down to massage his injured arm, which still hurt if he tried to use it, when Ben arrived. Carole let him in and told him that Adam was in the study. She said “I’ll get coffee. You go on in. It’s the warmest room in the house. we haven’t got around to lighting the fire in here.”

Ben grinned “You’ve done miracles since we left. I could even sit down now, with a choice of two chairs.”

Carol laughed “We’ve been busy, whether we’ll ever find anything again is another matter.”

Ben knocked on the study door and puzzled Adam said, “Come in.” He had assumed it was Kam Su and was surprised to see his father. Ben looked round the room appreciatively. It wasn’t a very large room dominated by the large leatherdesk in front of the window. There were three easy leather chairs in front of the fire. The walls were wall to ceiling bookshelves and already well lined with books apart from one by the fireplace where Hoss’ gift was set out, the glasses sparkling and the decanters full. Adam had chosen rich dark red velvet for the curtains and a deep dark blue carpet. Now with the curtains open, the large window made it a very light room with a superb view of the mountains, but come evening with the lamps lit it would be warm and inviting. Ben grinned at his son “You’ve done yourself proud Son, you won’t want to come and work in the old study after this.”

Adam laughed “Don’t believe it Pa; but I always wanted my own study, like some of the ones I saw in Cambridge, a place to work and to dream. Ben looked over at the painting of the Lake above the fireplace and grinned at his sentimental eldest son. Then Adam moved over to sit by the fire still unconsciously rubbing his sore arm. Ben asked, “How is your arm?”

Adam grimaced, “Sore, it doesn’t approve of being used but it is clearing up. Have you seen Joe Pa?”

Ben looked questioningly at his son and Adam went on “He said that he was going into town today. I’ve been wondering how he got on.”

Ben sat down by the fire “That’s really why I came by, but I didn’t know that he’d told you he was going in.”

“He mentioned it a couple of nights ago, up by the Lake. He thought that he’d better, before people started to think he was hiding.”

Ben nodded “I rode in with him this morning.” Adam was puzzled, he knew that his little brother had to face things alone, and he would have expected his father to know that too. Ben grinned, reading Adam very easily. “I had to pay the taxes anyway and I wanted to make sure that Joe didn’t hit trouble on the way home like you did. We separated in town.” Adam had the grace to look sheepish and just then Carole came in with coffee and cookies. She rested the tray on the desk “We need a small side table in here, just by the fire.” Adam took the hint and went upstairs to find one.

Five minutes later having conceded the dog his prior right to the rug in front of the fire, they were settled with their coffee.

Ben told Adam and Carole everything that he knew about the events in town. When he had finished Adam sat staring into the fire “Pardoe will have to make a move and quickly.”

Ben nodded “I thought I’d better warn you to be careful.”

Adam shrugged “It makes no difference to me. I was on his list anyway; it just adds Joe to it. I guess that will suit my little brother. Not that he had any choice. How was he, Pa?”

Ben sipped his coffee contemplatively, “When I joined him he was putting on a good act. I think he had practically convinced Dan.  He was taking the line that although annoyed at first, things had got so far fetched, it was laughable. While admitting that Marie is pregnant and that he was in disgrace with me. It was the best thing he could do I think, but I’ve seldom seen him so tense. He couldn’t eat any lunch and went up to the Lake while I came here.”

Adam could easily imagine how his little brother felt but it wasn’t so easy to see anyway of helping him. Carole sat back watching the father and son, looking very alike in their compassion and worry over Joe. Eventually Ben said, “Is there any way that we can help him?”

Adam shook his head “Not really, let them see that they both have our support and be around if he wants to talk. There’s nothing else we can do.” Ben knew his son was right however much they wanted to help there was nothing that they could do. Carole slowly introduced other topics and the two men both relaxed a little. Adam wondered if he should follow his brother up to the lake but decided that Joe knew where he was and if he could help his brother would come to him.

Up at the Lake, Joe sat by his mother’s grave feeling numb. He wasn’t even really thinking about what had happened in town, just staring out over the Lake, oblivious of the passage of time. He couldn’t think straight, he just felt hurt, confused and thoroughly sick. Eventually cold to the marrow, he pulled himself to his feet. He knew he couldn’t face Marie in this state and decided to go and get coffee and warm up at Adam’s. He didn’t want to talk but he did need to get warm. He rode down to Adam’s house and Kam Su opened the door for him. Joe asked for his brother and Kam Su told Joe that he was in the study. Ben had gone home and Carole was trying to sort out some of the clothes upstairs so Adam was on his own.

Joe went in and found his brother sitting staring into the fire. Adam came to his feet “You look frozen Joe.”

“I came to cadge some coffee and a sit by the fire, didn’t want to worry Marie.”

Adam studied his brother taking in how cold and strained he looked, “Soup will warm you up better than coffee.”

Joe nodded “if you can manage it.”

Adam left Joe by the fire and went out to the kitchen. Kam Su had soup prepared and he quickly got some out and warmed through. Ten minutes later Adam took a tray in for his brother and coffee for himself. Joe was sitting curled up on the hearth rug stroking the dog and staring into the fire. For a moment he didn’t even notice that his brother had come back in, then he looked up and managed a rather rueful grin “I didn’t realise just how long I sat up by the Lake.”

Adam passed over the tray “Here this will soon warm you up.”

“Thanks big brother.” Adam sat quietly drinking his coffee while Joe demolished the soup, they didn’t talk but sat quietly for half an hour. By then Joe had warmed up and calmed down and Adam was glad to see him looking more cheerful. Joe gradually took in the room and grinned at his brother “I like this room Adam. I see that you have used all our wedding presents.”

Adam grinned, “It’s the one room that feels like home so far. You’re always welcome here Joe.”

Joe got to his feet and gripped his brother’s shoulder “Thanks brother but I’d better get on home and see Marie.”

“Sure Joe I’ll be seeing you, watch out for Pardoe.” Joe nodded and then left, heading home, eager suddenly to see his wife.

Ben was downstairs when Joe came in and he was relieved to see his son looked much calmer and happier. He said, “Marie is upstairs, trying to knit.”

Joe grinned “Thanks Pa. See you later.” He hurried upstairs to Marie. She was sitting by the window trying to work out what had gone wrong with her knitting. She had dropped a couple of stitches and was missing Carole’s help to sort her out. All the time everything went right she could cope but not when there were problems. She gratefully put it down as Joe came in and studied him; glad to see he looked calm and fairly happy. Then she came to her feet and went over to him Joe held her tight and then going over to the window; he stood with his arm round her and told her exactly what had happened in town. He managed to keep it fairly light and Marie was convinced that he had managed things well in town and gone a long way towards halting the gossip.

Ben had filled Hoss in on what had happened and nobody brought the subject up at dinner. Joe seemed quite happy much to his family’s relief and while it was partly an act, he was very relieved to have the first trip into town over with. He didn’t expect to sleep much that night but in fact, worn out by the emotional stress of the day, he fell asleep almost as soon as he got to bed. Marie lay awake for ages, watching her sleeping husband. She had known how much he was dreading the trip and had read in Ben’s face when he came home just how worried he was about his son.  She had been surprised how calm Joe was when he did come home and when Joe mentioned that he had been by Adam’s, she had guessed that his brother had had a calming influence on Joe. She was even more impressed by the closeness in this family, something she had never known.

When she awoke the following morning, Joe was studying the tangled mess of her abandoned knitting. He laughed at her “I think you’d better go and visit Carole, it seems to me you could do with some help.” Marie wasn’t sure, she knew they would still be settling in but Joe laughed down her concerns “I reckon Adam would be grateful for anyone who’d keep Carole quiet for an hour. He was fussing yesterday in case she was overdoing things.” Later that morning Marie took her husband up on the offer of an escort over to Adam’s, Ben had some papers that he wanted Adam to check and he gave them to Joe, saying “Tell Adam there’s no rush but I’d like his opinion in a day or so.”

Joe and Marie arrived just as Kam Su was serving coffee and the girls were soon involved in sorting out the knitting and in discussion on babies. Adam grinned “I think we’ll leave them to it.” He led the way through to his study and Joe passed over the papers from Ben. Adam flicked through the papers “I’ll drop by tomorrow, I’ve got to go to town anyway. It’s amazing the number of things we never thought about and with this party just over a week off, there’s any amount of oddments Carole needs.”

Joe looked round “Its amazing what a difference a couple of days have made in this place, its beginning to look like a home. In another couple of weeks you’ll never know you lived anywhere else.”

Adam grinned, “I’m beginning to enjoy it now. The two days before we moved I suddenly didn’t want to leave the main house. This seemed totally alien.”

Joe nodded “I guessed. I think Pa and Hoss did too. Pa wasn’t any better, anyone would think you had moved to the other side of the moon, instead of ten minutes walk away! Adam will you design a house for Marie and me, once we’ve decided on a site?”

Adam looked at his brother in surprise and Joe went on “We don’t want anything quite as big as this but I want it to be special. We can decide how many rooms and things we want, but I’d never get the elegance you’ve managed here.” Adam smiled with pleasure “Thanks Joe. I’d be delighted to help you design your house. After all I am the architect in this family.”

Then, over coffee, Adam filled his brother in on the plans for his house warming party. Originally he had intended to have a large party but now with all the rumours around he wasn’t risking having his brother or Marie upset and he had decided to limit the numbers. He would only invite people he could trust, rather than risk spending an awkward evening. He told Joe who was coming, restricted to about thirty people and a sit down meal followed by dancing, Joe was relieved to find it was just old friends and he could relax and enjoy it. He knew just why Adam had arranged it that way and punched his brother’s shoulder, as he said thank you.

The following morning, Adam dropped by with the papers and spent an hour discussing them with his father. He was just about to set out for town when Joe announced his intention of going along. Hoss looked at his brothers “I think I’ll ride in with you.” Adam and Joe looked at each other in amusement and it was Adam who said, “I do believe our brother thinks that we might need a bodyguard.”

Joe nodded “I wonder what gave him that idea!”

Hoss stuck to his guns “You’re still effectively one-handed Adam and Joe ain’t up to Pardoe’s weight. He could be killed if Pardoe gets his hands on him.”

Adam laughed, although he had to admit to himself that Hoss was talking sense “Alright big brother come and act as nursemaid. Its your turn to  buy the beer anyway.”

Hoss frowned, “I bought the last time.”

Adam shook his head “No you weren’t there Hoss. I bought didn’t I Joe?”

Joe grinned, “Sure and the time before that I bought. It was the time before that you were along.”

Hoss glared at them “I can’t win, can I?”

Adam just laughed at him “Its about time you learnt that!”

Ben was surprised when all his sons proclaimed their intention of going into town. He was quite pleased to see it, at least Hoss would prevent trouble. He was now nearly fully fit and noone would attack the three brothers together, even if Adam’s right arm was still out of action. He stood with Marie watching the three of them ride out together. She looked worried and he put his arms round her shoulders “They make a formidable trio. They always have. They’re as strong as any other six, because they know each other so well and almost automatically back each other. Noone will tackle them while they are together.” Marie relaxed “Its silly to worry about them going to town isn’t it? I don’t think I would, only Adam’s already been hurt and I know Pardoe he’s got to get back at them is he’s to retain his bullying power.”

Ben patted her shoulder “They know that as well as you do, that’s why Hoss has gone along, a sort of bodyguard. Don’t worry they are pretty efficient at looking after themselves.”

The brothers separated in town, arranging to meet at the Palace later. Adam went to the store to order all the things that he needed, while Joe went to see an old friend of his, who was a stockbroker.  Joe wanted to find out if there was any movement in the Consolidated Virginia stock. Adam warned him to be careful, the last thing they wanted was word of their interest to leak out. Joe just laughed at his brother, he knew that he could get a look at all the quotes, there was no way for his friend to know which one was of interest to him. Hoss with no particular errands headed into the saloon. Roy was in there and he joined Hoss for a chat.

Word was quickly taken to Pardoe that Adam was in town at the store, with his right arm still in a sling, so Pardoe headed over there. Adam had to put up with a lot of comment and questions about his arm. The story had spread and everyone wanted to know how, one-handed, he had handled Pardoe. Adam avoided the subject as far as he could fobbing them off and was heartily fed up with the whole affair by the time he made his way down to the saloon to join his brothers. Pardoe saw him as Adam pushed his way through the crowds to the Palace and followed. He looked in and saw Adam join his two brothers at the bar. He turned away with a curse, all three Cartwrights were too much to handle, revenge would have to wait.

Joe was able to tell his brothers that thus far there was no movement in the stock, it still stood at the nominal one dollar. Hoss wanted to know if they had started buying yet but Adam just shrugged “You know as much as I do Hoss. We should have but obviously secrecy is important, so we won’t get regular reports.” Then as Dan came over he changed the subject. Dan accepted a beer and then nodding at Adam’s arm in a sling asked “How bad is it?”

Adam laughed “I’ll prove its okay by using it to hit the next person to ask!” Dan ducked “Sorry.” Adam took a deep breath “Okay but everyone’s wanted to know what happened and I’m bored with it all. My arm is bruised and sore still and Joe seems to have told the story so lets forget it. I’ll buy beer.” The four friends sat down for a comfortable chat before the brothers collected Adam’s stores and rode home.

The brothers went straight to Adam’s with the stores and were surprised not to find Carole there. Puzzled Adam yelled for Kam Su who came running in. Adam asked where she was.

Kam Su bobbed his head “Miss Carole take the dog and go walk, see Miss Marie.”

Adam looked worried and Joe laughed at his brother, "Its not far Adam. It’ll only take her a quarter of an hour.”

“I know but its rough, there’s no proper path. She might fall on her own.”

“Its no use trying to wrap her in cotton wool just because she’s pregnant. I know Marie has yelled me at for it. All I get is pregnancy isn’t an illness.”

Adam nodded and grinned ruefully “That sounds familiar Joe but I can’t help worrying.”

Hoss said “If you two would stop fussing, we can be home in five minutes and you can see there ain’t no need to worry and escort her back.” Adam grinned at his practical big brother “Alright you big moose I’m coming.”

Carole had set out to walk to the main house without any worries. Once she was out of sight of her house she found herself becoming increasingly nervous. She told herself off for it, she knew the way so well and she was only ten minutes from the main house. There was nothing to worry about, but somehow the complete silence and the magnificence of the scenery and the trees seemed to dwarf her so completely that she felt nervous in away she never did on horseback. She couldn’t hurry, her dog Rebel was well named and far from obedient wanting to investigate all the fascinating smells along the way. Carole had never been more glad to see the house.

Ben was surprised to see her walking across the yard and went to the door to greet her. Carole was trembling much to her annoyance and she felt cold right through. Ben put his arm round her and led her over to the fire calling for Hop Sing and Marie. As soon as he had organised coffee he sat down next to Carole "Is anything the matter?”

Carole shook her head “No I’m just being silly. I walked over and I suddenly felt so small and vulnerable I got scared. I don’t know why, I’ve never felt like that on horseback and I have been much further afield on my own then.”

Ben poured her a brandy “I know what you mean, on foot you feel so insignificant. Drink this and calm down. I’ll go back with you if Adam doesn’t come by to pick you up.”

Carole was sipping the brandy when Marie came down. The younger woman was quick to see something was wrong and hurried over. Carole explained and Marie grinned “I know exactly what you mean, this land is immense anyway, but here I feel it more. The mountains are so close and even the trees are taller. It’s all on such a grand scale. I was scared of it to begin with but I’m beginning to love it, I think its rubbed off on the Cartwrights too, I noticed with Adam first but its in all of them. They are on a grander scale than most men. When Will came I realised he was ordinary like the men I'm used to, none of them are.” Carole smiled at that thought "Maybe it will come to rub off on us too. It’s quite a thing to say and I agree with every word of it.” The two girls once so uneasy with each other were now completely at ease with each other and rapidly becoming close friends.

When the brothers rode in, Adam dismounted; throwing his reins to Joe and ran into the house. Joe and Hoss dismounted rather more sedately and tied up the horses but they needed to know too and followed him in. They both understood his feelings and forbore to tease on finding Adam standing holding his wife tight. Carole admitted to being nervous and Adam strictly forbade her to walk over without an escort. Joe laughed but said, “I think the same ban applies to you Marie, You can go in your buggy but not on foot unless one of us goes with you."  She cuddled up to him “I promise.”

Adam looked down at Carole but she smiled “I’ll be good don’t worry.”

Joe grinned “If Adam is away one of us will pop over each day to see if you want to go visiting.”

Carole laughed but her brother meant it and had full agreement from his father and brother. Then they all relaxed the family complete and sat down round the fire with coffee. Ben lent back watching his family, all content and happy. He was very proud and, he had to admit, felt a real patriarch as Dan had suggested. He couldn’t help be pleased at how close they all were. The two girls so different in many ways had fitted into the family and all dissension was so far in the past to seem like a bad dream.

That week the family took it easy. Joe, Marie and Hoss went over to Adam’s for a while nearly every day. Joe was enjoying just relaxing with Marie. The winter weather had closed in with snow falling on the lowlands and there was a limited amount of work to be done and quite a number of hands that had decided to stay on capable of doing it. Joe had plenty of time to relax with his new wife, dream of the future, argue what they needed in a house or about baby’s names. Marie was blooming in a security she’d never known. She was happy and no longer was she the quiet one in the family circle. She still spent at least an hour a day reading with Hoss and was very rapidly improving. Adam lent her some of his beautifully printed illustrated books and she would sit for hours looking at them and learning a little of art and geography. She enjoyed her piano and would accompany Adam on his guitar while the others listened or sang along. Joe was delighted to see her so happy and now she was over the sickness and misery of early pregnancy, she was fit and well. He would sit quietly for hours just watching her, much to his father’s and Hoss’ private amusement, but they didn’t tease him, pleased he had found happiness.

On the Friday Hop Sing went over to help Kam Su prepare the food for Adam and Carole’s housewarming. Adam roped his brothers in to clean and move furniture. He still had his arm in a sling although they insisted it was only to get out of the heavy work and wasn’t necessary. Adam just grinned, his arm was a lot better and he had every intention of abandoning the sling the following day, but it was still painful to use.

When everything was ready on Saturday just after lunch Adam and Carole went up to change. She wasn’t sure what to wear but Adam had no doubt and got out the white dress he had bought her in New York. “You might as well wear it now, you’ll be too big for it soon.”

Carole looked at herself in the mirror “Its not showing yet.”

 Adam moved in behind and held her close his hands on her stomach “No but Marie is and she’s only six weeks further on than you, so make the most of your figure while you’ve still got one.” Carole worried looked up at him “Will you mind me going ugly and shapeless?”

Adam turned her round and kissed her firmly “I sometimes think that women are more beautiful when they are pregnant than any other time, they seem to have a sort of serenity. I love you and you’ll never be anything but beautiful to me, you don’t need any more than those lovely big eyes.” Carole snuggled close to him content and thoroughly relaxed.

Even so she managed to be dressed when the rest of the family arrived. Joe had had the dressmaker in town come out and she had made four new dresses for Marie. She was wearing one of them, a dark rich green that showed off her fair colouring to perfection. Adam hurrying down to greet them showed his admiration clearly and congratulated her on her looks, before teasing his brother on his obvious pride in her beauty.  He was busy pouring out sherries when Carole came down and Joe immediately turned the tables on his brother “Hark whose talking about pride.” Adam laughed and moved to help Carole down the last few steps but Hoss was there before him, admiring her dress, and leading her over to join Ben and Marie. Adam and Joe looked at each other, both having lost their wives and burst out laughing. The others looked round at them as though they were quite mad but before they could explain, the other guests started arriving.

Inevitably Dan and Beth were the first, but soon the house was crowded with their friends eager to see Adam’s new home. They roamed all over it before the meal and were loud in their praise. Dan, Roy and Philip along with several others fell in love with Adam’s study

Once they were seated for dinner, the talk seemed to centre entirely on the house and Adam began to get embarrassed at the free praise from all quarters. He got no support from his family, who sat back amused at his embarrassment. He’d earnt the praise as he had made a superb job of his house. Adam felt easier when Dan began praising the girls’ looks although they both blushed. Carole was still sure her dress was too low cut and a couple of the older women had given her scandalised looks but all the men showed their admiration. Adam was quite glad when the meal was over and he had everyone move through into the study while Hoss and Joe helped him clear the floor for dancing. Everything went well as was usual. Ben had early discovered the knack of good parties, plenty of good food and a low alcohol punch, lively music, room to dance and freedom otherwise. It went on until the early hours of the morning and then everyone left together for the long ride back to town. Ben looked round “Do you want us to stay and help tidy up?”

Adam shook his head “Both Carole and Marie need their beds, they look exhausted. It can all wait until the morning.”

“Fine Son we’ll come back and give you a hand. It was a good party and well deserved praise for the architect.”

Adam just grinned and saw his family off before going in to hustle Carole up to bed.

Joe had settled himself in the buggy with Marie and she was asleep next to him before they reached the house. Joe grinned broadly at his big brother “Put the buggy away for me. I’ll take her to bed. It was a good party.”

Hoss said “Sure “ and Joe picked Marie up and carried her straight up to their room. Ben laughed “Trust Joseph, he has a cast iron excuse now.”

Hoss just grinned, “I don’t care. He was right it was a very good party I enjoyed it and I ain’t that sleepy anyway.”

Ben slapped his big son on the shoulder “You see to the horses I’ll go heat up some coffee”

“Can see where Joe gets it from.” Hoss said, but he didn’t mind and saw to the horses before joining his father for coffee. They sat chatting for half an hour before heading to bed.

Adam hadn’t been ready for bed either and once he had settled Carole he went down to his study for a quiet drink. He sat for over an hour, relaxing reading poetry before finally, very contented, headed for bed.

For the next two weeks the family spent virtually all their time between the two houses. Ben had one quick trip to town but otherwise the six of them spent a quiet but happy fortnight together. It was an idyllic period, not even a single disagreement ruffling the calm. They spent time preparing for Christmas and each had their own secrets from the others, determined that it was going to be a very special Christmas. Ben could remember few such weeks in his life with all his family around him, all equally happy and he revelled in it.