Joe and Marie part 5

 by Lyn Robinson




Edwin Booth and Jim Forrester were due to come to stay at the new house for a fortnight before heading on for their season in San Francisco. Adam wanted to go to town to meet them but he hadn’t been as far as town yet and Carole managed to dissuade him. She knew nothing would stop the old friends talking late into the night and she didn’t want Adam starting out tired. Eventually Adam saw the sense of it and asked his brothers to go meet his friends for him. They willingly agreed and Joe arranged to bring Marie over in the morning, to spend the day with Carole and Adam before they headed on to meet the stage.

As they drove over to Adam’s house, Marie questioned Joe about Edwin Booth. She was nervous about meeting the famous actor. Joe assured her that Edwin was very easy to get on with, especially for pretty women. She wasn’t very impressed by what he said and Joe, who was fond of Edwin, realised that he was only making matters worse when he tried to explain. In the end he left it leaving Edwin to make his own impression. Marie was quiet when Joe left her at Adam’s, not at all sure what to think. Adam was looking forward to seeing his friends again and he was in his study looking out a couple of articles that he wanted to share with Edwin, so Marie joined Carole in the kitchen. Carole was busy running over the menus she was planning for the next few days. Having had such a great time at Edwin’s house in New York Carole was determined to give them an equally good time and wanted a slightly fancier than usual cuisine. Kam Su wasn’t quite sure about some of her ideas but he would do his very best to carry out his mistress’ wishes and he had already arranged for Hop Sing’s help for the two large parties Adam and Carole were planning.

Once Carole had finished and they sat down with coffee Marie asked her about Edwin, but Carole found it equally difficult to explain the actor to her friend. Edwin was rather larger than life somehow and yet he was so down to earth, once he got off the stage.

Joe and Hoss met the stage, which was on time for once, and helped Edwin and Forrester load their luggage on the buckboard. There seemed an enormous mountain of it as they had some of the clothes and props for their Frisco season. Edwin knew that Adam had been ill but even so he was surprised that after all this time Adam wasn’t there to meet him and he wanted to know the details. He listened in silence as Hoss told him the full story; Joe rode along keeping slightly behind the buckboard, not able to meet anyone’s eyes, feeling the pain and terror that he had known on that night. Edwin and Jim were both badly shaken by the story and as Hoss finished they made no comment, but they were very glad to see Adam, rather thinner than usual and pale but otherwise his normal self and obviously glad to see them. Edwin went over to his old friend and gripped Adam’s shoulders “Every time I turn my back you find some trouble to get into.”

Adam just grinned, “Its good to see you too Edwin! Come on in.”

Edwin scanned his face and then smiled “It’s a good job you have an equal facility for getting out of trouble. Lets see your new house it looks very impressive from the outside.”

Adam led the way in and over to the fireplace where Marie was standing keeping out of the way, very nervous at meeting the famous actor. Little Joe went over to her and put his arm round her shoulder and led her forward as Edwin and Jim boisterously said hello to Carole. Edwin turned to greet her and Joe said, “You haven’t met my wife. This is Marie.” The pride in his voice as he introduced his wife made both his brothers grin broadly. Edwin noticed it too, he knew his friend’s younger brothers very well but as he smiled down at the beautiful blonde, he acknowledged that Joe had reason to be proud. “I’m glad to meet you Marie, Adam wrote me about the wedding, said that Joe had found a bride almost as beautiful as his own, I’d beg to differ with that almost. What I don’t understand us how you two could throw yourselves away on the Cartwrights.”

Marie had to smile at Edwin but she was too nervous to find her voice. Jim helped out as he intervened “You must admit Edwin there should be a distinct improvement in the next generation and we won’t have that long to wait to see.”

Edwin laughed “I had noticed. I hope it’s not too personal. I did write my congratulations to Adam but now let me offer my personal ones to all four of you.”

Adam thanked him and then organised coffee for everyone. Ben was coming over later for dinner and gradually they settled down with the three old friends deep in discussion; Carole joining in from time to time as Edwin explained just what he was planning in Frisco. At first Edwin tried to draw Marie out but she stayed by her husband and was very quiet. After a while Adam took Edwin off to look round the house and took the opportunity to ask his old friend not to rush Marie. He smiled “She’s just nervous, she’ll come round.”

Edwin acknowledged the justice of it; he was fairly used to people being nervous of him because of his name. Adam assured him that Marie would gradually come down to normal and he would like her. Edwin looked long at his friend and then grinned, “You’re very fond of your sister-in-law aren’t you?”

Adam grinned, a trifle ruefully, at being so easy to read “She’s a very sweet girl Edwin and very much in love with Joe. She’s very good for him. You’ll like her once she comes out of her shell again.” Edwin clapped his old friend on the back “Come on let’s have a look at this new house.” He was very impressed although he knew how talented his old friend was in his own spheres.

Marie stayed close by Joe all that day and hardly said a word. Edwin was free and easy but she couldn’t relax. About eight Little Joe excused himself; he would take Marie on home. Ben and Hoss decided to stay on for the time being and Adam told his brother they’d all be over the following day.

As they drove off Marie asked Joe if he would take her up to the lake. “Willingly my love but cheer up, there’s no need to look so doleful.”

She didn’t answer and Joe just put his arm round her and headed up to the lake, pulling up at the point. Marie burrowed against him and Joe held her tight feeling the tension in her body. “Easy my love relax.”

Eventually she looked up at him “I’m so sorry Joe. I’ve let you down. I was so determined never to do it and now the first time I’m tested I do it.”

Joe laughed softly and she looked puzzled and slightly annoyed, “I don’t see that it’s anything to laugh about. Carole was so assured and I couldn’t think of a thing to say. I told you I’d never fit in.”

Joe pulled her closer, her head on his shoulder, “Nonsense my little goose. You are not the first person who has ever been shy, Don’t forget Carole stayed with Edwin and Jim for three weeks last autumn, she knows them well. It took me quite a long time to get used to Edwin, he’s rather overpowering a personality. I guess that’s why he’s such a good actor, Adam can be rather overpowering too, maybe that’s why they get on so well.”

She sat up at that “Adam’s not!” Joe had to grin at the indignation on her face but he also had to disagree, “Maybe not to you my love but when he wants to be, lots of people do find him overpowering. Anyway it doesn’t matter darling, you’ll get used to Edwin. You haven’t let me down; you’d never do that. I love you and I’m very proud of you.” Marie pulled away and studied her husband’s face intently only then realising that he wasn’t putting on an act; her nerves really didn’t worry him. She relaxed at that and nestled up to him. They sat up by the lake chatting and planning the future for over two hours until driven home by the cold.

Ben and Hoss had got back about ten minutes before them and were surprised not to find the buggy back. Ben went in and got coffee on the go while Hoss saw to the horses. When he’d finished Hoss came in and sunk down by the fire “You don’t think Joe’s in trouble do you?”

Ben shook his head “Not with Marie along, probably just wanted to be on their own. Little Joe seems to have grown up so much these last months.”

Hoss snorted “Only on occasion!”

Before Ben could investigate that interesting sideline, they heard the buggy coming in. Ben went out to help Marie down, and then Joe took the buggy over to the stables. She was cold and glad of hot coffee. Ben had seen how nervous she was of Edwin and was glad to see she had relaxed. He was determined that everyone should enjoy themselves over the next couple of weeks before the work on the ranch really got started as the weather lifted. It had been an odd winter and Ben was anxiously awaiting the two new arrivals, knowing exactly how worried both his sons were.

Over the next couple of days Marie got used to Edwin and relaxed. Joe had taken his brother’s words to heart and he was determined to enjoy every minute of his wife’s company and make life as good as he possibly could for her. With Edwin there and Adam gradually regaining his strength all of them settled down to enjoy themselves. Even the weather was co-operating, staying dry and clear although cold. Ben got on with the work that was essential and apart from a few necessary chores told his sons to let things slide and enjoy themselves. It had been a worrying winter and they’d earned some time off. Adam insisted on dealing with the normal contract work to help his father. It was normally his job and he needed to feel useful again so Ben let him. However Ben insisted on keeping the accounts himself.

The party took buggies out to all the prettiest spots on the ranch and spent pleasant evenings either in Adam’s study or round Marie’s piano at the main house. The first evening with Marie playing her beloved piano marked the end of her nerves and Edwin watched very appreciatively as she blossomed. He went carefully but later in the evening manoeuvred himself next to her and exerted himself to draw her out. It was only when Joe came over to join them that she realised that she had been talking to the man, who had frightened her so much, for over half an hour without once feeling lost for words. Ben was glad to see them all enjoying themselves. He’d always liked Edwin and Jim and after fairly frequent visits they fitted in well more like family than visitors. Dan has also decided to award himself a few days off and come out for a visit so the house was full.

One evening after a ride up to the high pasture they had all collapsed round the fire in Adam’s study. Adam was pleasantly tired and very pleased that the long ride hadn’t taken more out of him. Carole content with her husband so much better was curled up in a chair, Adam on the rug leaning against her knees. Little Joe was on the opposite side of the fire with Marie on his lap. Hoss and Dan were on the rug with Adam and the two dogs while the others lolled back in chairs. Everyone had coffee and a drink if they wanted and they had been talking, but for the moment everyone was quiet. Joe held his wife tight, he was still scared for her but now he could put it to the back of his mind. He was enjoying himself, with all those he loved close at hand and good friends that he was totally at ease with. He sat watching his eldest brother delighted to see him so much better. It suddenly struck him that it wasn’t long until Adam’s birthday. He demanded, “What’s the date somebody?”

For a minute everyone considered the question before Dan came to the rescue “It’s March 21st why?"

Joe grinned “That’s alright then.” He fell silent leaving everyone staring at him. Hoss grunted “Explain little brother, I ain’t got the energy to shake it outta you.”

Joe grinned at him “I fancy a party and we have an excuse in four days, maybe not a good one but an excuse none the less.”

As Edwin, Jim and Dan still looked blank Adam explained “My little brother means I shall be a year older on the 25th. I’m not at all sure I want to celebrate Joe. I shall be 32, it makes me feel old.”

Edwin who was about eighteen months older than Adam laughed “Its not being 32 that makes you feel old Adam, its having lived 23 years of them with that as a brother!”

Joe reached out lazily and punched Edwin, but he was grinning broadly as Edwin swatted his hand away. Carole looked down at her husband “It sounds a good idea to me Adam, we were intending having a party for Edwin anyway.”

Adam shrugged “I’m easy I always enjoy one but we’d better make it Friday or Saturday evening, otherwise too many won’t be free to come.” They settled down to lay their plans for the party on the Friday evening. Adam announced his intention of going into town, to make the arrangements himself the following day. He hadn’t yet been to town and ideally his father would have liked him to leave it a bit longer but he had taken no harm from his long ride that day, so rather to his surprise Adam got no objections. Carole and Marie decided to go along and Joe, Edwin, Jim and Dan joined them so it was quite a party, who rode into town the next day.

It took a long time to get through their errands as so many of Adam’s friends wanted a word, glad to see him around again, but eventually everything was organised.

On Adam’s birthday Carole had arranged a dinner for all of them and with Marie had spent considerable time in the kitchen helping Kam Su with some elaborate deserts. Dan had stayed in town so apart from Edwin and Jim it was just the family. Having well and truly overeaten they all collapsed by the fire. Hoss and Edwin joined forces in praising the girls’ efforts in the kitchen while Adam poured out brandies, Jim, was admiring the decanters and glasses and Adam explained how his big brother had managed to get them all for him. They had all slipped into an easy camaraderie now and time went by fast. Marie easily tired now at seven months and she dozed of leaning against her husband. Little Joe moved slightly to support her more easily and as he did so met his father’s eye. Ben smiled at him “Good thing she’s so slight, Joe easy to carry,” He realised that he’d said the wrong thing as Joe tensed up and laying a hand on his son’s arm, he went on, “Try not to worry we have a first class doctor on call.”

Little Joe managed a grin, “Its up to God now, there’s nothing I can do except make every day the best possible just in case.”

Ben stared at his son as Joe’s head bent down over the blonde one of his wife. Joe had averted his gaze, but he couldn’t hide the love and fear on his face as he fought for control. It had taken Ben a long time to realise that his youngest son was as deeply in love as his eldest, but now watching Joe and Marie he prayed for her safe delivery. Hoss hadn’t missed the by-play and he went over and poured out a drink and took it over to his little brother. He squeezed his little brother’s shoulder as he handed him the drink “Do you want me to harness up for you?”

Joe nodded and sipped the brandy still not trusting his voice. Adam and Carole were deep in a discussion on the following season with Edwin and Jim and hadn’t noticed anything until Hoss came back in with their coats. Adam, looked up surprised and Ben smiled at him “We’ll go on home Marie’s already asleep. Resume celebrations day after tomorrow.”

Marie woke up as Joe pulled her cloak round her “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to doze off. No need to break it up on my account.”

Adam came over to her and helped her to her feet, tied the lace under her chin and then, tilting her face up, kissed her gently. “You look tired my sister, you need your sleep, you and that baby of Joe’s are too precious to all of us to keep you out of your bed. Go on home, we’ll see you tomorrow.” She stood on tiptoe and kissed him and Joe grinned at his brother before leading her out.

Once she was settled in bed Little Joe, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to sleep yet, left her alone. He went through into Adam’s room wishing his brother were still there. He missed being able to talk to Adam whenever he wanted to. Although he saw his brother most days they rarely had a minute on their own, especially since Edwin and Jim came. He wanted to talk now and he knew he only had to ride back and ask Adam to go up to the lake and his brother would, but he couldn’t or wouldn’t disturb Adam on his birthday. Adam was enjoying his friends’ company.

Joe stood for a while looking out at the view over the mountains and thinking about his wife and his brother. After a bit thirsty and cold he went down to find some coffee. He’d heard Hoss come up, but hadn’t realised that his father was still downstairs. Ben had been sitting staring into the fire thinking about his youngest son, he’d known that Joe was worried about Marie much more so than the Doc had thought, but he hadn’t really realised the extent of the fear until that evening. Ben looked up as he saw Joe coming down, “Do you want coffee Joseph?”

Joe nodded and as his father went to get it, he sat down on the table staring into the fire. He wasn’t even thinking as Ben got the coffee, but as his father brought it over he suddenly realised a decision had crystallised, one he hadn’t even consciously been considering. He saw the compassion on his father’s face and knew Ben understood how he felt and he wanted to talk to his father. “Pa if you’re not too tired I’d like to talk.”

Ben pulled his chair closer to the fire and threw on some more wood, “Of course Little Joe.”

Joe stared into the fire watching the sparks from the new wood. “Its about Marie Pa.”

“I do know how you feel Son. I’ve been there especially with my Marie, she was small to not as slight but small enough to worry.”

“It’s not just that Pa I’ve something I want to tell you. I didn’t intend ever to tell you, not because of you but for Marie’s sake.”

Ben stared at his son, very puzzled, staring at his son wondering what he was talking about. Joe turned round and moved over to lean back against his father’s chair and looked up at him “You remember what Pardoe said?”

Ben nodded and Joe went on, “It was true Pa, not all the innuendo but the basic fact, Marie’s baby isn’t mine. Its father was that gambler Harris, conceived a day or two before he died, before I even met her.”

Ben was so taken aback by that statement, he lent back unable to find any words, just staring at his son. Joe smiled faintly “She told me Pa, the day Adam brought us together and refused to marry me because of it and she wouldn’t abort the child, she’d loved Harris. I swore to her that day that I’d treat the child as my first born and noone would ever know. That we’d always said upbringing and environment counted more than blood and it would be my child in every important way. I told Adam because I had to talk to someone and he agreed. I never intended to tell anyone else and I shan’t tell Hoss or Carole, not because I’m worried that they would treat the child any differently from any others we might have, but because Marie might notice small differences that always happen and build them into something more. But somehow with you its different, I didn’t like having a secret from you so I’ll just omit to tell Marie I’ve told you.” Joe fell quiet his eyes still locked on his father’s gaze, feeling strangely at peace now he had told his father.

For a long time Ben sat silent, just staring at his youngest son, remembering the way that Joe had treated Marie these last months. Eventually he lent forward and gripped Joe’s shoulders “I’m so glad you told me Joseph. I’m so very proud of you my Son.”

Joe grinned, “Thanks Pa. The only reason I didn’t tell you before was for Marie.”

“I can understand that Joseph and your brother was right, with you and Marie as parents, brought up here on the Ponderosa, it will be a Cartwright.”

Joe settled down again leaning against his father’s knees “At first the idea hurt, I knew she had lived with Harris but I could forget that. She could have claimed the baby was mine Pa, only she wouldn’t. But since we have been married she’s come to mean so much more to me, all I want is for the baby to come and for her to recover and be with me.” He stared back at the fire for a moment “Its not as bad as it was since I had a talk with Adam the night before he went home.” He told his father almost verbatim what his brother had said and Ben listened quietly, warm with pride in both his sons.

Joe finished up “Sometimes I’m almost glad it’s not my child. There’s a consolation in the thought that the die was cast before I ever met her, all I’ve done is improve her chances.”

Ben laid his hand on his son’s curly hair “Easy Little Joe. You know all our prayers are with her.”

“I know Pa but I have this terrible premonition that it’s too good to last. That we are tempting fate by being so happy together.”

Ben smiled “Your brother said almost exactly the same thing at Christmas, The joys of finding a true partner real love not an imitation. It can last Joe often does. I lost it too soon but not always in the way you worry about. The doctor was so sure that Elizabeth would be fine and yet she died in childbirth. When Hoss was born I was so relieved that Inger was fine having lost one wife and yet three weeks later an Indian arrow took her. Then your mother, I was so proud of the beautiful horse I gave her and she was so delighted and such a good horsewoman, yet a month later she rode into the yard too fast and died as I went to her. There are so many things to fear out here, you know how often trouble has appeared out of nowhere. If you worried about all that could happen then you’d soon go mad.”

“I know Pa. I can’t help worrying but just to be able to talk seems to help. It’s just being so derned helpless,”

Ben nodded “I know Son still the baby is due in just over six weeks now, not long.” Joe nodded and fell silent. A few minutes later he got to his feet “I think I’ll sleep now Pa and thanks for listening.”

“That is one thing I can always do Little Joe, if it helps.” Ben sat watching his son go upstairs and again felt that surge of pride in his youngest son that he’d felt when Joe told him. Never again would he think of Joe as a boy, he was a mature man. Ben had noticed the difference these last months and he remembered Adam saying that Joe had seemed to grow up in front of him, a man ready to take on and handle his own responsibilities on his own. He could see the reason for Joe telling Adam and noone else, and why his eldest son had concurred in keeping it from him, but he was delighted that Joe had decided to tell him. It was proof of the closeness of the relationship he had with his son, a relationship he’d thought for a while the previous autumn he had damaged irreparably. He sat thinking about it for awhile and then headed up to bed, warm inside. The love his sons had for him was worth all the worry and sorrow he had had in his life.

Having talked to his father Joe felt surprisingly at peace with himself. He hadn’t realised how much deceiving his father was preying on his mind. He went to sleep as soon as he got to bed and slept better than he had for days. He was up early and went downstairs leaving Marie asleep. Hoss was up eating his breakfast and Joe joined him. By the time they’d finished Joe had made up his mind to go and have a word with his eldest brother. Ben still hadn’t appeared and Joe asked Hoss to tell his wife and his father where he was going and that he’d be back in an hour or so.

When Joe rode into Adam’s house he found Adam sitting working on a contract for mine timber in his study, Kam Su let Joe in and he went through to join his brother. Adam was surprised to see Joe so early in the day and Joe grinned at him “Nothing wrong, I just wanted a word Adam.”

Adam got up and pushed his papers to the side, calling to Kam Su for coffee, “Okay Joe. Carole’s busy upstairs and the others are still in bed.”

“I hoped they would be that’s why I came over early.” He fell silent until he had his coffee. Adam was puzzled, usually if Joe wanted to talk it was because he was upset, but today his brother looked calm and at peace with himself, even happy. He sat sipping his coffee waiting for Joe to explain. Little Joe gave up trying to get comfortable on the chair and slipped down onto the hearth rug and began stroking the dog curled up there. “I got myself a mite upset again last night and I couldn’t sleep. Eventually I went down for some coffee and Pa was still up. I wanted to talk and I suddenly decided to tell him about the baby. Its funny Adam it wasn't until I’d told him that I realised just how much I’d hated deceiving him. It won’t make much difference because I shan’t tell Marie that I’ve told Pa. Another deception but somehow different.”

He fell quiet and for a moment Adam didn’t say anything, he had no real need to ask how their father had taken it, he could read that on Joe’s face. Eventually he asked, “What did Pa say?”

Joe smiled “That he was very glad I’d told him and that he was proud of me. He said he understood why we decided to keep it between us only, but I thought I ought to warn you that he knew,”

Adam shook his head “Am I unpopular?”

“No I don’t think so,”

“Okay Joe thanks for the warning. I can understand why you wanted to tell Pa but I hadn’t realised it was worrying you so much.”

“Neither had I until I told him. Then it was as though a great weight had been lifted from me. The other thing I wanted to ask was whether you felt up to a walk. We’ve almost decided on a site for our house and we’d like your opinion.”

”Sure, why not, this afternoon provided its not raining. Where is it?”

Joe told him, it was a small valley in the hills behind them about equidistant from the main house and Adam’s about half a mile from each. Adam knew where he meant and was surprised at their choice but then as Joe explained his idea that he wanted to position the house on a ledge nestling partway up the wall of the valley Adam began to see the possibilities. They arranged to meet after lunch and then Joe went back home leaving Adam to get on with his contract.

Carole wanted to get on with the preparations for the party and Edwin and Jim decided it was past time for rehearsals so Adam went alone to join Joe and Marie at the main house. Hoss had ridden up to the lumber camp and Ben decided he had better update the accounts so the three went on their own. They walked up to the valley, taking it very slowly for Marie’s sake. It gave Adam a chance to check the best place for a road up to the site and Marie was busy explaining the sort of layout she wanted. When they reached the valley Adam examined the site Joe had suggested and checked the ground and the surrounding valley walls. He seemed to take a long time but the others let him get on with it. Then Adam took a few measurements and noted them down before backing away to the other side of the valley and making a sketch of the hillside to go with the plan he had made of the valley. While he worked the other two left him in peace but as he put his sketchpad down Joe came over “Well is it feasible?”

Adam shook his head, “Joe I wouldn’t have wasted my time for the last hour if it wasn’t! There will be quite extensive levelling and draining to be done but nothing we can’t manage. The only thing that puzzles me little brother is just how you came to see the potentials of this site. They are considerable but well hidden.”

Joe grinned “I can’t claim the credit I always liked this valley and it was nicely placed from both your house and the main house, but although we came back here time after time I couldn’t see anywhere to place a house. Marie suggested the ledge.”

Adam grinned “I might have guessed Marie, my little brother never notices things until they are staring him in the face!”

Marie immediately defended her husband to the brothers’ amusement “That’s not true he’s most perceptive.”

Joe hugged her and Adam laughingly said “Maybe of people Marie, not of nature.”

Joe tried to get Adam to explain what he had in mind but although Adam admitted to having some idea of what he thought was needed, he refused to be drawn. Eventually Joe gave up as Adam pointed out that the longer he kept him hanging around, the longer it would take before he could draw up an impression of what he had in mind.  

When Adam got home it was obvious that he wanted to be on his own to get his ideas for the site down on paper. Edwin and Jim were too old friends for him to feel guilty at leaving them to their own devices for an evening. He soon had the table in his study covered with papers and calculations. For once the others left him in peace in the study and sat in the living room. Carole persuaded him to come and eat dinner, but she was sure he had no idea what he was eating, and without waiting for pie he grabbed coffee and with vague excuses went back to his desk. As the door closed on him, the three of them left round the table caught each other’s eyes and dissolved into laughter. Eventually Edwin wiped his eyes “I wish I’d known in advance. I’m sure if I had put a lump of cardboard on his plate and poured gravy over it he’d have eaten it.”

Carole passed over the pie “I’m sure of it Edwin. We’ll get no sense out of him until he’s got it all down on paper.”

Edwin nodded “I had realised Carole. Still I think he’s surpassed himself this visit. We usually lose him rather quicker than this. Do you mind if we use this room for a run through of Lear?”

“Help yourself Edwin. I have some cakes to finish off for tomorrow.”

Adam worked throughout the evening and Carole tried in vain to persuade him to come to bed at eleven. They were going to be late the following evening and although Adam was so much better she didn’t want him getting over tired. Adam knew she was talking sense but he pleaded with her to understand, he couldn’t settle yet, not until he’d finished the work he’d started. Carole well aware that she was fighting a losing battle decided to let him get on and kissing him went on up to bed. Adam finally finished the preliminary plans and the various impressions of the house inside and out at about half past two, There was no more to be done until he had Joe and Marie’s reaction. As he put the papers away in a file, he felt absolutely exhausted. He had thoroughly enjoyed himself working at his first love but having finished the job, he realised how much it had taken out of him. It was a real effort to climb the stairs and get into bed. Carole woke as he got in beside her and was awake long after he had slipped into sleep. The next morning she left him to sleep in and it was nearly eleven before he came down. Hoss had been over early and had already arranged the furniture and cleaned up ready for the party to help Carole. He was sitting over coffee and sampling the cakes when Adam came down. Adam looked round appreciatively “Thanks big brother I’m glad that’s all done.”

They weren’t expecting people until about five but Ben, Joe and Marie were coming over after lunch. Everything was ready with Hoss’ help before the others arrived. Adam waited until they’d had coffee and then called Joe and Marie into the study to see his plans. He got out the impressions of the house first and passed them over and then sat back to see their reaction, Joe had a quick look at the sketches and then passed them over to Marie.  Adam had incorporated all their requests, in a neat two-storey house with a long veranda across the front. Somehow the design, rather reminiscent of the chalets he’d seen in Switzerland, fitted in to the hillside as though it had always belonged there. It was completely unlike anything else normally seen in the west combining the perfect proportions of ancient Greece with the charm of Swiss chalets. Marie sat staring at the sketches laid out on the desk in disbelief. It was a beautiful house completely unlike the elegant mansion Adam had designed for himself and she had already fallen in love with it; although it was nothing like her expectations, which had been a sort of scaled down version of Adam’s own house. For several minutes as they considered the sketches neither of them made any comment and Adam was biting his lip not sure of his own reading of their reaction. The Joe, picking up the view of the front of the hillside with the house in position, grinned at his brother, “Well it’s not at all what I expected Adam, but now I can’t imagine any other house on that site. This looks as though it has always been there.”

Adam shrugged “Maybe Joe but I could always design something else which would fit. The question is do you like it?”

Marie answered that as she came over and gave him a big hug, “Its lovely Adam, I’ve never imagined such a beautiful house,”

Adam looked at his brother “Joe?”

“Big brother I am delighted. It’s unusual and charming.”

Marie stared at the drawing “Can you really build it to look like that?”

Adam laughed “Such faith! Yes Marie I haven’t drawn up the detailed plans yet, I wanted to know if you liked it first, so if you want any changes, speak up now before I do the plans.”

She shook her head “It’s got everything I wanted.” Joe was considering the inside plans again  “It’s much nicer than I ever imagined Adam. I knew you’d do a better job than I could but this is superb and Marie don’t worry he may have flights of fancy, but my clever brother is practical too and he is a trained architect.”

Adam grinned very widely “Thank you kindly little brother. I’ll go ahead and draw up the detailed plans shall I?”

“Yes please Adam.”

Marie asked, “Can we show the others the sketches?”

“Sure Marie. Joe do you want to look at these plans, see if the rooms are the size you want. Most of the internal partitions are easily moved.” Joe came over to join his brother poring over the plans and Marie gathered up the sketches and took them out to show the others. Not even Carole had seen more than very vague pencil sketches. The impressions were passed round. Only Ben and Hoss actually knew the valley but the sketches gave a good impression of the site. They were all impressed with the design, if rather surprised but Edwin probably summed up everyone’s attitude. He looked at the sketches and whistled softly then grinning at Carole he commented, “I knew your husband was a clever architect Carole. You’ve only got to look at this house to see that but I hadn’t realised how versatile he was. Noone would think the same brain designed this house and the new one.”

Carole who was staring at one of the sketches looked up “He never fails to astonish me Edwin. I’ve never seen anything quite like this it’s charming.”

Adam came out at that point “Thank you my darling but don’t give me too much credit. You may not have seen anything like it but if you have a look at my travel books on Switzerland or Austria you’ll see it draws heavily on the mountain chalets.”

Edwin had been to Europe and he acknowledged the influence, “Maybe Adam but I didn’t see anything this well proportioned. There’s a similarity but this is in a difference class.”

Adam slightly embarrassed laughed, “Compliments gratefully received.” Joe came in behind him “And well deserved.”

Ben nodded “Agreed Little Joe What do you think of it, you’ll be living in it?”

“We have both fallen for it. Its not at all what I expected but once Marie has recovered from having the baby I hope we can move in say the end of July?”

Adam nodded “Should manage that Joe. We’ll draw up the lists of what you’ll need from outside next week and get it ordered.”

Then they heard the first guests arriving rather early and Adam collected the sketches and put them away. Ben followed his son into the study as Carole went out with Joe and Hoss to greet the arrivals. He offered his congratulations on the design in private; Adam shrugged “Joe and Marie like it that’s the main thing, I enjoyed doing it. The preliminary sketches are fun, the hard part starts now, well tedious anyway, the detailed plans. Ben wanted to talk to his eldest son but now with guests arriving was not the time, so he helped him to tidy up and then they went out to greet people.

The party went well and as midnight approached Ben sunk down next to Little Joe, Adam was dancing with his lovely wife and Ben watched him, glad he was so much better. Joe read his father’s thoughts “More or less fully recovered now.”

Ben looked round at his youngest son “Mind reader Joe, Slight difference from the last party we had and he doesn’t even look particularly tired.”

“He’s fine Pa, I’m the deserted one!” Ben glanced over to the corner where Marie was sitting chatting happily with Edwin and Dan “Its good to see her so happy and self-assured.”

Joe nodded “She’s finally found her feet. It seems odd not to have her sticking right by my side but I’m glad for her.”

Ben considered his youngest son. “Happy Joe?”

Joe smiled “Very. Its a beautiful house Adam has designed for us and I’ve never known Marie quite so delighted, All good friends here and I’m sort of warm and lazy and contented. Like Christmas a day to remember.”

Marie and Edwin were telling Dan about the house Adam had designed as Joe spoke. She was enjoying herself now she had got to know these people, long time friends of the Cartwrights and to realise that they accepted her as Joe’s wife just as Carole was Adam’s. None of them thought about her past and as she came to understand that and just be herself, they had come to like her as a person, not just as Joe’s wife. At first she had been welcome because Joe was happy with her and they were fond of Joe, now she was welcome for herself and she revelled in it, It was very late when they finally broke up having all thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

On the Sunday they picnicked up by the Lake, as Edwin had to leave the following day. Marie always loved the Lake; she’d been there so often with Joe since the day he had first asked her to marry him there. She felt fit and well and she was so pleased with the house Adam had designed and even more with Joe’s attitude, he seemed so content all of a sudden although she knew he was still worrying about the baby’s birth. She wandered slowly along the bank with Joe after her meal, leaving Adam and Edwin deep in conversation. She was glancing back and Joe held her arm scared she would stumble. “Hey Marie watch where you’re going."

She looked up at him “I’m okay. I was just thinking. It doesn’t seem possible how nervous I was at meeting Edwin just two weeks ago. He’s good company, I shall miss him.”

Joe hugged her close “It’s been a good time hasn’t it?”

She nodded, “Yes but the weather is clearing and you’re going to have to start doing some work, You won’t be able to stay with me all the time.”

Joe knew that she was right but didn’t want to admit it even to himself. Marie smiled at him “You can’t carry on being so lazy my love, you must do your fair share, especially with Adam still not fully fit. I know he’s a lot better but he still tires easily and he’ll have to be careful all summer.”

Joe groaned “I knew it. You’ll work your husband into the ground to protect your brother-in-law!”

All he got for his complaint was a punch accurately aimed into his stomach, He rubbed it in ‘mortal agony’ for a moment and then pulled her close and kissed her soundly, “Watch it, when you’re not hiding behind that baby I’ll put you over my knee for that.”

She nestled up against him “I never dreamt I could ever have such a wonderful time as I have these last months, since we’ve been married, even before that. We can’t stay on such a high level, just enjoying ourselves. As long as I’m with you I’m content.” Little Joe kissed her gently “I love you.” They wandered along the edge of the Lake in silence, deeply content just to be together.                                                                                                                                                                                   

Adam had enjoyed his friends’ company and was sorry that they had to leave the following day. He was hoping to be able to get into San Francisco to catch the end of the season. There were several jobs, which would need his attention in Frisco in the near future provided Carole was well enough to leave. She was feeling fine although she was getting very large and beginning to find it uncomfortable and tiring, Adam rode into town to see Edwin and Jim off and came back alone. He was revelling in being alone. Recently there had always been someone else around and he hadn’t been strong enough to risk going far on his own, but now that was changed. He felt fine and even more important Carole believed he was fit and had given up worrying about him. That was borne in on him when arriving home he found the house empty. Kam Su told him Hoss had fetched Carole an hour earlier, she wasn’t sure when he would be back and had wanted to see Marie about something. Adam had some coffee and then rode over to collect his wife.

Adam was able to report to the rest of the family that Fair had started moving some rock out through the Gould and Curry, worthless so far but that was inevitable, he was barely even into the Consolidated Virginia so far. Joe, impatient as ever, wanted to know how long it would be before they knew if their gamble was going to pay off.

Adam shrugged “I’m not a fortune teller little brother. I would hope we should have indications by, let’s say September or October. That’s six months. If nothing shows by then we’ll have to consider very carefully how long we are going to carry on. There’s no guarantee anything is there.”

Joe glared at him “I do realise that Adam, I’m not a fool.”

Adam just raised his eyebrow at that and Joe threw a cushion at him; fending it off Adam spilt his coffee “Watch what you’re doing Joe. Carole if you’re ready lets leave the madhouse to it.” She nodded and went to get her coat. Joe put his hand up in a peace sign, “Sorry Adam I didn’t see your cup. Will you come out to the site tomorrow and run over the plans so that I can start ordering things?”

Adam grinned broadly “Sure Joe. I’ll meet you there, let’s say ten o’clock. Marie try to get him out on time for once will you?”

 Marie kissed him “He’ll be there, Adam.” Then, as Carole was ready, they headed home.

The next day when Little Joe tried to suggest Marie stay at the main house, he had a mutiny on his hands. Joe told her that they were only going to lay out the basic dimensions to ensure they wouldn’t hit any problems later and Adam would check the site to see exactly what foundations were required. There was nothing that she could do and she would only get bored and cold. Hoss and Ben were in the study, sorting out money as Hoss was going up to the mine to pay the men. They fell quiet as Joe’s voice became raised and their eyes met. Hoss under his breath said, “Want a bet Pa?”

“I don’t bet on certainties or were you thinking of backing your little brother?”

“Not likely, I know a certainty when I hear one.”

Joe was beginning to realise that he wasn’t getting anywhere. Marie apparently listened but she just carried on putting on her boots. Eventually totally frustrated he said, “I could order you to stay here.”

“But you won’t. It’s going to be my house. Something I never dreamt I could have. I want to see everything that’s done, Maybe I can help hold things, take notes.” She smiled up at him “Anyway you’re not quite sure I’d obey.”

Joe was close to losing his temper but at the wicked gleam in her eye, which accompanied the last statement, he gave way and laughed. “Alright have it your own way. On one condition.”

She looked up questioningly and Joe went on, “Promise to tell me if you are tired or cold. Adam and I will never get the work done if we have to watch you every minute.”

“I promise but I do want to see. I won’t get in the way.”

Joe hugged her “You will, but I like having you there.” He sighed, “Come on lets get started at your pace we are going to be late now.” As they went out Joe raised his eyebrows at his father in an expression of mock despair. Ben and Hoss broke out laughing as they watched the pair disappear from sight, Joe with his arm round the slight figure of his wife.

Hoss girnned broadly at his father “I’d never have thought someone so tiny could keep my brother so firmly under control.”

Ben laughed “He certainly has his problems! Mind you size never helped you deal with him.”

At the valley Adam was waiting for his brother. He had taken it for granted that Joe would come alone but at breakfast Carole had disillusioned him. It might only be a routine check but she knew how excited Marie was at the thought of her own house and knew that she wanted to be involved at every stage. Thus Adam was not surprised when he saw his brother and Marie approaching. He hadn’t wasted his time while waiting and he had already started boring holes to check the rock for the foundations, He was out of breath and glad to take a break. He went down to meet Joe and Marie pulling his coat back on to make sure he didn’t get cold, Joe looked anxiously at his brother, not wanting him to overdo it but Adam just grinned. Adam turned to Marie and kissed her cheek “Carole was right. She said that you’d be here to keep an eye on us.”

“I won’t get in the way Adam”

“Its going to be your house Marie, you have every right to be here, but we really aren’t going to do anything exciting, Joe is just here to hold one end of the tape. I hope you won’t get bored.”

Joe shook his head “I warned her but she won’t listen.”

“You’ll learn little brother, wives never do.”

Joe grinned but concentrated on settling Marie as comfortably as he could and the brothers began work. It was about an hour later that Marie felt the first twinge of pain. It passed quickly and she thought no more about it but ten minutes later it came again, more severe, enough to make her draw in her breath sharply. After two more pains each ten minutes apart she began to suspect that it was the baby coming early. It wasn’t due for nearly five weeks and she knew that first babies were more often late than early. She had heard of false alarms but she couldn’t take any risks. After the fourth pain, which was stronger than the others she called to Joe. She was very tense, scared by the unknown, the risks and knowing the Doc has almost made up his mind to do a Caesarean. Joe looked over saw the tension in her and dropping the rope ran over to her. He knelt down by her and she forced a grin “You were right Joe I shouldn’t have come. I think the baby has started.”

Joe stared at her for a moment, terror clear on his face, “Its too early.”

She smiled “Long enough. Doc was worried as I was small maybe the baby thinks it’s too cramped.”

Adam had followed his brother over and as he came up Marie gripped Joe’s arm with a sudden intake of breath as the next pain hit her. Adam took in the scene and as Joe’s worried eyes met his, he asked “The baby?”

Joe nodded and Adam swallowed hard wishing they were anywhere but where they were. “We’d better get her home.” Joe lifted her up although Marie said that she could walk. Joe kissed her “Relax my love and take it easy, we’ll carry you I’m not taking any risks.” The ground was rough and they couldn’t hurry. After five minutes Adam took the slight girl from his brother, even now she seemed no bigger than a child and he felt a very real stab of pain as he felt her tense against the next pain. Adam bigger than his brother made less of the burden and they made good time. Eventually as they came towards the edge of the trees, Adam handed Marie back to Joe. “I’ll run on ahead Joe send for Doc.”

Joe nodded and Marie asked, “Please get Carole.”

“Of course I will, chin up we’ll soon have you more comfortable.” Then Adam left them, jog trotting as fast as he dared on the rough ground. He went straight to the bunkhouse and seeing José there asked him to saddle up fast and go and fetch Doc. He bit his lip “Marie’s baby is on its way and we need Doc here as soon as possible, he may need to operate.”

José was on his feet “I’m on my way. Tell Joe Doc will be here before he has a chance to worry.”

Kirk looked up “Anything I can do?”

“Harness up the buckboard for me please. I’m going to fetch Carole once I’ve warned Pa.” Kirk nodded and Adam headed on up to the house. As he did so he saw José mounted up very fast and José waved as he left at a run.

Adam hurried into the house and not seeing his father put his head into the kitchen and told Hop Sing to get water onto boil that Marie’s baby was coming early. As he went back into the living room, he saw his father coming down the stairs. Ben frowned as he took in the expression on his son’s face “What’s wrong?”

“Joe’s bringing Marie back. The baby has started early. José has gone to get Doc, I’m about to go for Carole.”

“Is she okay?"

“So far. Scared. So is Joe,”

“I’ll get the bed ready. Go and get Carole.”

Adam nodded and hurried out. As he got onto the buckboard he saw Joe approaching the yard and pulled up by his brother, “Okay Joe?”

Joe nodded and Marie managed a smile for Adam, “I’m fine.”

“Sure Marie. I’m just going to fetch Carole, I’ll be back with her in ten minutes or so and the way José was moving he’ll be half way to town by now for the Doc. Pa is waiting upstairs.”

Joe managed a half smile “Thanks Adam.” Then he moved on towards the house with his burden, He was doing the best he could to hide his panic he felt from Marie with limited success. She was scared too especially as the pain gripped her. For the moment it wasn’t too bad, she’d known worse pains but this was only the beginning. She was grateful for her husband’s strong arms around her and the warmth of his body, As he carried her over the last stretch she asked “Joe I know it’s against all conventions but will you stay with me please?”

Joe kissed her forehead “Of course my darling, for as long as you want me there,”

“I can take anything, if you’re there.”

“Just try and relax my love, with any luck it will soon be over.”

Joe was relieved when he had her lying down on the bed. Ben had stripped it and covered it in thick paper and put clean old sheets on it so that it was ready for her. Once she was undressed and lying comfortably Joe kissed her “I’m just going downstairs my love I’ll be back in a couple of minutes,”

“I’m fine Joe don’t worry.”

Joe hurried downstairs and poured himself a stiff brandy. His father came over “Easy Son.”

“It’s too early Pa.”

“Maybe that’s a good thing Joe. She’s far enough for the baby to be alright, it will be small but...”

“Pa I don’t care about the baby. I just want Marie to be alright.” Joe shook his head and averted his gaze from his father “Not very nice is it, but it’s true.”

Ben put his arm round Joe’s shoulders “Hey now Joseph don’t start getting yourself upset over nothing. It’s perfectly natural, believe me you’d feel exactly the same if it was your child. I did with both you and Hoss. The baby isn’t real yet. Maybe to its mother but not to anyone else. Its only later when you’ve held the child, got up to it in the middle of the night, comforted it when it cries, that love for it grows.”

Joe listened in silence but his father felt him relax slightly, "I’d better get back to Marie, she wants me to stay with her.”

“Alright Son. Carole will be soon and José will have the Doc here in record time. I’m just down here, call if you want anything.”

Joe nodded and went back upstairs. He felt slightly easier believing what his father had said. Ever since he realised that Marie had gone into labour he’d felt so guilty, because he hoped the small baby not yet due would cause less trouble for Marie and he didn’t care about the baby. He was too honest with himself to pretend to a feeling he didn’t have, but he had begun to think that he was some sort of monster. He went back in to sit by his wife, keeping calm and cheerful for her sake.

Adam called for Carole as soon as he went into his house. She was upstairs but sensing the urgency in his voice she hurried down. Adam said “Marie has started labour she wants you.”

Carole stared at him “It’s too soon.” Adam didn’t answer and, realising that there would be time to talk later, she turned and hurried back up stairs, calling over her shoulder “Find my coat. I’ll be with you in a minute.” She grabbed a few things that might be needed and then went down to get in the buckboard. As Adam drove out Carole asked, “How is she? And Joe?”

“Okay so far. We were at the valley when the pains started; we had to carry her back. Joe’s scared but keeping calm for her sake. She seems very calm. José has gone for Doc.” He fell silent and Carole recognised the fear in him, for her, and for his brother and Marie. When they arrived, Carole hurried upstairs to join Joe and Marie. Adam followed and looked in to see if there was anything they wanted. There wasn’t and there was nothing he could do so he left Carole and went back down to join his father.

Marie was glad to have another woman around, even though Carole was no more experienced than she was herself. She needed her husband but Adam knew he was just in the way. He sat down next to his father and tried to settle for what was bound to be a long wait.

Marie lay quietly in the bed holding Joe’s hand. Little Joe rubbed her back when the pains came, he knew nothing about childbirth but he knew is wife and he instinctively moved as the pains caught her to do what he could to help. The pains were no worse, still only lasting a few seconds, but they were gradually becoming more frequent, Carole stayed for a while but there was nothing that she could do and eventually she slipped into Adam’s room next door. She left the connecting door open, so that Marie only had to call if she wanted her but leaving husband and wife alone. For a while they didn’t even realise that she had left them. In the intervals between pains Marie was happy to talk quietly to Joe, remembering odd incidents that had amused her over the last months.

Downstairs Adam and Ben sat by the fire mainly in silence, unable to do anything to help but equally incapable of settling to do any work. To begin with Adam sat quietly but after a couple of hours he was on his feet watching for the doctor, pacing up and down unable to settle and looking at his watch every couple of minutes, totally unable to settle. After ten minute Ben went over to his son “Relax Adam, anyone would think you were the father instead of Joe. Babies take a long time to come you know especially first ones.”

Adam tried to do as his father asked but five minutes later he was back on his feet, pacing up and down, “Maybe I should have gone for Doc myself. He should have been here by now.”

“It’s possible Doc had someone else to see. José will get him here as fast as humanly possible, There’s nothing you could have done that he won’t.”

Adam sighed heavily and moved over to poke at the fire, “I know Pa, It’s just being so damned helpless, She looked so small and frail and Joe so scared.”

Pa nodded “Men are always more of a nuisance than a help when it comes to childbirth. Its women’s business really. If you’re like this now what are you going to be like when it’s Carole’s turn?”

“God only knows.” Adam said and turned again to go and stand staring out of the window. Ben left him to his thoughts and headed upstairs to see how things were going and to check if Joe or Carole wanted coffee. He joined Carole in Adam’s room and asked how things were going.

Carole bit her lip, no expert on childbirth, she was anxiously awaiting Doc’s arrival “I’m not sure the pains are getting more frequent and lasting longer and I think beginning to hurt more. How much longer is Doc going to be?”

“I don’t know Carole. Any time now. Do you want coffee or food/”

“Just coffee thanks.”

Ben nodded and then going to the connecting door he opened it and caught Joe’s eye. Marie saw him too and smiled “Come on in Pa.” Ben nodded and as he did so another pain caught her. Joe moved to rub her back and as he did so he looked up at his father, his eyes clearly showing the fear he felt. Ben gripped his shoulders as Marie relaxed. “Do you want some coffee Joseph?”

Joe swallowed hard and managed to smile down at Marie “I need to go downstairs just for a moment my love, okay?”

She nodded and Joe called for Carole and then followed his father down in silence. Ben handed him some coffee having poured a good slug of brandy into it. “Easy Joseph it’s all perfectly natural.”

“I know Pa but where the hell is Doc?”

“He’ll be here soon, Nothing is going to happen yet awhile. I know enough to be sure of that. It will be hours yet.”

Joe nodded sipping his coffee “I’d better get back to her God I wish this was over.”

Ben gripped his shoulder “Easy son, call if there’s anything you want or we can do.”

“Sure Pa.  Just pray for her, “

“We’ve been doing that anyway,”

Joe straightened his shoulders and hiding his fear went back up to his wife. Ben watched him go and then turning to meet his eldest son’s gaze he smiled “He’s doing well but its going to be a very long day.”

Everyone was very relieved a quarter of an hour later to see Doc driving into the yard. Paul hurried into the house “Sorry Ben I was out east of town at Joe Sheridan’s place, his eldest boy broke a leg jumping out of the hay loft. José had to find me. He sure got us here in a hurry.”

Ben ignored all of that “Upstairs Doc, the pains are getting closer, lasting longer.” Paul nodded and headed up to Joe’s room, he knew the way well and Ben let him go up on his own. Doc went in and smiled at Joe “Sorry to be so long. Right young lady let’s see how we are doing, You’re not allowed to do this you know, first babies are late not early.”

Marie smiled up at him and told him how often and how long the pains were. He examined her and felt her tummy as the next pain caught her. “That’s fine young lady. Now I’m going to walk off with your husband for five minutes okay?” She nodded and Carole came over to sit by her.

The Doc went downstairs with Little Joe. He went over to the sideboard and poured out a large brandy and handed it to Joe. Joe took it and stared at the Doc for a moment and then downed it in one. He went over to the fire, and sat down on the table, staring into it “Right Doc, let’s have it.”

Paul went over, it wasn’t easy he had known Joe nearly all his life and knew just how much his young wife meant to him “It’s not good Joe.”

Joe looked up “I can see that much on your face. I need to know.”

“Well Joe I was right, she should have had a Caesarean and in another month I would have done one but I can’t now. The baby is too far down; I’d kill her for certain. We have to leave it to mother nature to do her work. The baby is smaller than a full term one, which may tip the balance. I’ll do all I can. One more thing Joe and then you have to make a decision. There must be no more children. Whatever happens, if I manage to save her, never again.”

Joe bit his lip but just nodded.

Doc went on “I hate to ask Joe but it must be your decision, I know what Marie’s would be. It’s every mother’s decision. If it comes to a choice between mother and child, which do I try to save?”

Little Joe stared at the Doc and then twisted round to look at his father and brother standing behind him. The agony so clear in his eyes propelled Adam forward to grip his brother’s shoulders. Joe’s every instinct was to save his wife, the woman he loved, rather than the child which meant nothing to him; but just because it meant nothing and wasn’t even his child he was torn by doubts; scared he wasn’t being fair to the child. His father and brother realised exactly how he felt and why and Adam spoke up “There can only be one answer to that Joe. Marie comes first.”

Joe looked up at his father and Ben nodded. Joe took a deep breath and got control, “Please save Marie if you can, I don’t care about kids I want my wife. I love her.”

Doc stood up and squeezed his shoulder, “I’ll do my best Joe but no guarantees. I’m sorry. I’ll go back up. Have another drink and calm down before you come up.”

Joe nodded and buried his face in his hands. Paul looked over at Ben “I’m sorry.”  Ben nodded they had to know the truth.

As Doc went upstairs Ben went to his son “Do you want that drink Joseph?”

Joe looked up “There’s nothing I’d like better than to drink myself into oblivion until it’s over and pray that its a nightmare which will go away. But that doesn’t help Marie, maybe there’s something I can do to help her, tip that balance Doc was talking about. Whatever happens she needs me and I’m no good to her drunk.”

Ben stared at his youngest son as though he was a stranger and indeed as Joe got a grip on himself and hid the terror behind a mask, Ben felt as though this strong man was someone so different from Little Joe, the baby of the family, that it wasn’t his son. Then understanding the emotional tightrope Joe was walking in his effort to remain calm, he stood back,” You’d better get back upstairs.” Joe nodded and Adam and Ben watched him disappear in silence.

Adam wiped his hand across his mouth in an attempt to retain control “He’s grown up into quite a man Pa.”

Ben nodded and then went over to the window; he stood staring out “I’ve never known Paul so pessimistic.”

Adam couldn’t answer he had read just how slim Marie’s chances were on Paul’s face as he came downstairs. “Where’s Hoss, Pa? He’ll want to be here just in case, he’s very fond of Marie.”

“He rode up to the mines to settle wages. He’ll be back this evening anyway.”

“I think I’ll go and get him Pa. There’s nothing I can do here anyway.” Ben nodded understanding his son’s restlessness, knowing Adam couldn’t settle.

Adam went upstairs to tell Carole where he was going. She was in their room, crying and trying to muffle her sobs in the pillow so that Marie wouldn’t hear. Adam went in and took one look and then led her over to his father’s room. He held her close as she cried. After a couple of minutes he tilted her face up and dried her eyes, “Come on darling, wash your eyes. She mustn’t know.”

Carole nodded and did as she was told. Then she asked what the doctor had said, Adam told her verbatim and she nodded “I saw it on Joe’s face as he came in the door. Marie couldn’t see him and he’d hidden every sign by the time was over by her. That’s what really convinced me it was bad.”

Adam held her tight “You have to hide it from her darling. If Joe can do it so can we. She has to fight we mustn’t let her know.”

Carole nodded burying her face against him glad of his warm strength “I’ll do it I love her too,”

Adam kissed her “I’m going up to the mines to fetch Hoss. Just in case I can’t help here and I can’t settle.”

Carole could understand his restlessness, she felt helpless but Marie wanted her there.

Joe was sitting by Marie again, joking and chatting with her between pains as though everything was fine. He helped the Doc to prepare knotted towels tied onto the bedstead for her to grip as the pains took her. She had been holding his hands but they were already bruised and swollen. As the pains grew worse she could no longer restrain the moans as she twisted in the bed pulling onto the towels as though her life depended on them. Little Joe wiped her forehead “Easy my love. You yell if you feel like it. I know it helps sometimes. Don’t try and hold it back.”

“I don’t want to worry you darling.”

“Of course I’m worried pet, all fathers are, I know childbirth is painful and I only wish I could help. Noone ever pretended it wasn’t but it makes no difference if you yell.”

She smiled and Joe kissed her gently but she didn’t bother to try to stop herself from crying out. Every time she did so it went straight through Joe like a knife, but he managed to hide it. There was little that Doc could do until the baby really started to come and after a while he excused himself, saying that he wanted some coffee, to call if there was any change.

Paul went downstairs and joined Ben by the fire. He had poured himself coffee before Ben even realised that he was there. Ben looked his question but Paul shook his head. “No real change it will be a while before the baby really starts to come. She’s having a rough time and its going to get worse. You should be very proud of the boy of yours Ben; he’s even got me half convinced that everything’s fine. If anything can hold her it will be her husband.”

Ben wasn’t really surprised; he knew just how capable his son was of carrying things through once his mind was made up. Joe was a fighter and he loved Marie very deeply, he’d fight all the way to keep her. Ben slowly twirled the cup in his hand watching the reflections of the light on the liquid, “The chances aren’t good though?”

“No. I’m sorry Ben. She has the spirit to fight but her body is weak. She’s built up some strength these last few months but not enough to counteract a lifetime of long hours and insufficient food. She’s already far weaker than when I first examined her and there’s a long way to go. Joe can only give her so much strength, the mind can only do so much.” Then two men sat in silence hearing the muted cries of a woman in labour, coming through the ceiling.

Little Joe on his own with his wife was doing his very best to hide the terror and panic which was so close. The intervals between pains were shorter now and Marie wasn’t taking in very much just grateful to have her husband to hold onto as the pains threatened to engulf her.

Adam rode out to the mines at top speed, not that that there was any great urgency to reach Hoss, but just to try and ease the tension he felt. It was partially successful because at speed on rough terrain he had to pay a fair amount of attention to his horse. He rode into their mine just under an hour and a half after leaving the house and tied Sport up next to Chub, but he couldn’t see any sign of his brother. One of the men came over “Hoss is in the left hand tunnel with Swann if you’re looking for him.”

Adam said, “Thanks” and hurried in to find his brother. Hoss was surprised to see his brother but as he took a longer look, he became really scared at the expression on Adam’s face. “Whatever’s wrong?”

“I’ll explain on the way back to the house. Can you finish up here fast?”

Swann looked from one brother to the other “I’ve got it under control here Hoss. Nothing that can’t wait for a few days.”

Hoss nodded “Thanks Swann I’ll get back up in a day or two.” With that Hoss headed over to his horse and mounted up. Adam wordlessly followed. As they loped out of camp side by side Hoss looked at his brother “Explain.”

Adam didn’t dare look at his brother “Marie has gone into labour. This morning while we were at the valley. Doc wasn’t even in town and by the time he arrived the baby was too far down for him to do a Caesarean; it would have killed her. He’s having to leave her to it. She’s having a rough time and weakening rapidly. He warned Joe that if he managed to save her there must be no more children and then asked Joe to decide which he should save in the event of a choice, mother or child.” Adam fell silent, seeing again the agony in his brother’s eyes. Hoss was astounded, he had known that his little brother was worried about Marie and that there was some basis for his concern, but they had looked so happy that morning. She had seemed fine as they headed out to meet Adam, just a few short hours earlier. They rode in silence for a few minutes as Hoss tried to take in what Adam had said. Finally he asked, “What did Joe say?”

Adam filled him in and finished up “Doc said he could offer no guarantees and Joe knows him as well as I do. He must have read how slight her chances are on Doc’s face as he came downstairs. But he hid all signs of how he felt before he went back to her.”

Hoss didn’t answer but kicked Chub on to get home as soon as possible and find out how things were going. The brothers rode in silence both scared for the slight young girl who had so quickly become part of their family and important to them and scared for their little brother, knowing just how much she meant to him.

They rode into the yard to find José hanging around. He wanted news but there was little that they could tell him. José offered to see to the horses, an offer the brothers gratefully accepted.  They hurried in to find Ben still sitting staring into the fire, He turned as the doors opened and shook his head “No change yet.”

Adam took off his coat and gun “Do you want coffee Pa, Hoss?” They both nodded and he went to get it. He brought it over to the fire and Hoss brought the brandy over. Ben watched as his big son poured a large brandy and downed it in one. Hoss poured out another and sipped it and then looked up at his father and asked, “How is Joe coping?”

“Very well all the time he might be able to help. It’s later that it’s going to hit him. Either way.”

Adam poured his own coffee and laced it with brandy “How much longer Pa?”

“Your guess is as good as mine Adam. Childbirth is not predictable.”

Adam went over to the window and stared out at the peaks covered in snow, while Hoss sank deeper into his chair staring unseeingly into his glass.

Upstairs Carole was in with the Doc in the corner of the room while Joe sat with Marie. Doc gave her detailed instructions on what to do with the child once it finally arrived. Marie was weakening fast and Doc was intending to help her, using forceps just as soon as the head was far enough down. The pains were almost continuous now and Marie was writhing on the bed as though in an effort to get away from it. Joe, white even to his lips, was unable to even wear a mask as he tried to hold her still, to conserve her waning strength. He knew all too well that she couldn’t take very much more of this. Doc couldn’t do anything until the neck of the womb was fully dilated but he was alarmed at just how little strength the young girl seemed to have.

Suddenly after hours of moaning pains, a never-ending nightmare, Marie suddenly screamed loudly. Joe tensed and looked over at Doc. Paul came quickly over as the waters broke and he smiled reassuringly at the youngsters “Easy it won’t be long now,”

Marie screamed again as the urge to push hit her, the natural urge too strong to disobey, forcing the baby down through the hole in her pelvis which was barely big enough for it. She felt as though she was splitting in two and screamed again and again in pain and terror. She was oblivious of Joe standing by her, but he wouldn’t leave. He stood staring down at her, biting his lower lip so hard that he had drawn blood, which trickled down his chin. He would have given anything to take her pain on himself, but there was nothing that he could do.

Downstairs at that first scream Hoss came to his feet and Adam turned. Ben recognised the difference “It won’t be long now, I’ll check if they need anything.” He went upstairs leaving the brothers staring at each other. He looked in to see Carole, desperately white, standing over by the window. She came over as she saw him but Ben staring at his youngest son, who looked on the verge of collapse, didn’t even notice until she took hold of his arm. “Do you need anything?”

Carole shook her head “It can’t be long now.”

“I know. Do you want Adam?”

Carole nodded “Please.” Her eyes were bright with unshed tears, fears for Marie and for her own ordeal a few weeks off, made her feel weak and ill. Her baby reacting to her tension was kicking furiously and almost painfully.

Ben went back down, “Adam I think you had better go up to your own room, Carole needs you, she’s getting rather upset.” Adam nodded and quickly disappeared upstairs.

Marie had finally progressed far enough for the Doc to be able to help her. He used the forceps, dextrously and five minutes later delivered a tiny baby girl. He wrapped the baby in a warm towel as he cut the cord. The baby cried feebly as he passed her over to Carole, as he had arranged. Carole carried the baby through into her room, to the crib that they had prepared for the premature baby, very grateful for her husband’s support.

As soon as the baby was delivered Marie moaned once or twice as the afterbirth came and then lay still for the first time in hours. The Doc was busy, trying desperately to stem the flow of blood from the torn and damaged tissues where the baby had forced its way through the narrow pelvic opening. He couldn’t stop the haemorrhage and he knew it. All he could do was to stand by and watch as her life’s blood seeped away and there was nothing he could do to prevent it. He sat back and looked at the young girl sombrely, Marie smiled at him at least the pain was gone. For a moment she was even oblivious of Joe, far more aware of their fears that they had known. Now she smiled faintly “I’m dying Doc aren’t I?”

Joe moved convulsively as though to protest, but Marie held his hand “We have to face the truth Joe. How long Doc?”

Joe stared down at his beloved wife and saw the truth in her face, the waxy whiteness of it, the pinched look round her nostrils, which he’d seen all too often presage death. He sobbed once but Marie was staring at the Doc. Paul had a job to find his voice but she had the right to the truth “I’m so sorry but there’s nothing I can do.

“How long?”

“An hour, maybe two.”

She nodded, “Will you ask Pa and Hoss to come up?”

Paul nodded, there was nothing more he could do and he left her alone with her husband. As he went out Marie looked up at Joe. Joe swallowed hard to keep control of his voice “You must rest my love.”

Marie smiled and gently squeezed his hand “No Joe. Not now. There’s no point. It would only make a few minutes difference. Let me do what I want. Say goodbye to those I love.”

Joe knew she was speaking the truth much as he fought against it. He couldn’t trust his voice and just kissed her gently. She held his hand against her cheek “Easy darling. There’s no pain now.”

Joe was determined to make things as easy as he could for her to the very end and somehow got control of himself and even managed a faint half smile “I love you Marie.”

In the next room Carole had tried to clean up the tiny baby, only to find it had a badly deformed leg. Adam was with her and held her tight as she finally gave ways to the tears, which had threatened so long. He covered the baby to try and keep it warm as it struggled for breath and, in the silence as he held Carole, they heard Marie’s questions next door and the Doc’s answers. Carole drew her breathe in sharply, it was what she had feared, but she had been praying that she was wrong. It was too bad to find relief in tears and she wiped her eyes. She was standing in her husband’s arms staring down at the baby, which had cost Marie her life, when the Doc came in.

Doc had had to tell Ben and Hoss that Marie was dying and that there was nothing he could do to prevent it. He’d hated the job, he was fond of all the Cartwrights. Now looking at Adam and Carole he realised that at least here he didn’t have to break the news. Adam confirmed it “We heard Doc. You’d better have a look at the baby, she has a deformed leg and I don’t think she’s going to survive her mother long.” Adam deliberately kept his voice low, not wanting to intrude on Joe next door. Doc came over and examined the baby “I saw the leg. I can’t say I’m surprised, just another effect of her being so tiny. There wasn’t room for the baby to develop properly. You’re right the baby won’t last until morning. Maybe it’s a blessing it’s badly deformed. No need to tell Marie. Wrap it up tight, clean its face and we’ll show Marie her baby. Let her die peacefully.” Adam nodded and did as Doc suggested while Carole washed her face.

In the next room Marie had got Joe to get her half sitting up against the pillows. At peace now the pain was gone, she was more concerned about her baby and her husband than she was about herself. She accepted that she was dying and somehow it wasn’t the terrifying thing she had always imagined. She was determined to see all those she loved, before slipping into the ultimate security of death, where over the last months she had come to believe a merciful God awaited her.

As Ben knocked on the door Joe kissed her and said “Come on in Pa, “ He went over to the window and stood staring out; he wanted to make it as easy as possible for Marie and to do it he had to husband his control. He couldn’t face either her goodbyes or the sympathy he knew his family would show.

Ben guessed how he felt and made no attempt to go to his son and prevented Hoss from going over. Instead Ben went and sat down by the bed and took Marie’s hands in his. She smiled “Doc told you?”

Ben nodded; it helped noone to pretend that she wasn’t dying. Marie’s voice was weak and low but clear and she was surprisingly calm, almost content. “I’m just glad that the pain has gone and left me a little while to try and say what I feel.”

Hoss stood by his father staring down at this a slip of a girl, recognising the mark of death all too clearly on her. His eyesight became blurred with tears as Marie went on “I never really had a family. My Pa never had time for me; he never wanted kids, least of all a girl. You’ve been more of a father to me these last months than he ever was. You’ll never know how much being part of your family has meant. I wanted to thank you. There aren’t any words Pa, Hoss, all I can say is thank you. I love you both and please look after Joe and my baby for me.” She smiled at Ben “I know I don’t really have to ask.”

Ben, his eyes filled with tears, let down and kissed her forehead “Thank you my child for bringing such joy into our family, even though it was for much too short a time. God bless you and rest easy.”

Hoss couldn’t find any words at all and if he could he doubted his ability to get them past the lump in his throat. Marie had spent many hours with the big man learning to read and knew him so well that she could read the love and sorrow on his face as he bent over her and held her to him for a moment. Then the two men left, knowing that they wouldn’t see her alive again. Hoss had felt the chill of death on her, it couldn’t be long delayed. They went downstairs in silence and Hoss unable to face even his father went outside. José was there and read the truth on his friend’s face “Is she dead?”

Hoss shook his head “Not yet, but she will be within the hour.” Then Hoss walked of towards the trees, needing to be alone.

Upstairs Marie asked to see Carole and her baby. Marie brought the tiny child in, well wrapped so that Marie need never know she was deformed. For a premature baby she was remarkably pretty, unwrinkled and not even very red. Marie held her baby to her for a moment and then handed her back to Carole, too weak to risk continuing holding her child, “I shan’t see her grow up, but I know she’ll never lack for a mother.”

Carole fighting a losing battle against her tears swore to do all that she could for the child and to love it as though it was her own. Marie smiled “I know that Carole. Don’t be too scared when your time comes. It was just me, too small for children, you’re not.”

The idea of Marie worrying about her while she was dying completed the collapse of Carole’s control and tears streaming down her face she held Marie’s hand to her cheek. She fought for control and managed a little “I shall miss you my sister. I’ll love your daughter for you.”

Marie stroked her cheek “I always wanted a sister and we did become like sisters didn't we? Thank you Carole, I have one last favour I want to borrow your husband for five minutes.”

Carole heard the weakening in Marie’s voice and nodded, “He’ll be right in. She went into her room and sent Adam through to Marie.

This was the last person Marie had to say goodbye to, apart from her husband, and in many ways the most difficult. She loved all her family, but next to Joe, the person she loved most in this world was Adam. Adam went over to her and sat down on the bed taking her hand firmly in his. For a minute she just looked at him, summoning her remaining strength, seeing the love and sorrow in his dark brown eyes. She gave a little smile and then shuddered, “Hold me Adam, please I’m cold.”

Adam slipped his arm round under her and lifted her to rest against his shoulder. She lent against him glad of his warm strength and then went on “There’s no way I can say thank you Adam. You gave me back Joe, gave us your support, your love, even gave me back my music. These last few days I’ve lived in a happy dream thinking of that house you designed for us.” She fell silent and Adam kissed her forehead “No need for thanks my sister, you gave Joe great happiness and let us all share in it. We all love you. Anything I did which helped you was more than repaid. You were welcome because I love you as I love Joe.”

“I know Adam that was the greatest gift of all. You gave me that as did Pa and Hoss and Carole, Just two things Adam.”

Her voice was weakening and Adam had to strain to hear as she said “Don’t worry too much about Carole, she’ll be fine and you’ll have her and a bouncing baby soon, I’m sure of it.” She rested against him for a moment but then seemed to gather her strength “Please look after Joe for me. I know you love him too. Don’t let him grieve too long. Make him see that the die was cast before he even met me. Without him I’d have been dead weeks ago, make him understand he’s given me more happiness and love in these last months than most women get in a lifetime, so much more. I know he’ll never forget me but in time he must find someone else to love, to give him children, to love him. He has too much love in him to waste it.”

As her voice faltered Adam kissed her gently knowing that the end couldn’t be far off. “I promise Marie. I’ll look after him. He’ll grieve but he will be alright. Don’t worry. You rest easy, I’m going to leave you with your husband now, our thoughts and prayers will be with you, now and always. Bless you Marie.” He kissed her and eased her gently back down on the pillows before going out almost unseeingly through the blur of tears.

Joe turned and came back to her. He could see how much it had taken out of her, but it was what she had wanted. He sat down where Adam had been and cradled her in his arms. For a minute she didn’t speak too weak to find the words, but she drew strength from his warmth and smiled up at him “I love you Joe. I want your promise, on two things.”

“Anything my darling.”

“Don’t leave here, don’t run away. Your roots are here.”

“I won’t I’ve learnt that lesson I could never leave myself behind, so there’s no point in trying to run.”

“Good. Secondly help Adam, These next weeks and when Carole’s time comes. He’s going to need help. In this he’s weaker than you. I owe him a lot and I love him and Carole, help them.”

“Yes my love, you have my word.”
“Don’t grieve too long Joe, find someone else.” Joe kissed her gently at that, to stop her going on, and for a few moments she lay quiet. “Joe you’ve given me more happiness and more love these last months than I ever dreamt existed, So much more than most women get in a lifetime, thank you.”

Joe held her tight his voice near drowned in tears “Why thank me, equally you’ve given em that same love and such joy, how could I ever thank you.” She was desperately cold and weak now and Joe strained to catch her whisper “Tell me that psalm Joe, The Lord’s my shepherd, between you, you’ve taught me to believe and I go to God willingly. I’m only sorry to have to leave you.”

Joe fighting for control of his voice said,

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name' sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: For thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
Thou annointest my head with oil; My cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever.”

As he recited the beautiful words Marie watched his face seeing the slight tremor of his mouth as he fought to retain his control and the intense love in his eyes. She let his voice roll over her as she slipped ever nearer to the final rest. As he finished, Joe sat silently holding her but a couple of minutes later she murmured “I love you so very much.”

“I love you and I always will.” Joe kissed her mouth and as he sat back up her mouth curved in a soft smile, just as life finally slipped from her. Joe sat holding her for body for a few minutes, feeling the deathly cold penetrate to him. Then reverentially he laid her down on the pillows, shut her eyes and crossed her hands. He stood staring down at her body, feeling stunned, no longer fighting for control he had no urge to break down now. Then squaring his shoulders with a conscious effort, he went out to tell the others.

When Adam went back to join Carole he found her and Doc bending over the baby’s crib. He joined them and a minute or two later the baby died. The Doc shook his head “Poor wee mite she never stood a chance. Maybe all for the best, I don’t think she would ever have walked.”

Adam held Carole tight but she was past tears now. She felt about ready to collapse herself, absolutely exhausted. The Doc went downstairs to tell Ben and Hoss and Adam drew Carole down onto his knee. She rested her head on his shoulder “Poor Little Joe, he’s lost his wife and his child.”

Realising noone could now be hurt by the truth and fearing that Carole would say the wrong thing if she didn’t know, Adam said “Don’t be surprised if Joe doesn’t care about the baby. It wasn’t his child, Marie conceived just before she met Joe, that gambler who was killed. In time it may be some consolation for him, the die was cast before he even met her.”

Carole stared at her husband for a long time and then asked, “How long have you known?”

“Since that first day I persuaded her to meet Joe, Joe wouldn’t tell anyone else in case Marie built the usual slight differences in the treatment of kids into something big. He told Pa a couple of weeks ago, but now I think you and Hoss have to know. It can’t harm anyone and it’ll prevent you saying the wrong thing.”

Carole shook her head “I knew it had been conceived fairly soon after they met and it puzzled me, Marie wasn’t like that. Then with all the comments I admit I did wonder, but I was sure I was wrong. The way Joe treated her and talked about the baby as his.” She was silent for a minute and then looked up “He’s quite a man.” Adam nodded. Then they heard the door of the next room open and knowing what it must mean, they followed Joe downstairs.

Hoss had come back in five minutes earlier and Doc had told him and Ben that the baby was dead. The three men were all sitting staring into the fire, each in their own way searching for the impossible, the reason why a merciful God should let such things happen. They too had heard the door and were on their feet as Joe came to the half landing, he held onto the banisters as though for support and looking over at his father said “She died at peace.”

There was nothing anyone could say and the other news still had to be broken to him. Ben moved forward "The baby is dead too Joseph. It had a badly deformed leg, never stood a chance.”

Joe bit his lip but slowly nodded. "Doc will you ask the Reverend to come out tomorrow to bury them, family only.”

“Of course Joe.”

“Pa will you please draft out a note for Dan. I’ll lay them out myself. Can I have the brandy and please I want to be on my own.”

Ben brought over the decanter “If you want anything Joseph I’ll be down here.”

Joe nodded and then looked over at Hoss “I want her up next to my mother, one grave.”

Hoss nodded “I’ll see to it Joe.”

Joe turned to look at his eldest brother still on the landing behind him and Adam said, “I’ll make a coffin.” Joe nodded slowly and then turned, brushing past Adam, who momentarily gripped his neck in mute affection and consolation. Joe let himself lean on his brother for a brief moment and then turned and went into Adam’s room to pick up the crib and take it into Marie. Then he shut both doors as he tried to face the idea of life on his own, come to terms with the day’s events.

Adam watched the door close and then led Carole into one of the spare bedrooms “Into bed with you darling.” She was too tired to protest and Adam left her while he went downstairs to see Doc. “Could you have a quick look at Carole, give her something to make her sleep. She’s exhausted and more than a little scared.”

Paul nodded “Of course Adam but try not to worry too much about her. She’s completely different from Marie. Marie should never have had children but Carole was born for it, she’s carried with no trouble at all and will doubtless have it the same way.”

Adam looked entirely unconvinced and Doc didn’t waste time trying to convince him, juts going up to see Carole, Adam calmed her down a little and then Doc fed her laudanum to ensure she slept. He drew Adam over to the window “It would be sensible if you did the same Adam. You’re still not a hundred percent fit.”

Adam shook his head “I couldn’t sleep. I’m okay and anyway I have a job to do.” Paul took his pulse, which was a little fast, but as Adam wasn’t running a temperature he took no steps to enforce his advice. Adam sat by Carole until she had cried herself to sleep.

Downstairs as Joe disappeared Ben and Hoss looked at each other in silence for a long minute, both wanting so much to help Little Joe and yet realising that for the time being at least there was no way, no words of consolation which could help. As Adam and the Doc vanished, Ben came to the same conclusion his eldest son had already reached and sitting quietly by the fire, he told Hoss the whole truth about the baby and the way Joe had told him a few short days earlier. He told Hoss of Joe’s fears and his discussion with their brother. Hoss listened in silence and as Ben finished he made no comment just staring into the fire. Ben didn’t rush him as Hoss considered what he had been told. Eventually Hoss looked up, "You don’t think he’ll do anything stupid?”

Ben shrugged “I know how he feels Hoss. I was never tempted but then I had the responsibility of Adam and later of you and Joe. He’s no coward.”

“I thought I knew my little brother Pa but I ain’t never seen him look like that before.”

Ben put his arm round Hoss’ shoulders “He’ll be okay. In time. It’s the only cure for grief, time, but it does work.”

Hoss nodded “At least he has the consolation that it was inevitable, nothing to do with him. I’m glad it ain’t his child.”

Then Hoss pulled himself to his feet “I think I’ll go and dig that grave, there’s plenty of light from the moon.”

Ben nodded; knowing his big son would be better for something to do. As Hoss went out Ben went over to the desk and wrote out a notice for Dan to put in the paper and a telegram to go off to Will and Laura, with that done he got his bible and sat down by the fire. Hop Sing came in with fresh coffee. He was well aware of what had happened. “Mister Ben I’m very sorry about the pretty Miss."

Ben looked up “We all are Hop Sing. I don’t think anyone will want food today, so you might as well get onto bed.”

Hop Sing nodded “Will anyone come for the funeral?”

“No Joseph only wants family there, so it will be just us and the Vicar.”

As Hop Sing left Ben realised that he ought to tell José and the others in the bunkhouse, many were old friends of Joe’s and all had come to like his lovely young wife. He went out there to get the job done, José had already passed on Hoss’ comment that she would be dead in an hour and the bunkhouse was absolutely quiet as Ben approached. As he came in the men looked up from where they were sitting round the fireplace, the usual game of cards for once not in evidence. José came to his feet and reading the truth on Ben’s face said, “She’s gone?”

Ben nodded “The baby is dead too.” The men looked at each other, Joe was very popular with them and they were all so sorry for him. José spoke for all of them “Tell Joe how sorry we all are, she was a very sweet and very lovely lady.”

“Thank you José I will. The funeral will be tomorrow but Joe just wants the family there, I know I don’t have to ask you to leave him in peace. He knows how sorry everyone is and I don’t think he can take words of sympathy just at the moment.”

There was a murmur of understanding and Ben nodded at the men before returning to the house. Doc was waiting for him “I’m very sorry Ben, A caesarean yesterday might have saved her, but honestly she was so weak I’m inclined to doubt that she would have survived the operation.”

Ben gripped his old friend’s arm “You did all you could. You aren’t God. Noone could have done more; Joe knows that as well as I do. We must accept it and do what little we can to help him.”

Paul willingly took the messages for Dan and Will and then left them alone with their grief.

Adam came down half an hour later to find his father sitting reading the bible. “Carole’s asleep, she was exhausted.”

Ben studied his eldest son’s face “You don’t look much better Adam. Don’t take any risks will you.”

“I couldn’t sleep Pa I’ll go out and make the coffin in a minute.” He sat in silence by his father for five minutes, each knew how the other felt and there was no need for words. Then Adam said “I told Carole about the baby I didn’t want her saying the wrong thing.” Ben looked up unsurprised to find himself in accord with his eldest son as so often in the past. “I told Hoss. Same reason. He said he was glad it wasn’t Joe’s baby. That it might be some consolation to him that the die was already cast.”

“That’s what Marie said to me. She asked me to look after Joe, make him see in time that she wanted him to remarry, not to grieve too long, waste all the love he has to give.” Adam bit his lip as his voice trembled, remembering what she had said. Ben, to calm him down, asked how Carole had taken the news. Adam told his father about Carole’s suspicions and how astounded she had been to find out that she was right, from Joe’s behaviour it had seemed impossible.

Then Adam pulled himself to his feet and headed out to the barn to make the coffin.

Upstairs Joe was standing at the window. He saw Hoss ride up towards the Lake and a while later saw his eldest brother go into the barn. Joe could hear the faint noises of his brother working and knew both of them were doing as they had promised, not that he’d had any doubts. Joe would have been glad of the relief of tears, but he no longer felt like breaking down.  Eventually he began the task of cleaning and dressing the bodies for the funeral. He looked down at the deformed leg of the child and agreed with his father, maybe it was for the best. Marie looked so peaceful, still with that half smile on her lips, as she had looked so often in the early morning as he lay next to her, waiting for her to awake. It seemed almost impossible that she was dead, she looked as though she would sit up and talk to him any time but when he touched her body it was cold. Joe moved in a sort of stupor automatically cleaning her and dressing her in a simple green dress, brushing her hair until it shone. He put the child in a little dress and laid it next to Marie and then turned to the brandy but he just pushed it away, it wasn’t going to help, at some stage he had to face himself and the future, he couldn’t stay drunk forever.

Joe sat down by the bed, staring at mother and baby for a long time, hardly seeing them, seeing instead scenes from the last few months. After several hours, stiff and cold he got to his feet, pulled a cover up over the bodies and walked over to the window. Her face and that of the child were etched in his mind; he no longer needed to look at her. He stood over by the window, staring up at the mountains and after a while he was shivering, it was a cold night. He went and found himself a jacket to put on and then needing coffee he went to the top of the stairs “Pa”

Ben came to his feet and looked up “Joseph.”

“Can I have some coffee, please.”

“Of course I’ll bring it up.”

Joe didn’t want to leave her alone, he knew it was senseless, it could make no difference to Marie. She was no longer in that body and would be with him wherever he went, even when the body was buried, with him alive in his memories. Joe was standing over by the window rereading the psalm that she loved when Ben came in. Ben put the coffee-pot on the table after pouring out a cup for Joe. He was pleased to see that his son had covered the bodies and hadn’t hit the brandy. Joe came over still holding the bible and sipped his coffee. Ben looked at him unsure whether Joe wanted him to stay or go, Joe looked up and met his father’s gaze, “I’m alright Pa but I’d rather be on my own.”

“Of course Joseph, whatever you want.” It was a wrench as he turned and left his son alone, only the knowledge that there was nothing he could do if he stayed, got him moving out of the door.

It seemed a very long night to Joe but after the nightmare of the day, watching her in increasing pain and gradually realising he was going to lose her, at least the night was quiet.

It had been late when Paul got back to town but he’d found Dan in the saloon and passed over the message, Roy wandered over to join them and Doc had told him. Both Roy and Dan were shocked and very sorry for Joe. Doc told them Joe only wanted his family at the funeral and then went to find the Vicar. Roy had gone to tell Beth. She was an old friend of the family and couldn’t be left to read it in the newspaper while Dan sent the telegram to Will. The Vicar willingly agreed to go out first thing the following day.

Adam finished the coffin in the early hours, he polished the wooden lid to a sheen, apart from looking after Joe it was the last thing that he could do for Marie. He loved her and made as perfect a job as he could. He was worn out and shivering when he’d finished, and unusually for him, he left the mess over the floor of the barn where it had fallen. He went in and collapsed in the blue chair by the fire. He was shivering and Ben looked worriedly at him but Adam said “I’m okay, just tired. Is there any coffee?”

Ben fetched him a cup lacing it well with brandy,

As Adam sipped it and, as the warmth of the fire penetrated, he relaxed “Have you seen Joe?”

“Yes he wanted coffee. He’s as well as we could hope. He had covered the bodies with a sheet and hardly touched the brandy. He was reading the bible.”

Adam nodded “Good. There’s no way we can help is there?”

“No Adam I know how he feels, I’ve lived through it three times. At least I had the consolation of my sons. Not that to begin with even that helped. We must leave him to find his own way through this. Let him come to us if he needs help we can give. He knows how we feel, There just aren’t any words that help.”

Adam knew his father was right but he was unable to rest tired as he was haunted by the agony he had seen in his brother’s eyes when Doc asked him to choose and the frozen misery on his face as he’d told them that Marie had died at peace. Ben could understand how he felt they all loved Marie and were all equally helpless to aid Joe. It was a long night and Ben was glad to see the dawn.

Hoss rode in at dawn. He had finished the grave hours earlier but had wanted to be on his own and preferred to be outside. He was cold and hungry having had nothing but coffee the day before. He felt almost guilty at being hungry and apologetically mentioned it to his father. Ben clapped his arm round his big son’s shoulder “Let’s see if Hop Sing is up I’m hungry too. Life has to go on Hoss, however we feel our stomachs are still empty.”

Hop Sing was in the kitchen and began frying slabs of bacon, eggs and heating beans and biscuits. Ben went upstairs and knocked at Joe’s door. Joe called “Come in”. He wasn’t surprised to see his father, but stayed where he was sitting over by the window. Ben asked, “Do you want something to eat Joe?”

Joe shook his head and Ben moved over to grip his shoulder “You must eat Joseph, you had virtually nothing yesterday.”

“I couldn’t Pa maybe later. I could do with some coffee.”

Ben didn’t push his son, the time for that would be later on after the funeral. “I’ll bring you up a fresh pot.” When he brought it up Joe asked “Is everything ready for the Vicar?”

“Your brothers have done as they promised, I’ll let you know as soon as he gets here.” Joe nodded and turned back to the window.

Downstairs Adam joined his father and brother at table for breakfast but when it came to the point he couldn’t eat anything much. He toyed with his food for a few minutes, while he drank three cups of coffee and then pushed his plate away. “I’m going to get a change of clothes and then I’ll go up and join Carole. I expect she will wake up soon.” His father forbore to nag, knowing how tired Adam was, but as he disappeared, Hoss turned to his father with deep concern “He’s overdone it. He looks exhausted.”

“He is Hoss, we all are, and he’s not fully fit but he’ll take no harm so don’t worry.” Hoss looked unconvinced but he finished his food in silence and then went outside. He felt stifled in the house. He went into the barn and saw the mess, mute testimony of his eldest brother’s exhaustion. Hoss began tidying up glad of something to do.

Ben tried to settle to work, he still had a ranch to run and the work schedules to draw up but he couldn’t think clearly and eventually gave up the effort. There would be time once Marie was buried. He remembered his own three wives, knowing just how his son felt. He had wanted them to find the joy of love and marriage, but he had prayed that they would never know the black despair and grief of losing a beloved wife. Joe hadn’t even had as long with Marie as he had with Elizabeth or Inger and he had had much longer with his own Marie, albeit far too short a time.

The vicar left town fairly promptly and even at his sedate rate of progress reached the ranch soon after nine. Ben had been watching for him and went out to greet him. The Vicar said, “I’m only sorry, it is such a sad occasion. How is Joe taking it?”

“About as well as I could hope. It’s hit him very hard, he loved her so very much.”

“I realised that when I arranged the wedding such a short time ago. Poor child. Where will she be buried up by the Lake?”

“Yes. It’s already. I’ll get Hoss to harness the buckboard and then we have to actually put her in the coffin. Adam made one last night. I’ll take you up to Joseph.”

Joe had seen the Vicar arrive. He had already washed and changed and had himself well under control. He was waiting as Ben brought the Vicar up. Ben left them to talk and went along to see Adam and Carole. Adam had been home and collected a change of clothing and they were both ready. Adam was hovering anxiously round Carole. Her sleep had brought nightmares and she still looked very drawn and tired. Ben tried to reassure his son, it was bound to upset her with the baby on its way and she’d been very fond of Marie.

Adam nodded “I know but I’ll be glad when the funeral is over and we can begin to learn to accept it. I can get her home and try and relax.”

“We’ll all be glad. It won’t be long.”

Joe had a firm grip on himself and asked the Vicar to keep the service as simple and short as possible. They had all loved her and he wanted no kind words about her from outsiders, however well meant. The Vicar agreed, whatever Joe wished. He asked if Joe was ready now “Yes, would you ask my brothers to join me please.” Adam and Hoss came along while Ben led Carole downstairs. They waited in silence to hear what Joe wanted done. Joe could read their sympathy for what he was going through in their eyes. Even that was nearly enough to lose him his slight control. He was grateful that they didn’t try to say anything, but even so he had to swallow hard before he could find his voice. “Adam would you bring the coffin in. I’ll bring her downstairs rather than fight with the coffin up and then down. Tell the Vicar, Pa and Carole to go on ahead. We’ll bring the coffin. We can manage it between us.”

Adam nodded, “Of course. Hoss give me a hand will you.”

The brothers went on down and Joe went in to throw the sheet off and look down on her, she still looked so peaceful. He saw his father leave with Carole and the Vicar and then Adam came back up. Joe stared at his brother for a minute as Adam looked down at Marie. Then Adam looked up “I’ll carry the child. Is there anything else you want?”

“My bible please.”

Adam picked it up, still open at the 23rd psalm. Joe lifted her gently; she was stiff with rigor mortis and cold, so unlike the soft warm body he’d known. He bit his lip and Adam wordlessly led the way downstairs. Joe placed her in the coffin on the snowy white eiderdown Adam had used to line it and Adam put the baby by her side. It was time for the lid to go on but Hoss and Adam stood back, waiting for their brother to say the word. Joe stood staring down at them for a long moment and then he lent over and pressed one last kiss on her brow. He stood back “She’s at peace.” He went over to the window and Adam nodded at Hoss. They quickly fitted the lid on and hammered it down. Then between them they carried it out to the wagon.

All the hands were in the yard, none of them said a word, but they all stood bareheaded in a silent farewell to the young girl they’d quickly learnt to like and respect. Joe looked at them but mounted the buckboard without a word. Adam and Hoss had their horses and swung alongside Joe as he stared out on the final mile to the Lake.

Everything was ready and Ben came over to help the brothers lift the coffin down next to the grave. Joe stood bareheaded staring in to the grave hearing the Vicar’s words from a long way off “I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord.... He that believeth in me, though he were dead yet shall he live....We brought nothing into this world and it is certain that we can carry nothing out... The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” His memory played him false and as a macabre accompaniment to the words, he could hear that same voice reading the marriage service, such a short time ago. Joe tried to hold onto his belief in God, Marie had been so sure, hold onto the words he that believeth in me, though he were dead yet shall he live’ but for now he couldn’t. Whatever living meant, it didn’t mean the life he’d shared with a warm happy beautiful girl, that was gone forever. Soon it was time to lower the coffin into the grave. Automatically Joe took his corner rope and lowered it. He threw the clod of earth in and the Vicar said the final words ‘Earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes...’

When he’d finished Joe knelt down by the open grave. He wanted to pray but he couldn’t, not yet. He took his bible and very quietly read the 23rd psalm that she had loved so much, Then he got to his feet and walked up to the point. Hoss looked questioningly at his father and Ben nodded "Fill it in Hoss. It's done.” Carole was in tears but she pushed Adam away, "I’m okay go help Hoss.” The Vicar came over to Ben "I wish there was someway I could help Joseph but I feel he’s best left alone. If at any time he thinks I could help, tell him to come to me. I know just how hard it must be for him to accept this.”

“Thanks and thank you for coming out so promptly, I think time is the only thing that will really help.”

The brothers worked in silence but rapidly and soon had the fresh mound formed. They stood staring down at it side by side. Hoss wiped his face “It don’t seem possible. She was so alive just twenty four hours ago, twisting Joe unmercifully round her little finger and now...”

Adam bit his lip “She looked so peaceful Hoss. She wasn’t afraid to die, she was more concerned about those who were going on living. Not just Joe and the child, even Carole and me. I’ve never seen anyone who died so much at peace.” His voice broke and Hoss put his arm round his brother “Easy Adam, you take Carole on home and try and get some rest. You’re worn out and you’re still not fully fit. Take the buckboard, I’ll bring Cochise up for Joe.”

Adam slowly nodded, he knew his big brother was talking sense he felt ready to drop and there was no more that he could do for Joe, not yet. He joined his father and Carole and after a few words with his father, headed on home.

Hoss rode of to collect Cochise. Ben went to join his son on the point “We’re going back to the house now Joseph, unless you want me to stay.”

“No Pa I need to be on my own, try and think things out. I won’t do anything stupid.”

“I know that Son. Hoss is bringing Cochise up for you. Come back when you’re ready.” Joe nodded and turned away, Ben left him unwillingly, but his son could only come to terms with things by himself.

When Hoss brought Cochise, he stood waiting for a moment knowing that Joe must have heard his arrival, in case his brother wanted anything but Joe didn't even turn round. Hoss tied Cochise on a long rope so that he could graze and then he returned to the house.

During the afternoon Ben tried to settle to work with scant success. Hoss didn’t even make an attempt; he went out back and started cutting firewood. Kirk who usually did it, wandered over when he heard the noise, but seeing Hoss he didn’t go close. He could understand the big man’s need for hard physical labour.

Hoss joined his father for dinner and for a while the men ate in silence. Then Hoss pushed his plate away “I wish he’d come home. He had nothing since breakfast yesterday and only coffee so far today. He must be frozen.”

“I’ll give him another hour Hoss and then I’ll go up there, try and persuade him to come back.”

There was no sign of Joe so Ben rode up to the lake. His son was still sitting by the Lake where Ben had left him. Joe was holding his bible but he hadn’t been reading it, just staring out over the Lake unable to think clearly, not even conscious of how cold and stiff he was. He didn’t notice Ben until his father came up and gripped his shoulders. Then he looked up at his father.

Ben said “You’re cold and tired and you need food Joseph. Why don’t you come on home?” Joe shook his head “Not yet I’m okay Pa. I couldn’t face food. I must think. Please.”

Ben was loath to leave him there but he couldn’t go against the entreaty in Joe’s eyes, as his son wordlessly begged his father to understand and leave him alone.

Ben tried once more, “I could bring you some food up here.”

“No thanks Pa. I can’t eat now.”

Ben gave way “Alright Son. You know where we are if there’s anyway we can help.”

Joe nodded and turned back to the Lake. Ben rode slowly home, unsure whether or not he’d done the right thing. Hoss was waiting for him on the porch but he didn’t need to ask his father what success he’d had. Ben shrugged “He wants to be on his own, says he can’t face food. We must give him time. It was all very sudden. If he doesn’t come back in the morning, I’ll think about forcing him to come. I don’t want him making himself ill.”

About eleven, Ben had a stiff brandy and went to bed. He tried to persuade Hoss to do the same; they were both short a night’s sleep and nothing useful would be served by staying up. Hoss was too restless “I think I’ll have a ride first.”

Ben nodded and let his big son get on with it. Hoss rode for over two hours, keeping to the low pastures. Although there was a moon the light wasn’t good enough to risk rough ground. Eventually he was drawn almost unwillingly to the Lake; Cochise was still tied where Hoss had left him. Hoss dismounted and slowly walked up to the point where Joe was still sitting huddled in his coat against the cold, He looked up as Hoss approached. Hoss went and sat down by him “I know you want to be on your own Joe but its freezing out here and you ain’t eaten since yesterday morning. Why don’t you come home, you can always use one of the spare rooms if you don’t wanna go into your own.”

Joe laid a hand on his brother’s arm “I know you mean well Hoss. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be okay but somehow I feel closer to her up here. Just give me a little time.”

Like his father before him Hoss couldn’t do anything but go along with his brother “Sure Joe. Do you want anything coffee, blanket?”

“No thanks Hoss. You look worn out, go get some sleep.” Hoss admitted defeat and headed home to sleep restlessly.

Adam had collapsed into bed almost as soon as he’d got home, worn out by the strains of the previous twenty-four hours. Carole busied herself tidying up the house, trying to calm down. She was glad to see Adam getting some sleep and, when he showed no signs of waking in the early evening, she slipped in beside him and quickly fell asleep herself.

Adam was up at five and having missed five meals he was starving, He went downstairs to the kitchen and cooked himself a large breakfast. When he’d finished eating he went back up to check on Carole, She was still fast asleep so he went down to his study but he couldn’t settle. He heard Kam Su moving around and left a message with him, before riding over to the main house. There he found his father was up and around. Ben told him that Joe hadn’t come back from the Lake yet. Adam sighed, staring into the fire “Have you tried to persuade him yet?”

“I tried last night, he said he was okay but he needed time alone to think. I think Hoss may have been up there later.”

Adam got to his feet “He must be frozen. I think I’ll take a turn up there, maybe he’ll come back with me. He can have my study to himself if he doesn’t want to come home yet.”

Ben nodded “It’s worth a try. Let me know what luck you have.”

Adam rode straight up to the Lake, He joined his brother, who wasn’t surprised to see him. Joe was glad to see that Adam had had rest, he’d noticed his brother looked close to collapse, even in his misery. Joe looked beseechingly at his eldest brother “Please Adam. I don’t want to come back yet. I just want be on my own.”

“You have to eat Joe. I know how you must feel but life goes on. If you don’t want to go home, come back with me. You’re welcome to my study if you want to be alone.”

“Thanks Adam but not yet. Maybe later, but I have got to think, come to terms with myself first,”

Adam stared at his brother wondering whether to force him but like his father the previous evening, he couldn’t do it. He gave way “Okay Joe.”

Adam rode back to tell his father “No luck Pa. He won’t be moved, said he wants to come to terms with himself first. He looks exhausted and frozen but I don’t think he’s broken down yet. If he could cry, I think he might find some relief.”

Ben nodded “I’ll leave him until midday then I’m going to try and force him either to come home or come to you.” Adam agreed with that and unable to so anything he rode home.

Carole had just come down. She wasn’t surprised that Adam had gone over to see his father and was forcing herself to eat some breakfast. She was grieving over Marie and worried about Joe, scared at the ordeal facing her, but she had the baby to consider. It was making its presence very much felt and forcing her to consider her health. Adam joined her at table and poured out a cup of coffee. Carole looked up “How is Joe?”

“He’s still up by the Lake. I tried to persuade him to come back here but he wouldn’t. He said he had to be alone to think to come to terms with himself. He hasn’t eaten and I don’t think he’s slept or even managed to cry yet.”

Carole sat in silence as Adam finished speaking and then pushed her plate away. “Poor little Joe.”

“Pa’s going to try again later, but he was no more successful last night than I was.”

Carole pulled herself to her feet, she was getting very bulky. “Harness my buggy will you Adam.” Adam stared at her for a moment and then, seeing the futility of arguing and knowing how fond she was of Joe, he went to do as he was told.

Carole drove up to the Lake. She went straight to the grave and looking down at it, she murmured, “I promised to look after your child Marie. I couldn’t help her but I will help Joe for you.”

Joe was still sitting on the point, so stiff he could hardly move. Carole went over to him and knelt down by him. She didn’t say anything, but she put her arms round him. For a moment Joe stiffened against her but Carole held him “Come on Little Joe. Marie wouldn’t want you sitting here. You’ll make yourself ill.”

He looked at her but Carole drew his head down on her breast “She loved you Joe. Don’t let her down.”

Joe relaxed slightly against her grateful for the warmth of her; “I don’t want to leave her Carole. She loved it here. I feel closer to her here.”

“You can’t stay here forever Little Joe. She’ll be close wherever you are. She’s alive now in our memories, not in the body we buried yesterday.”

“I’m not here because of her grave or only indirectly. She’s buried here because she loved this place; She said she felt close to God here. She had faith Carole. So much, she was so peaceful.” His voice broke and Carole stroked his curly hair “Let go Joe. You’ll feel better for a cry.”

Joe still tried to control himself, but Carole sensed it and said, “I loved her too Joe. She was my sister, I’ve done my crying for her. It’s past time you did too.”

That was the final straw and Joe let go. Carole held him close as he sobbed out a little of the pain and tension of the last two days. It was fully half an hour later before Joe raised his head though he had quietened down some ten minutes earlier. Carole handed him one of Adam’s handkerchiefs and Joe dried his eyes and tried to apologise. Carole smiled “No need Joe. I came here with every intention of making you break down if I could, I thought you needed it.”

“You were right Carole. I’m ready to come back now.”

“Do you want to come to us Joe?”

Joe nodded “Please.”

Joe pulled himself to his feet and helped Carole up “I think I can even face food.”

Carole kissed him “That’s it Joe you have to look after yourself, it’s what Marie would want.”

Joe mounted Cochise and rode alongside the buggy to Adam’s house. Now he was on the move he began to realise just how stiff and sore, he was to say nothing of cold and tired. Adam saw Joe ride in with his wife and was frankly surprised. As he opened the door for them he was glad to see that Joe had finally given way to tears. Joe said, "I'm cold and hungry Adam, can I take you up on the offer of your study.”

“Of course Little Joe. What do you want to eat?”

“Steak please and coffee”

“On its way, you go on through,”

Joe went into the study and sat down by the fire. He stared up at Adam’s painting of the Lake. He did feel better for breaking down and suddenly so tired he could barley keep his eyes open. His brother brought him in a tray ten minutes later. Joe was hungry but his throat seemed to have a lump in it and he had to force himself to eat. Adam left him alone and Joe brought the tray out when he’d finished. He’d eaten everything and helped himself to a large brandy with his coffee. He put the tray down on the table “Can I scrounge a bed Adam, my eyes won’t stay open.”

“Of course. The room Edwin used has the bed freshly made up. Do you want anything else?” Joe shook his head “Just to sleep.”

Adam led the way up and found Joe one of his nightshirts. Joe said “Thank you and thank Carole for me will you.”

“Sure Joe you get some rest.”

Ten minutes later when Adam looked in on Joe, his brother was fast asleep. Adam went back down to join Carole and demanded to know how she’d done it. She shrugged “I didn’t do anything just added the last straw to make him breakdown. Go and tell Pa and Hoss that he’s here. He’ll sleep for hours.”

Adam did as she suggested. Ben and Hoss were both relieved to hear it and, with the worst of their immediate anxiety about Joe relieved, the three men began to bury their own grief in work, sorting out the work schedules. The weather was lifting and the busiest part of the year approaching. One of the major jobs which needed doing was a trip into the far reaches of the Ponderosa to mark the trees for the lumber gang. It was a two-man job with paths to lay out and quite a lot of measurements to be taken, if the job was to be organised in any effective way later in the season. Ben was loath to ask Adam to go out, both because the work would be long and hard and his eldest son was still not fully fit, and because it would mean him leaving Carole alone for a week or ten days. The only alternative was for Joe to go with Hoss, as Ben couldn’t leave the ranch himself at this stage of the year with so much to be organised. He didn’t want to force his youngest son to so anything. Joe might want to get away from the Ponderosa entirely for a while and anyway the chances were he would want to be on his own. He broached the subject with his elder sons. Adam wasn’t at all keen on the idea of being away but he realised the necessity for it. “I’ll go, provided Carole doesn’t get too upset at the idea.”

Hoss shook his head “No Adam it ain’t sensible, You’re not fit enough anyways and the last thing Carole needs in her condition is to be left alone. It’ll prey on her mind.”

Adam had to acknowledge the truth of that and in his heart he knew he wasn’t strong enough. Hoss went on “At a pinch I could manage on my own. It would probably take me twice as long but I could manage, maybe take one of the hands along. If you trust me to mark up on my own?”

Adam smiled at that “Don’t be stupid Hoss. You’re the expert on lumber if anyone is round here.”

Hoss smiled briefly “Thanks brother. In that case there ain’t a problem. We can see how Joe feels but if he don’t wanna come I’ll do it.”

Ben hesitated, “It’s hard work Son.”

“Yeah well I can take a hand along to help me, I’ll manage.”

Adam went over to the window, a hand could help with the measurements and the manual labour, but not all the paperwork and decisions that would have to be made. It put a very heavy load on his brother but he didn’t want to leave Carole. Even though he had good reasons for not going, he still felt guilty about leaving it to Hoss, Hoss recognised the look on Adam’s face as did Ben, but when Hoss would have gone over to his brother, Ben shook his head. Ben turned the discussion back to the cattle operation and Adam soon came back to join them as they began the job of allocating men to check round the ranch. They worked hard all afternoon and then Adam decided he’d better get home for dinner. Ben said that he would drop by that evening to see how Joe was. Hoss decided to head up to the mines after dinner and get the business settled which Adam had interrupted two days earlier.

Ben rode over about eight and was sitting with Adam and Carole in the study a while later when Joe came downstairs. He’d woken feeling slightly better for a sleep although still very tired and very hungry. He got dressed and went down hearing voices he joined them in the study. He came over to the fire and kissed Carole’s head “I’m sorry to be a nuisance Carole but I’m hungry.”

“Of course Joe there’s some stew or a steak f you’d prefer.”

“Stew will be fine.”

“Right I’ll go and see to it.” Ben and Adam looked at Joe as he appropriated Carole’s chair by the fire. Ben asked, “Do you want us to go Son?”

Joe shook his head “No I wanted to talk to you anyway Pa. About my plans for the immediate future.”

Ben and Adam looked at each other and Adam excused himself to fetch coffee.  Joe stared into the fire “I’ve been awake for about an hour and for the first time, thinking reasonably clearly.”

“You can go wherever you want Joseph. If you want to travel, even go to Europe you can, but before you decide just remember you can’t run away from yourself, memories travel with you. When your mother died I ran away but it didn’t help. Before I’d always moved on and it helped, but that was because I was running towards something, my dream of a Ponderosa somewhere.”

Joe looked at his father “I know Pa, I shan’t run away, I can’t. I gave Marie my word to stay here where my roots are and anyway I learnt my lesson last autumn. It’s only here I can learn to carry on.”

Ben stared at his youngest son “You have more wisdom that I had.”

“Not me Pa, Marie. Anyway she left me a job to do.”

“What job Joseph?”

“To help Adam through the next weeks and especially when Carole’s time comes. She was very fond of Adam and I don’t know whether she was right or not, but she said in this one thing I was stronger than Adam.”

“I think she was probably right and I think you will be able to help him, but it will cost you.”


At that Joe fell silent. When Adam brought in coffee he was able to tell him that food would be ready in ten minutes. Joe opted for coffee while he waited. Ben said “You didn’t explain what you wanted Joe, I side-tracked you.”

Joe nodded “We have to mark up the trees in the north east for this year’s felling, I think I’d like to get up in the back country for a week or so. Right away from people, the house, all her things, where we were together.”

“It’s a two man job Joseph, you couldn’t really manage on your own.”

“I realise that Pa, Adam’s not fit enough but Hoss will put up with me,”

“If that’s what you want Joe.”

“It is Pa I want to be on my own, noone fussing at me, but I don’t really want to be alone if you can understand. Hoss won’t talk if I want to be quiet, but he’ll be company.”

Ben nodded “Hoss was planning to take a hand to help him, but if you want to go you’ll be very welcome.”

As Adam went over to open the door for Carole, Joe looked over at his brother “If Adam was fit I might have wanted him, but as it is there’s no choice and Hoss is so calm and placid, I’m almost glad I don’t have to decide.”

Ben nodded “I can understand that. Decisions aren’t easy now. If you can face some company it’s better. Hoss was intending to leave tomorrow afternoon. If you want to change that just say so.”

“No Pa that suits me, I’ll stay here. If Hoss could bring my bedroll over I can’t face the house just yet.”

Ben gripped his son’s shoulder “Easy Joseph,”

Joe sat staring into the fire but roused himself as Carole brought a tray over. “Thanks.”

He made a reasonable meal and the headed back up to bed. He lay thinking in circles for a while before falling asleep but he was fast off when Adam checked before going to bed himself.

When Hoss got back midmorning he was surprised to hear of Joe’s decision, but pleased that his brother wanted him around. Ben said “He wants company, but he also wants to be left alone.”

“It’s alright Pa. I know how he must feel. I shan’t fuss at him just try and make sure he eats regular, be there if’n he wants to talk.”

Ben nodded “Sure Hoss, he’s taken it very well, but he’s a very unhappy boy.”

“No boy Pa. These last months he’s finally proved that. He’s a man and a strong one.” Hoss collected Joe’s bedroll and went over to meet his brother. Joe was ready and waiting for him

As he mounted Adam came out to see them off. “See you in a few days. You know you’re very welcome to come back and stay here if you’d rather, just for a while.”

Joe nodded “I know and thanks, I just hope Hoss doesn’t find me too big a bore.”

“He’ll survives.”

Hoss grunted “Come on Joe, we have quite a way to go before we can camp.”

“What hungry already big brother?”

“Yeah and I might just turn cannibal, so lets get moving.”

 Joe led out leaving Adam and Carole watching.

Adam tried to be positive “He’s getting on top of himself to even manage to josh Hoss that much.”

Carole linked arms with him “Maybe but its going to be a very long time before he really laughs again.”   

Adam went over to join his father after dinner, Carole tired after several restless nights had gone to bed early. As he walked in he immediately noticed that the piano had gone. Ben saw him frown “Do you want coffee Adam.”

“Please Pa. Where is it?”

“Upstairs in the small guestrooms and we had hell’s own job to get it up there. It was Hoss, I was upstairs when he got back from the mines, when I came down he was sitting by the fire having a quiet cry. His undoing had been the tangled mass of knitting on the piano. It brought her back too forcibly. Nothing would do for him but getting the piano out of sight. He wanted to clean Joe’s room out and put it back as it was but that has to be Joe’s decision.”

“I agree Pa, but it’s the little things, the unexpected, which hurt most, like that knitting. I’ll get Carole to clear baby clothes and pack up her clothes before Joe comes back,”

”That might be sensible. Then we’ll sound Joe out when he gets back. He’s been very good.”

“He loved her so much he doesn’t want to let her down even now.”

“I think you’re right. The only thing that will help him is time. Are you alright Adam?”

“Yeah I guess so. Scared for Carole but then I always was. She’s so unlike Marie in build and background, that it doesn’t make it any worse. I miss Marie and I’m so sorry for Joe. You know that as well as I do the helplessness. We’ve worked together to protect him for so many years but this, which hurts him more than anything else, and we can’t do anything.”

Ben nodded and gripped his eldest son’s shoulder “I know, only too well.” Then the two men turned their attention to work, glad to concentrate on something else.

Joe was glad of his decision to go into the back country with Hoss. It had worked out very well. During the day there was hard work both physical and mental, Hoss was quite willing to do that little bit extra each day, so that by suppertime Joe was tired out physically and mentally. For the first few days Joe had been unable to eat the large plateful of food Hoss prepared, but his brother had never fussed, quietly burying the remains and slowly Joe’s appetite returned. Most of the time the brothers worked in companionable silence, broken only by a few words on the work itself; but gradually as the days passed Joe was able to talk about the small innocuous happenings of the day, the magnificent deer they flushed out, the weird shape of a tree struck by lightning. The nights were the most difficult. For the first three or four days Joe had fallen asleep exhausted only to wake in the early hours. He spent the rest of the night walking around engulfed in pain and despair to find some relief in tears but still unable to pray. Hoss, unusually sensitive, heard him each time and lay under his blankets for hours, fighting the temptation to follow his brother and try to comfort him. Only the realisation that there was nothing he could do or say kept Hoss quiet. He didn’t comment in the mornings when Joe looked tired and drawn, just let his brother set the pace at which they worked. Joe was more grateful than he could ever say for Hoss’ forbearance. Gradually as the days passed Joe began to sleep for longer and after walking around for an hour or so in the early hours, he began to get back to sleep. He even managed to pray again, his wavering faith strengthened by Mare’s certainty.

Finally after ten days hard work the brothers had just about completed their task. Over supper that evening Hoss said, “Tomorrow morning should just about do it, Joe.”

Joe nodded “I expect you’ll be glad to get home. I haven’t been much company.”

“Don’t be daft Joe. You’ve been very good. What do you want to do now?”

“I’m not sure. I guess I feel better. I suppose I’m beginning to accept it. I want our room as it is, so many happy memories, so many good times, but I can’t face it yet.”

“You could use one of the other rooms or stay with Adam for a while.”

Joe shrugged “Adam said I was welcome but I’m not sure. With Carole pregnant, I’d be like the spectre at the feast.”

Hoss put his arm round his little brother, “I don’t think either of them would feel like that, they both love you and loved Marie. You’d be very welcome, The only thing is whether it will hurt you to see Carole after....”
Joe smiled faintly “I’m not that dog in the manger. I love Adam and Carole and so did Marie. Noone will be more pleased than me when she is safely delivered; I wouldn’t want Adam to have to go through what I am. Anyway Marie made me promise to try and help Adam through these next weeks. The only thing I am not sure, is whether having me around as a permanent reminder won’t make it more difficult for him.”

Hoss stared at his brother for several minutes, he had avoided talking about Marie not wanting to upset Joe, but now he realised Joe was sufficiently recovered not to want to avoid her name, he wouldn’t want her forgotten. “She was a very special person Joe. If only she had been as strong physically as she was mentally. Under those circumstances its not many who can consider someone else.”

It was the first time in days that they had talked about her and tears came into Joe’s eyes but Hoss had read his brother accurately and Joe smiled, “She was that Hoss. I’ll never forget her or thses last few months,”

“None of us will Joe she brought a rare joy into our house.”

Joe sobbed brokenly, but made no attempt to go off on his own and slowly Hoss felt his brother relax against him. “I’m okay Hoss. There’s no way I can thank you for just being there these last few days and for not fussing at me. I’ve needed you around to keep a grip on reality.”

“No need for thanks Joe. I only wish there was more that I could do, but as Pa said the only thing that will really help is time. If you want to go and stay with Adam and Carole, I’m sure that they will both be glad to be able to do that much.”

“Maybe and I would like to. Just for a week or two until I can summon up the courage to come home. But I won’t upset them, I could use a guestroom.”

“No Joe, I’m sure there’s no need. I think you’d be more likely to help Adam and if you did that would help Carole. She must see how anxious he is.”

Joe nodded “Well I’ll try it for a few days at least.”

The next day they rode home and went straight to Adam’s. When Joe asked to take up his eldest brother’s offer to put him up for a while, Adam willingly agreed. Carole went into the kitchen to tell Kam Su and Joe went up to have a wash. Hoss was going on home and promised to pack a few things for his brother and bring them over later. Adam walked out with his big brother “He looks better than I expected, quite calm.”

“He’s been gradually improving, sleeping better, eating better and now he’s even prepared to talk about her although he tends to get upset. I know he don’t want her forgotten. He wants his room as it was when they shared it, but he can’t face it yet. He’s worried about upsetting you and Carole, a sort of permanent reminder that things can go wrong.”

“That’s stupid. He’s very welcome.”

“I know Adam I told him that. There’s so little any of us can do. Guess it helps a little to be able to do anything.”

Hoss mounted up “I’d better get home reassure Pa. I’ll bring his things over this evening or more likely Pa will.”

Adam put a restraining hand on his brother’s knee “Thank you Hoss, you’ve done a good job, helped him as much as anyone could.”

After dinner Joe excused himself and rode up to the Lake. He was able to pray and there by her grave in the place that she loved, he could talk to her. He felt she was near and could help him, hear what he said. He was doing as she had asked to the very best of his ability, facing life on his own again and trying not to be a burden to his family, doing what he could to help Adam. He stayed by the lake for an hour and left feeling more at peace with himself than he had since she moved into labour. Joe rode back to Adam’s house where he found his father waiting for him. Ben saw for himself that Joe was beginning to pull himself out of the first agony. It would be a long hard road before the grief faded and he was free to face life again but Joe had taken the first steps. Ben didn’t stay long, arranging to come over the next morning to start sorting out the next priorities.

Joe soon retreated to his room once Ben left. Adam and Carole alone talked over what Ben had told them about the trip into the back country, Hoss had filled in more details for his father and Ben had passed it on. Adam was firmly of the opinion that Hoss with his infinite patience and placid nature had been the best possible person to be with Joe. Carole could only agree with his reiterated opinion that Hoss had done a good job.

Ben rode home via the Lake. He stood for a long time looking at the two graves side by side, one twenty odd years old, the other fresh. The two Marie’s, both very much loved. He felt a twinge of the old pain that he’d had known for so long after losing his beloved wife. He knew how Joe felt but his son was handling it better than he had; upheld in some strange way by his dead wife. Eventually Ben went on home, more relaxed that he had been in weeks.