Joe and Marie  part 4

By Lyn Robinson




Hoss and Joe got an early start for Sacramento. They kept an even pace, chatting as they went. They planned to make Sacramento the following evening, although they knew it would depend on the depth of the snow in the passes. They were very confident in their own ability in the mountains and their knowledge of the mountains. They had plenty of food and supplies for the horses along with such essentials as snowshoes, but they weren’t underestimating the job they had taken on. Too many men had been lost in the Sierra Nevada in winter; some of them just as knowledgeable, for them to make the mistake of over confidence. Little Joe was in his element he loved this land with the winter covering of snow and he revelled in the silence and the peace. Hoss laughed at his brother “I thought you liked the first days of autumn best.”

Joe shrugged “I can never decide. I love it then. I love the deep snow and the first green of spring. The only time of the year I’m not so keen on is midsummer when it’s so hot and dusty.”

Hoss laughed “Maybe that’s because there is a lot of work in summer!”

Joe just grinned, “I work all the time with this.” And he tapped his head.

Hoss chortled, “You do even less than I thought then.”

Joe made a move as though he was going to hit his brother and then sank back in his saddle and grinned instead.

Adam was still feeling very guilty about upsetting Carole and he did his best to keep cheerful with her. He was quite content to spend a quiet day with her and didn’t even notice that his brothers weren’t around. Despite his best efforts he found it impossible to concentrate on any of the books he had available. He had either read them recently or they were too heavy for his current state and he was getting very bored and restless. His father came up after supper and gave him a game of chess, which passed the evening, and using his brain tired him enough to sleep.

The following morning Adam was reading a long letter from Edwin Booth, which had arrived in the mail José had collected from town. Edwin had hoped to come for Christmas but his play in New York had had extended run and now he wanted to come for a visit for a fortnight before starting a season in San Francisco. Carole was sitting with him reading a collection of essays by Thoreau. Adam was surprised when she said, very vehemently, “That’s nonsense!”

Adam looked up from his letter “What is nonsense my love?”

Carole looked up a little sheepishly; “Sorry I didn’t mean to interrupt. Its just that quote of Thoreau's I never could agree with it."

Adam put his letter down. “You’re not making much sense my love. There are lots of famous quotes from Thoreau. Which one in particular is infuriating you?”

Carole grinned, “Sorry. The particular one is ‘The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation’. It has always struck me as the most awful pessimism and I for one cannot believe it.” She tailed off as she realised that her husband wasn’t listening. He looked really drawn and Carole bent over him “Are you alright my love?”

Adam jerked back to the present and managed a smile “Of course darling. I’m just a mite tired. I think I’ll have a doze before lunch.” Carole was puzzled but she helped him slide down the bed and tucked him up and then left him to sleep.

Adam wasn’t really tired but he needed to be alone, scenes from the past almost more real than the room in front of him. Eventually he did doze off and when Carole checked on him at lunchtime he was fast asleep and she left him to sleep joining Ben and Marie for lunch.

Carole was sitting quietly knitting by the fire when Adam finally awoke in the early afternoon. He woke up with a start and sat up. Carole turned and smiled at him but before she could say anything Adam, very serious demanded to know where his youngest brother was. Carole came over to him “Joe’s not here at the minute darling.”

“Where is he. I want to see him. What’s wrong? Is he alright?”

Carole was puzzled but did her best to reassure him. “Joe’s fine, he’s just gone out on a short trip with Hoss. He’ll be back in a couple of days.” Her efforts were totally unsuccessful, Adam seemed convinced that his brother was hurt and she was trying to hide it from him. Adam was getting very upset and looked very flushed and feverish. Carole tried again “Joe’s perfectly alright my love I wouldn’t lie to you.”

Adam considered that and then said, “I’m not sure, if you thought it was best for me then you would hide things. I want to see Marie she can’t hide it if Joe’s hurt.” In desperation, unable to fathom what had got into her normal logical husband, Carole went downstairs where Ben was teaching Marie the rudiments of chess. They looked up as she came down the stairs and, seeing the expression on her face, Ben came to his feet “What on earth’s wrong now?”

Carole came over and sighing deeply said, “I don’t know what has got into him. He wanted to see Joe and when I said that Joe wasn’t here, he seemed to be convinced that something was wrong with Joe, and nothing I can say will change his mind. He wants to see Marie sure that he’ll be able to see the truth on her face.”

Ben shook his head “It’s not like Adam to get a bee in his bonnet! Let’s go and calm him down.” They all headed upstairs and Marie moved in to sit on the bed. She took Adam’s hand, “Carole said that you’re worried about Joe. There’s no need, honestly Adam. He’s fine. He and Hoss have gone somewhere, they just said they would be four or five days and from the expression on Joe’s face they were up to mischief.”

Adam looked up at his father and Ben grinned, “She’s right Son. Joe was attempting to look innocent. They are fine. They did tell me what they were plotting and I agreed, but I promised to keep it a secret.”

Adam assumed that it was a secret from Marie, as Ben had hoped, and he didn’t ask any more awkward questions. He relaxed back against his pillows and calmed down. Ben poured some coffee and passed him a cup “What on earth got into you Adam?”

Adam shrugged “Just a dream that I couldn’t shake off, even when I woke up.” He looked over at Carole “It was that quote of Thoreau’s, you read out just before lunch.”

Ben looked questioningly at her and Carole told him what it was. Ben settled on the end of the bed “That quote got you worried once before when you lost your memory. Why does it make you think Joe is hurt? It did then too.”

Adam sipped his coffee, “Carole said this morning that it was unbelievable pessimism. There was a time when I wanted to believe it. Do you remember Pa, when I nearly killed Joe?”

Ben frowned seeing the self-hatred, so clear on his eldest son’s face, “That was what, seven years ago?”

Adam nodded “Joe was just turned seventeen.”

The girls looked at each other; both totally confused, as father and son were lost in the past. Adam remembered the long hours as he fought for his young brother’s life, having however unintentionally hurt him and put him through pain which Adam would have done anything to taker on himself; the hours of fear and blame, desperation in every sense. Ben remembered coming home to find his youngest son badly hurt and his eldest in the depths of despair. He had known what it was to fear for his son’s sanity if the worst happened. Eventually as noone said anything Carole spoke up “What on earth happened?”

 Adam said, very bluntly, “I shot Joe and he nearly died.”

As he left it at that Marie gripped his arm “That can’t be all. I don’t believe you ever intended to hurt Joe and anyway what does that quote have to do with it?”

Adam eased himself up in the bed “Give me some coffee and I’ll tell you what happened.”

Ben looked anxiously at his son “I’ll tell the girls if you like. You’ve never talked about it.”

Adam shrugged “It was a very long time ago Pa. I dreamt about it at lunchtime. It haunted my dreams for a long time seven years ago, maybe if I talk about it I won’t dream.”

Ben poured coffee and laced it well with brandy before giving it to his son. Adam sipped it gratefully and then he began his story.

“As I said Joe was just seventeen and he was so eager to come with me and chase a wolf that had been savaging some of our young stock. That wolf led us a merry chase and we couldn’t get a clear shot. I was ready to give up and come home we’d chased it just about off our range right up to Mont Peler gorge. I had got down to heat up some coffee but Joe wouldn’t give up. Then I heard a shot and I followed the sound. I just never thought that Joe would have got off Cochise. I saw the wolf and I went to fire. Joe appeared out of nowhere and I must have changed my aim without even knowing and I was a lifetime too late I’d pulled the trigger before I even consciously realised Joe was there. I only knew when I saw him fall and I was frozen I felt as though I was running through treacle as that wolf attacked him. I saw Joe fending the wolf off as best he could and only then did I really move and knock it off him, but not before he collected several bites and clawmarks. Pa had only just given him Cochise and the pinto had run off. All I could do was to pad his wounds put him up in front of me on Sport and bring him home. He was getting gradually weaker and when we reached the Virginia City road I was very glad to see a buggy. The man and his daughter in it were very willing to help me bring Joe home. It was that evening Hoss had been to town for Doc and he wasn’t there. Hoss had left a message and come home and he was up with Joe, I knew Joe was badly hurt and I’d gone outside to try and get a grip on myself. I’d had to cut my bullet out of my little brother, but I couldn’t help him unless I stayed calm. The man who had given us a lift came out. He was consumptive and knew he didn’t have long to live, maybe that’s why he believed in Thoreau’s pessimism. Anyway he said that he couldn’t help all he could do was to remind me of those words, ‘the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation’, to think about it and I would find I wasn’t alone. When the Doc did come he could only confirm my worst fears, Joe was seriously ill and there was nothing more we could do except fight the fever and trust in Joe’s own constitution with a little help from God to pull him through. For about thirty-six hours I sat by Joe, scared for his life knowing was only my own stupidity, which was putting him through it. I vowed to go away when it was over, whatever the outcome. Go somewhere where men behaved as people and not as savages. Throughout those long hours that quote kept running through my head and I think I wanted to believe it. Probably that’s why it brings back those days so clearly. I was glad when Pa got home if only because I knew Joe wanted him but I had no real peace until Joe came round. He never blamed me, but I blamed myself, I’d heard shots and I knew Joe was around.”

Adam fell silent and the girls looked at each other, then Marie lent over and kissed his forehead “It was an accident Adam. These things happen. Of course Joe didn’t blame you.”

Adam smiled ruefully at her, hardly surprised by the young blonde’s generosity, and Carole took his hand “You said you decided to leave but you didn’t go?”

Adam looked up at her “No I didn’t.” He shook his head “Takes me a long time to learn. When Joe came round he called for me and I knew I had to stay where my heart was that I belonged with the people I loved. It was a lesson I had to learn all over again a few years later.”

Carole smiled at him “I can see why it worried you darling, but it wasn’t your fault.”

Adam shrugged “It was a long time ago, It was just that quote. It reminded me and I couldn’t get over the feeling that something was wrong with Joe. Aftermath of my dream.”

Ben patted his son’s shoulder “Well if you’re alright again, shall we get you some food?”

Adam nodded “Please I guess I am hungry. Cheer up Pa I’m fine.” He was rather quiet for the rest of the day and settled down early. Once he was asleep Carole went down to join Ben and Marie. Ben looked up as she came down the stairs “Is he okay?”

Carole shrugged “Very quiet.”

Ben forced a smile “I’m sure it will soon pass, just memories.”

Carole nodded “He does seem to have retreated into the past today.”

“Never mind, memories aren’t all painful, we have had plenty of very good times.” Ben was glad to see her relax a little but he couldn’t resist looking in on his son on the way to bed, but Adam seemed to be sleeping peacefully.

Meantime the two brothers were making their way to Sacramento. They hadn’t risked the short cut, which Adam had used before Christmas but stuck to the stage route. The pass was far broader and the trail better defined. They didn’t hit heavy snow until well into the afternoon of the first day and at least the weather was being co-operative; there was hardly any wind although it was bitterly cold. Both brothers were well wrapped up against the cold, their new leather coats proving their worth. As they hit the snow they dismounted and put on show-shoes to press a path for the horses. Hoss took the lead to begin with and after a while Joe took over. They progressed slowly taking it in turns to lead for about two hours and then as they came to an overhanging cliff Hoss called a halt.   “I’m starving even if you ain’t.”

Joe grinned at his brother, “I’ve never known you when you weren’t hungry big brother!”

Hoss punched his shoulder “Make yourself useful, build a fire.” Joe got some wood from the bundle on Cochise and got some thick soup and coffee on to heat. Hoss fed the horses while Joe was busy and then got out the big thick well-filled sandwiches that Hop Sing had provided for them. With the hot soup to warm them up they made a good meal. They ate in silence with the worst pangs of hunger had been satisfied. Then Hoss said, “I think we better get over the pass tonight. The moon’s near full.”                                                                 

Joe grinned, “You just want to get to those restaurants in Sacramento!” Hoss cuffed him lazily and Joe ducked away but then more serious he went on “You’re right, the weather is as good as we could hope for. It’d be asking for trouble not to take advantage of it.”

Hoss grunted and then considered his younger brother “I want the truth Joe, no fobbing me off. How is yer leg lastin’ out?”

Joe didn’t answer for a minute, he knew he had been limping rather more heavily over the last half an hour. Then he said “It’s a bit sore and I expect it’ll be stiff tomorrow, but honestly Hoss it’s okay.”

Hoss nodded and didn’t push any further but he was determined to keep the lead and the heavy work to himself for the rest of the night. The brothers sat over their coffee until the moon was up and then they packed up and moved out. Hoss took the lead and for a while Joe let him but then he moved alongside his brother prepared to take over. Hoss shook his head, “It’s okay Joe I break a better trail than you do, one of the advantages of being heavy.”

Little Joe angrily insisted “I’ll do my share of the work. This trip was my idea.”

Hoss just laughed at him “Easy little brother, you can do your share once we reach that bookshop. I’ve no idea what Adam’s got. My job is to get you there and back and I’d prefer not to have to carry you. You’re not limping for fun.”

Joe glared at him “I told you I’m okay.” Hoss was far too used to his little brother to worry about his temper and placidly said “Come on Joe we’ve got a long way to go and a fair bit of it on foot, only makes sense to take it as easy as you can.”

Joe looked at his brother and realised the futility of arguing and anyway he had to admit Hoss made sense, his leg was bothering him more than he had expected. Hoss was strong and fit but he was very tired when they finally reached the summit of the pass, He stopped for a moment and Joe came up next to him. In front the narrow pass suddenly broadened out and in the moonlight they could see the foothills of the Sierra’s stretching out below. They stood in silence together for a few minutes and then Hoss said, “Well we’ve got over, let’s hope we are as lucky coming back.”

Joe slapped his brother on the back “I was born lucky, haven’t you noticed?”

Hoss looked at his little brother “I’ve sometimes come to that conclusion!”

“You remember that cave we used before?”

Hoss nodded, “It’s about half a mile, good place to grab a couple of hours sleep.” They headed on and found the cave dry and empty. They put food and water out for the horses and then rolled themselves up in blankets, lying close together for warmth to get some sleep.

Hoss was awake first in the morning and Joe woke to the smell of coffee. He stretched and rubbed his sore leg before pulling himself to his feet and limping over to Hoss. Hoss watched him but didn’t nag, knowing it would be a miracle if Joe wasn’t stiff and there was nothing he could do to help. Little Joe felt better after coffee and moved to the cave entrance and looked out. He turned to his brother “The weather seems to be holding.”

Hoss nodded “It will serve us I think but I don’t like the way the clouds are building up in the north.” Joe shrugged “We’ll worry about that later. With luck in two or three hours we can ride.”

Hoss nodded “Sure, it’s steeper this side, we should be out of the heavy snow in five miles.” They quickly ate and packed up, then set out. Joe was very grateful when they reached a point where they could mount up. Both of them were feeling tired after their exertions with only a few hours sleep and they rode in silence through the foothills and across the plain to Sacramento. As they reached the outskirts of town, it was mid afternoon and Joe said “You take care of the horses and book us in at the hotel while I try and find the bookshop. I’ll see you at the hotel.”

Hoss nodded “Just one point little brother. I’ve had no lunch except some jerky and if you think I’m going looking at books before I’ve eaten you can forget it.”

Joe laughed “My stomach is protesting somewhat too, I only want to find out where the shop is ands when its open. Then I’m for food.”

In the event Joe found the shop with no trouble and it was open until seven. A quick look in the window satisfied him that they could get the sort of thing they wanted for Adam and he went to join Hoss. Hoss was just booking them in at their usual hotel; he’d arranged a double room and as Joe came over looked questioningly at him. Joe grinned at his brother and Hoss relaxed. The brothers went upstairs and dumped their bags in the room before heading for a restaurant. Once they had food Joe reassured his brother that they had plenty of time.

After a large steak with all the trimmings and a large helping of apple pie they both felt better. Hoss ordered another piece of pie but Joe sat back with coffee. Once Hoss had downed his third piece of pie and three cups of coffee, he got out some money to pay “Right I feel more human. I suppose we’d better go look at books.”

“You can go and get a drink if you like. I can manage.”

Hoss laughed “Not likely. God knows how many you’d buy if I left you alone and we’ve still got to get home.” The two brothers went down to the bookshop and wandered in to the empty shop. The owner had been rather disappointed at the business he had done since opening. Certain books, dime novels and some by people like Dickens sold well but very few people were interested in anything new. He saw the two cowboys come in but didn’t expect anything much, probably a couple of dime novels. He was tired and it was an effort to plaster a smile on his face and get to his feet. He was totally taken aback as Joe said, “You advertised Darwin’s ‘Descent of Man’ and ‘The Origin of the Species’”

The man’s jaw dropped and Joe and Hoss looked at each other both amused at the reaction. Quickly recovering the owner smiled “Certainly gentleman” He turned and hurried to the back of the shop returning with the two books Joe had mentioned and ‘The voyage of the Beagle’. Joe looked at the books quickly and grinning asked, “What else do you have in the way of recent books. Fiction and non-fiction? We’ll take these three.”

The man suddenly realised he could make the best sale he’d had since opening his shop and started showing them books. Joe chose a dozen or so novels that he was sure Adam didn’t have, recently published or translated and then chose some non-fiction books, four on architecture and a couple of large ones on painting plus a natural philosophy book and some biographies. When he had them piled up he looked at his big brother. Hoss lifted the pile of books and tried the weight “Okay Chub can manage these. Now choose whatever you think Cochise can carry.”

Little Joe laughed at his brother “I thought you came to stop me going mad not to encourage me.”

“Well we want to keep Adam quiet for as long as possible. It’s not worth coming all this way and only taking a few back.”

Joe could only agree and began wandering round the shelves slowly collecting another pile of books while the proprietor looked on open mouthed. The brothers were taking more books than he normally sold in a week and he just hoped they realised how much it was going to cost. Joe added a final volume of poetry and then turned to the owner “I guess we’d better settle up now.”

The man added up the sum and hesitantly announced it wondering if those cowboys had any idea how much they’d spent, it came to over $400. Hoss and Joe looked at each other and Joe shook his head “You would choose all those lavishly printed ones you’ll have to pay.”

Hoss had chosen exactly one book but he was carrying all their money so he just grinned. He got out his wallet and counted out the cash and settled up for the books. Then Little Joe loaded his brother up with their purchases, 64 of them, keeping one large book on paintings for himself. Hoss staggered back to the hotel under his burden and thankfully dumped them on the bed “I knew I’d end up carrying everything.”

Joe laughed holding up his book “Not everything Hoss.”

Hoss carefully removed the book and added it to his pile and then he took Joe and frog-marched him to the basin. Joe begged for mercy and promised to buy the drinks if Hoss let him go. Hoss finally let Joe up and the two brothers burst out laughing. They locked the door and went down to the saloon. They had a few drinks and then went for dinner.

After dinner they headed back to the hotel for an early night. They spared half an hour to pack the books into four equal bundles for ease of transport and then went to bed ready for an early start. Joe was exhausted and quickly slid into sleep. Hoss lay awake for a while watching his younger brother and hoping he would be okay on the long journey back. He had seen more than Joe wanted him to and knew how tired and stiff his little brother was, but he also knew it would be a waste of time trying to persuade Joe to stay over for a day to recover. All he could do was let Joe sleep on as long as he would in the morning and make sure he took the heavy work off his brother as much as possible. Eventually Hoss dozed off but he was still awake long before Joe the next morning. Hoss decided to stay in bed rather than risk disturbing his brother and he considered the pile of books they had collected. Only about three or four interested him but he knew Adam would be delighted. He was lazing back considering the ceiling and day dreaming when Joe finally awoke. Joe was surprised at how late it was and got up “You should have woken me up Hoss.”

Hoss just grinned, “We were both a bit short on sleep and we won’t get much on the way back.”

Joe yawned widely “I suppose you’re right. Lets get some grub and supplies.” Hoss nodded and quickly washed and dressed.  Half an hour later they were ready to go. Hoss muffled up against the bitter wind grunted at his brother “I told you the weather was turning.”

Joe could only agree “We have no choice but I admit I’ll be glad to get home.”

Hoss shook his head, “At the moment I’d settle for being on the right side of them “ gesturing at the mountains.

Joe just grinned, “Well we won’t do that by sitting here!” The brothers set out.

The first stage was easy enough across the plains from Sacramento to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. As they came into the hills, Hoss called a halt and demanded food. They could see snow falling on the hills above them. As they ate the brothers considered the weather. Hoss sighed, scratching his head “I reckon we’d better aim to reach that cave by tonight and hole up there.”

Joe protested “It will make one hell of a trip tomorrow.”

“Sure I know that, but we ain’t taking silly risks Joe. I ain’t trying that pass in the dark and unless the clouds clear some the moon sure ain’t gonna help.”

Joe was eager to get home, not wanting to worry Marie. She had given him her full backing for this trip but he knew full well that she would still be fretting. He studied his brother wondering if it was worth arguing, but as he knew that Hoss was talking sense Joe gave in. In fact the snow was falling heavily by the time they reached into the mountains proper and the brothers were hard pressed to even reach the cave.

Hoss knew the mountains, few knew them better, but even he was beginning to get worried as they battled on in the gathering dusk which limited visibility to a few yards in the snow. Little Joe came up next to his brother “I recognise those rocks Hoss, bear left a bit, the caves about three hundred yards.” Hoss did as he was told saving his breath to fight the wind and hoping his little brother knew what he was talking about. Half an hour later they came to the cave; they pulled the horses into the cave and sank down, grateful for the relative peace and to get out of the snow. They were both muffled up well only their eyes emerging from the mufflers but where they had looked up both had mounds of snow on their eyebrows. Joe pulled his muffler off and it cackled with ice where he’d breathed through it. He cut loose with his own unique giggle as he looked at his brother. “You look like one of those monsters they use to scare kids, half man and half bear. You should see yourself.”

Hoss grunted “I can see you, that’s bad enough.” Joe shook his fist at his brother but then busied himself starting a fire. By the time they had drunk some hot coffee the brothers were beginning to feel more human. Joe looked out at the weather and then came to sit down by Hoss “It cleared for a moment there and the clouds to the east looked even heavier. Unless it lets up some daylight ain’t gonna help us much. Visibility is practically zero.”

Hoss rubbed his chin and sighed heavily “Just to cheer you up I suppose you realise with the wind where it is, at this time of the year, there is almost certainly a zephyr blowing.”

Joe shrugged “Yeah I know but at least it will be behind us we won’t be battling into it.”

 “I’m not so sure that’s an advantage Joe, the drifts will be bad and it’s gonna be derned hard to keep yer feet.”

“Sorry we came?”

Hoss cuffed him gently “It was still worth it. Sure I wish the weather had held. You know as well as I do that we’re taking a risk and the weather has lengthened the odds. I’ll be glad to get home.” Joe knew his brother was right the next day was going to be rough but he grinned confidently “We’ll make it and tomorrow night you can sleep in your own bed.”

“Sure Joe, as you said you were born lucky, but it’s gonna be a real long day so get some sleep.” The brothers curled up close together pulling blankets round then and Joe fell asleep almost immediately, tired and sore, even if he wouldn’t admit it. Hoss wasn’t long behind his brother.

At the ranch Adam had done his best to remain cheerful but he was fretting at the restraint although he knew how important it was. He was determined not to upset Carole and did his best to remain cheerful with her, but in reaction he jumped on his father every time Ben opened his mouth.

Marie had seen the change in the weather and knew enough about the mountains to be scared for the brothers although she was doing her best to hide it. During the evening as the brothers were sheltering in the cave, Carole was upstairs with Adam and Marie was playing her piano. The tunes reflected her mood and became ever more dirge-like. Ben was sitting by the fire trying to read but unable to concentrate, just seeing the white hell, which he knew existed in the mountains. After a while he put his book down and went over to Marie “Fancy some coffee?” She nodded and came over to join him by the fire. As they sipped their coffee Ben tried to reassure her “Don’t worry too much about them. They both know their way around the mountains very well. I wouldn’t mind betting I know exactly where they are right now, tucked up snug and warm in a cave near the top of the pass.”

Marie bit her lip considering her father-in-law “The wind has changed, it’s quiet here but there will be a blizzard above the snow line.” Ben was surprised that she realised the meaning of the change in the wind but he made no attempt to deny it. “I realise that, but they will be fine, the wind will be behind them. I’m glad they are together, just in case of accidents but I don’t expect any. I think they may be very late but I still expect them home tomorrow.”

Marie held her head high “Of course they will. I’m not really worried.”

Ben put his arm round her “Liar Marie. He’ll be home tomorrow, why don’t you try and get some sleep.” She accepted that was the most sensible course and Ben went up with her to help Carole settle his eldest son for the night. Adam accepted some fresh lemon for his bedside table and then asked his father just when his brothers were due back.

Ben smiled “They should be home tomorrow with any luck although probably latish, if not certainly the day after.”

Adam considered that information “Four days” but he didn’t push it any further and Ben was glad to change the subject and help Carole remake the bed. Carole was exhausted and she headed for bed as soon as Adam was settled. Ben went back downstairs and alone he stood for a long time staring out of the window towards the mountains, indistinguishable now with clouds low on them, which he knew meant snow. He couldn’t help worrying about his two sons; he knew only too well what the mountains were like in a blizzard. He had great confidence in his sons’ ability to look after themselves in this rough land, they’d been born and bred here and noone knew it better, but he also knew the dangers even for experienced men. For a long time he stood still thinking of his sons and praying for them before he too headed for bed.

Adam lay awake after his father and wife left him. He knew the wind had changed direction and knew full well what that meant for the weather in the Sierra’s at this time of year. He knew his brothers were to be away for four days and he could make a shrewd guess at where they had gone. He knew if he was right they would be forcing the pass into the teeth of a blizzard. It was only just over a year since he had forced his way over the mountains. At the time he had known it was a foolish risk to take but his reasons had seemed important. At least his brothers had taken the elementary precaution of going together in case of trouble but he couldn’t help worrying. He lay awake for several hours until he was sure everyone was asleep and then sat up and lit his lamp. He poured out some lemonade and tried without success to lose himself in a book. He couldn’t sleep and had been sitting staring into space for over two hours and had drunk all his lemonade when the door opened. Ben had also been unable to sleep and after fighting a losing battle with his common-sense telling him that the boys would be curled up fast asleep probably in a dry cave, he decided to get up and make himself a drink of hot milk to see if that would help him sleep. He was surprised to see a light under Adam’s door and went in to see if his son was alright. Adam grinned slightly sheepishly as his father came in and Ben asked anxiously “Anything wrong?”

“I’m fine Pa, just couldn’t sleep, but now you’re up I could do with a drink.”

Ben picked up the jug “I’ll fill this and I was going to get myself some hot milk want some?”

Adam nodded “Please.” Ben passed over his robe “Put that on before you get cold. I’ll be up in a minute.” Ben headed downstairs and a few minutes later he was back with two glasses of hot milk. He passed one to his son “Have you slept at all this evening?”

Adam shook his head and then to his father’s amazement he asked “Hoss and Little Joe are forcing the pass back from Sacramento aren’t they?” He read his answer on his father’s face and sighed “I thought so. With this wind it must be a blizzard up there.”

Ben shook his head in disgust “How did you know? We didn’t want to worry you.”

“Where else were they likely to go at this time of year which would take four days?”

“One of these days I’ll learn it’s a waste of time trying to hide things from you. But they know their way around. It’s a pity the weather has changed but they’ll be home tomorrow.”

Adam smiled “I suppose that’s why you’re wandering around in the middle of the night!”

“Okay I’m worried I know what it’s like in the mountains as well as you do and I’ll be very glad when they are home but they will be fine.”

Adam shrugged “Sure. I just hope it was worth the risk.”

Ben grinned, “I don’t know what you will think but your brothers thought it was well worth it.”

“Can you tell me why they went?”

Ben shook his head “I promised not to tell anyone, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow.” Adam yawned widely and after another couple of minutes he looked suspiciously at his father “Did you put something in my milk?”

Ben smiled at him “You need your rest Adam, come on lie down and I’ll see you in the morning.” Adam had to accept his help and quickly slid into sleep. Ben stood staring down at his eldest son, amazed again at Adam’s ability to draw the correct conclusion from the slightest evidence. It was often very useful but he had had occasion to curse it before. Still at least he’d sleep until well into the morning and Ben went back to bed to try and get some sleep himself.

The following morning Hoss and Joe awoke at about the same time. It was pitch dark and they could hear that the wind hadn’t let up. Working largely by feel they got the fire going again and then with its dim light fed the horses and made themselves bacon and beans followed by hot coffee. Joe went to the cave entrance and looked out but it was too dark to see anything and the brothers could only wait for dawn. Hoss frowned “There’s no knowing how long this wind will last. It could be weeks we can’t wait it out. We’ll have to make a move as soon as there’s any light and keep going until we get down below the snowline. If we keep the wind behind us all the time we should be okay.”

Joe gripped his brother’s arm “I’m sorry I got you into this. I was hoping the weather would hold.”

Hoss just grinned, "I didn’t ask for any guarantees Joe. I told you before Adam’s my brother too. Do you think you could have stopped me from coming?”

Joe shrugged “I guess not but we’ve gotta get home today, Marie will be worried.”

“Yeah well we don’t need any light for the last part. It’ll be late, but provided we can get below the snowline by dark, I don’t see why not.” Joe nodded and then as the first signs of light appeared they began to saddle up and load the horses.

The first few hundred yards to the top of the pass was fairly quiet although it was bitterly cold and the snow was deep. Hoss set a steady pace and they breasted the pass about half an hour after starting out. As they came to the top of the pass the wind hit them and they were hard pressed to keep their feet. Joe slipped and went down on one knee but he kept hold of Cochise and pulling himself back to his feet he moved close alongside his brother. Below them they couldn’t make out a thing, visibility was zero as the wind whipped the snow up and whirled freshly falling snow in to a blizzard. Joe shouted at Hoss “Do we go on?”

Hoss nodded “No choice. Keep close.” The brothers started down holding close to their horses. Joe gripped the reins in his right hand and held onto the stirrup leather with his left as he used Cochise for support and cover. The wind was funnelled through the pass and it was almost enough to lift them off their feet, Joe much lighter than his brother found most difficulty. Muffled up and unable to see through the snow, Hoss concentrated on keeping the wind behind him and relied on instinct. At least for the first couple of miles they couldn’t go wrong, provided they concentrated on going down hill, as the pass ran through a relatively narrow gorge. Hoss knew that there were no steep drops anywhere close to the trail, and provided they could keep within a mile of the main trail they were safe, barring accidents. He kept a steady pace as best he could and every so often he looked back to see if Joe was still behind him. He could usually just make out a dark shape in the swirling snow but facing into the wind it was virtually impossible to see and he had to rely on Joe staying close. For an hour or so they battled on downwards, then Hoss stopped as they rounded a corner in the shelter of an overhang cliff where they had some protection from the wind. Joe joined his brother and in the sudden quiet he took a deep breath and nearly choked as the ice cold air hit the depths of his lungs. Hoss waited for him to get his breath back and then said, “You okay?”

Joe nodded, “Sure but I’ve never known it as wild as this.”

Hoss shrugged “I have once or twice but I must say your luck’s not working little brother.”

Joe laughed “We’ll make it.”

“Sure, I for one want a hot bath and some hot food and home is the nearest place I’m gonna get them.” Joe could only agree, he was stiff and sore and already tired from the continual struggle to stay on his feet, but he knew there would be no real respite until they got out of deep snow. Hoss allowed them a ten minute break and then grinned at Joe “Ready for the fray again?”

Joe nodded and Hoss went on “Yell if you’re getting left at all. I can’t see you in this murk.”

Joe grinned and slapped his big brother on the back “You keep going big brother, Cooch and I will be right behind you.”

For more than an hour they struggled on downwards oblivious of time and distance, knowing only that they had to keep their feet. Each slipped many times and only the horses kept them on their feet as they held onto the stirrup leathers. Then Cochise lost his footing as the ground gave beneath his feet and as he stumbled his shoulder caught Little Joe sending him flying. Joe had sufficient presence of mind to yell to his brother as he fell. He landed in the soft snow of a drift they had been skirting and as he struggled to get to his feet he felt himself sink deeper into it. He had landed face down and he struggled to at least clear the snow from his face. Panic was very close but he fought it, knowing Hoss would be with him quickly. Hoss heard his brother’s call and immediately turned and fought his way back. He came on Cochise easily but he couldn’t see his brother and Joe didn’t answer his yells. He knew which side of Cochise Joe had been walking and guessed his brother must have fallen in the drift. Hoss tied a rope on Cochise and put the other end round his waist. Then he got down on his knees to search for Joe. It didn’t take him long to feel Joe body and Hoss managed to get a grip on his brother’s arm. Joe felt as though he’d been in the snow forever although it was only just over two minutes before Hoss reached him. For Joe unable to breathe it seemed a lifetime as he fought panic; it was such a relief to feel Hoss’ hand on his back, it was almost painful. Hoss grabbed Joe’s arm and slowly hauled his brother out of the clinging snow, praying Joe wasn’t hurt. It took him quite a time but once he had Joe clear of the snow, he brushed the snow away from his brother’s face desperately anxious. Little Joe was close to passing out but he hung onto his senses as Hoss brushed the snow off, he took several painful breaths and then managed to say “Okay Hoss.”

Hoss thankful as he realised Joe was breathing, relaxed as he heard Joe speak. He lifted Joe up and carried him back to Chub and Cochise and then sat down cradling his younger brother in his arms doing all he could to protect him from the wind. For a few minutes Joe could only lie still thankful he was safe and regaining his strength. Eventually he sat up and Hoss asked anxiously “What’s the damage?”

Joe gripped his brother’s arm “No harm done thanks to your quick reactions. I’m okay.” Joe was bruised and sore to say nothing of desperately tired and he was limping badly, which didn’t help him to keep his feet but there was nothing to do but battle on.

Throughout the day the brothers fought their way on, never quite sure where they were and oblivious of time. It was a nightmare of snow and wind and often Joe only a yard or so behind Hoss couldn’t see any sign of the big man in the swirling snow. Hoss wasn’t sure where they were but instinct told him he was still on the right trail and he had no option but to trust in his instincts. At the very least they were heading down hill and must eventually hit the tree line and come out of the heavy snow. Hoss was feeling desperately tired himself and knew how his little brother must be feeling, especially after Joe’s fall and he’d not even started out a hundred percent fit.

It was mid afternoon when Hoss suddenly became aware that the snow under foot was no longer so deep just a few inches. He called a halt and as Joe came up next to him he told Joe. Joe sighed heavily “Well that’s fine. Now all we need is to know where in hell’s name we are.”

Hoss grinned. “We’ll recognise something soon.”

“Sure. If we ever see anything.”

Hoss put his arm round his brother’s shoulders “Cheer up Joe. We’ll be home soon and at least we can ride save your feet a bit.” Joe was too sore and tired to summon up much enthusiasm but he nodded “Okay Hoss lets get going.” For another half an hour they made their way on slowly, but at least mounted. Then Hoss stopped by a lightning struck tree. Joe pulled up next to him. Hoss dismounted “I know where we are now and we might as well use the dry kindling, we’ll both feel better for a hot drink.” Joe got down and helped his brother make a fire and looked round at the sparse trees. Once Joe was sitting down hands clasped tight round a hot cup of coffee he said, “We’re just south of the main trail.”

Hoss nodded “Yeah about a hundred yards or so. Ain’t so bad given we ain’t bin able to see since dawn. About eight maybe nine hours ride home.”

Joe shrugged “Yeah Guess my luck hasn’t exactly deserted me but I’ll be real glad to get home.” When they had finished their coffee the brothers remounted and cut through to the trail. At least now they were on the last trek and it was only a matter of a long slow ride on a trail they knew well.

At the house Adam was awake by eight despite the drug late in the night. Ben had told Carole how he had found Adam awake and she wasn’t exactly surprised that he had guessed where his brothers had been, Adam never missed much. As soon as she’d finished breakfast she went upstairs to her husband, to find he was already awake and staring out of the window where snow was gently falling. As she came in he turned and grinned “I know Pa’s told you.”

Carole nodded “I won’t nag.”

Adam sighed, “I can’t help worrying about them. Silly really, I’ve forced the pass several times and Hoss knows his way around in the mountains even better than I do. But all the time I’m stuck here unable to do anything, while they fight in the blizzard that’s blowing I ....” He trailed off and Carole knew that he was with his brothers, in thought, if not in person. She didn’t intrude but left him to his thoughts while she collected his breakfast. Marie was standing staring out at the snow and Carole put her arm round the smaller girl “Cheer up, he’ll be home this evening.” Marie turned and forced a smile “Yes of course.”

“You don’t sound very convinced.”

“I am really but I’ll be glad when he’s home.”

Carole sighed heavily “They should never have gone, just for books. Adam wouldn’t have let them if he had known.”

Marie shrugged “He couldn’t have stopped them. They gambled that the weather would hold. It hasn’t and they’ll have a rough trip back but they’ll make it. It is worth it. They didn’t go to get books but to get peace of mind for their brother, You know how much Joe and I owe Adam, this can only be a small token, but maybe it’ll go a little way towards showing Adam what we both feel.”

Carole was silenced by the depth of feeling in the younger girl’s voice. She had known Adam had done a lot to bring them back together and that Marie was fond of him but she hadn’t realised how deep it went. There seemed no answer to that and she didn’t attempt one leaving Marie to read the effect of her words on Carole’s face.

They were all quiet during the day knowing that the brothers couldn’t be home until evening at the earliest, but anxious for them nobody could settle. By the time it got to nine o’clock Ben tried to persuade Adam to get some sleep, he hadn’t even dozed during the day. Adam shook his head “I shan’t sleep Pa.”

Ben remonstrated with him “They may not even be home until tomorrow, anything could have held them up.”

Adam shook his head “They are either in trouble or they’ll be home tonight.”

“I agree but it may well be in the early hours. You need some sleep.”

“I’m not tired Pa. I have hardly spent an energetic day.” He sighed heavily and very serious said “My brain’s too active to sleep and I can’t seem to concentrate on any of those.” He waved his hands at the piles of books “The only ones I haven’t read are poetry and I’m just not in the mood for poetry.” Ben looked worried and Adam forced himself to grin, “Cheer up Pa, I’m okay just restless and bored. I won’t do anything stupid. Just a mood it’ll pass.”

With Adam refusing to settle the four of them spent the rest of the evening in his room, not talking much but glad of the company and trying to hide their anxiety. It was nearly one a.m. when Ben over by the window saw two horses coming and recognised his big son in the lead. He waited long enough to be sure that both men were alright and then turned grinning, “Here they are. I’ll go down and help with the horses.” As he turned and went out Marie ran to the window. She saw Joe coming and, close to tears with relief, she headed into their room to await her husband.

Ben was waiting at the hitchrail as the brothers rode in. They were very tired and hungry but both grinned broadly so glad to finally be home. Ben said “I’ll unpack and see to the horses, Joe you’d better go to your wife and Hoss, go and see Adam. He knows where you’ve been although not why and he’s not going to settle until he’s seen one of you. Then Hop Sing has food ready.”

Hoss grinned even more broadly at that “Sounds good Pa. Sorry we are so late but it was mite wild up there.”

“I can imagine Son, I’d bet you’re both exhausted. Food, baths if you want them and then sleep, the rest of the news can wait until morning.”

Joe dismounted very stiffly and held onto the hitch rail “I’m not sure I can even be bothered with a bath.”

“See how you feel when you’ve eaten Joe.” Joe nodded, yawning widely, and then limped in. Ben looked at his big son questioningly, “Is he okay?”

“Sure Pa, just whacked. Guess his leg is sore, my feet sure are, we’ve done a whole lot of walking, but no real damage.”

“Well done Son. Go see Adam.” Hoss nodded and headed straight up to his brother while Ben saw to the horses. He was taken aback at the sheer number of books his sons had bought but having gone all that way it was probably only sensible. He unloaded everything, fed the horses and went in. Hoss was just coming down “Adam’s settled down, he’s plumb tuckered out, soon as he saw me his eyelids sorta got heavy. Joe and Marie will be down in a minute. Now where’s that food before I fade away.”

Ben hadn’t even got as far as the kitchen when Hop Sing appeared with big plates full of stew and hot rolls. Hoss sat down to eat straight away and a couple of minutes later Joe joined him. Joe only managed about half before pushing it away; too tired to really be hungry “I’m for bed. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Ben grinned “Sure Joseph, sleep in, you’ve earned it.” He watched his youngest son go up to bed with his wife and then turned his attention back to his big son. Hoss finished his own meal and Joe’s leftovers and then took his father up on the offer of a bath. Ben went in with him, slightly worried that the hot water might send his big son to sleep and Hoss was happy to have the company. He lazed back in the hot water and told his father briefly about their trip before heading up to his own bed.

They all slept late the following morning and only Ben and Carole were up by mid-morning. They sat over coffee examining the books, which Joe had chosen for his brother. The books ranged over a large umber of topics from history to biology from Maxwell’s equations on electromagnetism to poetry with various novels thrown in for light relief. Carole only found one, which they already had. She was taken aback by the care that had gone into the selection and the extent of Joe’s knowledge of his brother’s library. She commented on it to Ben who grinned “Joseph isn’t as fond of books as his brother but provided it’s in English and isn’t too mathematical or poetry, he usually flips through Adam’s new books as they arrive. He in fact reads quite a lot, not just dime novels these days. He may act the fool but he isn’t one.”

Carole laughed “I never thought he was. Adam’s going to be delighted with this lot, especially with his brothers going all that way for him.”

Just then Hoss came down and grabbed coffee and some cookies. Ben grinned, “Feel better for a long sleep?”

“Most of me does Pa. Not so sure about my legs and feet, they sure ache, ain’t used to all that walking. When’s lunch?”

Ben laughed “About half an hour I think if the others are awake.”

“Joe and Marie are up and moving around, be down in a minute but Adam was still dead to the world when I looked in.”

Carole was pleased “Good he’s been very short of sleep for the last two days.”

Joe came down ten minutes later much more cheerful than he’d been the night before. He was limping heavily but reassured his father that he was fine, just a bit stiff and starving. Marie was happy now that she had him back with her and they all managed a large meal to Hop Sing’s delight. As they were sitting over coffee Adam called down. Carole hurried up to him to find he was cheerful, hungry and demanding to see his brothers. She grinned at him “I’ll send them up while I get your tray.”

Adam pulled her down to him and kissed her soundly before letting her go and Carole headed down smiling delightedly.

Hoss, Joe and Marie brought their coffee up and pulled up chairs by Adam’s bed. Joe considered his eldest brother, pleased to see he had slightly more colour and his eyes, always an indication of his health and his mood, were closer to their normal warm hazel colour, just a little pale. “You look a bit more cheerful than last time I saw you.”

Adam hitched himself up on the bed, waving away Hoss’ offer of help and forced a smile “I’m okay. Just fed up with being stuck in here.”

Hoss gripped his arm “Only ten days or so and you can come on down, just gotta take it real easy for a bit.”

“I know. Anyway you two are back, how was Sacramento?”

Joe grinned, “We didn’t stay long, just time to get some food, a night’s sleep and do our shopping and then we headed back.”

Adam asked curiously “Just what was so urgent that you had to force the pass at this time of the year?”

Joe looked over at Hoss and both brothers grinned but Ben was just coming in with a tray and so Joe said “Eat your lunch and then we’ll show you.”

Adam looked puzzled as his family all grinned at him, but he was hungry so he took the tray and the coffee, Carole had brought up and made a good meal. While he was eating Hoss and Joe filled the others in on some of the details about their trip. Hoss had no intention of telling them about Joe’s fall into the snowdrift but Joe had no scruples and told them exactly what had happened, laying emphasis on how much he owed to his big brother’s quick reactions and strength. He had already told Marie and held her hand as he told the others. Marie grinned at Hoss but Carole was horrified “I should never have let you go.”

Adam was puzzled by that and turned to his wife “What was it to do with you my love?”

Joe ginned and answered for her “Nothing much and she couldn’t have stopped us, she did try.”

Adam sighed and considered his youngest brother who was trying to look innocent, failing abysmally, and the rest of the family who were all grinning at him, apart from Carole who was flushed and worried. Adam stared at Joe “Something tells me that I’d better know just what you two have been up to little brother and how I’m involved.”

Joe grinned broadly “Only slightly involved Adam.” He sat back in silence and signalled Hoss to collect the books. Adam reached out and gripped Joe’s shoulder, shaking him gently “Explain.” But Joe just sat grinning and saying nothing. Then Hoss banged on the door and Ben let him in and Hoss put his four bundles of books down on the bed next to Adam. Adam thoroughly puzzled looked at the books and then round at his family. They were all grinning but none of them seemed ready to explain so he turned his attention to the books. They were all new, some he knew were on release and had thought about getting, and some he hadn’t even heard of. Then he came across the three Darwin books, which rang a bell. He rested back on his pillows and looked at Little Joe. For a moment he didn’t say anything, then “You were with me at Christmas when Dan told me about the new bookshop in Sacramento.” He fell silent for a minute and then looked from Joe to Hoss “Did you go all that way, take such a risk just to get me some books?” He read his answer in his brothers’ faces and completely taken back by such a gesture Adam felt tears stinging his eyelids and he couldn’t trust his voice, just putting out a hand to each of his brothers. They got their thanks for their efforts in the expression on his face and the grip of his hand and both grinned widely at him. For a moment the three brothers were oblivious of the others and Ben not wanting Adam to get too emotional interrupted with fresh coffee, having laced Adam’s with brandy. Joe entertained his brother with an account of the changing attitude of the shop owner. After ten minutes Adam had calmed down and was able to say thanks to his brothers before turning his attention to a detailed examination of the books. An hour later their efforts were proved worthwhile as Adam was oblivious of everyone, deep in John Russian’s book 'The stones of Venice' remembering the things he had seen. The others left him and Carole alone and Carole sat back knitting and watching Adam, who was more content than he had been for weeks.

Downstairs the other four sat round the fire with coffee and Ben said, “Well done both of you. I thought it was a good idea and we’ve been proved right, That lot will keep him quiet for a good while.”

That night when he’d settled down Adam felt an odd warmth at the thought of the efforts, his brothers had been prepared to expend to help him and to stop him getting bored. He was very impressed by the selection Joe had made and fell asleep on the thought that he must tell Joe so in the morning,

When Carole went into him the next day, she found him surrounded with paper covered in mathematical symbols as he tried to make sense of Maxwell’s equations. He was oblivious of her until she went over and kissed him. Even then he only gave her a small part of his attention “Get me some coffee will you love.” Carole nodded and brought up his breakfast but he ate it one handed and carried on jotting with the other attempting to make an equation work out. Carole asked “Do you mind if I go over to our house for a couple of hours?”

Adam looked up grinning, “Sure I’m fully occupied. Just ask Joe to pop in will you?”

She nodded and kissed him before she removed the tray and left him to play. The others were still sitting over coffee when she joined them, still grinning at her husband

Joe smiled “You look remarkably cheerful Carole.”

She grinned even more widely “Your brother is covering the bed with paper with obscure symbols and generally having fun. He did ask to see you.”

Joe got to his feet “I’ll take him up some fresh coffee, I’ll bet he’s stuck but he knows better than to ask my help.”

Carole turned to Hoss and asked if he would take her home to sort out a few things. Hoss nodded “Sure Carole. Just let me finish my coffee and I’ll go hitch up the buckboard.”

“No hurry Hoss. Adam’s busy he’ll never noticed I’m not here.”

Little Joe wandered in with coffee and stood looking at the bed “Having fun Adam? It looks as though a tornado just passed through.”

Adam looked at the mess “I could do with a waste paper basket. I can’t make this work out, but I’m sure I’m just missing something obvious. That wasn’t why I called you up.”

Joe laughed “Considering my well known ability to make 2 + 2 = 5, I didn’t think it was!”

Adam grinned, knowing full well that his brother could cope fine with figures if he had to, but then more serious he gestured at the books “I’ve had a chance to have a good look at what you collected little brother and I wanted to say thank you. I couldn’t have done better myself. Thanks Joe.”

Little Joe ruffled his brother’s hair “You’re more than welcome Adam. We had to do something to stop you driving us all mad out of sheer boredom.”

Adam just grinned, “You did a good job little brother though I still say you shouldn’t have taken such a risk. Still I do appreciate them and I promise to be good.”

Joe retreated to the door before saying “Impossible.” And got a fist shaken at him for his pains.

Adam passed the rest of the day deep in his books. He ate well and by half past nine settled down, for once feeling mentally tired, for the best night’s sleep he’d had in sometime. His family, seeing him content, were able to settle themselves.

The next day Doc came out to see how Adam was getting on. He came in to find Little Joe lazing by the fire his feet up and he looked over at Ben “Did they go to Sacramento?” Ben nodded and the Doc went over to Joe “How is your leg?”

Joe grinned, “Its fine. I told you it would only take us four days.” The Doc shook his head “Incorrigible! I hope you’ve stopped limping?"

Joe just grinned and Ben led the way upstairs. The Doc was surprised to find Adam so cheerful and much better than he had expected. He examined him thoroughly and then went to check on Carole and Marie. Eventually Doc went downstairs with Carole to get coffee and joined Ben by the fire. “Both girls are doing fine and I must say that Adam is better than I could have hoped.”

Ben grinned, “Forty eight hours of not fretting at being kept in bed have done marvels, His mind is being kept occupied and I guess his body can recover without his fussing.”

The Doc looked over at Joe coming down with his wife “I thought Hoss and Joe were mad going all that way but if some new books can have that much effect, it was well worth it. I guess they knew their brother better than I do. If Adam wants to get up you can let him out of bed. Make sure he goes straight back at the first hint of a temperature and don’t let him get overtired. I’ll drop by in four or five days and if he’s kept up this improvement he can come downstairs, but keep him in a constant temperature for now.”

Little Joe had heard what Doc had said and he came over grinning broadly “That’s good news Doc. How about letting him have a proper bath? We can make sure he doesn’t get cold.”

Doc considered that staring at Joe and then nodded, “Okay Joe but make sure he doesn’t get too hot either and if he runs a temperature don’t try it again. I guess he would feel better for one.”

Joe went up to tell his brother and Doc considered his old friend “Joe looks more or less recovered and Adam will be in a couple of months. Do you think you can keep them out of trouble for a bit? God alone knows how Adam took that fall without damaging his back, given his history.” Ben had often had the same thought the last few weeks but he just smiled as he saw his friend out “I’ll try but it’s not easy.”

At the door Paul stopped suddenly serious and said “Carole is fine but I want to keep a close eye on Marie, she may need some help.”

“Have you told Little Joe?”

Doc nodded “He knows. It’s too early to be sure yet but she’s very tiny. I’ll be able to judge better nearer the time, but it might need a caesarean operation.”

Ben sighed heavily “I guess all we can do is pray for the best.” Paul climbed into his buggy “Try not to worry too much Ben. Joe is quite calm about it.” Ben watched Doc leave and knew his friend was wrong about Joe, Joe was a good actor but he had seen the expression in his son’s eyes as he watched Marie.

When he went back in he found his younger sons making arrangements to let Adam have a bath. Carole was with her husband laughing at Joe ordering Hoss around, getting the fire made up, collecting the bath and filling it, heating towels and a clean nightshirt. Joe managed to look busy but, to the amusement of Adam and Carole, he didn’t actually do anything. Ben went over to his son "Sure you feel up to it Adam?” Adam grinned, "Don't fuss Pa. I'm fine and it'll be nice to feel clean again.” Ben nodded “Okay but you go straight back to bed afterwards.”

Adam looked mulish and Ben squeezed his shoulder “Please do as I ask Adam and if after lunch you’ve taken no harm, you can get up for a couple of hours.”

Adam smiled “Okay deal Pa. I’ll be good.”

Carole went to join Marie leaving Adam to have his bath in peace. Hoss helped his elder brother slide in and Adam lazed back relishing the soothing effect of the hot water on his sore body. After quarter of an hour Ben got to his feet, “That’s enough for one day.” Adam didn’t protest as his father helped him get out and dried before slipping on a clean warm nightshirt. He sank back into bed, more tired than he liked to admit. He was slightly shivery but Ben forbore to nag and just got him some hot coffee. When he’d finished it Adam snuggled down under the bedclothes still feeling cold “I think I’ll have a doze before lunch.”

Ben tucked the bedclothes round him “Good idea Son, we’ll see you later.”

It was a very subdued Little Joe who followed his father downstairs. Once they had reached the bottom Ben put his arm round Joe’s shoulders “Cheer up Joe.”

Joe sighed heavily “I was sure he’d feel better for a bath I sorta pressurised him into it.”

“He does feel better. He’s just tired but it hasn’t done him any harm. Let him doze for an hour and he’ll be fine, He’s still very weak, that fever and inability to breathe took an awful lot out of him.”

Joe let out a long breath, shaking his head dolefully, “I think I’m only just beginning to realise how much.”

Ben patted his back reassuringly “Adam does realise and he’s being sensible. He’ll be back to his normal self in a few weeks so don’t worry.” Joe nodded but he went and poured himself a drink, taking it outside, as he didn’t want to upset Marie or Carole. He was very worried about his wife, and to a lesser extent about his brother, and needed a few minutes alone to hide his feelings get the mask back in place. By the time he came back in, he was to all observation his usual cheerful self again.

Adam woke in time for lunch and insisted on getting up after it. He seemed okay and Ben didn’t bother to argue. He sat back and watched Adam sitting by the fire playing a hilarious game of cards with Carole Marie, Hoss and Joe and thanked his good angel that his eldest son was recovering so fast.

When the Doc came back four days later he was well pleased and told Adam he could get up and dressed move around as he liked. Paul did warn Adam not to overdo things or he would find himself back in bed and he didn’t want him going outside for another couple of weeks. Adam agreed willingly enough, glad of that much freedom of movement and knowing full well just how weak he still was and just how little it took to exhaust him. As soon as the Doc went out Adam slowly began dressing himself. When Carole came in he was fully dressed and sitting quietly by the fire to recover and collect sufficient strength to go downstairs. Carole didn’t waste her time arguing she knew her stubborn husband too well for that, but she thought he looked exhausted just from the effort of getting dressed and so she asked him to stay put until she had found Hoss to give him a hand down, just in case. Adam stared up at her, reading the worry in her eyes, and took her hand “Alright darling and don’t worry I won’t overdo it, I do not want to end up back in bed for weeks.”

She smiled and kissed his forehead but she wasn’t convinced still at least her brother-in-law could help and she went to find Hoss. 

Hoss willingly helped his brother down and Adam was glad of the support. He settled in the blue chair by the fire and just to see him downstairs made everyone fell better. Adam took things very easy; glad of the change of scene and with plenty of books to keep him occupied. Ben sure now that his eldest son was going to be sensible, for Carole’s sake if for no other reason, gave up worrying.

The next morning he decided it was time he went into town to collect some money for wages amongst other outstanding jobs. He mentioned it at breakfast and both Hoss and Joe said that they would go along. Ben wasn’t sure it would only leave two pregnant women to look after Adam, but as Carole and Marie began making out lists of things they wanted, he changed tack. Looking over at his big son he could read Hoss’ support and Ben suggested that the girls went into town to do their own shopping. They hadn’t been into Virginia City since before Christmas. Carole shrugged “I’d like to but I can’t leave Adam.”

Hoss spoke up “Don’t worry none. I’ll stick home and keep an eye on big brother. I can go to town anytime. You two go in with Pa and Joe.”

Carole looked over at Marie and could see that her support would be welcomed by the younger girl, very certain of her position in the family, Marie was less confident with outsiders. “Well if you wouldn’t mind Hoss. It’s a gorgeous day and it would make a change.”

Adam overheard the discussion as he slowly made his way downstairs “I don’t need a nursemaid. All of you go, Hop Sing can get me anything I need.”

Carole frowned, looking over at him; “You only came downstairs for the first time yesterday.”

Adam sat down and took her hand “Just get me some coffee love and stop fussing. I promise to sit quietly by the fire until you come back. I’ve been wanting some peace and quiet to start reading those Darwin books.”

Ben looked at his son for a minute “We’ll stop for lunch in town Adam, we won’t be back until say five.”

Adam grinned, “I realise that Pa. I’ll be fine, at a pinch I can always get Hop Sing to go find José or someone to give me a hand. It’ll be quite pleasant to be on my own for once.”

Joe laughed “Charming! We drive ourselves mad trying to keep him content and as soon as he’s back on his feet all he wants is to get rid of us.”

Adam just grinned at his little brother and Ben nodded “Alright you win. I’ll find those books for you.”

Carole came and sat on the arm of his chair, Adam put his arm round her “Go to town, have a break and enjoy yourself. You’ve more than earned it. I promise I’ll be good.”

She kissed him “Alright love and I won’t even worry about you.” Adam whispered “Liar” in her ear and then lent back to drink his coffee and recover from the effort of coming downstairs.

Adam sat back and watched as his family got their thick clothes on and Hoss saddled Buck and Chub while Joe hitched up the buckboard. Hoss was surprised that his brother didn’t moan at not being able to ride but all Joe wanted was to be with his wife and his leg was still sore enough after their long walk for him to be quite glad not to ride. When they were ready Joe wandered down to the bunkhouse and found José there. He told his friend that they were all going into town and asked him to pop in from time to time for a word with Hop Sing, just to make sure that Adam was okay.

José grinned, “I’ll keep a very discreet eye on Adam for you. Don’t worry. I’ll even try and hide the fact that you asked, if he finds out.”

Joe laughed “Thanks but knowing older brother you won’t succeed in that, but I’ll take my telling off later, just wanna be sure he’s okay. He’s only been down one day.”

Joe told Carole what he had done and she saw José standing looking out of the bunkhouse door and waved to him "Thanks Little Joe now I can do as I said and not worry.” Joe motioned to the house “You’d better wave goodbye to your husband, he’s at the window.” Carole did so and then they headed out. As they left Adam settled down by the fire to read.

Carole was far away on the ride into town thinking back to the night of horror when Adam and Joe hadn’t come home. Joe and Marie left her to her thoughts and chatted quietly together enjoying the beauty of the countryside and the quietness. It was the first time Marie had been to town since their wedding but she didn’t even feel nervous. The baby had been so accepted in the family and she felt so secure and loved by all the Cartwrights that noone could touch her from outside. Little Joe was surprised but after a while he came to the conclusion that she wasn’t putting on an act. He was very proud of his wife and also of his family, the way they had all come to accept her.

As they reached town Joe said he wanted to go to the stockbrokers and check the current position of the shares in the Consolidated Virginia. Hoss said that he would go with the girls to the store with the list of general supplies and meet the others at the hotel for lunch. Ben agreed and wandered down to the bank to get his business out of the way. Joe was first free and went down to the Bucket O’Blood for a beer knowing the others wouldn’t be at the hotel yet. Dan was at the bar and seeing Joe come in he called him over. He handed Joe a beer “How’s Adam?”

Little Joe grinned “Much better I’m glad to say. He’s downstairs, still rather weak and not allowed out of the house but otherwise his normal self. We’ve all left him alone today.”

Dan was surprised “You mean you’re all in town, even Carole?”

Joe grinned “Yeah and it took Adam a while to persuade her but she had some shopping to do. We’ve left José with a watching brief and Hop Sing is there.”

“I hear that you’re unpopular with Sharon again.”

Little Joe stared at him for a minute “How much do you know Dan?”

Dan grinned, “Enough Joe. It’s not in the paper yet but there’s no sweat. I’m sure you’ve seen the figures, with my five percent you have control now at 53%. I’m sure that Sharon knows that as well as I do. Where do you go from here?”

Joe grinned, “I’m only a minority holder Dan. Hold on and wait I’m not talking yet.”

Dan shrugged “Okay Joe it was worth a try. I’ll wait. Tell your father that Mckay and Fair want to talk to him.”

Joe nodded “Will do. Thanks”

“By the way are visitors allowed yet? I’d like to see Adam.”

Joe let loose with his trademark giggle, “No use Dan, I told you he’s back to normal, he won’t tell you anymore than I have.”

Dan cuffed him gently “I’d still like to see him.”

“Sure anytime although I warn you if you have the slightest snuffle Pa will bar the door against you. He’s still a mite prone to infection.” Then he excused himself to go join his family, Dan watched him go out wondering just what the Cartwrights, Mackay, Fair, Flood and O’Brien were up to this time.

Joe and his father were the first to reach the hotel and Joe filled him in on the current position, with Dan’s shares, they had control with the shares now standing at $97.75. He passed on Dan’s comment that Mackay and Fair wanted a word. Ben nodded “Fine but they can wait until after lunch. Maybe we ought to go and rescue Hoss.”

Little Joe looked out of the window “No need they are on the way over now,” He went out to meet Marie and helped her up on the sidewalk “You look exhausted Hoss.”

Hoss just laughed “You can collect all the shopping after lunch and then we’ll see who looks exhausted.” Joe just grunted and led the way in for dinner. They took their time and then Carole proclaimed her intention of going to buy some more fabric to make a couple of dresses. Marie looked over at her husband “Do you mind if I go along too?”

“Not as long as you don’t need me!” He passed over some money and arranged to pick her up in an hour. This was where Marie was glad of Carole’s support facing the other ladies in the dress shop but it was quite empty and they were able to take time in choosing patterns and material. Ben left his sons to load up all the stores and headed up to the mines to see Mackay and Fair. He warned the others that he wasn’t sure how long it would take and to go ahead when they were ready and get back to Adam, he would make his own way home. Hoss frowned, “Pa you’re carrying a lot of money.”

Ben smiled ruefully “You’re getting very pessimistic Hoss. Since when did you worry about me carrying money?”

Hoss looked down but Ben could see the concern in every line of his body and so he gripped his big son's shoulder “Come on then you can take the money-belt and your little brother can protect you.” Hoss grinned but he took it, there had been too much trouble recently and he couldn’t help worrying.

Hoss and Joe went to collect everything and Ben went to look for Mackay and Fair. They were both up at the Savage mine. It was in borrasca and the offices were deserted so they could talk in peace. Dan’s information was nearly accurate, in fact they were holding exactly 50%, not counting Dan’s shares, but still buying to make sure of their position. Flood and O’Brien had managed it for rather less than the $100, 000 they had estimated, but now they had to talk to Sharon. Jim Fair sat back “Adam explained what we hope to get Sharon to agree to.”

Ben nodded “Have you sounded him out at all yet?”

Fair shook his head “We wanted control first but we are ready to talk to him now. The trouble is Adam was going to handle all the legal details. If he’s out of it we’ll have to get another lawyer in. Sharon’s too wily to handle without a lawyer on the spot.”

Ben shook his head “I guess you’ll have to count Adam out. You heard how ill he was. It’ll be a couple of months I’d guess before he could make town. I won’t have him taking any chances.”

Mackay said “Dan told us and we wouldn’t suggest it, but if we could get Sharon to agree to hold the meeting at the Ponderosa, what then?”

Ben stared at them for a moment taken aback by the suggestion then he asked, “Are you that eager to have Adam handle it?”

Fair nodded “We know we can trust him not to leave any loopholes. Sharon would just love to hang the lot of us. Adam’s a damned good lawyer and he knows the set up.” Ben thought about it for a minute sipping his whiskey in silence. He knew just how tiring long business meetings could be and how much detailed work this kind of deal would involve. Finally he said, “I know Adam would prefer to handle it himself. He is up and around now so if you can get Sharon to agree I guess he can cope. If you could arrange it for next week I’d be grateful, give him a little more time to rebuild his strength.”

Fair nodded “Sure we can do that. If we can’t get Sharon to agree, we’ll come out and talk to Adam see who he thinks should act for us, but I think I can tie Sharon down that far. I’ll send word.” Ben acknowledged that and headed back to join his sons with plenty to think about, wondering if he had done the right thing or whether Adam was still too weak to be bothered. Still at the worst, if his son didn’t feel like doing it after he’d talked things, over one of them could come back to town tomorrow and tell Jim Fair.

Hoss and Joe were still loading the wagon and were surprised to see their father back so soon. Ben joined then “They haven’t spoken to Sharon yet so there’s no real news. I’ll fill you in later. Joe you go and collect the girls, I’ll help Hoss finish up here.” Joe nodded and headed off, but Hoss got no help, as Roy spotted his old friend and came over for a chat. By the time Ben had filled him in on Adam and collected the latest gossip, the work was done. Hoss lent against the wagon “I’m gonna have to learn this knack of avoiding work Pa. I can sure see where Joe got it from.”

Ben laughed and clapped his big son on the back “Go get yourself a beer Hoss, there’s no sign of the others.”

“Sounds a real good idea Pa.”

At the house Adam had done as he’d promised and taken it very easy. He was still revelling in the freedom to move around the house; even if the walk across the room to get coffee did leave him feeling exhausted. He heard José’s voice in the kitchen soon after lunch and wandered in to join him. Adam grinned at his old friend “Who set you on as a watchdog?”

José’s expression gave him away and Adam considered him for a moment. "Little Joe at a guess.”

José laughed “But of course.”

Adam shook his head in mock disgust “I don’t need a nursemaid but long time no see, come on through for a chat.” José followed him through and poured coffee before joining his friend by the fire “Real good to see you back on your feet old friend”

“Not nearly as good as it feels to get out of my bedroom José. Trouble is I’m still as weak as a kitten and I’m tied to the house for a while."

José looked out of the window at the weather, which was closing in “You’re not missing much, bloody cold out there.” The two friends sat chatting for an hour and José described Hoss’ fight for Adam. Then José got up to go “I’m only down in the bunkhouse Adam. Get Hop Sing to give me a yell if you need any help. You look tired.”

Adam grinned broadly “Shoo José. It took a lot of effort to get rid of my family clucking around like mother hens. You’re not taking over.” José just laughed and went out. Adam watched his friend leave, smiling at his obvious concern, but he admitted to himself that José was right he was tired. He pulled a stool over put his feet up and leaning back dozed off. He slept for a couple of hours and woke up feeling better. He was sitting reading, with coffee by him, when the buckboard came in. Carole was first out of the wagon and hurried inside. Hoss looked at his father “Go on Pa, I’ll see to the horses.” Ben grinned and dismounted throwing Buck’s reins to his big son.

As he went in he saw Carole sitting on the arm of her husband’s chair, grinning widely. He went over and saw for himself that Adam had taken no harm from being left alone for a few hours. He went over to pour coffee and then came over to the fire “It’s cold out there.” Adam wanted to know the news from town, but Ben said that could wait until his brothers had finished unloading and he went out to help Joe carry the stores in. Marie was carefully unpacking the material they had bought, but Ben took it from her and sent her into the fire to get warm. Half an hour later everything was sorted out and Ben poured a drink all round before dinner. Then he filled Adam in on the position with the Consolidated Virginia, the total cost so far $87, 000. He went on Flood and O’Brien are going to pick up another 2% to ensure control and then hold of until we’ve broken the news to Sharon.”

Adam nodded “Sounds sensible. Have they broached the subject of going through the Gould and Curry yet?" Ben shook his head “McKay is nervous of handling Sharon, he doesn’t want to talk to him without a lawyer present.” Adam pulled himself to his feet and went over to the window. “I was expecting to handle that but...” He broke of and stood staring out of the window, cursing his own weakness. He knew full well, that even if the Doc and his family allowed it, he wasn’t strong enough to make it into town. If he tried, even in a wagon, he was likely to end up flat on his back in bed and it would be weeks before he dared try. Ben moved over and gripped his shoulder “They realise you’re not up to going to town, but they wanted me to find out if you were well enough to handle the meeting, if they could persuade Sharon to hold out here.”

Adam turned at that “What did you say?”

Ben shrugged “I wasn’t sure but I said that I thought you would prefer to handle it yourself and that you could probably cope. I asked them to leave it for a week preferably and that if you didn’t feel up to it we would let them know.”

Adam moved back over to the chair by the fire “Do you think Sharon will agree after all we want something from him, not the other way round?”

Ben shrugged “I don’t know. Jim Fair seemed to think that Sharon was curious about this house, he’s never been out here and that we could play on that. He’ll let us know and if Sharon won’t play they want you to recommend and brief someone else”

Carole was looking worried and Adam grinned at her “Provided I don’t have to stir I can manage love. Fairly easily I think. Pa and Joe make pretty good law clerks to do the hard work.” She had to laugh at him and then Hop Sing said that dinner was ready. As they moved over to the table Ben took the opportunity to tell Adam to think about it carefully and be sure that he was strong enough, it could be a very long meeting. Adam grinned at him “You think I can manage or you would never have mentioned it at all. You’d just have told Fair and Mackay no, because you knew damn well what my answer was going to be.”

Ben had to admit the justice of that “Okay. Just be very careful and don’t overdo things. Come on lets eat.” After the meal Adam admitted to tiredness and went back to bed.

Two days later Dan rode out for the day bringing with him a letter from Mackay, saying that Sharon had agreed to come out for a meeting on Saturday afternoon three days from now. Ben showed Adam the letter as he relaxed by the fire in his bedroom while he recovered from a bath. Adam nodded “That’s great Pa. I’d better check a few legal points before the meeting. If I make out a list of books can you get Joe to go and collect them for me? I can work up here, it’s quiet.”

Ben nodded “One of us will get your books but you can’t work now. Dan brought the letter out, he’s downstairs, so if you’re feeling sociable?”

Adam grinned widely “Sure it’s been a while. There’s no rush on the books it will only take me a couple of hours to check.” He followed his father downstairs to join Dan by the fire. Dan watched him come downstairs and thought his friend still looked drawn and pale. Adam had lost quite a bit of weight that he could ill afford, never having quite regained his normal weight after the injury the previous summer but his handshake was firm enough. Dan was quite truthful as he said, “You look better than I expected after what Doc’s been saying.”

Adam smiled “I’m okay Doc will take the plaster off tomorrow, with any luck, and let me out in another week or so.”

Dan was pleased to hear it, but insisted that Adam come and sit down. Then over coffee he filled Adam in on the gossip round town. It made a very pleasant day, Dan was always a welcome visitor and Adam was pleased to see someone who wasn’t family. Little Joe rode out with Dan when he left and went over to Adam’s house to collect the books that Adam wanted.

During the next two days Adam checked the legal position and the various safeguards he could build into the contract, if Sharon on behalf of the directors of the Gould and Curry would agree to them driving a tunnel through from the lower levels of that mine and bring rocks out that way. He discussed the position with his father and they were able to make an estimate of the sort of price per ton they could agree to pay to carry the rock out and the probable size of the working group. Hoss and Little Joe listened in on some of the discussions but the legal niceties soon bored them and they left it to Ben and Adam. Marie was confused and didn’t know what to make of the discussions. Joe did his best to explain but he got himself in a tangle and after a while he gave up “You’re a nuisance Marie. Until you started asking questions I was quite happy that I understood now I know that I don’t. Once Adam has it sorted out we’ll, ask him. He’s quite good at explaining in words of one syllable when necessary.”

Carole came over at that “I think I’ll sit in on that explanation Joe I’m getting lost.”

Hoss laughed at them all “You’re complicating things unnecessarily. It’s very simple in essence. We dig a tunnel at 1300 ft from the Gould and Curry through the Consolidated Virginia and pay Sharon to bring the rocks out at so much per ton. Then when we find ore we bring enough out to pay for a shaft straight down and close the agreement.” Little Joe sat open-mouthed in amazement, while Ben and Adam watched in amusement form the study. Carole said, “Okay, but what are all these things that Adam is going on about?”

Hoss waved a hand in dismissal “Legal trivialities to make sure that Sharon can’t change the terms or stop us cancelling the contract and to make sure he has no claim on anything we find. Don’t forget it’s complicated because the Consolidated Virginia was initially six mines.”

Ben came over “Hoss is just about right you know."

Hoss grinned at his little brother “It’s simple just keep your eye on the main issues and don’t keep getting side-tracked by detail. That’s your trouble little brother.” Little Joe launched himself at his brother at that and sensible discussion went out the window.

Ben ensured Adam went up to bed early on the Friday evening. He was gradually regaining his strength, but he was still weak and the meeting was bound to be very tiring. Adam agreed with no trouble, he was enjoying doing a useful job again, a job he had trained for. Carole was surprised how calm and happy Adam was, using his brain ensured him a good night’s sleep and he was recovering well.

On the Saturday, Fair and Mackay arrived with Sharon at about half past eleven. Ben suggested that they took it easy and had lunch before turning to business. Sharon had brought a lawyer Terence Mills with him. Mills was on the board of the Bank of California and a director of the Gould and Curry, between the two of them could negotiate anything on the Comstock and be sure of pushing it through the Bank’s hierarchy. Sharon agreed to Ben’s proposal and Ben showed him around the house and the immediate area. Sharon made it clear that when it came to detailed discussions he had no intentions of being so outnumbered even if all the Cartwrights were involved. He would talk with Mckay, Fair and Adam. As a concession to Adam’s recent illness he accepted Ben’s presence, but not the other two. Ben agreed willingly enough, Hoss and Joe were used to leaving such matters to either their father or their elder brother. Even if in this case they were only involved as individuals and not the Ponderosa as such, he knew they wouldn’t mind.

After lunch knowing they would only be in the way Hoss suggested that he and Joe take the two girls over to Adam’s house and make sure it was ready for him. The Doc had agreed to him travelling home, provided he wrapped up warm and he was intending to go the following day. Ben thought it was a good idea and so the four of them left, intending to have supper there, and return mid-evening, This allowed Ben to use the main room for their business meeting in comfort, without fear of interruption.

Adam had taken the opportunity, while Ben showed Sharon and Mills around, to have a talk with Fair and Mackay. They had discussed the sort of terms they would agree to and had come to much the same conclusions as Ben and Adam. The detailed arguing they were prepared to leave to Adam. Jim Fair had been taken back by how ill Adam still looked and was in two minds as to whether they had done the right thing in asking him to handle it, he was nowhere near fit. Mackay knew Adam rather better and assured Jim that Adam would cope, he might be weak but his brain was as incisive as ever. Adam had met Sharon but he had never had any business dealings with him. The only time that the Ponderosa had been closely involved with the Bank of California, he had been in Europe. Sharon knew Adam’s reputation and knew just how much Ben relied on his eldest son and he had learnt a healthy respect for the Cartwrights. He had come out, partly to satisfy his curiosity about the ranch, and partly to find just what the Cartwrights and the four Irishmen were up to with the Consolidated Virginia. He was determined to be very careful of Adam but having seen him he relaxed. Adam looked weak and ill and Sharon was sure that he could handle the younger man. Adam was very quiet over lunch, only picking at his food, and Sharon began to look even more confident. Mills had dealt with Adam before and warned Sharon not to underestimate him, he had the best brain on the Comstock. Sharon felt that he had the right to that title himself and he looked down on the Cartwrights, dressed in their rough range clothes. He had always had the tendency to be a fop and to judge men by their clothes. By the time the men sat down to their business meeting, Sharon was supremely confident.

Sharon waited in silence for someone to start the ball rolling. Adam accepted that, it was fair they had called the meeting and he began “The four of us here represent the new board of the Consolidated Virginia. You know we now have control of the mine. At least 60% of the stock is pledged to us. I believe your opinion of the mine is a matter of public record?”

Sharon stared at Adam suspiciously, fearing a trap, but he had too much pride to go back on his opinion, “Yes it’s on record. I think the Consolidated Virginia is worthless and you have wasted £100, 000 dollars on a mine, which has already wasted several million dollars without return. But that is your problem I don’t see where I come in?”

 Adam was glad to have such a definite opinion from Sharon and he went on “The Gould and Curry is working half time only, with no prospects of improvement in the foreseeable future?”

“That’s also a matter of public record. I don’t see the connection.”

“Easy. We want to drive a tunnel into the Consolidated Virginia from the 1300 foot level in the Gould and Curry. We will of course pay for access and pay an agreed price per ton to bring the rock out through the Gould and Curry.”

Sharon sat back at that just staring at Adam in silence for a moment. Then he lent forward “Why should I?”

Adam smiled “Surely the question is why shouldn’t you? You have unused facilities in the Gould and Curry going to waste. We are offering to pay you for the use of them. In your judgement, as you have already told us, the mine is worthless but as we would pay a straight price per ton you would gain. If you are wrong and we find ore the whole Comstock will gain and with it the Bank."

Sharon didn’t answer and then looking at Mills he said “I want a break for a few minutes to discuss this with my colleague.”

Adam nodded “Of course. I think coffee is indicated.” Ben called to Hop Sing to bring coffee and the four of them went over to the fire leaving Sharon and Mills by the window. Ben watched the two men in deep discussion “Well at least he hasn’t ruled it out of hand. You did well tying him down to his judgement of the mine to begin with.” Adam grinned “He’ll play he’s too much pride not to back his own judgement." He sat sipping his coffee and Ben brought him over a brandy “Take it easy Adam, its going to be a very long day.” Adam was glad of the drink but reassured his father “Don’t fuss Pa I’m fine.” Ben nodded but he wasn’t convinced, he left Adam in peace and joined Fair and Mackay. The three men talked quietly as Sharon and Mills stood over by the window jotting down numbers as they worked out the rates they could ask. Jim apologised to Ben for inflicting the meeting on Adam; “I didn’t realise how ill he still is.”

Ben shrugged “He’s very much better now and I think he’s enjoying doing something useful. Don’t look so worried, he can cope and I think he will get us what we need.” Fair accepted that but he didn’t trust Sharon.

Twenty minutes later Sharon was prepared to go on. “I’m prepared to come to an agreement for access through the Gould and Curry, provided we can settle arrangements and payments satisfactory to both sides.”

Adam nodded “Fair enough. Maybe you would like to start the ball rolling tell us the sort of terms you are thinking of.”

Sharon wasn’t too keen on starting the dickering, but he had left himself open and had no choice. He quoted a price per ton only slightly higher that the limit Adam had decided on which was encouraging and he was reasonably flexible on the number of men he would agree to using the facilities. He also wanted an initial cash payment for access plus a rental for the facilities and guarantees that the ore would be processed in the Bank mills. Two years earlier the Cartwrights and the Irishmen had breached the Bank monopoly of mills and bought two, which handled all the Hale and Norcross ore. Fair and Mackay looked at each other at that they definitely did not want to be tied to the Bank mills, but Adam shook his head at them. He wanted to hear Sharon’s first terms then he should be able to see the best way to get a package out of him. Sharon listed a few more details and then said “We shall have to settle arrangements for termination of the agreement on either side.”

Adam nodded “We agree to that. Two things I can’t agree to are initial cash payments or the use of Bank mills. We cannot be tied to long term plans until we find out just what ore is present. We need to be free to decide what to do, when we see the grade of the ore.” Then he outlined the terms he was thinking of. Ben was surprised just how low he couched the payments and the size of the work force he was suggesting as a maximum. He was pushing harder than they had planned initially. Sharon was now on his home territory and he listened carefully to Adam’s proposals. By the time Adam had finished Sharon had come to a conclusion on the likely final terms they would compromise on, given Adam was as adept at bargaining as he was. He knew where he was prepared to give and had a shrewd idea where Adam would. As the compromise was acceptable to him he settled back to bargain. Adam also had a shrewd idea where they would end up but he was determined to get the best possible deal. Fair and Mackay were involved in the agreements of the maximum work force they could put in, but once that was settled they left the rest to Adam. Adam and Sharon finally settled a price per ton for rock moved out through the Gould and Curry and a rental per month for facilities for the men, up and down to the work face and changing rooms on the surface. Then Mills got involved and the three lawyers began hammering out a legal contract. With six mines involved in the Consolidated Virginia, it was a complicated document. At seven they broke for a meal, the outlines were decided but the details safeguarding each side still had to be settled,

Ben was worried Adam looked absolutely exhausted. Adam wouldn’t join the others, he wasn’t hungry, all he wanted was coffee. His father went and poured him some, lacing it with brandy and took it over. Adam tried to reassure him; although tired he could cope. Ben left him to drink his coffee and relax while he joined the others for dinner. Even Mills was concerned about Adam and suggested that they leave the details for another day but Ben, after glancing over at his son, shook his head. Sharon frowned, “I shouldn’t be able to get out here again for at least a month and I imagine you want this settled.” He had no intention of letting Adam off the hook; a tired man was far more likely to make mistakes.

Ben could read that much in the banker’s face but he was also quite sure that Sharon was still underestimating his eldest son, so he said “Adam is alright and I know he wants to finish this tonight.”

After an hour’s break they returned to work. Ben did what he could to help Adam but it was basically his work. Fair and Mackay sat back and left it to the Cartwrights, they knew basically the loopholes that needed plugging but the legal niceties were beyond them, as Adam and Sharon argued over every clause. Sharon tried to introduce several ambiguities but Adam wouldn’t accept them and Sharon had to admit to himself, albeit to noone else, that he had finally met a lawyer with as good a brain as he had and wise to all the byways of Nevada mining law.

When the others returned at ten p.m. Sharon and Adam were still locked in battle. Not wanting to interrupt the four of them went up to Joe’s room. Ben took them up coffee and quickly outlined the main terms of the agreement. Little Joe whistled softly “That’s a lot better than you expected isn’t it?”

Ben nodded, “Adam pushed him hard and they are still wrangling over the fine print.” Carole was over by the window and she turned at that “How much longer Pa? Adam looks all in.”

“I’m sure he is very tired but he’s pleased with himself. I really don’t know how long they’ll carry on. It’s Sharon and Adam both trying to keep their side watertight and gain any advantage that’s going. Neither of them will be hurried.” Carole nodded and turned back to the window as Ben went down to rejoin his son.

Adam was so tired he was having a job to focus on the papers in front of him but he was determined not to give in until the last ‘t’ was crossed, the last ‘i’ dotted. As his father rejoined him, he asked for a brandy. Ben got him one, worried about his son but not saying anything, knowing that Adam had no real choice but to keep going. In fact the last few paragraphs were done much faster as Sharon accepted that he wasn’t going to be able to slide anything past Adam. They finally settled the final form of the contract at eleven thirty, Sharon still had to get it accepted by the boards of both the Gould and Curry and the Bank of California but he was supremely confident that those were just formalities. He initialled it provisionally pending approval, as did Adam on behalf of the Board of the Consolidated Virginia. Sharon was going to San Francisco later in the week and said he would be in touch in about ten days. Then he and Mills took their leave.

Fair and Mackay came over “We’ll be heading back to town too. Thanks Adam you have done a fine job. I hope it hasn’t taken too much out of you.”

Adam managed a grin “I admit I’m tired but I’m okay. I don’t think the terms are too bad.”

Even Jim Fair had to smile at that “You know the terms we were prepared to accept. Well done Adam.”

Ben went out with his partners and Jim said, "Well Ben Adam has done us proud, now it’s up to us to find that ore and prove Sharon wrong.” Ben nodded and watched the men leave before hurrying back in to his eldest son. Carole had seen them leaving and she had run downstairs to her husband. She was sitting on the arm of Adam’s chair.

Adam was trying to convince her that he was okay but he was too tired to be convincing, Ben took one look and called for Hoss. He told his big son to carry his brother up to bed and give him a hand to get undressed, Adam’s protest didn’t even convince himself. He was so tired he was shivery and Carole watched very worried as Hoss disappeared upstairs. Ben went over and put his arm round her shoulders “He’s exhausted and I think you can forget moving home tomorrow, he’ll sleep the clock round but he’ll be alright. Don’t worry.” Carole wasn’t convinced but she tried not to fuss. Adam back in bed stayed awake just long enough to kiss her goodnight before falling into a deep sleep of utter exhaustion.

Carole went into the guestroom she had been using and tried very unsuccessfully to get some sleep. Ben sat rereading the final contract with Little Joe and filling in some of the details of the negotiations for his youngest son. Joe listened in silence and as Ben finished he got restlessly to his feet “Adam did a real good job. Is he okay?”

“Sharon helped. I think he underestimated your brother but he won’t do it again. Adam’s worn out and he was running a slight temperature but I think he’ll sleep off the worst effects. I’m just going to check on him and then I’m for bed myself.”

Joe nodded and went upstairs with his father. Carole heard them going into Adam’s room and putting on her dressing gown she joined them. Adam was sleeping very peacefully and the chance to rest had already dropped his temperature back to normal. Ben gently felt his forehead “He’ll be fine, temperature’s down already. I suggest you get some sleep Carole, no need to worry.” She was reassured this time and headed off to bed, but Joe looked quizzically at his father. Ben grinned “I mean it Joe. He’s fine probably sleep until lunchtime and then I’ll try and persuade him to leave going home for one more day but he’s okay. It was a very long day and he handled it well and had taken no real harm. I think we can just about stop worrying about him, he’ll be as fit as ever soon.” On that note the two men also headed for bed.

In fact it was mid-afternoon before Adam woke up and he had a splitting headache after such a long deep sleep but he was very thirsty and got up. When he went down only Carole and Marie were there. Carole came swiftly over to meet him at the bottom of the stairs; Adam took her in his arms and hugged her close “I’m fine darling but if you wouldn’t mind I’d rather wait until tomorrow to go home. I can’t be bothered today.” Carole pulled back and studied her husband, she could see from the slight glitter in his eyes that he probably had a headache, but his temperature was normal and he seemed to have taken no harm from all his hard work the previous day. “I was going to suggest it darling. You don’t want to overdo it.”

Adam pulled her close “I’m alright, just feeling a bit lazy.”

“I know you are much better but we mustn’t take any risks. Anyway go and sit down. I’ll get you some coffee and then get some food.”

“Thanks my love. Where is everyone?”

“Your father and Hoss are in the barn, a mare in foal is having some trouble. Joe went for a ride a couple of hours ago, said he was restless. I expect he’ll be back soon.”

Adam smiled “Get that coffee please I’m very thirsty.” Carole headed of to the kitchen and Adam went over to join Marie by the fire. She was glad to see him up and looking reasonably fit. She got out the book she had been reading earlier, it was one of his travel books and she didn’t understand some words and asked for his help, Adam very willingly gave it, he was very fond of his sister-in-law.

Adam was sitting eating a belated lunch when Hoss and Ben came in. they were pleased with themselves having saved both the mare and her foal after a long struggle, Adam grinned at his father "You look as though you need a bath."

”A good wash at any rate. How do you feel?”

“Much better for a long sleep and some food. Still I think we were quite successful yesterday. By the way you’ll have to put up with us for another night. I can’t be bothered to move today.”

Ben was pleased that his son was using his common-sense “Good idea Adam. I’d better get cleaned up and then we can talk.” When Ben came back down he ran over the plans for moving into the Gould and Curry once Sharon had the contract approved. Fair and Mackay had been filling Ben in while Adam and Sharon were negotiating. The plans were about what they had expected, although Jim Fair was aiming to move rather faster than they had originally planned

Little Joe had ridden up to the Lake. With his brother so much better and the contract with Sharon tied up, two of the problems he had had on his mind were removed. That left the main problem to be faced. He had given up worrying about the baby being someone else’s at least until it was born, all he wanted now was for it to arrive. Since their marriage Marie had become ever more important to him. He knew that the Doc was worried about her and even the thought of losing her made him feel physically sick. He was scared for her in a way he had never known before for anyone. All too often he had sat by his father or one of his brothers and prayed for their survival. He loved his family and had known what it was like to fear for their lives, but never before had he felt such a grip of panic as he did now every time he thought of the ordeal facing Marie. She was part of him now and he couldn’t face the thought of life without her. Joe sat up by his mother’s grave trying to get free of the grip of fear. Eventually thoroughly cold he headed back to the house, sufficiently under his control not to worry his wife.

Joe was pleased to see his eldest brother up, having taken no harm from his hard work and he joined Adam and Ben by the fire. Adam was cross with himself, he had intended to get one of them to take a letter in and post it for him but had forgotten to give it to Mackay or Fair. It was the second time he had forgotten and it was getting urgent as he wanted to confirm that Edwin Booth was coming as expected in a month’s time. Edwin had hoped to come for Christmas but his play had had an extended run in New York and he hadn’t been able to arrange it. Now he wanted to stay for a two-week break on the way to a season in San Francisco. Joe laughed at his brother “Don’t worry Adam I’ll take it in tomorrow, once we’ve got you back home, and send a telegram to confirm it just in case.”

Adam grinned up at his brother “Thanks Joe. I would be grateful. Sorry to be a nuisance.”

Joe wandered over to get coffee “You’ve been a nuisance as long as I can remember, always getting into trouble.”

Adam shook his fist at his brother, too lazy to get up “Hark whose talking little brother!”

Ben gave Adam a game of chess during the evening which eventually ended in stalemate and then insisted his son went to bed, if he wanted to return home the next day,

Adam wasn’t sleepy having got up so late but he knew it wasn’t worth arguing, this was one he wasn’t going to win. Carole was still sleeping in the guestroom, she was restless as the baby began to make its presence felt and she didn’t want to disturb Adam, who still badly needed all the rest he could get. Adam, alone in his bedroom, tried to settle without success, he heard the rest of the family come up and when everything was quiet, he gave up trying to sleep and got up. He put on his dressing gown and went over to the window, staring out over the view he loved so much. He’d been staring out for some time when he heard a muffled cry from the next room. Puzzled he listened and then heard the door opening and someone going downstairs. For a minute Adam stayed where he was but he kept hearing that cry and he went to see what was wrong, unsure whether it was Joe or Marie wandering around. As he went down the stairs he saw his brother sitting on the hearthrug staring unseeingly into the dying embers.

Little Joe had been very tired and fallen asleep almost as soon as he got to bed, but he’d been woken by a nightmare. He had managed to muffle the cry not wanting to disturb Marie but he was badly shaken and in a cold sweat. Needing to pull himself together he’d got up and come down but the nightmare was still with him and he couldn’t stop shaking. He wasn’t even aware of Adam’s presence until his brother came over and gripped his shoulders “Whatever is wrong Little Joe? You look terrible.” Joe looked up at his brother but he couldn’t find his voice. Worried Adam went and poured out a large brandy and gave it to Joe before going into the kitchen to warm up some coffee. Joe sipped his brandy and tried with limited success to get control of himself. Adam left him alone until he had the coffee ready and then went back and joined his brother on the rug. For the first time Joe remembered his brother’s recent illness. “You shouldn’t be out of bed Adam, you’ll get cold.”

Adam shrugged “I’m fine.”

“You ought to get back to bed. I’m okay now.”

“Well you don’t look it. Do you want to talk?”

“Nothing really to talk about, just a nightmare.” Joe sat staring into his cup, oblivious of his brother. Adam went and got his coat and put it on to keep warm and then went back over to his brother “Come on Joe tell me about it or you’re going to be too scared to go back to sleep.”

Joe looked up at his brother, so often over the years he had turned to Adam when he had nightmares, he wanted to talk now but couldn’t. He was conscience stricken at keeping his brother from the rest he needed and again tried to persuade Adam to go back to bed. Adam sat down resting his hand lightly on the back of his brother’s neck, “Come on Joe I can’t sleep anyway, its less than ten hours since I woke up.”

Joe lent back against his brother “Alright, if you’re sure I think I need to talk.”

“I’m sure.” Adam smiled “But I’m getting a bit old for the rug.” He eased himself back into a chair and Joe moved back to lean against his brother’s legs, needing the reassurance of contact “I was out at the Lake this afternoon, I suppose that’s why I was dreaming. I’m so scared for Marie. I just wish the baby would come. It’s always the same; I’m up by the lake in my dream, standing by a new grave next to my Mother’s. It was empty but as I watched two coffins were lowered in, one a tiny baby’s coffin placed at the foot of the other. I threw the first clod of earth in and then woke up.” Joe was shaking again and Adam reached forward to grip his brother’s shoulders, Joe went on “I just don’t know how I could live without her now.” He was shaking with cold and Adam eased himself up getting Joe’s coat and draping it round his brother’s shoulders “Easy Joe. I know how you feel. You think you’re in love before marriage but its nothing to the importance of your wife after a few weeks of being really close together.”

“I didn’t realise until now just how much one person could mean to me. I’ve known what is to fear for the life of someone I love, on more occasions than I care to remember, you, Pa, Hoss but this is different. If anything happens to Marie I don’t think I could face the future on my own. The Doc is talking about a possible Caesarean operation, with all the risks that entails. I don’t think she’s very strong, not physically, mentally she’s strong, but she’s had too rough a life to build up any reserves of strength.”

Adam gripped his brother’s shoulder knowing there was no point in offering facile words of comfort. He could understand all too easily how Joe felt. He was scared for Carole and the Doc had always been very reassuring about her, she was an ideal build to bear children, but he had to try. “It was only a dream Joe, not a portent for the future. Just a reaction to sitting up by the Lake worrying.”

“I know that Adam but it make no difference. I’ve been getting more scared every day. When there were other things to worry about I could put it to the back of my mind, while you were ill; the business with Sharon unsettled; anything else to think about. But now...”

Adam grinned wryly “I’m glad my illness did some good,”

Joe looked up swiftly “You know what I mean it isn’t even as if there is much work we can do at this time of the year.”

Adam nodded “I know and I do understand how you feel, not that that helps. At Christmas Pa was saying how glad he was that you and I had found the joy of wives we loved and the prospect of children. I told him that we had also found the true meaning of terror, that fear that it wouldn’t last. He told me that even if the worst happened noone could take memories of days like that away from us. He was right Joe. There’s nothing you can do to help Marie now, there never was. The die was cast before you even met her. You’ve given her the best you can now; your love and a comfortable secure life. All you can do now is trust in God and in Paul.”

Joe stared at his brother for a long minute and then sighed heavily “It’s easy to say Adam but it’s not so easy to do, especially in the early hours of the morning when I can’t sleep.”

Adam gently squeezed the back of his brother’s neck “I know that Joe. God I’m scared enough about Carole with far less reason. The trouble is that unless you can get a grip on yourself, you’re going to upset Marie. And all the time you’re so worried and scared you’re not storing up those good memories against the worst happening.”

“If it does, I shan’t need memories. I told you I can’t live without her.”

Adam let a touch of anger sound in his voice “That’s nonsense Joe. Marie loves you far too much to do that to her. Even if the worst should happen you’ll go on living, you’re not a coward."

“If Marie is dead, it won’t do anything to her.”

“You believe in God, a life after death. She would know.”

“I’m not sure I’d still believe in God if he takes Marie. She’s never had any of the good things in life until now and yet noone could deserve them more.”

“I know Joe but noone ever claimed life was fair, not here and now. There’s no way in justice to explain the death and suffering of young children. No merciful God could inflict the sins of the father on the child. We can only believe in a higher justice in the hereafter. God hasn’t made a pact with you to make things easy in return for your belief.”

“Maybe your belief is stronger than mine.”

“Maybe but I have my doubts too on occasion, of us all I think Hoss has the strongest faith or maybe Pa. His had been tested not once but three times. If he had given in when my mother died you wouldn’t be here. In time nature had its way and grief faded to leave him free to face the future. I don’t believe that Pa loved my mother any less than you love Marie or I love Carole just because he found new love and remarried.”

Little Joe sat and thought about that “You’re right. You can tell from the way he still talks about her, but maybe I’m not as strong as Pa.”

“You would be if you have to be but that’s only if the worst happens. If it does you will be able to face it. There’s a good chance it won’t so why spend your time in fear and trembling for something, which may never happen. Relax and enjoy yourself. The only thing you can give Marie now is peace of mind. She must sense how scared you are she loves you.”

Little Joe sat staring at his brother for a long time without saying a word but as he thought over what his brother had said he gradually calmed down. Eventually he grinned, “Thanks Adam. Now will you go and get some rest. I really am okay now.”

Adam had seen his brother calm down and the colour come back to his face “Are you going up Joe?”

“In a while. I guess I have some thinking to do but I’m alright now. Thanks big brother. You shouldn’t have got up, but I’m glad you did.”

“You’re welcome brother.” Adam left Joe sitting by the fire and went back to bed to lie awake thinking about his brother. He knew how much Marie meant to Joe and how worried his brother was and determined to have a quiet word with his father, but he had done all he could for now.

Downstairs Joe thought over what his brother had said, it made a lot of sense and he knew that Marie was beginning to sense his fears, which was the last thing he wanted. He sat by the fire until he heard Hop Sing get up, thinking round in circles and beginning to accept the risks. He had one consolation, at least whatever happened was none of his making. As Adam had said the baby was conceived before he’d even met her. All he had done was to improve her chances, giving her every comfort, and something to live for. Finally he went up and got dressed much more at peace with himself than he had been for weeks. He hadn’t realised just how much Marie had known of his feelings, but he soon noticed the effect on her of his newly found peace. She saw the difference almost as soon as she came down and became positively gay, When Adam came down midmorning the whole family was infected. He got coffee looked long at his brother and then sure if wasn’t just an act, he joined in.

After lunch Adam was going home. It was the first time he had ventured outside and his father wasn’t having him take any risks. Joe and Hoss loaded the buckboard with all his things that had migrated over during the weeks he’d been in bed, including his new books. Joe had hitched up Marie’s buggy and she was going to take Carole on ahead to ensure that the fires were ready, rooms warm and coffee on. Hoss rode over with the two girls in case they needed help. Adam watched his family all busy making preparations and gradually his jaw tightened as he began to lose his temper, fed up with his own weakness. Ben noticed but decided the best thing to do was to ignore it, Eventually with everything ready he threw Adam his leather coat and hat “Come on then lets get you home.” Adam put on his coat and hat and went out. He climbed up next to his father. Ben had a rug and wrapped it round Adam’s legs, he wasn’t taking chances. Adam was much better but it was bitterly cold out, snow lying on the land. Adam glared at his father but he knew that expression on Ben’s face and it was futile to argue, Joe rode alongside, recognising the anger on Adam’s face, but knowing it was only aimed at his own weakness. They only took ten minutes from door to door but before they reached his house Adam was feeling the cold and pulled the rug closer round him. He was slightly shivery and glad of his father’s supporting arm as he got down from the buckboard. He walked into the house, glad to be home but furious with the weakness which had shown itself so clearly, He went straight into his study and Carole brought him in coffee. Adam sat sipping his coffee by the fire, trying to stop shivering. Carole left him in peace seeing his anger.

Adam had a splitting headache and he sat staring into the fire wondering how long it would take to recover his strength. He’d known he was still weak, but he hadn’t expected a ten-minute ride in a buckboard to be so exhausting. He’d sunk into a very despondent frame of mind when his little brother came into him. Ben had tried with only limited success to reassure Carole and had agreed that the best thing was to leave Adam in peace to recover. Little Joe wasn’t so sure and after half an hour when Adam showed no sign of cheering up he went in to his brother.

“Cheer up Adam, you’re back home now.”

Adam looked up and shook his head, “Ten minutes sitting still in a wagon and I’m whacked. I’m cold and shivery and I have a splitting headache. How long is it going to be before I can do what I want? I’m so fed up with feeling weak and useless.”

Joe sat down by his brother “Not useless Adam. You helped me a lot last night. I needed it and I feel much better for it, but its part of the reason you’re so tired today.” Adam didn’t answer and Joe persevered “The Doc is very pleased with your progress, he says in a couple of months you’ll be back to normal and able to forget all about this.”

Adam sighed “It doesn’t feel much like it Joe.”

“Give yourself time and try not to fret. Carole need peace of mind as much as Marie, we’ve caused them enough problems this year,”

Adam relaxed slightly not answering his brother but knowing that Joe was right, After ten minutes or so, he grinned slightly shamefacedly, “Alright tantrum over, come on lets join the others.” They were all pleased to see him more cheerful and soon after left him and Carole in peace.

For the next few days Adam stayed quietly in the house, spending most of his time with the books his brothers had bought or the opera scores that Carole got him for Christmas. He was fretting at times but successfully hid it from his wife. Paul came out on the Saturday after his return home and was well pleased with his progress, Adam was restless and tried to tie Paul down as to when he would be free to go outside. Doc wouldn’t be pinned down but promised to reconsider it the following week if Adam continued to make the progress he had been doing. With that much Adam had to be content. All the others had popped over most days for the odd hour or so and Adam was glad to see that his youngest brother appeared to be remaining calm. Ben had noticed the difference and on the Friday before Doc was due again he mentioned it to Adam. Adam briefly outlined how upset Joe had been and what had been said in the middle of the night, Ben decided not to interfere, if Joe needed his help he would come to him, but for now his elder brother had done a good job.

However Ben did take advantage of the Doc’s visit the next day to have a word once he had seen Marie. Doc was evasive at first but Ben insisted on knowing how things were going. Paul gave in, he was able to give an optimistic report on Adam who was rapidly regaining his strength now; and Carole was fine although large for the length of her pregnancy and he was wondering if she had her dates wrong. Ben was pleased to hear it, but it was Marie who was really worrying him. Paul shook his head “She may still prove me totally wrong but she is very narrow at the hips and the baby seems to be a fair size. At the least I think she might need a little help and as I warned you it may need a Caesarean.”

“What are her chances Doc?”

“It’s far too early to say Ben. It is a risk maybe four or five times bigger that for a larger woman. She shouldn’t really carry children. Joe knows the risks and he’ll make sure that she takes it very easy in these last months, Give her the best possible chance. If I’m right then they should consider very carefully before they risk more children”

Ben stared into the fire “Will she be alright?”

Paul shrugged “I’ll do my best Ben, no guarantees but she’ll have a lot better chance than all your sons have on occasion and they are all still around.” Ben nodded and tried to trust in God and not worry, knowing he would only undo all the good Adam had achieved.

On the Tuesday Ben and Hoss went into town. Ben left Hoss at the store and went to find Fair or Mackay, He ran them down with no trouble, they were having a celebration drink in the Crystal saloon with Dan. As soon as they saw Ben they converged on him Dan grinned broadly “I always said you had a sixth sense Ben. Makes sure you never miss anything. Things quiet round here and we don’t see you for weeks but then when something interesting happens there you are, the proverbial bad penny!”

Ben shook his head “Who are you calling a bad penny, you long thin stick of trouble. I take it Sharon has been in touch.”

Fair nodded “He got back last night, contract signed and sealed this morning. We can go ahead on Monday.” Ben went over to the bar and ordered drinks all round “Well now its up to you two. Flood, O’Brien and Adam have done their share and got you the access, now all you have to do is find the ore.”

“We’ll find it Ben you’d better believe it,”

“I do Jim that’s why we put up the money. I think we should have a party to celebrate, are you all free on Saturday?” Everyone was free and Ben did the rounds inviting Beth and Roy, Doc and some of his other friends, leaving it to Hoss and Joe to round up the younger members of the local families. He left it open for the moment whether the celebration should be held at the main house or at Adam’s house. It would depend on how Adam felt. On the way back they went via Adam’s to tell him the news and to sound him out about the party.

Adam was in his study curled up with one of the art books Joe and Hoss had brought him. He was pleased to see his father and brother and glad to get confirmation of the contract being signed, not that he had nay doubts. He was feeling much better, stronger and more content because of it. Ben was pleased to see it knowing his physical recovery was always closely allied to his peace of mind or lack of it. Adam decided it would be easier if the party was at the main house, he could stay overnight and provided he went over early in the morning, he would have plenty of time to recover if the trip did tire him. Adam was insistent that he was much better and it wouldn’t have the same effect as before.

Little Joe was delighted to have the contract signed, now all they had to do was to prove Sharon reading of the value of the mine wrong, He had told Marie the story of their fight with the Bank of California and she remembered hearing rumours at the time. She was fascinated by the strength and power of this family she had married into and even more by their acceptance of the responsibilities this power forced on them for the weaker members of the community.

On the Saturday Doc came out in the afternoon to check all his patients and stay on with his wife foe the party. Adam had come over during the morning in Carole’s buggy. The trip hadn’t affected him at all and the Doc pleased with his progress gave him begrudging permission to go out but he did warn Adam to take it easy. He wasn’t to get too hot or too cold and if it was wet he was to stay indoors. Neither was he to try venturing any distance alone just yet, he was still very weak. Adam willingly accepted the conditions grateful for that much freedom and determined to be careful. The last thing he wanted was a relapse, which would tie him to the house and worry his pregnant wife. Carole was very noticeably pregnant now, even more so than Marie despite the baby not being due until later.

Marie was delighted to see Adam looking so much better and she played music for him most of the afternoon to keep him quiet while the others finished the preparations for the party. Joe was amused to see his obstreperous brother being kept quiet and content by his tiny sister-in-law. Later in the evening Fair was chatting with Ben when a peel of laughter from the corner caught their attention, where Adam was sitting with Marie and Beth. Fair grinned “Adam looks different again to a fortnight ago.”

“He’s recovering well thank God. I just hope we can get through the rest of the year without any trouble. Between the three of them this last year, Doc must have just about worn a permanent path from his door to ours.”

Fair shrugged “You’re lucky Ben, they are all strong. Just hope the next generation are as well,”

The party went well but just after half past ten Adam slipped away after a quiet word with Carole. He was very tired and wasn’t prepared to take any risks, Ben saw his son go up and followed him up but Adam reassured him, he was just tired and not taking any risks.

The party finally broke up about 1 p.m. and Ben sent both girls straight to bed. He had looked in on Adam earlier and his son had been dead to the world, Hoss collapsed by the fire “You’ve sent the girls to bed Pa, but if you think I’m doing any tidying up tonight you can forget it.”

“No we’ll leave it until the morning I just want some coffee and then I’m for bed too.”

Joe considered his father “Cheer up Pa, Adam’s a lot better.”

“I know Joseph it just seems to be taking a long time. Still he’s being sensible for once.” Ben relapsed into thought and the two brothers looked ate each other and wordlessly decided that the only thing was to leave him alone.

Over the next weeks Adam gradually regained his strength and Carole gave up worrying about him. The first time he went up to the Lake alone she paced the room unable to settle until he returned. In two minds whether or not to send one of his brothers after him, she was very glad she hadn’t when he returned an hour later. Adam had enjoyed the peace and quiet of the lake on his own and had taken no harm. He had been careful not to stay too long, knowing that Carole would be worrying, She had to laugh at the expression on his face as he came in, so self -righteous at not worrying her.