A Tree Falls

 by Lyn Robinson


Hoss had been a little quiet when Meg left but soon cheered up and he was on his way north with a rather larger than usual herd. Little Joe was stockpiling timber for the California and the Consolidated Virginia to take them through the winter. All their other contracts were completed, very early this year, with the new flumes already proving their worth and good weather for once. Ben was well satisfied with their year’s work and with the stock Adam had been selling the cash on hand was building very rapidly. Ben was dubious about keeping so much cash in one Bank and decided to talk it over with Adam during the winter, He was unsure just how much money Adam would need, if he bought the land he wanted for logging on the east shore of Lake Tahoe. Ben was delighted that his sons wanted to re-invest in the ranch. He knew that the Ponderosa meant as much to them as it did to him, but that didn’t stop fresh proof of it always thrilling him.

On board the steamer back to Sacramento, Adam took advantage of the elegant dining room but Carole wasn’t hungry and, insisting that she was just tired after the excitement of the wedding, she just wanted a good sleep before the stage ride home. Adam was slightly surprised but it had been a hectic few days and Carole soon persuaded him nothing was wrong. Once he had tucked her in, Adam went for a meal and then went to try his hand at the poker game always to be found on the steamer. These men were a different proposition from the men he’d played in London and Adam needed all his skill to stay even. He thoroughly enjoyed the contest and was well satisfied after three hours play, to rise from the table precisely $80 richer.

Carole was feeling slightly sick and a little worried. Although she felt perfectly fit, she had had every intention of waiting six months before risking another pregnancy as the Doc had suggested. Now although only five months had passed, she was almost sure that she was about six weeks pregnant. She had no intention of telling Adam yet and wanted to talk to Doc Martin. Adam was going to be very anxious after the last near disaster and she wanted at least to have Doc’s confirmation all was well before telling him. They both had a great deal of faith in Paul. Carole knew that her husband was planning a survey trip on the far side of Lake Tahoe and, if possible, she would wait until he returned from the survey and was settled at home for a few weeks so that he could get used to the idea. She was scared that he would guess if she was sick and she firmly pushed away all thought of nausea, overcoming it with sheer will power.

It was nearly a week after they got back from San Francisco before she was able to get into town without arousing suspicion. Adam had gone up to the lumber camp to help Joe finish up and Ben was going into town to meet Hoss, who was due back after the drive. Hoss had had a very trying drive with unusually high losses and had finished with barely enough to fulfil the contract. Nothing in particular had caused all the losses, no stampede, but day after day there had been problems, wolves and high rivers. Hoss blamed himself for the trouble; it had been a very tiring drive and even when he’d paid off the men he found it impossible to relax. He was meeting his father to go and pay in the bank draft and, although he knew his father wouldn’t blame him, he was on edge blaming himself. Ben had gone by Carole’s the previous evening to see if she fancied going into town with him and she had been flatteringly pleased to go.

Once they reached town Ben and Carole separated, arranging to meet at the hotel for lunch. Ben went down to the bank but Hoss hadn’t arrived yet so he completed some routine business and before he had finished Hoss came in. Ben called him over, startled by how tired and drawn Hoss looked.

Hoss handed over the bank draft “Here you are Pa. Its good to be home.”

“We’ll talk later Hoss. I’ll do this, why don’t you go and get a beer, you look tired.”

“Good idea. I’ll be over at the Palace.”

Ben nodded and then turned back to the clerk who was waiting patiently. It took him another twenty minutes to finish up and then he went to find Hoss. Hoss wasn’t feeling sociable and after a brief word with a couple of friends and Dan, he had firmly taken his beer and gone to sit down at a corner table on his own. The expression on his face enough to stop anyone bothering him. Ben got himself a drink and then joined his big son “Rough trip?”

Hoss rubbed his eyes “Very, I began to think I would have to buy cattle to make the contact. We just scraped through without, but considering the extra I took it shouldn’t have been so close, I’m sorry Pa, just one thing after another. I’ve never lost so many.”

“Bigger drive than usual.”

“Even in proportion I must have lost three time what I usually do.” Hoss sighed heavily, staring into his beer, unable to meet his father’s gaze.

Ben gripped his big son’s arm “Take it easy Hoss. Sometime the luck runs against you. You did your best and I know that is better than anyone else could do. The luck has been with us every other way this year; we were due a bit of bad. Anyway it really doesn’t matter, you got there safely, with all the men uninjured and you made the contract, that’s all that matters.”

Hoss looked up, “I’m sorry Pa I guess I’m just tired. Feel as though I let you down.”

Ben smiled at him “You never have Hoss. Finish your beer, we have to meet Carole in five minutes for lunch.”

Carole had had a busy morning. She was in luck, Doc was at home and he listened quietly as she explained the unplanned pregnancy. Doc examined her carefully and then got coffee “Well young lady, its sooner than I would have recommended but you recovered very well. I don’t see any real cause for alarm, everything seems perfectly normal. Just be sensible, try and get as much rest as you can, especially in the next couple of months. If there was going to be any effect from your miscarriage, I’d expect it in the first three months, but I think you’ll do fine. Makes it due about the first of May.”

Carole hesitated, “There’s one more thing Doc. You know Adam.” she bit her lip.

Paul grinned, “Not much I can do to help. He’s going to fuss and fret but he’s mighty stubborn. When things go wrong he’s a tower of strength but he does tend to be a worrier and you mean an awful lot to him. After that close call..”

“That’s just it Doc I don’t want to tell him yet. I’ll never get him to leave my side once I do and he still has a ranch to run. He’s been planning a trip into the high country all summer. I’ll tell him when he gets back.”

Doc frowned, knowing what it would do to his old friend if things went wrong in his absence, on the other hand he could see Carole’s point and it was her right to tell her husband. “Alright Carole, not a word, but I think you ought to tell Ben, if Adam’s away for long, just so he can keep an eye on you.”

“I will but I’m sure this one is going to be alright. I feel so well, like I did with the twins. Last time I had all sorts of odd aches and pains."

“I think so too or I would tell Adam.” Doc smiled at her “Just try and take it easy and come and see me in a month.”

“I promise Doc.” Carole went out to get her shopping happier now that she had seen Doc and surprised just how confident she felt suddenly, this was going to be fine. She tried to calm down, scared that Ben and Hoss would notice, but she didn’t need to worry. As soon as she saw her big brother-in-law she forgot all about the baby, anxious for him, as he looked so tired and drawn.

Hoss was slowly relaxing now he had his father’s support, although he had known it would be forthcoming, and as he relaxed he calmed down but tiredness caught up with him. He was almost dozing over his coffee and Ben left them to ensure everything was loaded. When Ben came back Hoss roused “I think I’ll ride on home, no need for you two to rush back.”

Carole got to her feet “I’ve finished all my shopping and I need to get back to the twins. Let’s go together.”

Hoss smiled down at her and went out to the buckboard with his arm round her shoulders. That evening he filled his father in on all that had happened and then had an early night, looking much more himself the next morning.

On Friday Joe and Adam rode in, the lumber camp was dismantled and all the necessary timber cut to carry them generously until the spring. The mill was still working but otherwise things were ready for the winter well ahead of schedule. The weather was still holding and with luck would continue to do so for another month. Adam spared an hour to run over everything with his father and then headed home to Carole and his sons. It had been a very satisfactory summer, with everything running smoothly and no real trouble. He arranged for his father and brothers to come over for Sunday lunch and then rode home. Carole was pleased to see him but the twins were engrossed in some game of their own and barely acknowledged his existence. Adam forgot about work and just enjoyed himself with his family until the following afternoon. Carole had some washing to do and Adam locked himself in his study and began to put down on paper exactly what he was proposing to buy and how to cash in on the land. He had spent a lot of time reading and rereading the information he had collected in San Francisco and, with Joe’s help in the evenings, made a few tentative experiments up at Lake Tahoe. He’d need a lot more facts and figures but it gave him some idea and enabled him to plan how to get those further facts. Aware of how much cash was available, Adam was planning on a grandiose scale, enough lumber to cover the next ten years and, on a controlled scale thereafter, a crop to be taken every year. He didn’t want to feel the need to expand further in a year’s time only to find other people encroaching, following their example. He wasn’t sure how the rest of his family would feel. They had agreed in principle but he wasn’t sure what scale they were thinking about.

Adam was quiet over dinner, not at all sure how Carole would feel about him disappearing off yet again. He had spent hardly any time at home, mainly just odd days since she had been well enough to leave and even in San Francisco he had been busy much of the time. She no longer even had Meg for company. On the other hand it was the ideal time to go and survey while the weather held and he was eager to see the ground for himself. It wasn’t an area he knew well. He would need help and wasn’t sure how his brothers would feel, they’d had an equally busy summer.

Carole left him until the twins were in bed and then over coffee, she asked, “Who is going up to Lake Tahoe to help you do the survey?”

Adam stared at her a for a moment and then pulled her close, “I’ve been away a lot this summer.”

Carole shrugged “It’s a working ranch I always knew that. Anyway you might have been here in body but your mind has been up in the high country since lunchtime.”

Adam kissed her soundly “You know me too well! I love you. I would like to go if you’ll be alright?”

“I’ll be just fine, but you can’t do it alone.”

“I want to talk it over tomorrow anyway. Then I’ll see if Joe or Hoss wants to come. I could manage alone at a pinch, perhaps take Jess to help out.”

The next day after lunch, while the twins had a nap, Adam outlined exactly what he would like to do and steps needed to start. As a the twins woke up Ben suggested that they all think about it for a couple of hours and then, when sanity returned as the twins went to bed, they could discuss it during the evening. Adam was uneasy, but Ben grinned at him as he went over to the window. “Cheer up its only a case of settling details, I told you, you’ve earned the right to try and I know your brothers agree.”

At that Adam relaxed and enjoyed a quiet afternoon with all his family, watching his young sons bully their uncles unmercifully into acting as horses or playing games with them. Later in the evening they all settled in the study and Ben got out the notes that Adam had given him and started the discussion rolling. In fact there was little to discuss in principle. They all knew just how much money was sitting unused and this was the best plan they had for reinvesting in the ranch, as they always liked. Adam was surprised and delighted at their enthusiasm and although he tried to point out all the possible problems he didn’t have his heart in it. Ben laughed at his eldest son, “You aren’t over persuading us, we can all see the advantages in this. We’ll face problems as we reach them. Nobody expects to set up a big, new operation like this without problems.”

Little Joe added, “Far as I can see we don’t have a choice. Someone is going to harvest that timber and it could ruin the view up by the Lake. I for one would hate the far shore to be as bare as the hills near town.”

Nobody could argue with that sentiment and there was little point in discussing things further until they had been out to see on the ground. Ben said, “When are you going out to survey Adam?”

“Tomorrow I think.”

“How long will it take?” Joe asked.

“I really don’t know. I don’t know the area at all well, never really had reason to go over there. How about you?”

Joe shook his head like his eldest brother he had been hunting up there once or twice. Once for a large cougar but he didn’t know it well. Adam looked over at Hoss who shrugged “I’ve been up a few times but I wouldn’t say I know it well. “ He grinned at Joe “I guess between us Joe we can make sure big brother don’t get lost.”

Joe nodded, he had discussed the survey with Hoss on the way over that morning and, knowing what Adam wanted to do, they had made their own minds up,”

Adam looked from Hoss to Joe frowning slightly, “What do you mean?”

Little Joe grinned broadly, “Well Hoss and I reckoned we could manage between us, get a bit of peace and quiet for a couple of weeks, but then I told Hoss about all those forms and the figures we’d need. So we thought we might as well take you along to do the paperwork.”

Adam smiled faintly, “It won’t exactly be a holiday Little Joe.”

Hoss got to his feet “Don’t be daft Adam, we know that, but it’s a joint project. Your idea but all of us are gonna make it work. Don’t you see Joe and I are as excited about it as you are, we want to see too, help plan it.”

Adam was so taken aback and pleased that for a moment he couldn’t answer, eventually he looked over questioningly at his father “Pa?”

“Nearly everything else is finished for the season. I can manage without too much trouble. It will be hard work, split three ways maybe not too bad.”

Adam grinned, “Okay I’ll take them. They may not be the world’s greatest workers, but at least they’re cheap!”

Joe threw a cushion accurately at him and they settled to arrange what supplies they would need and who would bring what. They were aiming at an early start and Adam passed onto Hoss the problem of getting their little brother out of bed. Ben promised to have them over on time and, as they left, he had a quiet word with his eldest son promising to keep an eye on Carole and the twins.

It was a long ride round to the far side of the Lake and despite their early start Adam was forced to call a halt and make temporary camp several miles short of his main objective. The light had gone and none of them knew the way well enough to take risks. He took the chance to make some measurements at the lake and begin a rough map. Part of their problem was the absence of an accurate map of the area and to get title to the land they would have to provide one.

After supper the three brothers lazed by the fire, it was a beautiful night and so very peaceful. They relaxed clear of all the responsibilities, which had tied them all summer. Joe was back in the past, remembering trips when his older brothers had taken him along, often after he had been badgering them for weeks. Hoss was remembering the past too, like Joe it had been a treat when his big brother had let him come and at fifteen or sixteen he had thought himself so grown up riding out with Adam. He was annoyed on one occasion when Adam had let the twelve-year-old kid join them. He’d let it show and his father has spoken to him, reminding him just how excited he had been a few years earlier when Adam took him along. Hoss could remember how guilty he’d felt that day, but Adam hadn’t left Hoss out as he had feared, and the trip had been great as Adam trusted him to show Joe things. Since that day Hoss had always liked it best when both his brothers were along. For a few years it was a fairly regular occurrence but as the ranch expanded and they took on more jobs they had to split up more often, Joe and Hoss fully grown didn’t need overseeing, and it had become a rarity for the three brothers to get off together.

Adam got no answer when he offered more coffee and realised that both his brothers were lost in thought. He knew them very well, but whether it was circumstances or telepathy, he found himself remembering the eager kids looking up to their big brother, when he was younger than Joe was now. His brothers had come a long way since those days and turned into good friends, a very rich return for the time he had spent helping them. Sometimes cursing it as he wanted to get off alone, maybe get drunk, play with other men of his own age, but never quite able to say no, trying to live up to their evident hero-worship. He refilled their cups anyway and said “Do you remember about ten years ago we camped near here on the way home and Little Joe got his first cougar?”

His brothers looked up, each surprised to find Adam’s thoughts like their own, way back in the past. Joe laughed as he realised that both his brothers were thinking of the past and for the next two hours they sat reminiscing, until finally Adam got out his blanket. “It’s good to have you both along, we don’t do it often enough.” Over the next ten days the brothers worked hard, but enjoyed themselves. They argued over the best way to set up the lumber operation and at times got quite heated but none of them took it wrong. As they made themselves familiar with the land that they intended to add to their ranch, the work was a labour of love. Adam and Joe had been working reasonably closely together most of the summer, but neither of them had seen very much of Hoss. They had been away all winter too, so each in his own way filled in the gaps and rebuilt the closeness, which never really threatened, wasn’t quite so evident when they hadn’t seen each other for a time. Hoss was very conscious of how little he had seen them and was thoroughly enjoying his brothers’ company.

Adam had deliberately started at the furthest limit and worked back towards the Lake. They moved camp after ten days and Joe went ahead to set up the camp while his brothers finished surveying for the main map. Now that they were all familiar with exactly what was required and had more of a feel for the ground, they were moving more quickly. Although not quite half the area had yet been covered, Adam was fairly confident another week should clear it. The weather had co-operated fully and although cold at night, it was a beautiful autumn, dry and sunny during the days. So far it was showing no sign of breaking and they were all three keeping their fingers crossed. As they headed towards the Lake and the new camp, Hoss wondered aloud where Joe would have set up camp.

Adam grinned broadly “You know as well as I do where he will be.”

Hoss shrugged “Well maybe. There’s that glade looking across the lake but there’s no water.”

“We can carry that Hoss but it’s a beautiful view down to the point.”

“I’m not betting against it Adam. I know what that point means to Joe especially with Marie there as well as his mother. He’s sentimental.”

“Aren’t we all?”

“I’m not denying it Adam, I’m as bad as either you or Joe. Its funny I used to think you were the one who loved the point best, now Joe goes there most.”

“I’ve always loved it. I don’t know anywhere that sums up the whole ranch more and now I’ve buried my own daughter there, with all the others I loved.” Adam was very sombre and Hoss reached over and gripped his brother’s arm “Easy Adam.”

“You say that Joe is sentimental. I don’t know, I’ve been avoiding it since we buried my baby daughter, didn’t want to be reminded. I guess I don’t need to anymore, we’ve had a good summer and I can put it behind me, I’m so very lucky.”

“I’m glad Adam. Come on let’s go and join our little brother.”

Adam nodded and the brothers trotted on. Little Joe had set up camp exactly where his brothers expected and was sitting staring across at the beautiful copse of trees on the promontory where his beloved wife lay with their other loved ones. He saw his brothers ride in and stood up a little defensively. Hoss couldn’t resist teasing him “What a spot for a camp. There’s no water within a quarter of a mile!”

“It’s flat, protected from the wind and a marvellous view.”

“Well Little Brother you remember to bring water back of a night, because you sure as hell can’t make coffee with a view and I ain’t going for a long walk, without even coffee!”

“Move it if you’re that worried!” Joe growled, his temper flaring up, knowing from the practical point of view it wasn’t ideal, but hating to admit it.

Adam had moved to a good vantage point and was staring across the lake. Now he intervened, “Simmer down Joe. You should know by now when he’s just trying to get a rise out of you. I was assuming that you’d camp here, I’d have chosen the same. It’s magnificent, don’t often get to see it from this side, look at those pines.”

Joe calmed down immediately realising that Hoss was only teasing. He went over to stand next to Adam “It is beautiful isn’t it? Pa’s always tended that grove and the trees almost seem to have responded, so tall and straight.”

Hoss came over quietly and stood slightly behind his brothers, one hand on each of their shoulders. “Pointing straight up to heaven. Somehow always seems the path to God would be a little easier from there.”

Adam twisted slightly and smiled at his big brother “And you said Joe and I were sentimental?”

Hoss could see the affection on his brother’s face and didn’t move “I didn’t say I wasn’t. Guess one day our time will come. I’ll be satisfied to rest there.”

Joe shivered slightly and Adam, looked quizzically at his little brother. Joe grinned “Don’t you remember Adam? You and I made a pact a long time ago, that when our time came it would be there, but when you first mentioned it, it was far too close for comfort.”

Hoss nodded, while Adam still looked puzzled. Hoss explained “When you got shot up on the north side by Cochise’s men. You were only conscious for a few minutes but you asked Joe to see you were buried there. For a while we didn’t think you’d make it big brother.”

Slowly Adam remembered and stared sombrely at the point. “Long time ago. Lot happened since. I survived but within weeks we buried Ross and Delphine.”

Hoss straightened up “Come on cheer up you two or I will move the camp. I’m gonna get some food started.”

Adam linked arms with Joe “A lot of memories.”

Joe smiled “Many good ones and before we go we’ll have many more.”

“Mmm. Hoss is right, food time.”

Over the next four days none of them tired of the view. They sat eating their evening meal each night watching the changing moods of the lake. Things were going even better than Adam had expected and, as they separated to start the day’s work, he reckoned one more day after that would just about finish the job.

Joe was working about a mile from the camp; Hoss out further beyond him, while Adam rechecked some of the previous day’s figures before joining them. Joe was putting in some survey posts, the ground was rough and uneven so it wasn’t easy to run a straight line, but he’d almost finished when there was an almighty crack.

Joe looked up puzzled, wondering what had happened. He just had time to see a majestic old pine falling far above him and tried to scramble to his feet. The tree seemed to move and fall so very slowly, but Joe had barely made it to his feet, when the tree crashed down and the whole ground seemed to give way under him as the shock of the giant tree falling caused a land slip. Joe was on a slope and he was carried down in a welter of rocks and branches. He was vaguely conscious of Cochise’s terrified whinnying, as the horse tore its loosely tied reins from the tree he was tied to and fled. Cochise was better off than his master, although one rock hit hard against the horse’s rear leg. Joe couldn’t stop his fall and tried to protect his head. He didn’t quite lose consciousness, but he couldn’t sort out the muddled impressions until after, a seeming eternity, he came to a stop, half buried. He was only conscious of the pain in his side and stomach, hardly able to breathe and then he saw the heavy trunk of the tree coming down on top of him. In sheer terror Joe screamed once and then sank into merciful oblivion.

In the still quiet of the Lake sound carried a long way and both Adam and Hoss heard the tree fall. Hoss was close enough to hear his brother’s scream and he went cold with fear before hurrying back to Chub to go and find out what had happened. Adam could faintly hear the land slip, but it was Cochise who alerted him to Joe’s plight. Fear crazed the horse reached the camp almost before the avalanche had finished, trailing the broken reins and limping badly.

Adam was just saddling up his black and went over to Cochise, almost stopping breathing in fear for his brother. He forced himself to speak soothingly and Cochise, glad to hear a familiar voice, came to him. Adam gently felt the damaged leg but to his relief although already swelling there was no sign of a break. He tied the pinto on a long rope and unsaddled him but other attention would have to wait until he knew what had happened. Joe had to come first.

Adam was only a couple of minutes behind Hoss in reaching the land slip, Hoss had found the broken reins and knew Joe had been there. As Adam rode in, Hoss straightened up holding the reins. Adam said “Cochise came back to camp, badly bruised leg and half crazed.”

Hoss was very pale and it was a real effort to find his voice, but Adam had to know. “I heard Joe scream a couple of minutes after the tree cracked.”

Adam bit his lip but just said, “Let’s find him. Be very careful it’s awfully loose.”

Both men began working their way down, one either side of the main slip. Adam saw Hoss pick up Joe’s hat but as his brother made no comment he moved on down towards the huge trunk of the pine. Fear like an ice-cold hand gripping his heart and Adam found it difficult to breathe. Then he saw a movement, he had to look twice but then he saw it again. Joe had come round and seeing his brother had tried to call to Adam. He couldn’t seem to find his voice and he just waved rather ineffectually. His hand didn’t seem to want to obey him anymore than his voice did.

Adam didn’t dare hurry, not wanting to bring more down on his brother, so he picked his way carefully over to Joe, calling to Hoss. Hoss wasn’t far behind him and joined Adam in the shadow of the great trunk hovering just over Joe; some of the branches resting on the rubble which half covered their brother. Adam had already started to push some of the earth and smaller rubble off Joe’s arms and chest and wiped his brother’s face as best he could without any water. Hoss knelt down next to him “Hold on Little Joe we’ll get you out.”

Adam asked anxiously, “Where are you hurt?”

Joe in a state of shock didn’t answer at first but as Adam asked again, with even greater concern obvious in his voice, Joe forced himself to get control. “Side, pain in my stomach, not too bad Cochise?”

“Cochise is fine. Try and relax Joe.” Adam stared around at the precariously balanced tree and the mess of rocks and branches. “Little Joe Hoss and I have to go and get a couple of things. We need to stabilise that tree or it will come down on you, Just hold on, only be a couple of minutes.”

Joe weakly gripped Adam’s hand, “I’m alright do what you have to.”

Adam said, “Get your horse Hoss.” As the brothers scrambled up to the top again, taking wild risks once Joe wasn’t in line. Hoss had seen just how unstable it all was and as he lifted his rope from the saddle he asked, “Can we do it Adam?”

“We’ve got to. I wish to hell we had two trained horses. If only Sport...” Adam broke off there was no time for wishes “You’re going to have to take that black of mine. We’ll tie a rope to the trunk well clear of Joe. One either side, run them back up to the horses. You take the black and give Chub orders. Once the ropes take the strain I’ll push some rocks in above Joe to shore it up and get under the branches and clear him.”

“The lot could end on your head Adam.” Hoss said the fear very evident in his voice but Adam just shrugged, “No choice Hoss and not much time. It could move of its own volition, so don’t argue.”

Adam started to slide back down the hill to Joe having tied the end of his rope to the black’s saddle and ordered the stallion to stand. The brothers tried to take the ropes down evenly so that nothing would fray them, but there was no time to check.

Adam felt that it took forever to pass the rope under the trunk but at last it was done the line secure. Looking up he saw that Hoss had finished too and his big brother yelled over “Good luck” before scrambling back to the horses.

As soon as Hoss called ready Adam yelled orders up to his brother until both ropes were taut and then called to Hoss to hold it while he went back to Joe. Adam picked up three large rocks and called “Back very slowly.” At first as the two horses took the strain nothing happened then very slowly the trunk rolled back a little way up the hill, Adam rammed the rocks in as hard as he could to try and stabilise it and then called to Hoss to hold it there.

Joe watched almost uncomprehendingly, just knowing that his brothers were there and with great faith that they would look after him. He was only really aware of the pain but then he saw Adam slide under the great branches covering his legs. Adam rammed some more rocks under the branches to try and hold them clear of Joe and then frantically began pulling away the rubble and earth covering his brother’s body. Joe was trapped from the chest downwards and it seemed to take Adam forever to free him, working under the branches with virtually no clearance or visibility, all too aware of the ominous cracks and groans of the old tree. He knew that now part of the rubble was gone, the slightest let up in the tension in the ropes would bring the whole tree crushing down on him and his brother. For Hoss, unable to see anything and just encouraging the horses to hold the ropes steady, it seemed even longer, too aware he could lose both his brothers in the next minute.

At last Adam could feel clear all the way and he had to try and pull Joe out. He knew it could hurt Joe badly and if he was seriously hurt it could kill him but Adam had no choice. With only himself and Hoss and only two horses, there was no way to shore up and cut the tree into pieces so that he could lift his little brother out carefully, even though he knew it would have been much safer. Adam gripped his brother’s hand “Can you hear me Little Joe?”

“”Yeah Adam”

“I’ve got to pull you clear under here, the way I came in. It’s going to hurt. I’m so sorry.”

“I’m ready.” Joe felt Adam grip his arm and Adam’s arm under his knees. Adam gritted his teeth and with a silent prayer that he wouldn’t kill his brother moving him this way, he began to edge back out. He pulled Joe with him, trying to carry him as much as he could, but there was no room to manoeuvre. Joe tried to stop himself, but the excruciating pain in his stomach was so bad he couldn’t, and he screamed in agony. For a second Adam stopped, but he still had no choice, and he edged on backwards trying to cut Joe’s screams from his mind.

Hoss standing up by the black stallion keeping the tension on the rope and called continuous orders to his own Chub, lost all trace of colour as he heard Joe scream. He carried on with what he was doing knowing it was vital, but the screams were like a knife deep in his chest as he prayed for his brothers. Hoss knew just what the screams must be doing to his elder brother; Adam was causing the pain however unavoidably. The screams seem to last forever, but in fact in less than a minute Joe mercifully passed out. It took Adam another couple of minutes to edge his brother out as gently as he could and then as soon as he was clear, he picked up the younger man and carried him to the side to firm ground. Adam’s right shoulder was on fire and he could barely manage his brother, but at last they were safe. He yelled to Hoss, “Okay let it go.”

With the ropes released, the tree crashed on down showing the damage it would have done, but Hoss had no attention for that as he scrambled down to his brothers.

Joe was unconscious and Adam felt over him rapidly trying to estimate the damage, not even aware of the tears streaming down his cheeks, as they had been since Joe first screamed. As far as he could tell there were no limbs broken, although he could feel broken ribs. No blood when Joe breathed, so probably his lungs were undamaged, but his whole abdomen was as stiff as a board. Whenever Adam touched it, Joe moaned, pain catching him from the depths of unconsciousness. Adam checked his brother’s pulse, it was far too fast and thready and he could feel the desperate cold and clamminess, which he knew meant shock. Over the years Adam had learnt a lot from Doc and he knew that shock was the first thing to combat, that could all too easily kill whatever else was wrong. He would have given anything to have Joe safe in his own bed with Doc on call but instead they were in the middle of nowhere, dependent on their own resources.

Adam looked up as Hoss joined him, recognising the unmentionable fear in Hoss’ eyes. “He’s still alive. I don’t know what’s wrong but he’s in shock, we have to get him back to camp fast.”

“It could kill him to move him.”

“He’ll die if we don’t and anyway it’ll be easier than the moving I’ve already put him through and he’s hanging on.”

Hoss moved over next to Adam and very gently picked up his little brother but even so Joe moaned and then he opened his eyes. Adam would have preferred him to stay out until they had him back at camp, but Hoss was greatly relieved as Joe tried to force a smile for his brothers. “Good job it was me, the little one.”

Adam gripped his hand “Don’t try and talk Joe. We’ll get you back to camp and then try and make you more comfortable.”

The next few minutes were a nightmare for all three of them. Hoss moved as carefully as he could but he felt Joe tense against the pain and after a minute Joe, barely conscious, wasn’t even aware he was moaning. Once Hoss stumbled and then stopped white-faced, as Joe screamed in agony. Adam wiped a hand across his eyes, surprised to find it was wet “Go on Hoss, we have to get to camp.”

Hoss nodded and moved on but as he passed Joe up to Adam on the black, Joe passed out again. Adam kicked the black into motion, guiding it with his knees and grateful that at least it was sure footed. He held Joe close to him desperately worried by the chill emanating from his brother’s body. They were only a mile from the camp and as soon as they arrived Hoss took Joe and laid him down close to the fire. Adam collected all their blankets and all their spare clothing and began wrapping Joe up while Hoss at his order built up the fire and then built another one on the other side of the brothers.

 When he’d finished Hoss came to kneel by Joe “Shouldn’t we do something for his injuries first?”

“Time enough for that later. He’s not bleeding, just grazed and bruised. We’ve got to bring him out of shock that means warmth and quiet. We need some broth, put some meat on to stew slowly,”

“How do you make broth?”

“I don’t know, but if you cook it long enough and strain the bits out some of the goodness will be there.” Adam felt like yelling at his brother but knew that wouldn’t help. He sat by Joe once he had him warmly wrapped, praying for his survival, praying that Joe would understand that he hadn’t wanted to hurt him and feeling so inadequate; there was pitiably little he could do. He was so scared, sure Joe was injured somewhere inside, maybe bleeding to death where he couldn’t see and couldn’t do anything about it. Adam could still hear Joe’s screams; they seemed to ring in his head. He had had to ignore them, but now he was scared what damage he might have caused by ignoring the pain he was putting his brother through. Hoss had put some meat on to cook and now he came to kneel the other side of Joe. He could see how desperately worried Adam was and as he felt Joe’s pulse, so fast and erratic, his own fear flared up. “We must be able to do something?”


“I don’t know, but we can’t just watch him die.”

Adam stared down at his youngest brother and said bitterly “I’m open to suggestion. I’ve done all I know how and maybe all I’ve done is kill him.”

Hoss lent over his brother and gripped Adam’s arm, “We had to get him out.”

“Maybe if we’d shored it and cut the branches off, lifted him gently, not pulled him. I caused him such pain.”

Hoss felt Adam’s tears on his hand and he moved round next to his brother and put his arm round Adam. “We had no choice that tree could have moved at any moment, you did all you could.” he felt Adam flinch away from him and he let his arm drop, staring down at Joe. “He’s bust up inside ain’t he?”

Adam could only nod, but swallowing hard, said “I could only find some broken ribs and there’s no sign of a lung injury but his whole stomach is hard and when I touched it he moaned.”

“He needs a doctor.”

“Don’t you think I know that.” Adam buried his face in his hands “Think Hoss, its rough, we’re halfway along the lake, whichever way you go its going to take at least twenty four hours to reach Doc and probably double that to get him here. If whatever is wrong doesn’t start to heal on its own Joe will be dead, before a Doctor could get here.”

“You do something then.”

“I don’t know what to do. I can take out bullets, set bones and treat surface cuts and bruises and I know how to nurse people through a fever but I’m no Doctor. I have no idea what is wrong.” Adam shut his eyes for a moment sighing heavily “Even if a Doctor was here I don’t know if he would or could do anything at the moment. That shock is killing him.” Adam pulled the blanket closer round his little brother and then sat back, unconsciously rubbing his shoulder which he had badly strained pulling Joe out.

Hoss couldn’t just sit there and he got up again made up the fires and then began pacing around, worried, scared and angry. He knew how his elder brother was feeling but when he’d tried to share their worry Adam had flinched, drawn away from him and every time he spoke Adam seemed to snap at him. For a moment his anger was directed at Adam who wouldn’t do anything and wouldn’t let him do anything either.

Hoss knew Adam was making sense, but his heart insisted there must be something they could do. He turned rounds to argue with his brother only to stop as he took in just how drawn Adam was, the tearstains on his face and the love and fear he showed as he lent over Joe to pull a blanket closer. Then as he sat up Adam began massaging his shoulder, Hoss moved over “What’s wrong with your shoulder?”

Adam looked up uncomprehending for a moment and Hoss repeated his question. Adam sighed “I don’t know, I guess I strained it or something. There wasn’t room to move properly under that tree. It’s not dislocated or anything.”

“Let me have a look, maybe a bit of massage would help.”

“I don’t think you can do anything.”

Hoss had been trying to keep his temper under control, but now it erupted. “You won’t let me help Little Joe and now you won’t even let me try and help you.”

Adam felt like shouting back at his brother, he knew the strain Hoss was under, but it was equally bad for him. Their arguing was hardly likely to help Joe and he bit back the hasty words. A minute later he was glad he had as Hoss sat down next to him his shoulders bowed, “I’m sorry Adam. I didn’t mean to yell at you.”

Adam put his arm round his brother, “Its alright Hoss. I do know how you feel, don’t you think everything in me is crying out to do something too. We both love him.” Slowly he felt Hoss relax slightly, no longer feeling his elder brother had drawn away realising he’d only flinched because he had a bad shoulder. Adam said almost to himself, “If only I knew more, knew what was wrong, maybe I could help.”

Hoss sat up “That’s the trouble Adam, I’m being stupid.”

Adam looked blankly at him, “I don’t understand.”

“The three of us in camp together, just us. That first night we all remembered when Joe and I were just kids. You were big brother with all the answers. I guess ever since then I, maybe Joe too, but especially me, I’ve sorta relied on you for the answers. You’re clever a lot more than me, more than Joe or even Pa and we’ve got into the habit of letting you take the lead. That’s not a bad thing someone has to, but I’ve made it too much of a habit. I wanna a way to save Little Joe and maybe there ain’t one. Either way you can’t tell me the way because you don’t know, anymore than me. Why should you? You ain’t a doctor. It would be as fair to blame myself fer not knowing. I can only say I’m sorry.”

Adam listened quietly to one of the longest speeches he remembered from Hoss in a long time. He could find no answer, just gripping Hoss’ shoulder to show he understood. Five minutes later he said quietly “There’s only one person with all the answers, maybe he could show us the right way.” He got stiffly to his feet and walked over to where he could see the point and quietly prayed for guidance. Hoss knew what Adam meant but he had been praying ever since he found Cochise’s broken reins and he had no certainty that he was being heard.

Adam came back and got some coffee “Seems I’m always asking God for help, Carole and then David, Carole again and now Joe, he must be getting fed up with me.”

“Seems to me I’ve heard you offering him your thanks as well. People are usually real happy to help, especially when its help received with real gratitude, Why should God be any different?”

For the first time that day Adam smiled “Thank God you’re here too Hoss. Maybe you might be able to do some good on this shoulder of mine, it’s very sore.”

Hoss helped Adam out of his coat and shirt and then sighed “I’ll bet its sore, looks as though its on fire.”

“Feels a bit that way.” Hoss made Adam move his arm and prodded carefully at the red and swollen joint. They had a few simple medications with them and he gently rubbed some liniment in but there was little else he could do, “I’m not sure, torn muscle maybe. Might be an idea to have a sling.”

“No thanks, I don’t want one, It feels a bit easier, it’ll be okay.”

“While I’m doctoring the minor wounds I’ll go and have a look at Cochise, Joe’ll flay us alive if we don’t take care of that pinto.”

Adam nodded and went back to Joe who seemed very unlikely to ever care. Even with all the blankets they could provide Joe was still shivering uncontrollably at times and it would get worse as the sun went down, The nights were very cold, if Joe lasted that long. Adam shook himself, his little brother was strong they had to work on the assumption that Joe would make it. The prime requisite was shelter or they would have pneumonia to add to their problems. When Hoss came back Adam outlined what they needed; somewhere to keep out the wind where they stood a chance of building up the temperature so they needed to be able to light a fire inside. They had axes and Hoss set to work cutting trees and stripping bark to weave the walls,

Adam tried to help but his right arm was useless and there was little he could do left-handed. Eventually Hoss said “You stay with Joe look after him, I’ll get us a shelter.” In fact he was glad of something to do and worked throughout the afternoon. Just occasionally he came over to kneel by Joe, feel his pulse, needing to know for himself, even though he knew Adam would tell him of any change.

Joe didn’t stir, no sign of regaining consciousness and not even any fever so far. He was still in shock and though Adam tried to convince himself Joe’s pulse was a mite stronger and steadier, it was still far too fast and he wasn’t sure it wasn’t just wishful thinking.

By early evening an almost Indian style hut was in place. Adam plastered the bark walls with mud and lit a fire in the centre under the single hole in the rook. It got rather smoky but at least it was warm and Hoss carried Joe in to the far side, away from the door. Then almost apologetically he said “How about food Adam. We had no lunch.”

“You stay with him. I’ll get some and try and strain that broth maybe we can get something warm in him too.”

Hoss sat down by his little brother at least Joe was hanging on and maybe nature would find its own cure. Twenty minutes later Adam brought in a plate of food for Hoss and two cups, one of broth for Joe and a coffee for himself. He tried to spoon the broth into Joe but after two spoonfuls Joe gagged on it and screamed as the movement tore at his stomach. He was still deeply unconscious; not knowing what was happening but it scared his brothers. Adam put the cup down and Hoss said, “Maybe we’d better wait until he comes round.”

Adam nodded and sipped his coffee. Hoss stared at him “Ain’t you having anything?”

“Not now. I don’t think I could. You go on, you’ve been working hard all afternoon.”

“You ought to eat Adam, it don’t help Joe any for us to starve.”

“I know but I keep hearing him scream.”

“He’s out cold Adam, he don’t really know the pain. Adam.”

“Not then but he wasn’t when I pulled him out from that tree. He knew all about pain then, everything there is to know.”

Hoss remembered how he’d felt listening above and he didn’t know how to help but he had to try. “We had no choice. Sure I thought of cutting it away but I doubt the horses could have held it long enough for us to cut it. Especially with the extra pressure, we’d have killed him fer sure.”

“I’m afraid I’ve done that anyway, I must have done something to make him scream, maybe tore something inside.”

“You can’t blame yourself Adam.”

Adam looked up and Hoss could see in his eyes that Adam was doing exactly that. Hoss put his plate down and went over close to Adam, and forced his brother to look at him. “Listen to me for once big brother. You did what you had to. Joe’s only chance. He’s still alive, if you’d done anything else he’d be dead now. God willing we’ll pull him through, He’s tough, he’s hanging on and he’ll give us a chance. You torment yourself, blame yourself, don’t eat and you’re gonna be on the verge of collapse. Just when he needs you and I need your help to nurse him. I know how you feel I know how it hurts to cause him pain, I felt it just once carrying him up. I know it’s like a knife in your guts but its over and done with. You’ve got to put it behind you, for the same reason it hurts so much, because he’s our little brother and we love him.”

Adam stared at Hoss seeing the intensity of fear and love in his brother’s blue eyes and then he lent his aching head against Hoss shoulder and slowly relaxed. It was fully five minutes before he sat up, but then he grinned ruefully, “You’re right big brother. I’ll go get something to eat.”

Hoss relieved to see Adam back in control settled back by Joe to wait.

As the night drew in, it got colder despite building up the fire and Joe was shivering continually. Eventually Adam said “Only one thing we can do as far as I can see. If we lie down one either side of him, close as we can, maybe our warmth will warm him

Hoss nodded it was worth a try, their own body heat was the only thing they had left to try. He built up the fire again and then settled next to Joe. Slowly Joe seemed to rest a little easier and even murmured ‘Marie’. Hoss tensed almost afraid that his brother’s dead wife was coming to claim her beloved husband. Adam knew his big brother so well he sensed what Hoss was thinking and stretched across Joe to grip Hoss’ arm. “She loved him Hoss, so very much. She’d be the last one to want him to die, she’ll intercede for his life.”

Hoss, almost sheepishly, nodded “Sure Adam, just a bit eerie.”

“Not really. Joe still loves her. Who else is he going to ask for, but those he loves? Marie first and then us and Pa.”

“You and Joe are lucky, I’ve never found anyone I’d put before you two and Pa.”

“Before?” Adam mused “I don’t know. Wife, father, brothers, sons, different sorts of love. I don’t know how you’d choose. Maybe it isn’t possible and you just pray that it’s never necessary. Just because I have Carole doesn’t make you or Joe any less important to me.”

Hoss gripped his hand “I know that now Adam. Once I didn’t like it, you off in yer own place, not sorta home. But now I know it don’t make no difference, jest gained Carole and the twins.”

“I don’t think anything could make a difference Hoss, we’ve been through too much together. Try and get some sleep this could be a long haul.”

“You too brother.”

Adam’s shoulder was aching fiercely but it was his fear for Joe’s life, which stopped him doing more than doze fitfully. He knew that Hoss was the same but the brothers rarely spoke. Occasionally one of them made up the fire, or checked Joe’s pulse, but otherwise they could only wait for daylight. Whether it was the extra warmth of their bodies or the nearness of his brothers, Joe slowly began to rest more easily; his pulse was slower and stronger, although Adam still felt it was slightly erratic. One thing Adam was sure about Joe was coming out of shock, he no longer felt clammy and his breathing was much easier. Hoss spoke for the first time in hours as the first hint of dawn showed in the sky “He’s coming out of it.”

“The initial shock yes, but I expect his temperature to rise and we still don’t know what’s wrong.”

“Pa always says face problems one at a time and don’t build ‘em up into a mountain. You said the shock could kill him, it ain’t. I know it’s only the first step, but let’s be grateful fer that.”

“You’re right Hoss.” Adam stretched “Stay with him I’ll make some coffee.” He went out and watched the dawn over the Lake while the coffee heated, thankful that his brother was still alive and gaining a little peace from the beauty of the scene.

As they drank their coffee the brothers tried to work out what to do next. Hoss wanted to do what they could for Joe’s other injuries before he got blood poisoning or something. Adam was less worried by that risk than he was at taxing Joe’s slight strength by doing anything. Eventually after discussing it for a while he acquiesced. Hoss as right in one thing, it was probably safer to do it now before Joe’s fever really rose, which they both knew was probably inevitable. Hoss went to boil some water while Adam checked their limited medical supplies. On a long trip they always tried to carry a minimum of bandages, disinfectant, ointment and laudanum and they had some brandy. Adam was scared to give Joe either laudanum or alcohol, unsure of the effect on his brother. When Hoss brought the water in, Adam had their supplies and was tearing up his only clean shirt for extra bandages.

Hoss said “I’ve got a clean one and I think Joe has a couple.”

“Bring them but let’s see what we need first. He was very bruised, few nasty grazes but probably not a lot actually needs bandaging.”

“I wish he’d come round.”

“I don’t Hoss, not yet at least. Let’s do what we can for him first and if he’s out all to the good. If he pulls through this he’s going to know all too much pain anyway.” Adam stared sombrely down at his little brother.

Hoss gripped his shoulder “Joe’s tough he can take it, he has before. You’ve had pain to put up with, you know as well as I do, it passes and you forget.”

Adam took a deep breath, knowing this wasn’t helping and nodded “Sure. Come on let’s see what we can do.” As they unwrapped Joe very carefully, Adam warned Hoss not to touch their brother’s abdomen, at least until they had done everything else they could. There was a risk of driving him back into shock. Hoss accepted that and very, very carefully eased his brother's pants off. Joe moaned once but he didn’t stir and Hoss finished the job, sitting back with the sweat pouring off his face.

Adam smiled “Well done.” but the smile quickly faded as with Hoss he considered their little brother’s battered body. Adam reached for a cloth and wrung it out in the hot water, while he waited for it to cool, he said reassuringly “It won’t look nearly so bad once we have him cleaned up.”

“He’s terribly bruised.”

“What did you expect Hoss? You saw all that stuff over him. Bruises will heal.” Adam began sponging the dried blood away from Joe’s legs and Hoss got a cloth and began to help. They worked as gently as they knew how, cleaning the dirt and blood away and spreading soothing ointment. Adam was right there was little that needed bandaging and no signs of broken bones. Once they had finished Adam spread blankets over his brother’s lower body and undid his shirt. The whole right side of his chest was one massive bruise and Hoss gently felt the broken ribs “Reckon three just cracked but there’s rough edges here.” As Hoss touched it Joe moaned and his big brother sat back “What do we do?”

“Can you match the ends? Your hands are stronger than mine with this blasted shoulder.”

“I guess so, but can he take it?”

Adam bit his lip “I think we have to try Hoss. If he starts tossing around, gets a high fever maybe delirious, that rough edge could do real damage to his lungs. It’s rough but I think it can be matched.”

“Well yeah but...”Hoss hesitated, “Okay I’ll give it a go, you hold him still.”

Hoss gritted his teeth but his hands were steady and firm as he felt the bone and then he nodded “Right.” Hoss was determined to get it done the first time and with one sure movement he lined the bones. Joe moaned but, to his brothers’ relief, there was no terrible scream from the unconscious man. “Check it Adam.”

Adam did as he was asked and smiled tautly “Good job Hoss. We’ve got to get that bandaged. Lift him enough to get a bandage underneath at least.”

“I’ll hold him you get it bandaged.” Hoss met his brother’s eye and saw the doubt “We have to Adam, even if it hurts his stomach.”

Adam nodded and moved out of the way so that Hoss could get to Joe’s head. Very gently Hoss lifted Joe’s shoulders to rest across his lap. Joe stirred uneasily but then relaxed against his brother. Adam slowly threaded the bandage under him with great care to keep it flat and pulled it tight to support the damaged ribs. Hoss felt Joe tense against the pain and he pushed his brother’s hair back from his forehead and spoke quietly to him, assuring Joe that everything would be fine. Adam got four turns round Joe’s chest and pulled it tight before tying the bandage off. “Best I can do.”

“Looks okay to me. Can you clean that cut on his arm before I put him down?” Adam nodded and bandaged up the rather deeper cut. Once it was cleaned it had started bleeding again but the bandage provided sufficient pressure to stop it. Between them they edged Joe into a clean shirt and his coat and then finally Hoss laid him down on the cleanest blanket, which Adam had passed under him.

Adam straitened up massaging his aching shoulder but Hoss didn’t even notice “We outghta have a look Adam.”

“Why? We don’t know enough to know what we are looking at.”

“See if it’s worse or better.”

Adam shook his head “I don’t even know if I can tell that.”

“Please Adam at least try.”

Adam nodded and pulled the blanket back and looked down at the dark bruises showing so clearly against the white flesh. He tried to remember what he knew about anatomy. There were two main livid bruises, one low on the right side and one high on the left. The complete rigidity had passed and as he felt very gently round the lower bruise Joe moaned but didn’t react otherwise. Adam felt very carefully but as he approached the other bruise the skin felt hot and there seemed to be a hard lump that shouldn’t be there, His fingertips were barely touching the skin but even so Joe moaned. As Adam tried to confirm the lump Joe screamed, his whole body going rigid and Adam pulled back as if he’d been stung. He was white even to his lips but Hoss just held Joe still, not commenting, letting Adam gain control. Finally Adam said “Well that’s obviously the main problem, it’s localised since yesterday."

“What is there?”

Adam shrugged and then regretted it as it tore at his shoulder “I’m not sure Hoss, kidney, spleen. Either way nothing we can do.”

“If something’s bust?”

“Then Little Joe dies, unless it can seal over on it’s own. Almost certainly within hours now. From the little I know, you either bleed to death or it gets infected and that kills, either way within a matter of hours of the injury. Been cases down the mines, I know Doc has lost them, no way he can help. There aren’t many things he can help with in abdominal injuries. Chances are if Paul was here he could do no more than wait with us.”

Hoss frowned “How come you know so much?”

“Doc talked it over a year or so back after I was married. Pointed out just how lucky I was to survive a bullet in the gut, twice.”

“I still wish Doc was here.”

“So do I Hoss, but it’s too far and anyway with Joe this bad he needs both of us to nurse him. I couldn’t have bandaged his ribs alone and neither could you, not without maybe doing more harm.”

Hoss nodded slowly, that made sense. Adam stared down at his brother and almost to himself he said “If the worst happens, if he dies, he’ll at least have two of us with him and we’ll have each other.”

Hoss frowned, “Come on Adam, he’s holding on. We won’t let him die,”

As though he hadn’t heard Adam looked up, “How do we tell Pa? How do we find the words?”

“We’ve faced the possibility before but it’s never come to it and some how we’ll make sure it don’t now. If we had to we’d manage, same as Joe told you about Carole losing the baby. Do you think that was any easier? But we’re not gonna have to. We’re both here and we can pull him through.”

The expression in Hoss’ eyes belied the confidence of his words but Adam relaxed slightly “Alright Hoss I’m okay. I’ll wrap him up, you go and get some breakfast.”

“You’ll eat?”

Adam gave a half smile “After that lecture last night I don’t dare not to.”

Hoss was relieved to hear his brother back in control of himself and went out to do as he was told. Adam concentrated on wrapping Joe up warmly and said a quiet prayer that his big brother was right, even though he’d seen Hoss’ uncertainty, despite his brave words.

By mid-afternoon Adam’s fears were justified as Joe’s temperature rose steeply and they had their hands full holding him still. Little Joe was muttering, not making much sense, calling to Marie, calling to his brothers to pull him out, the terror he’d felt as the tree came down towards him and a lot more that was indistinguishable. He moaned occasionally as the pain caught him as he threshed around. There was little his brothers could do, just try and fight the fever with cold compresses and try to hold him still to conserves his strength. It was a battle they were all too familiar with and neither of them panicked, until now they had always won these battles and Joe was a fighter. The hours passed all too slowly, but the longer Joe held on the easier Adam felt, despite the pain maybe the injury wasn’t as bad as he’d feared or Joe would be dead by now. Hoss could only see how his brother was weakening, his pulse fast and thready, his breathing laboured, no longer talking or tossing around, as though he no longer had the strength, Joe was sinking into a coma. By about 3 a.m. Hoss had about given up hope and despair was etched deep on his face.

Adam recognized it, despite the dim light from the fire and it was his turn to try and console his brother. Nothing he said seemed to penetrate and eventually Hoss said, “I know you mean well Adam, but you don’t know any more than me. It’s in God’s hands.”

“Sure Hoss but believe me the longer he hangs on the more chance there is that he will make it.”

“Okay I believe you. I’m not gonna break down or anything.” He was quiet for a minute and then pulled himself up “I’m gonna get some coffee. You?”

“Please.” Adam would have liked a drink but he was determined to keep the brandy in case Joe needed it. He watched his brother go out, knowing Hoss didn’t believe him, whatever he said. Hoss would have liked to but he couldn’t, he had the evidence of his own eyes, how rapidly Joe was weakening.

As morning came Joe’s temperature seemed to fall slightly and Adam was dozing fitfully as he sat next to his brother. Hoss was restless and he went to fetch some more water, then wandered round the camp, doing odd jobs, tending the horses especially Cochise and tidying up. Every five minutes or so he wandered in to see how his brothers were, although he knew he could rely on Adam to call him if there was any change. There was nothing he could do for Joe and Hoss was stifled in that little hut.

Joe lay still and Adam managed to get a little broth down his brother but as the day went past so very slowly, Joe’s temperature began to rise again and his breathing seemed more laboured. Adam had forced Hoss to try and get some sleep and Hoss had settled down by the fire just outside the small hut. Adam had managed to set some sleep during the day, at least a few dozes, enough to carry him and he sat by Joe changing the cold compress. Very worried as Joe’s temperature went higher that it had done the previous evening. There was nothing Hoss could do that he couldn’t and Adam didn’t want to disturb his brother, who had looked desperately tired. When Hoss finally came in to join him just after 4 a.m. Adam was very glad to see him. Just as the previous day Joe’s temperature had dropped a degree or two again but it was still higher than when Hoss settled down and he looked at Adam in alarm. Adam said “Easy Hoss, its been higher all night, dropping off again now.”

“I don’t understand Adam, shouldn’t it break?”

“Maybe it won’t Hoss. When David was ill his fever never broke, it fell like this in the morning and rose in the evening but each time it went up a little less until it settled down.”

“But Joe’s went up more than yesterday.”

“I know. We can only wait and see what happens this evening. Try and get some food into him, build up his strength for whatever does.”

Hoss thought about that for a moment and nodded “I’ll go heat up some broth. You ought to get some sleep.”

“Later.” Adam changed the compress and when Hoss brought in a cup of broth he managed to spoon most of it into Joe. As his fever dropped his breathing eased and he swallowed the broth without fuss. Hoss grinned as Adam put the empty cup down “That’s a good sign.”

“It helps. I want to have a look at his side, hold him still will you.”

Hoss nodded and Adam carefully pulled the blankets back, the swelling on Joe’s side looked no worse and very gingerly Adam felt the inflamed area. It was still hot to the touch but the area of hardness seemed smaller and although Joe moaned he lay still, Adam risked feeling more firmly and Joe flinched away but he didn’t scream and Adam quickly covered his brother again. He sat back “I’m no Doc but it doesn’t feel quite as big or quite as hot, maybe it’s beginning to heal,”

“Do you really think so?” Hoss asked eagerly, trusting his elder brother as ever to reach the correct conclusions from available facts.

“I can’t be sure, but I think so, He didn’t react as violently when I touched it, Something must be happening or he’d be dead by now.” Adam smiled “I’m sure enough to go and get some sleep. Call me if he shows signs of coming round.”

“Do you think he will?” Hoss asked doubtfully.

“I should think there’s a chance he will some time today.” Despite his cheerful words it took Adam a long time to get to sleep, he knew just how weak his brother was. Adam slept for four hours and then spared time to wash and get some coffee before going back to his brothers. Hoss was surprised to see him back so soon. Adam had looked so tired he had expected his brother to sleep the clock round and when he’d got some coffee an hour earlier, Adam had been dead to the world. Still his elder brother looked very much better and Hoss didn’t comment, instead he said, “His temperature has dropped right down. He’s drunk two more cups of broth but he isn’t showing any signs of waking up.”

Adam knelt down and felt Joe’s pulse, it was much steadier and he sat down “More rest he gets the better. As long as we can get food down him at least he’s not aware of pain then.”

It was just after lunch that Joe began to moan softly and became restless. Then he put his hand to his aching head, only really aware of pain, not knowing where he was or why. Adam smoothed his hair back off his forehead and took his brother’s hand “Easy Little Joe. Lie still.”

Joe opened his eyes but it took him a minute to focus and then he saw his brothers smiling at him, and he tried to grin licking his dry lips. Hoss lent over him and very gently lifted his head and fed him some water, Joe drank thirstily but as he did so pain caught him from his stomach and his brothers felt him tense against it. Adam knew from experience that tensing just made matters worse, “Try and relax Little Joe, everything is going to be fine.”

Joe lay still trying to ignore the pain in his side and all his other aches and pains. It was too much effort to talk, ask questions and he just lay there watching his brothers. He had great faith in them and with both of them there to look after him, he accepted everything would be okay. He could see the signs of strain and the anxiety they were trying to hide, but Adam had said he would be fine, answering the question he’d seen in his brother’s eye. The way he had said it convinced Joe that his brother wasn’t lying. Adam and Hoss talked quietly to Joe for a while about nothing in particular, just wanting him to rest. Then Adam said, “Go get some more broth Hoss.”

Adam took Joe’s hand “You have to eat little brother. I know it hurts to swallow but you must.”

Joe whispered “Am I going to make it?”

“You’ll make it little brother, but we need to build up your strength before we can take you home.”

“You won’t leave me?”

“Of course not. Hoss and I will be right with you. Now don’t try and talk.” Adam knew just how much it would hurt Joe and he’d recognised the fear of it in Joe’s eyes as he sent Hoss for broth. He steeled himself to feed Joe, lifting his brother just enough not to spill the food; Hoss passed it to Adam and then knelt down by Joe. Little Joe tried but with each spoonful the pain grew worse and he couldn’t hide it. Adam encouraged his brother, persuading him to keep trying but then Joe scared to swallow, tensed and retched on the next spoonful. It tore at his stomach and he couldn’t help the scream of agony before sinking into merciful oblivion back against his brother. Adam held him close. “Joe, Joe, I’m so sorry, hold on.”

Hoss had watched, unable to help either one but now he gripped Adam’s arm. “Joe did better than you have on occasion. I’ve watched it three times now. Before you’ve always been on the receiving end but you’ve come through it, so will Joe.”

Adam looked round at his big brother and slowly relaxed, realising the sense of Hoss’ words. “Funny I got to dread Pa coming in with a tray but I don’t think I’ve ever realised, until now, just how much he must have dreaded it too.”

“I’ll feed him next time.”

“We’ll see but we have to do it, whatever pain it costs him. I know how bad that can be but even then I knew it was necessary and Joe will know too.” Adam laid Joe back down wrapping the blankets tightly round him; at least his brother hadn’t been sick. “I’m alright now Hoss. We’ll pull him through.”

Late that evening both brothers were becoming worried that their optimistic forecasts earlier were going to be wrong. Joe’s fever had mounted very rapidly even higher than the day before and his breathing was very laboured. Hoss had been so sure that they were over the worst and he was hit very hard as his brother slipped back into danger. Adam kept calmer, still sure that the injury to his brother’s side was slowly improving. He had had another look and if anything it looked better than it had that morning, but he couldn’t convince Hoss of that. Adam couldn’t remember a time when Hoss had given up so completely. He could understand how his brother felt but even so as the night wore on and Hoss accepting Joe’s death as inevitable, spoke of him almost as though he was already dead, Adam found it hard to keep hold of his temper. He knew it was very unlikely that Joe could hear Hoss, but he was scared that in some strange way the defeatist attitude would penetrate to Joe. He asked Hoss to go and get him some coffee not wanting to leave Joe, whom he’d long since lifted onto his lap. Convinced that close physical contact had helped David and Carole, maybe it would help Joe too, so he had his brother’s head and shoulders resting across his lap. When Hoss muttered “You might as well put him down, get your own.” Adam lost all patience. He sat up and eased his aching shoulder and then said, “Hoss pull yourself together. I promised Little Joe two things. Firstly that he’d make it and secondly that neither of us would leave him. The way you’re acting you are doing more harm than good. He has to fight and if he senses that you’ve given up on him, maybe he’ll give up too. I didn’t reckon on him going back this far either but he’s been worse than this and he survived, that beating before my marriage for instance. I won’t let him die. If you’re not going to help then get out.”

Hoss stood glaring at his brother, he’d only wanted Adam to stretch his legs, get some fresh air, knowing how stiff and sore his brother must be, especially with an injured shoulder, and for a moment he was furious with Adam. That at least had the effect of lifting him out of the slough of despond into which he’d slipped and eventually he just said, “I’ll get coffee.”

When he came back in ten minutes later he’d had time to think and admitted the truth of his brother’s comments. He passed Adam the coffee “I’m sorry Adam you’re right. I haven’t been much help to you this evening. I don’t know what to say.”

Adam smiled tautly, “No need to say anything Hoss I understand how you feel, I didn't think he would be worse tonight either. Like you I thought he’d turned the corner, I still think he may have. I didn’t mean to blow up at you, guess we’re both over tired.”

Hoss made a determined effort to cheer up; hoping his eldest brother’s confidence wasn’t all put on but hardly daring to believe in it. Whether it was coincidence, or whether Adam was right when he maintained that even though deeply unconscious Joe was aware of those who loved him and how they felt, almost from the moment Hoss came back to rejoin his brothers Joe’s temperature began to fall. At first almost imperceptibly but within a couple of hours it was almost back to normal, Adam fed Joe twice without Joe waking and with no real trouble. As he put the cup down the second time he commented “Ridiculous but it’s easier to feed him while he’s out. I suppose he’s not tensing against the pain.”

Hoss tried to persuade Adam to go and get some rest but Adam expected Joe to wake up soon and wouldn’t leave. Hoss looked away, thinking Adam didn’t trust him with their brother and after his performance over night maybe Adam was right. He at least was convinced that Joe’s improvement when he stopped being so defeatist was no coincidence. Adam laughed more freely than he had since Cochise appeared “No Hoss I don’t mean I don’t trust you to look after Joe. It’s just that I’m sure he’ll wake up soon and I shan’t settle until I know how he is, but then he’s all yours.”

“I didn’t say...”

“You were thinking it and I wasn’t!” Hoss had to grin, his brother knew him so well and the first thing Joe was aware of as he opened his eyes was his two brothers grinning broadly at each other. He asked, “What’s the joke?” His voice was still very weak but at least the effort to talk wasn’t too much bother, They both grinned down at him and Adam aid “You’ve finally woken up have you. How do you feel Little Joe?”

“Sore. My side aches.” Joe touched his left side and gritted his teeth against the pain.

“Don’t try and move, everything is beginning to heal but you took a bad knock.”

Joe frowned, trying to remember what had happened, not recognising the tiny hut sheltering him. “Where are we?”

“On the west shore of the Lake, the camp site with a marvellous view as its sole recommendation.” Hoss grinned at his brother.

Slowly Joe’s memory came back and he remembered the survey and then suddenly the whole thing flooded back to him from the moment that the tree snapped and the terror he’d felt broke in him again. Adam had reached out for the brandy just in case and he quickly took off the top and held the flask against Joe’s mouth “Come on little brother, have a sip, you’re safe now.”

Between them Adam and Hoss held him still and Adam forced a little brandy into Joe, sure that it would do more good than harm right now. Slowly Joe relaxed against Adam, and remembered how his brothers had got him out. He looked at Hoss “Cochise?”

“He’ll be fine before you’re fit enough to ride him, just a bruised leg.”

Joe looked again at the hut “Where are we?”

Adam grinned, “It was getting a bit chilly so Hoss built us a hut, real Indian style. Our brother has unexpected talents.”

“How long have I been here?”

“Three days. You’re very weak so no more questions for now. Everything is going to be fine but you have to rest.” Adam gave his brother a little more brandy hoping it would relax him while Hoss got some broth. Joe stared at it as Hoss came in and the memory of pain from yesterday came back all too clearly and he flinched, “I don’t want.”

Adam held him closer “You have to eat Joe. We can’t get you home until you’re stronger and you won’t be without eating. I know it hurt you yesterday but do you know that you had two meals during the night without any fuss?”

Joe frowned, puzzled unable to remember and Adam grinned “I know you don’t remember little brother, you were asleep at the time and a damned sight more co-operative that way than you are now.” Joe looked at Hoss, who nodded, “He’s right Little Joe.”

Adam went on “I’m not going to say that it won’t hurt but if you try and relax, don’t tense against it, it won’t be more than you can take.” Adam forced himself to sound confident; hoping Joe wouldn’t see the fear in his eyes.

Little Joe nodded, his brother was right he had to eat and he tried to do as Adam said and relax. He docilely took each spoonful as Adam offered it although his whole stomach seemed to be on fire as he swallowed, stabbing pains deep in his left side bringing tears of pain to his eyes. Somehow he managed to restrain the moans that were threatening and then Adam passed the cup back to Hoss and said, “Well done Joe.”

Joe felt as though his side was on fire but he relaxed at his brother’s praise and buried his face against Adam for a moment. As he looked up again Hoss wiped the tears from his eyes so very gently and smiled down at him. Joe knew his brothers understood his pain and his fears but with them there everything would be alright and on that thought he dozed off again.

When Adam was sure his brother was asleep, he laid Joe down but he was so stiff after sitting holding Joe most of the night that he needed Hoss’ help to get to his feet. Hoss insisted on examining Adam’s shoulder but it was much better, the inflammation subsiding and the swelling almost gone, Hoss rubbed in some more liniment although Adam insisted it was fine, just a little stiff. Adam yawned and Hoss said, "Go get some sleep."

"You've had no more than I have” 

“I haven't been holding him all night. Go on I’ll call you when he wakes up again and then I’ll get some.”

Too tired to argue Adam went out to lie down and was asleep almost instantly but he heard his brother’s call as Joe woke up about three hours later and once Joe was fed and resting again he made Hoss go and get some sleep. Four times that day Joe woke for a while and his brothers talked to him and fed him before he slipped back into sleep. They were both waiting anxiously for the evening and Joe’s temperature did rise but nowhere near as high as the night before, Adam had checked his side again earlier and although still hard and tender it no longer felt on fire. They were sufficiently convinced that Joe was going to be alright to agree to split the night watch, once sure he wasn’t going to be as feverish. Adam took the first part and woke Hoss about three to take over.

Although he was tired Adam was too restless to settle and walked down to look out over the Lake, beautiful in the moonlight. Remembering Hoss’ words Adam offered a heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving for his brother’s life. He stood watching the Lake for half an hour and then returned to sleep dreamlessly until dawn, He cooked breakfast and took Hoss his. Joe was sleeping quietly and Hoss said “We’re gonna have to think about getting him home.”

“He’s much too weak to move yet.”

“I know Adam but we don’t have too much left in the way of supplies and this weather ain’t gonna hold much longer. There were clouds building up over the mountains yesterday.”

Adam had been avoiding the thought knowing the risks moving Joe was bound to involve. Ideally his brother should be kept quiet and still for at least another week. In the rough land there was no way to bring a wagon close and Joe would have to be moved on horseback or some sort of travois. Hoss was right the risks would be compounded if the weather broke. Before he could answer Joe stirred and the brothers shelved the questions for discussion later.

Little Joe seemed quite a bit stronger without a high fever sapping his strength overnight and his voice was noticeably stronger. He sounded much more like himself to Hoss’ relief. He was sore and aching but now he insisted on knowing exactly what his injuries were. Adam hesitated but Hoss nodded, knowing that when Joe sounded like that there was noway he would let the subject drop without getting an answer. Adam outlined them briefly. He couldn’t give full details, partly because he just didn’t know, but at least everything was on the mend. While Adam talked Hoss gave Joe a drink and then they fed him. After the food Joe lay quietly waiting for the pain to subside but for the first time he didn’t slide straight back into sleep. He wanted to know if his brothers had finished the survey.

Adam smiled “We’ve had other things to think about Little Joe.”

“Well you’d better do it, I want to go home.” Little Joe hadn’t meant that to sound quite such a heartfelt plea, neither had he intended the tears, which overflowed. He wanted to be at home. However hard his brothers tried the earth was hard and the small smoky hut was dark and cold. Joe was weak and sore and he wanted his own bed, his own things and his Pa and he couldn’t hide it. Hoss put his arm round his little brother and Adam promised they would take him home just as soon as he was strong enough but Little Joe didn’t really seem aware of either of them and they were both relieved when he cried himself to sleep five minutes later. Hoss gently wiped his brother’s face and stood up “I guess it’s none too comfortable for a sick man.”

“Well that just makes it more important to think how we’re going to do it. Go get some sleep I’ll stay with him and try and think.”

Hoss stretched “I’m not sleepy. Like Joe said we ain’t finished the survey.”

“That can wait. You and I can come back later to do it or it can wait until spring. There’s only two days work.”

“I’d rather be busy.” Adam frowned but he could see how tense his big brother was and he knew Hoss could work it off best in his own way. “Do what you want Hoss I’ll look after him. Only no more accidents. I can’t manage both of you.”

Hoss grinned, “I’ll be careful.” He rode out and worked hard without a single break until the light faded. Then he rode in and gave Adam the detailed figures. Adam had a meal waiting; he had settled Joe down for the fourth time a few minutes earlier. Joe had been much calmer and he was able to give Hoss an optimistic report.

While Hoss ate Adam read through the notes to find Hoss had completed in one day the work he had planned for all three of them the day of the landslip. Hoss looked absolutely exhausted and made no protest when Adam ordered him to get some rest. Adam left him to have his sleep to and sat dozing by his youngest brother, eager to get home, hoping his father and Carole weren’t worried. He had left the length of their trip fairly open but he had certainly not intended to be away as long as it would inevitably work out. With Joe fretting to get home and the risk of the weather breaking he’d decided to tell Joe they would go in one more day if he’d behave and rest. Joe was very querulous, so uncomfortable and too weak to hide how ill he felt. Adam was convinced that his brother wouldn’t really recover his strength until he was back in his own bed but it was going to take several days to get there.

Hoss was furious with Adam to find dawn breaking as he woke, he had intended his elder brother to call him, but Adam just laughed at him. He had had a fair amount of sleep lying down next to Joe, who had slept very peacefully all night, no need to wake Hoss. Then he outlined to Hoss how he thought they ought to move Joe home. Adam had no intention of attempting more than five miles the following day and that in two stages, with the second after lunch dependent on how Joe survived the first. Hoss knew hoe weak his little brother was but he wanted him home in his own bed with Doc on call and thought they should try a little more. At the rate Adam was suggesting it would take five or six days to get there. Adam promised to reconsider when they’d seen how Joe stood up to travelling but proposed Hoss have a look at the route during the day and maybe rig some sort of shelter for Joe for tomorrow night. Hoss agreed willingly and when Joe had had his breakfast Hoss chatted to him for a while, explaining his absence the previous day, and then he rode off.

Adam had promised Joe they would start home the following day and for a while that cheered Joe up. By lunchtime he was so sore and uncomfortable he felt like throwing the food at Adam, as he came in. Tense and miserable Joe tried to force the food down but he couldn’t and pushed it away. He lent against his brother almost doubled over with the pain in his stomach as he tied to ease it, not even aware he was making the strange moaning sound he could hear. Joe begged his brother not to put off their return home. Adam couldn’t calm him and poured out some laudanum and forced his brother to take it. He sat nursing Joe until he slipped into sleep, very worried but unsure what to do for the best. When Joe was asleep Adam risked leaving him, just long enough to get some coffee. The chill in the air and the clouds gathering above the peaks decided him; the weather wasn’t going to hold. There was no choice they had to move Joe.

Adam was surprised as the afternoon slipped by with no sign of Hoss. Joe was sleeping under the effects of the drug, but as it grew dark and Hoss still wasn’t back Adam got very worried. He was scared his big brother had met with an accident too. He was very relieved when he finally heard a horse and hurried out. Hoss dismounted stiffly but he was grinning, “Sorry I’m so late. I left the shelter till last and it took me longer than I expected.” He handed Adam a sheaf of papers, “One survey finished up to our boundaries.”

Adam had half-expected something like that; it was only since it got too dark to work that he’d got seriously worried. There was an edge to his voice as he said “You’re an idiot Hoss, but thanks. Go eat.”

Hoss stared at his brother seeing the worry in his eyes “Were you that worried about me Adam or is it Little Joe?”

“He’s sleeping. I’m just tired, anxious to get home. I’ve packed up most of the stuff; we can finish in the morning. Have meal and get some sleep.”

“I slept all last night.” Hoss protested

“And worked all day. I’ve been dozing on and off anyway. Don’t argue please, I’m not in the mood.”

Hoss meekly agreed and did as Adam wanted, it was obviously the best way to help his brother. Joe woke near midnight, he was in a very subdued mood but with Adam’s promise to start home in the morning, if he drank a cup of broth and went back to sleep, he soon settled down again.

Adam, with experience of stomach wounds, knew only too well how painful he had found it to be moved even slightly and was scared Joe would find the same. He didn’t think either of his brothers realised just how taxing and painful Joe could find the journey and could only pray that he was wrong, but he couldn’t settle, and sat by his youngest brother worrying.

Ben was unable to sleep that night either. He was expecting his sons home any time now, indeed he was slightly surprised they weren’t back already, He was uneasy about them, though he didn’t know why. Maybe mental telepathy was at work for as Adam sat worrying about Joe, Ben was sitting worrying about Adam. Carole had kept her word to Doc, and once the brothers had left, she confided in Ben about her pregnancy along with Doc’s reassurance that everything was fine. Ben could understand why she hadn’t told Adam but he was sure that Adam wouldn’t like it. Determined that nothing would go wrong in his son’s absence Ben spent many hours over with Carole, making sure she got the rest Paul had ordered. He had even persuaded Hop Sing to find another relative to stay with Kam Su until Adam’s return so that she would never be left alone. A chat with Doc in town had allayed his fears to a certain extent but he was eager for Adam to get home, knowing that Adam was even further away now than he had been in the spring when it had seemed unlikely they could fetch him in time. He put his growing unease down to his desire for Adam’s return but although he was busy he couldn’t get his sons out of his mind.

Carole was also anxious to see Adam and share her joy at this new baby, it couldn’t replace the one they had lost but it was the final step in healing the wound. Maybe the scar would always remain but scar tissue can be tough. She too had expected them back by now, but knew they had plenty of supplies and wouldn’t leave until the job was done. The weather was holding and so she assumed they’d found a few unexpected problems.

The following morning Joe forced down two cups of broth without fussing and then lay quietly while his brothers finished packing up. Cochise still wasn’t fully fit but he could carry the spare gear and all the important papers. Adam had explained to both of his brothers the only possible way he could see to get Joe home, or at least back to the right side of the Lake where maybe Hoss could go and collect a wagon. Adam was going to carry Joe in his arms much as Joe had once brought him home from the north range with a similar injury. Hoss was too heavy to be able to help, no horse could take his weight and Joe’s, but Adam’s black stallion was strong and would manage the brothers doubling up, particularly as they weren’t intending going either far or fast. The horse wasn’t a trained cowpony but in the weeks since Joe brought it back, it had seemed to develop an affinity with its new master. Adam was confident it would obey a very loose rein and knee pressure. Hoss agreed it had done so when Adam brought Joe back to camp and it seemed surefooted but he would have preferred to lead it, Hoss didn’t trust the black stallion as he would their own trained horses. The brothers had argued for more than an hour but Hoss had had to give way. He would already have Cochise to deal with and Adam insisted that he was happier just leaving Hoss to break trail and follow at his own pace when he had seen any problems. Hoss couldn’t better his brother’s plan, although the bulk of the work fell on Adam, and Joe didn’t care as long as he went home.

Adam hadn’t told Joe just how long it was going to take them to get home, wanting to see how his brother stood up to travelling. Joe might find it a lot easier than Adam feared and they could get home faster.

When everything else was ready Adam mounted and then walked over to the small hut. He waited for Hoss and as the stallion sidled away Adam said, “Whoa now Blackie, I know you’re full of yourself but slow and easy is the job today.” The horse pricked his ears and seemed to understand and stood patiently.

Inside Hoss and Joe heard him and to Hoss’ delight, Joe grinned, his aches and pains forgotten for the moment. “So he is replacing Sport. That’s the first time I’ve heard Adam talk to a horse since he shot Sport. He didn’t even bother to name that pretty chestnut mare. I thought he should have started with a younger horse but it’s obviously right for him.”

Hoss glanced out the door “From the way he’s standing patiently now, I’d guess master and horse have hit it off, looks right all round and he’s sure a looker. Anyway come on little brother; let’s get you home. Don’t try and do anything, just relax and let me do the work okay?”

Joe nodded and tried to do as he was asked, but he was badly shaken by the severe pain in his side and stomach as Hoss lifted him. So far he had only moved just enough to be fed and without even a bed to make his brothers had been expert at nursing him without really lifting him. Joe tried very hard not to tense against the pain knowing it only made it worse but he had lost what little colour he had and was biting hard on his lip to stop himself crying out by the time Hoss had got to Adam. Hoss hadn’t missed the pain but he just looked up at Adam, the question clear in his eyes, “Did they dare carry on?”

It was no more than Adam had expected and he’d already weighed the choices. He smiled trying to reassure both his brothers, “Just take it easy we’re not going very far for the first stage. Hand him up to me Hoss.”

Hoss did as he was told and Joe bit back the groan, wanting to get home. Adam settled him as comfortably as he could, cradling Joe against him. “Okay Hoss lead on.” Adam moved Blackie off very slowly and looked down at Joe “We don’t need any heroics Little Joe, only Hoss and I here. If you can’t help crying out, just go ahead. It helps sometimes and we both know what you’re going through. I know it hurts, I’ve been there. Anytime you want to stop just say, you’re the only one who knows how bad the pain is.”

“I’ll be alright, want, get home.”

“I know Joe, but if you can’t take it we’ll rest. I only wish I knew an easier way.” Adam made his brother take a couple of sips of brandy and then urged Blackie on very slightly faster. The horse moved very smoothly, but even so they had gone less than a mile before Joe was unable to prevent a moan. He looked up at Adam, wanting to apologise, but Adam just smiled, “It doesn’t matter Little Joe, yell all you want it might help and there’s noone else to hear.”

Joe wouldn’t do that but as he grew less aware of what was happening lost in a world of pain, he couldn’t help moaning and, just once as Blackie slipped slightly, he screamed as the sudden movement jolted his body. Adam just held him close, sometimes talking to him even though he realised Joe wasn’t really hearing him. It was very rough land and he was grateful for Blackie, who apart from the one slip, moved so very smoothly. Hoss riding just ahead of Adam turned from time to time hearing his brother’s moans and stopped dead when he heard Joe scream, but Adam called “Go on Hoss, to where we agreed.”

Hoss finally pulled up in a small glade only two miles nearer home; it was the longest two miles he’d ever ridden. He lit the fire and then as Adam came to a stop, he took Little Joe from his brother and gently settled him on a blanket. Joe was barely hanging onto his senses and Adam just pulled the blanket round him and slipped his own thick coat over Joe and then concentrated on making coffee. Hoss stood staring down at his little brother seeing the lines of pain etched deep in his face but Joe had his eyes shut, waiting for the pain to fade and so Hoss joined Adam. He was shocked but he could see only resignation in his brother’s eyes “You expected that.”

Adam nodded “You were the one who said I was usually on the receiving end. I know how it hurt me to be moved and even weeks after horseback was...” He sighed heavily “I hoped I was wrong.”

“What now?”

“We have no choice the weather is beginning to break and in this area there’s no easier way for him. We let Joe recover and I’ll give him a dose of laudanum, then we’ll try three more miles. We have to get him home.”

Hoss agreed but began to wonder if his brother would make it. Adam gripped his arm “He’ll be alright Hoss I know it’s causing him pain but it won’t do any real harm. Joe’s strong he’ll take it.”

Little Joe slowly relaxed and the pain faded, all the time he lay still it was just a nagging ache and he was still determined to get home; although he hadn’t expected it to hurt so much. Eventually with a firm grip on himself Joe called “Come on you two where’s my lunch? I’m hungry.”

They both hurried to his side and although they could see it was an act they went along. Adam fed him and Joe insisted on having two cups although he had to force the second one down, “Right when do we start again?”

Adam smiled “Not until you’ve had a nap, so lie down.”

“I’m fine.”

“Liar Little Joe, we’ll get you home, but at my speed. Push too hard today and we are going to have to lay up for two days for you to recover, I’ve been there Joe and I know you. It’s a good act brother, but not quite good enough.”

Joe wanted nothing more than to give way to his aching body and close his eyes but he forced them open “We will go on today?”

Hoss grinned at him “We’d better I built a nice little shelter for you yesterday, don’t want to waste it. Go to sleep now and we’ll move on in a couple of hours.”

Joe nodded and was almost instantly asleep. Adam moved back to the fire and tried to relax. He had expected it but that didn’t make it any easier to hold his brother, feel his pain and yet be unable to so anything about it, memories of how he’d felt all too clear. Even though he had told Hoss that Joe was strong and could take pain, it was still his youngest brother Little Joe, and Adam would have much rather taken the pain on himself if there was anyway to do it. Hoss knew how hard it was on Adam but, apart from ensuring that his brother had something to eat, there was no way he could help.

Three hours later Joe had been fed again and Adam had given him some laudanum and wrapped him warmly before mounting up. Hoss lifted Joe very carefully and this time more prepared Joe looked better as Hoss handed him to Adam. The drug helped a little but long before they reached the shelter Hoss had built Joe had slipped back into a world of pain and couldn’t help moaning and occasionally cried out. Each time it went right through his brothers and they were both pale and drawn as they wrapped Joe as warmly as they could and settled him by the fire in the small shelter Hoss had built using an overhanging cliff. Joe slipped straight into sleep and Hoss knelt down by him, “He’s feverish again.”

Adam sighed, “It would be a miracle if he wasn’t. Provided it doesn’t get up too high, we’ll see how he feels in the morning and then move on.”

Hoss sighed heavily “Oh God I wish we were home.”

Adam bit his lip “So do I. I wish I’d never thought of buying more land. We don’t need it; we have more land than we need now. No trees are worth what Joe’s suffering.”

Hoss put his arm round Adam “Don’t be daft Adam we all agreed.”

“My idea, my fault, he’d never have been hurt.”

“It could have happened anywhere, a tree falling like that and ninety nine times out of a hundred he’d have got clear. It was just bad luck. Maybe we’ve been too lucky in other ways. That was what Pa said about the drive, we were due some bad luck. Anyway Joe’s gonna be fine so good luck’s back.”

“It wouldn’t have been so far from home.”

Hoss gripped his brother’s shoulders and forced Adam to face him “You told me to pull myself together. Now it’s my turn, It’s not your fault. You heard what Joe said we have to protect our view. Joint decision and anyway just bad luck, Relax Adam have a meal and get some rest or you’re not gonna be a help to Little Joe tomorrow. And until we get him home in his own bed our little brother needs all the help we can give him.”

Adam didn’t answer but he slowly relaxed and Hoss seeing it let his brother be while he cooked some supper. After a sleepless night and a tense worrying day Adam was exhausted and, when he’d eaten, lay down near Joe to sleep.

When Joe woke at about nine Adam didn’t even stir and Hoss fed his brother and then settled down next to Joe who was feeling cold despite a high fever. Just after midnight Adam heard Joe moaning and shivering and he moved closer so that Joe was sandwiched between his brothers as they had that first night. Joe with vague memories of Marie felt it odd to have his brothers so close, but slowly he felt warmer and slipped into a peaceful sleep.

By morning Joe’s temperature was down if not quite normal and he was so insistent on going home that Adam begrudgingly agreed. He gave Joe some more laudanum and they set off again. Weakened by the previous day Joe slipped into semi-consciousness very quickly and Adam stopped Hoss after an hour worried by his brother’s evident pain. They made Joe as comfortable as they could and then let him sleep, Adam was very dubious about going on but he could see heavy clouds building up and didn’t dare to stop. He was used to the slow build up of the clouds at this time of the year, usually presaging rain which carried on for days, sometimes weeks, before a slight break and then the first snows. He reckoned they still had maybe three days before the rain started, but it wasn’t altogether predictable and they had to try and get Joe to shelter first, the last thing he needed was to be soaked.

Hoss suggested riding ahead and finding somewhere to make some sort of shelter and Adam agreed, although he told Hoss to try and find somewhere not more that two or three miles on.

They let Joe sleep until nearly one and then woke him up and fed him. Joe dreaded the idea of going on and felt like saying that he couldn’t, but he wanted to get home even more. Joe gritted his teeth and lent against his brother, grateful for Adam’s warm strength until the pain got so bad he was no longer aware of anything else, Adam hadn’t gone very far when Hoss came back “We’re gonna have to go at least four miles Adam. There’s been rain in the hills and the streams have overflowed. It’s like a bog ahead and it’s gonna be until we get to the higher land. Nearest place anywhere near the direct line is Frenchman’s cave.”

Adam hesitated, knowing how far that was, but Hoss was right it was the closest. Joe didn’t even seem aware that Hoss was there, lying quieter as they’d stopped. Adam felt his brother’s pulse but it was steady “I don’t think we have any choice Hoss. Frenchman’s cave it is.”

Hoss led on very worried about Joe. The ground was even rougher and the horses sank in to the bog. Several times he heard his younger brother cry out in agony, but apart from a prayer for his brother, Hoss just carried on. Before they were halfway Joe passed out to Adam’s relief. He called to Hoss to tell him; at least Joe wasn’t aware of the pain. Eventually they were out on hard ground and Hoss pulled up next to Adam “How about going on a bit further while he’s out?”

Adam shook his head “I had thought of it but his pulse is getting weaker and his fever is going up again. He needs to rest. Frenchman’s Cave will be quite far enough.”

Hoss went on ahead to light a fire in the cave they all knew well. At one time, years earlier, an old trapper had lived in it. He spoke only french and trapped for furs. Adam had been in his early teens and he had swapped food for french lessons. Hoss could only just remember the old man, who had died about fifteen years ago. The cave was dry and, with a chimney cut out, a fire inside warmed it fast. The only signs of the old man were a few ledges cut in the rock for his things and the tallies carved next to paintings of the wild creatures he had hunted. At least it was warm and dry in the cave and Hoss had coffee ready by the time Adam arrived and called to him. Joe moaned as Hoss carried him in and round a corner from the entrance out of the wind. As his brothers wrapped him up Joe slowly woke and recognized the cave, which had always intrigued him as a kid. Still about twelve miles from the house, they were at least on their own land and Joe said, “I feel as if I’m really on my way home.”

Adam smiled “Just take it easy Joe. It was very rough today but it’ll be easier now. Will you have something to eat?”

Joe forced a grin even though every inch of his body ached and somebody was sticking red-hot knives in his stomach, “Sure I will or you’ll be a big bully and refuse to take me home tomorrow.” Both his brothers were very relieved to see the grin although they could see the effort behind it. Despite the pain Joe was beginning to recover. When he lay back again, Joe asked “How much longer Adam?”

“Three days, maybe two depends how we go. Longer if you lie awake fretting, settle down and get some sleep. Are you warm enough?”

“Yeah but my back’s not.”

Adam tucked the blankets round his little brother “Better?”

“Mmm, you were always a good tucker in.” Joe was asleep almost before he had finished speaking and as the night got colder Adam and Hoss settled close to him again.

The next day they made five miles to another cave and on the firmer ground Joe found the horse’s action a little easier and he stood up to it better. That evening after supper Adam and Hoss discussed what to do, They had a little over seven miles to go, mainly along goodish track and for the first time they could think of bringing a wagon to collect Joe. Both of them thought the idea had many advantages. The news could be broken to their father, who could ensure everything was ready for Joe and arrange for Doc to come out. Travelling might be easier and first and foremost they could get some more laudanum to help Joe over the last stretch as Adam had used the last of theirs that afternoon. There was one grave disadvantage, Joe wouldn’t hear of either of them leaving him. Desperately weak and in pain after three days of travel he wasn’t exactly rational and had become nearly hysterical when Adam broached the subject. Joe knew himself that he wasn’t making much sense, but he had a firm feeling that everything would be fine as long as his brothers were with him. He was scared to lose either of them; he hadn’t really liked it when Hoss was out of sight. Joe reminded Adam that he’d promised neither he nor Hoss would leave. Adam had only got him to rest by promising that neither of them would go without first telling him; even so Joe was only dozing fitfully. Eventually Hoss said “All the arguments are for going but he ain’t gonna rest unless he has us both one, either side like the last two nights. I guess losing a night’s rest will do him more harm than going on the way we have.”

Adam sighed “I’d agree, if only we had some laudanum left.”

“We’ve got brandy. Have to make do with that. It don’t make sense Adam, but the way he must be feeling, guess we can’t expect him to.”

Adam gave way and settled down next to Joe. He felt his brother tense and patted his arm “Go back to sleep Joe. You’ve got your own way. Hoss is just finishing his coffee and he’ll join us, I’ve carried you this far, I guess Blackie can get us home tomorrow, if you get some rest.”

Carole and Ben were both worried and had finally been driven to admit it. Carole was sure they must just about be out of supplies and she was sure Adam hadn’t intended to be away so long. Ben tried to reassure her, so many things could have held them up. They hadn’t taken a spare horse, maybe one of the horses had gone lame, but he couldn’t deny her assertion that one of them could have come home to collect a spare. Ben tried to avoid the thought of trouble but Carole knew him too well. Ben insisted that with three of them, one would have come for help. Carole shook her head “It would take a long time, two, three days, maybe there wasn’t time. Something is wrong. I know it. I can feel it and so can you, You’ve been uneasy for days. Anyway they should be back by now.”

“Do you want me to get the men and go look for them?”

Carole thought about it, but the three brothers were together. “Adam would hate it, but if they aren’t back by Monday will you do it then?”

“I certainly will. That’s three more days, they certainly should be back. You shouldn’t be worried; it’s not good for the baby. Do you want me to come and stay until Adam gets here?”

“No. They might try and contact you at the house. Its better if you stay there. I’m fine; I’m more worried about Hoss and Joe. Silly isn’t it? It’s just that I get the feeling there’s trouble and yet I’m sure Adam is alright.”

Ben kissed her “If your husband is alright, he’ll look after his brothers. He’s been doing it all their lives.”

The following morning Adam insisted Joe have two large drinks of brandy before they moved. Joe was sore and tired, dreading the long journey home but determined to do it in one day. Even so he giggled a little as Adam refilled the cup and held it for him. Adam smiled “What’s so amusing Joe?”

“Broth and brandy, weird breakfast. What are you trying to do, get me drunk?”

“Maybe that’s not a bad idea Joe. It’s going to be a long day if we go all the way home. Don’t push yourself, we can always take an extra day if you’re tired.”

Joe looked stubborn and Adam ruffled his hair “Alright my pig headed little brother! We’ll get you home. You’ll be able to sleep more comfortably in your own bed.”

Hoss came over everything was ready and he bent down and wrapped up his little brother before lifting Joe up “Don’t be too stubborn Joe, if you need to stop you say so.”

Joe just grinned at him and they went out, where Adam had swung up on Blackie. Hoss passed Joe to him and Little Joe relaxed against his brother “Last day.”

Adam smiled down at him, “Just take it easy, we have a reasonable trail.”

Little Joe was so determined to get home that he managed to keep control and hide the pain he was in for most of the morning, but gradually as he weakened he could no longer do so. Hoss pulled up and waited for Adam, “When we stopping, we done near four miles?”

Adam felt his brother’s pulse but it was steady and he said “A little further Hoss, he wants to get home. You know that lightning struck tree, the one half dead, half growing, about what half a mile?”

Hoss frowned, “Nearer three quarters, why so far.”

“It will still leave more than two miles this afternoon. I want him to rest and have the shorter part to do. Pa is going to be worried enough anyway.”

Hoss could only agree with that but he stayed close by his brothers, worried about Joe. It was hard for Joe without even the limited help of the drug and as Hoss took him from Adam he felt his brother go rigid and Joe cried out in pain. Hoss laid him down and looked accusingly at Adam “We’ve done too much.”

Adam knelt down by Joe who had slipped into sleep “Sure Hoss it was really too far for one day but you try telling Joe that. He’ll sleep the worst of it off. The other reason I wanted to get on was so I can go and warn Pa. I’ll fetch some laudanum, be back before he wakes with any luck.”

“Why you? I could ride ahead.”

“This way Pa gets time to arrange things and you can look after him. He frets if you’re not in sight.”

“Let me go.” Hoss said again

“Are you that eager to tell Pa?” Adam asked affectionately, knowing his brother was only trying to save him from a difficult job.

“It won’t be easy Adam and you’ve had the worst of the last few days, my turn.”

“I would Hoss but if Joe wakes up, he’s gonna need a lot of convincing that you’re coming back but he knows that I have to. He’ll rest easier.”

Hoss had to admit the sense of that and although he wanted to help it seemed easier to let Adam have his own way. “I’ll look after him.”

“I’ve no doubts on that Hoss. I won’t be long.” Adam swung up and then for the first time in days let his black stallion stretch his legs as they headed home. He had to tell his father and he could be sure Little Joe was going to be alright, but it wasn’t going to be easy. He knew his father would be badly shaken when he saw his youngest son, at least this way he could give his father warning.

Carole was more worried about the brothers than she had let Ben know and restless, unable to settle, she had taken the twins over to the main house. She wanted Ben’s company at least they could worry together. They were sitting over coffee after lunch while the twins had a nap when Adam rode in. Ben heard the horse coming in and he was at the door before Adam reached it. Adam smiled at his father not wanting to scare him too much, but Ben could see the strain and the tiredness on his son’s face. He stood back and let Adam in and Adam saw his wife start up from the sofa. “Take it easy both of you. Joe’s been hurt but he’s gonna be fine.”

Ben poured out three brandies and came over to the fire as Adam held his wife tight. She could feel the tension in him and looked up, scared for Joe. Adam pulled her down next to him on the sofa and lent forward to pour himself some coffee. “Joe will be fine. I hope you haven’t been worrying too much about us.”

“What happened Son?”

“An old tree just fell, no warning. Joe got caught in the landslide it caused. Badly cut and bruised, broken ribs and some sort of internal injury. He’s been very ill Pa, but it’s healing. We couldn’t leave him, neither of us.”

“Where is he now?”

“About two miles out. We’ve had to move him in easy stages. It’s still very painful for him. I left him to sleep after this morning’s ride and came to warn you. I’ll go back and join them in a minute.”

“He is going to be alright?”

“I’m sure of it Pa, Its taken a hell of a lot out of him, travelling. This is our fourth day. But once we get him settled in his own bed, he’ll start recovering his strength.”

Carole moved even closer to calm him the only way she knew how and asked, “When did it happen darling?”

Adam frowned; he’d lost track of the days. “I’m not sure about nine days ago, maybe ten. We didn’t think he’d make it for a while and there was nothing we could do. We wanted to come and tell you last night but Joe wouldn’t hear of either of us leaving him. He got in such a state it seemed safer to go along with him. You’ll think he looks terrible and he’s so weak he can’t hide the pain he’s still in, but he’s a lot better than he was.”

Both Ben and Carole could see how close it had been by the state Adam was in, but they accepted his certainty Joe would make it. Ben didn’t ask for more details, there would be time for that when Joe was safe in his own bed. “What do you want me to do Adam?”

Adam tried to order his thoughts. “Well make sure his bed is warm and ready. Get Hop Sing to make some broth. Hoss and I have been sort of experimenting but I know it’s not as good as Hop Sing’s. Get Doc out to check him. I don’t think Doc can do anything but we’ll all feel better when Paul’s had a look. And I need some laudanum, we’ve run out and I want him to have some before we try the last stretch.”

Ben nodded and went straight down to the bunkhouse to send José to fetch Doc, explaining briefly what was wrong for José to pass on. Worried for his friend, José set out hard for town and Adam forced a grin as he watched him leave. “At that rate he’ll get Doc here before I bring Joe back.”

Carole had collected the drug and Adam kissed her “Only be a couple of hours but we can’t move fast. I’d better get back to him. Try to stop Pa worrying too much.” She kissed him and Adam moved over to Blackie. Ben was standing by the horse “Do you want to change horses?”

“No Pa. Joe’s used to Blackie’s gait and he’s very smooth. It’s not far.”

“Everything will be ready, bring him home.” Ben watched his son leave and went in to pour himself a drink. He had seen how close Joe had been to death in his eldest son’s eyes, but God was merciful and once again Ben thanked him for the life of one of his sons.

Adam rode back to join Hoss and Joe as Hoss was feeding his brother. The long trip that morning had taken a lot out of him and Joe’s voice was weak as he said “You’re back everything will be alright.” but his eyes showed his relief and pleasure at seeing his brother.

Adam knelt down and took his hand “Doc will be there almost before we are and Pa will have your bed warm and waiting. Not far now Little Joe.”

Joe was close to tears at the thought and he blinked them away, not wanting to worry his brothers. Hoss asked, “How did Pa take it?”

“Both he and Carole had been worried, we were overdue. I got the impression it wasn’t exactly a surprise. I’ve tried to prepare him and Doc will be there. He knows that Joe is going to be fine and that’s the main thing.” Adam poured out a strong dose of laudanum “Here Little Joe drink this it will help.”

Joe was pleased to see it and drank it eagerly, knowing it would at least take the edge off the pain. Then he lay back as his brothers wrapped him up. Hoss knelt by him “Last stretch little brother. You’ve done so very well, just hold on a little longer.”

“I don’t mean to make a fuss.”

Hoss gripped his hand “Don’t be daft little brother. You’re not fussing. We both know all the pain you’ve had, if only we could help more but this will be the last time. We’re proud of you Joe a real fighter.”

Adam smiled down at then both “Hoss is right Joe, very proud little brother.”

His brother’s praise helped Joe more than the drug as Hoss lifted him up to Adam for the last time and then rode alongside on the final stretch. He tried hard to ignore the pain buoyed up by the thought of reaching home, recognising virtually every tree on this final stretch, knowing he was close to home. Gradually the pain overpowered his willpower and he moaned as he lay in Adam’s arms but five minutes later they came out of the trees to see the house below them. Adam guided Blackie slightly sideways so Joe could see and said “Look Joe there’s the house. Pa, Carole and Doc are waiting for us. Look.” He had to repeat it twice but then Joe opened his eyes and with an effort focused on the house. He murmured “Thank God.” and Adam felt him relax slightly, His brothers reiterated his thanks to God very fervently, both had had moments when they doubted their ability to get him home and the last days had been a continuing nightmare for all of them.

Ben was out on the porch with Doc and Carole and on seeing his sons he waved. Hoss saw and waved back but they made no attempt to increase the slow walk at which they were progressing, It seemed to take a very long time before they reached the yard although it was only a little over ten minutes. Carole sighed, “No wonder it’s taken four days to get home at that speed.”

Doc had watched, seeing his patient in his brother’s arms “The boys are being sensible Ben, about the only way to bring Joe if he has an internal injury. Even at that speed its probably hurting him so don’t get too alarmed. If he’s survived this long, Adam is right he should make it.”

Ben went forward to Adam before Hoss could dismount and scanned his youngest son’s white drawn face, the pain etched deep and his eyes half glazed with it, Joe tried a grin but it didn’t really work as he murmured “Pa.”

Ben said, “Let me have him Adam. Easy son let’s get you to bed.”

Adam passed Joe to his father as gently as he could but Joe couldn’t restrain the moan and he saw his father lose colour. There was nothing he could say to help; he knew how Joe’s moans and screams had torn at him and Hoss, causing real physical pain. At least Joe was more in control than he had often been over the last days.

Ben carried Little Joe straight upstairs feeling his son tense on the stairs and Joe couldn’t quite bite back the moan. Adam and Hoss were about to follow him when Doc said “Hoss help your father to get him to bed. Adam I’d like a word.”

Adam nodded and poured a drink “Thanks for coming so quickly Doc. Want one?”

“Later maybe but you look as though you could do with it.”

“Its been a trying few days.” Adam said with considerable understatement. “You want to know what happened?”

“Please Adam. José told me an outline but the more I know the less I’ll have to bother Joe.”

Adam nodded and sat down staring into the fire. Carole stood behind him holding his shoulders, knowing how hard it was for him to relive it. Adam made no attempt to gloss over how bad Joe had been Doc needed to know. He explained how he’d had to pull Joe out and why, the very evident pain, the rigidity and the way it had localised. He told them about Joe’s agony when he touched it, the shock and the fever and finally the effects of the journey. He had gone very pale as he talked and wouldn’t look at either his wife or the Doc. As he finished he drank the brandy and rubbed his hands across his aching eyes. Carole could visualise so very clearly the two brothers holding their little brother between them trying to save his life with their own warmth and she had tears in her eyes. Doc lent forward and patted Adam’s hand “You and Hoss did a first rate job. I doubt I could have done anything more, probably not as much. Sounds as though he’s lucky to be alive, owes his life to his brothers, but he’ll be alright now. I’ll go and have a look at Joe, you spare five minutes for your wife.”

Adam slowly relaxed “Sorry darling, it’s been so rough for Joe.”

“I could see that on your face and Hoss’ as well as how ill Little Joe looked.”

“He’s had so much pain.” Carole came round and took him in her arms and slowly Adam got a grip on himself again. After five minutes he stood up “Come on darling lets go and see how Joe’s settling.”

With Hoss’ help Ben had carefully striped Joe and undid the bandage round his ribs. The bruises were very clear although mainly beginning to fade. Joe gritted his teeth and managed to hold back the moans, at least here in his own bed he could lie still. Doc was waiting as Ben moved back ands swiftly examined Joe’s cut and bruised legs and arm, but that was all healing. He felt round the ribs and Joe tensed and moaned softly. Doc smiled “Easy little Joe. Your brothers ahve made a good job of that but I think we’ll get another bandage on for support just for a few days.” Hoss gently raised Joe, knowing exactly how far he dared to go, and with Ben’s help Doc swiftly bandaged him up. Then he felt the bruising low near Joe’s groin and Joe bit his lip against the pain. Doc asked, “Hurt?”

Joe licked his lips “Sore, bit tender when you touch but its the other side.”

Doc had been able to see that and he signalled Hoss to hold his brother “Sorry Joe but I must check.”

“Go on.”

Doc felt very gently and then trying to assess the extent of the damage, more firmly, Joe’s body went rigid with the pain and he couldn’t help the cry of agony. Ben stared in horror and it was redoubled as he took in the way Hoss reacted. He could see the pain and sympathy in Hoss’ eyes but there was none of the shock he felt. Hoss almost matter of factly held his brother, pushing his hair back and talking softly to Joe, telling him to relax, everything was alright. That more than anything else told Ben the pain his youngest son had had over the last days, the pain he hadn’t been able to hide so his brothers were used to it. He saw the same thing on Adam’s face as he came in; Carole showed shock but not his eldest son. Doc had finished and Adam helped Hoss pull the bedclothes up round their brother. Little Joe had control now and murmured “I’m sorry.”

Adam ruffled his hair “Don’t be daft Joe just relax.”

Doc said “Take it easy Joe, everything’s healing fine, be a couple of weeks before it gives up aching I’m afraid but it will be fine. Just get as much sleep as you can and plenty to eat. Bed for ten days or so and then take it very quietly for the next month or so, You’ll be fine by Christmas.”

Ben said, “Get some sleep Joe. I’ll be back up in a few minutes. Hoss?”

“I’ll stay with him.”

It was all Joe wanted to do and he relaxed in his own bed, still sore and uncomfortable but at least he was home.

Ben went down and very pale poured himself a large drink “Well Doc?”

“You’re very lucky to still have a youngest son. He had no right to survive that; some of his oldest brother’s stubbornness must have rubbed off on him. He owes his brothers a lot.”

“No more than we have often owed him.” Adam protested.

Ben frowned at his eldest son “Easy Adam.”

“Sorry Pa.” Adam sighed heavily “Doc what was wrong?”

“Did Joe pass any blood?”

Adam nodded “Quite a bit the first couple of days, scared us I don’t mind telling you. It eased off and he hasn’t for five days or so.”

“That’s fine. Just confirms what I thought. I think it was his kidney that took the main damage, although I wouldn’t be surprised if the spleen was damaged too,”

Ben worriedly asked, “I know people can manage without a spleen but a kidney? Will it work properly?”

Doc smiled at him “Ben cheer up. As far as I can tell it’s all healing fine. If it should be damaged he can manage perfectly well on one, we all have two. I see no reason why it shouldn’t heal but I’ll keep a close eye on him for the next few weeks. It will need time to heal completely, same as any wound, but by spring he can forget it and he won’t be anymore vulnerable.”

Adam went to lean on the fireplace, staring into the fire. “Doc if you’d been there could you have done anything?”

“Only what you did Adam. Noone knows how to operate yet, maybe one day but not now. Least not as far as I know. I wouldn’t even have dared give him anything for the pain; it might have weakened his resistance. You did all there was to do.”

“You’re not just saying that?”

“Joe’s my best evidence. You and Hoss pulled him through against very long odds. He’ll still have a couple of very uncomfortable weeks, but you of all people Adam know that that passes.”

Adam relaxed slightly and nodded, but as he did so the strain and lack of sleep began to catch up on him and he looked exhausted. Doc called Carole over and had a quiet word. She assured him that she was feeling fine and he suggested that she get her husband home for a meal and an early night. Then tomorrow it was time she told him. Carole laughed, “I promise but he’s barely noticed me yet or even thought about the twins.”

“He’s been away for weeks and you can laugh at it.”

“He knows we’re fine and he’s worried about Joe.”

“You’re a good wife Carole, not many would take second place for a mere brother.”

“Not many brothers are as close as these three.”

“It’s probably the only thing which has kept Joe alive this time and all of them on occasion.”

Adam saw Carole deep in conversation with the Doc and suddenly alarm flared, as he wondered where his sons were. He hurried over to them “The twins are they..”

Carole interrupted, “They are fine Hop Sing has them in the kitchen keeping them out of the way.”

Adam relaxed he could see Carole was fine, she looked in the best of health. Ben gripped his eldest son’s shoulder “Why don’t you collect them Adam and go on home. You look exhausted and I can look after Joe now.”

“I am a bit tired Pa. Tell Joe I’ll be over in the morning.” Ben nodded and helped Carole collect the twin’s things while Adam went to get his sons. Adam came out, exclaiming how much they’d grown and delighted at the odd words they were using. Both were exuberantly hanging on him saying “Dada, Dada” and for the first time in days he forgot all about Joe. Ben saw them off, sure Carole would help his son relax and went back up to his other sons as Doc left too. One was very weak and in pain, and the other was still very tense and worried.

Joe was sleeping quietly and Ben made Hoss go and get some food, once he had filled him in on all Doc had said. Half an hour later Hoss brought up a tray for his father and some coffee and brandy for himself. He tucked the blanket tighter round Joe’s back and then pulled up a chair next to his father. Ben considered his big son, as tense as he could ever remember, and gently asked, “Do you want to talk?”

“I ain’t sure Pa. I think both Adam and I despaired at times. I know I did until Adam yelled at me.”

“I know how rough it must have been. I saw your face when Joe screamed, it was a long way from the first time he'd done that, wasn't it?

“I think that scared me more than anything Pa. I know how much pain Joe can take and there was so little we could do.” Hoss sipped his brandy and slowly he began to talk, telling his father exactly what had happened, and somehow it didn’t haunt him so much once he’d talked it over. Ben could imagine the details Hoss didn’t give and knew how hard it had been for all three of his sons. He saw Hoss calm down as he talked and when Hoss fell quiet. Ben gripped his big son’s shoulder, “Doc was right. You and Adam did very well.”

Hoss felt warmed by the undertone of pride in his father’s voice and as he relaxed he could hardly keep his eyes open. Ben said, “Go to bed Hoss. I’ll stay with him. You’ve done your part, more than done it.”

Half an hour after Hoss left Joe stirred and Ben called down to Hop Sing for some milk and some broth. He lifted Joe gently and pushed some pillows under him. “You look better for some sleep young man.”

“Adam, Hoss?”

“Both sleeping I hope.”

“I’ve been a nuisance to them.”

“Not for the first time and, from what they’ve said, they are proud of their little brother. It’s hard to be hurt so far from home.”

Joe smiled “It feels good to be in my own bed.”

Hop Sing brought in a tray “You get better soon Little Joe. I cook good, you eat.”

Joe smiled at his father as the old Chinaman went out, “I’ve had my orders.”

Ben fed him, seeing Joe tense against the pain but he’d seem Adam much worse and Hoss had assured him that Joe hadn’t been sick at all. Joe was so pleased to be home and more comfortable and in control after his sleep, he managed to finish all the food Hop Sing had brought, rather to Ben’s surprise. Then Joe lay back and waited for the pain to ease. He tried to tell Ben all he owed to his brothers but Ben wouldn’t let him talk much, just bringing Joe up to date on the news around the ranch. Gradually Joe began to feel sleepy again and his heavy eyelids closed of their own volition. Ben stayed by him all night dozing in the chair, but Joe didn’t stir.

Adam had been so tired that he’d gone to sleep almost as soon as he got to bed, but he woke early the following morning. The twins were mercifully quiet and Adam watched his sleeping wife for quite a while. She was so very lovely, very peaceful, contented even in her sleep. As Carole woke he pulled her close, but to his surprise she pulled away a little although resting her head on his shoulder.  He looked very much better for a long sleep, but she didn’t dare cuddle too close until she’d told him about the baby, not wanting him to feel it. Having left it so long she felt a little awkward but he had to know. She kissed him, “Adam I have something to tell you.”

He frowned and then he placed the contentment in her eyes and kissed her, “When is it due?”

She snuggled close, “You know?”

“Only this minute. I should probably have seen it earlier but I was worried about Joe. It’s rather early isn’t it? Have you seen Doc?”

“He says I’m fine, even if it is a little earlier than I meant. It’s due about the first of May. He said if my miscarriage was going to effect it, it would do so in the first three months and I’m past that now.”

Adam sat up horrified as he took that in “You should have told me, not let me ride off for weeks.”

 Carole gripped his arm “That’s why I didn’t. I knew how much that survey meant to you. Anyway I felt so well, I still do. Like the twins, not like last time. I’m fine and I’m so glad you went Joe needed both you and Hoss.”

“Obstinate female!”

“I pity any girl who isn’t, having to contend with you!” Carole kissed him “Not that anyone else is going to get the chance.”

Adam relaxed, worried about her and determined to have a word with Paul as soon as possible. Still he couldn’t help responding to her certain faith that everything would be fine this time and he knew it was what she needed, to finally bury the pain of losing her last baby. “Alright my expert, boy or girl?”

“You’re laughing at me.”

“No, well only a little and you’ve been right so far, although the odds aren’t bad.”

“It’s a girl. Do you mind?”

“How many times do I have to tell you I want a daughter as lovely as her mother. Even if we do have to hog-tie my brothers and a fond grandfather to prevent her being unmercifully spoilt!”

She relaxed and Adam kissed her, before deciding he was starving. After a late breakfast they took the twins over to find Joe looking much better after a night in his own bed. It would take time but Joe was on the mend.

Over the next two weeks Adam worked hard on the figures and the map he needed but each day he spared time to go over with Carole and see Joe. Ben had been pleased at how calmly his eldest son had taken the news of Carole’s pregnancy and his brothers were delighted at the news. Adam was slightly uneasy but Doc had been most reassuring and she was so obviously blooming that he was able to push his unease to the back of his mind at least for the time being. Joe had been recovering very fast since he got home and he’d been badgering his father to let him get up, but Ben wouldn’t until Doc agreed. Paul came out on Saturday to find all the Cartwrights there. The twins were clambering all over Joe’s bed ad the Doc laughed “You must be feeling better to cope with that pair Joe.”

“I want to get up.”

“Well let’s have a look at you, Adam will you please remove your madhouse downstairs.” Adam laughed but with Hoss’ help he took the twins down and Carole followed the brothers, leaving Ben with Joe.

Ten minutes later Doc came down “Your father is helping Joe get dressed. He’s making a remarkable recovery. Just try and stop him overdoing it, he’s still very weak.”

Hoss and Adam caught each other’s eye and both grimaced. It was almost impossible, the one consolation was that it was the quiet time of the year, nothing much to tempt Joe. Just then Ben called Hoss and insisted that Hoss carry Joe downstairs, Joe wasn’t doing anything but sit quietly for a start. Joe didn’t waste time arguing he was just grateful to be allowed out of bed. The pain in his side had largely subsided, but even so a couple of hours later he made very little fuss when his father insisted that he went back to bed.

Joe slowly regained his strength with only one setback. The night before his wedding anniversary he couldn’t sleep. It seemed impossible that it was two years since he married his tiny sweetheart. Soon she would have been gone for two years but that night he felt as though she was there next to him and he could remember her as clearly as if she had just left the room. Still weak his memories hit him harder than they had done since he left for Europe. At breakfast he couldn’t face his family and just asked for coffee in his room. They both had their own memories on that special day and Ben went along, knowing how his son must feel even though he was worried how drawn Joe looked. Joe wanted to go up to the Lake, more than he could explain, but his father hadn’t allowed him out of the house. It had been cold and wet for days.

Adam was worried about Joe and he rode over early leaving Carole and the twins at home. He could see by his father’s face that he’d had reason. Adam asked, “How is Joe?”

“I don’t think he’s slept all night,”

“Not surprising Pa, this room looked a bit different two years ago.”

“I know Adam but he’s still not strong. Hasn’t come out of his room.”

“It’s dry today Pa.”

Ben looked puzzled “I’m not with you.”

“I wondered if he would like to go up to the Lake. We can make sure he doesn’t get cold,”

“He’s not strong enough Adam.”

“It’ll be better for him than fretting Pa. I could take him and stay with him, or at least within call.”

“I’m not sure Adam.”

Hoss came over “Adam’s right Pa. At least we ought to give Joe the chance. I wouldn’t mind betting he jumps at it.”

Ben gave way “Alright if you both think so, but take the buggy and make sure he keeps warm.”

“I’ll take him up some coffee and see if he wants to. Maybe we’re wrong and he won’t even be interested.” Adam smiled tautly at his father and took a tray up stairs. He knocked on Joe’s door. Joe was over by the window; staring out thoroughly miserable and he didn’t really want to see anyone “What is it?”

“Me Joe. I’ve brought some coffee.” Joe sighed but he had little choice “Come on in Adam.”

Adam put the tray down and poured out two cups. Joe took his over to the window, turning his back on Adam; just wishing his brother would leave him alone.

Adam sat down on the bed and sipped his coffee “I know you wish I’d leave you in peace. I’ll have my say and then if you want I’ll clear off.”

“Just not feeling sociable.”

“Of course Joe I can understand. I just wondered if you would like to go up to the Lake for an hour or two.”

Joe turned “What?”

“I thought I’d drive you up for a while if you wanted.”


“He doesn’t mind as long as you take a blanket and don’t get cold. I’ll be within call, Up to you. I just thought today you might want to,”

Joe smiled for the first time that day “Thanks Adam. I have more than I could say but I didn’t think Pa would stand for it and I couldn’t face an argument.”

“Okay finish your coffee and find a jersey and your warm coat. I’ll go and harness up.”

Joe couldn’t answer and Adam left him alone and went down to tell his father that Joe wanted to go and to get the buggy ready.

Joe stood over by the window drinking his coffee and watched Adam go out with Hoss to harness the buggy; he was amazed at his brother. He was well used to Adam’s ability to know what he was thinking, he’d never been able to lie to his brother but even so he was surprised that Adam had guessed how strongly he wanted to go to the Lake. He knew Adam must have worked hard to persuade their father, so he must have been very sure before he’d come up to talk it over.

Adam drove slowly up to the Lake but the motion didn’t seem to worry Joe, although he was lost in thought. Adam went up to the top of the hill and then pulled up about twenty yards from the point. He unhitched the horse and tied it on a long rope and then helped Joe down. “I’ll stay here, call if you want me and don’t get cold. I have my flask if you want.”

Joe hesitated, in some strange way he wanted to be left alone and yet not be on his own, Yet he remembered how Adam had almost avoided the point in the last months, after the first couple of weeks from burying his daughter. Adam was puzzled as Joe hesitated and he could see Joe was on the verge of asking something. “Do you want me to come with you?”

“Not if you’d rather not.”

“I thought you’d prefer to be alone.”

Joe shook her head “I don’t want to talk but I’d be glad of company and you loved her too.”

“Of course I’ll come, why ever not?”

“You’ve been avoiding the lake since...” He broke off and Adam finished it “Since we buried the baby, my daughter, “ he smiled at his brother. “At first I came most days and then maybe I was avoiding it, trying to forget, but since we camped looking across here, I’ve been back a lot. I haven’t forgotten I don’t think I ever will but I’ve accepted it, maybe this new baby has helped. It’s helped Carole but even before that. Do you remember what Hoss said about the trees?”

Joe nodded “Pointing straight to heaven, making the path to God a little easier, It’s what we’ve all, felt isn’t it. Why we come here to pray rather than go to church. Gets your troubles in perspective.”

Adam nodded “A place of peace, of memories.”

Joe walked slowly out to Marie’s grave and knelt down. Adam stood a little way behind him and looked at her grave and that of his daughter. For a moment he lost himself in memories. Adam came back to the present with a jerk as he heard his brother sobbing. Unsure what to do Adam went forward, Joe had asked him to come up and he tentatively put a hand on Joe’s shoulder. Weak and tired after a sleepless night with so many memories and thoughts of what might have been, for the first time in a long time Joe found relief in tears. At Adam’s touch he turned to his brother, Adam knelt down and held Joe close letting his brother have his cry out on his shoulder. Once Joe quietened down Adam gave Joe the brandy flask. Joe felt much better for releasing the tension and he had a drink and then wiped his face. “Walk out to the point Adam.”

Adam helped him up and the brothers moved out onto the point. They could just make out the camp where Joe had so nearly lost his life a few brief weeks earlier. Joe said pensively, “It’s funny once or twice I thought Marie was there. I could feel her, hear her and she said each time that I’d be alright to hang on that the pain would go, to live.”

“It’s what she wanted Joe, for you to carry on, to find happiness again, just as you brought so much to her.”

Joe lent against his brother glad of support, weak but at peace again and for a long time they stood in silence and then Joe pulled away. He went back to the grave and said a quiet prayer, not to God but to his wife. Then he turned to Adam “I’m ready to go home.”

Adam helped him back into the buggy but before they started Joe put a hand on his brother’s arm “Thank you.”

“Nothing to thank me for little brother.”

“There’s a lot for caring enough to know me, for knowing how I’d feel today and making sure I could do what I wanted; not just today but all my life. I see other brothers and they have nothing but we ..”Joe broke off not knowing how to put it into words.

Adam smiled affectionately at him “It has to be a two way thing Joe, It’s between all of us and it’s not my doing. If it’s anyone it’s Pa’s. He taught us all to love and care for one another and not to be afraid of showing it, I just hope my sons can learn as much.”

Joe smiled “They will have a very good teacher, I ought to know you taught me a hell of a lot over the years.”

“You’ve repaid it many times over Little Joe. Come on let’s get you home before Pa start climbing the wall.” Joe washed his face and much more peaceful he was ready to join his family for lunch, a little quiet and lost in the past but calm now.

A week later Carole was over with the twins at the main house with Ben and Joe. Hoss had ridden up to the mines and Adam was training Blackie, although he had promised to join them for supper and to collect Carole and his sons. Adam had spent quite a lot of time working with the stallion training him to stand, to pull on command. Adam had realised how much he missed Sport when it came to holding the tree off Joe, but Blackie had proved his worth carrying Joe home. Adam had hit it off with the horse and it already responded well to him and to his voice. The stallion seemed willing and quick to learn but Adam was slowly realising just how much he had taught Sport over the years and it would take quite a while to rely on Blackie in the same way. At first when he’d shot Sport Adam had sworn he would never let a horse mean as much to him again but he’d learnt his lesson. He needed a reliable trained animal and this black stallion had always attracted him. Good looking and strong but not passing his looks on to his progeny, Adam had thought he might as well ride him. It was a long job to train the stallion, but it was one Adam was thoroughly enjoying.

During the afternoon John Mackay and Jim Fair came out to the house, They had been to Adam’s house and Kam Su had told them the family was over at the main house. Ben was surprised to see them but John assured him they didn’t have any problems with either mine, the richer ore was just beginning to come out of the Consolidated Virginia and the California was showing a small profit, once exploration charges were met. They wanted to talk to Adam about a different project. Ben wasn’t going to probe if they didn’t want to talk and just said that his eldest son should be back in about an hour.

They came in and settled down but refused to say what they wanted as they didn’t want to have to go over it twice. Joe still weak was sitting by the fire reading and Jim Fair frowned “Nice day. How come your brothers are out working and you’re sitting reading a novel by the fire.”

Joe shrugged “Lazy time of the year.”

Fair snorted “Alright for some. The mines never stop, we slug our guts out to make you a packet to go playing round Europe.”

“Not this year.”

Ben came over showing his displeasure “Jim don’t go too far. You are making a fortune too, just because we invested in your know-how with money we work hard to earn on the ranch.”

“Looks like it” Jim nodded at Joe, who even had his feet up on the footstool Hoss had bought Marie two years ago. Ben was rapidly losing his temper “Joseph has only been back on his feet for a couple of weeks after nearly losing his life in an accident. Anyway provided I am happy with my son’s help round this ranch, what the hell has it to do with you?”

Joe grinned; Jim had been playing his old game of taunting Joe and Hoss only this time he’d got a tiger by the tail. John Mackay moved in with practised ease to try and pour oil on troubled water “Take it easy Ben. You ought to know Jim better than to bother with his idiocies when he’s in this mood, he’s just impatient to talk to Adam and patience has never been his long suit. What happened to you Joe?”

“Got caught in a landslide, banged up some. I’m okay now,”

“Look a bit skinny, still if Hop Sing’s on form that won’t last long.”

Ben calmed down “Speaking of which I’d better warn him. You’ll stay for dinner?”

“Thanks Ben”

It was nearly dinner time before Adam arrived, he’d gone home for a bath and rode his mare over as Blackie had been working hard, He was surprised to see the buggy and went in to see who was visiting. His reception surprised him even more, but Ben wouldn’t allow discussion over dinner. The twins were tired and getting irritable and Adam knew they ought to be in bed but having kept Mackay and Fair waiting so long he didn’t want to be rude. Carole smiled “Go and see if Jess or José could give me a hand to get the twins home. You’ll only worry if I go alone even though I can cope,

“You don’t mind?”

“Jim Fair will burst a blood vessel if he doesn’t get a chance to talk to you soon. Of course I don’t mind.”

Jess was in the bunkhouse and when Adam explained he willingly agreed to deliver the family safely home. Jess went to harness up while Adam helped Carole collect the twins things which as usual were widely spread now they could not only walk but climb stairs and open doors,

Adam carried the bags out and helped Carole up before lifting the boys up, Carole was very noticeably pregnant now.

Having seen his family off, Adam went in and got some coffee and settled down to listen to this new proposal. He already had a lot of money earmarked for land and didn’t really want to get involved in another mine but he’d listen.

Now he had Adam’s attention, to say nothing of the interested attention of Ben and Joe, Jim Fair didn’t seem to know where to start. Adam grinned faintly, “Would you like a drink Jim, you’re not usually tongue-tied.”

“No thanks. You know we bought Sharon’s Virginia and Gold Hill Water Company last year?”

“Of course.” Adam agreed “We all told you then that we weren’t interested in selling buckets of water at high prices.”

“We lowered Sharon’s prices, except to the mines, and it’s still made money.”

“I’m still not interested.”

“We wouldn’t be here if that was all.”

“I’m listening.”

Jim went on “The water supply is getting smaller and the demand is increasing.” So far he had only stated what everyone knew and Ben impatiently said, “Get to the point Jim.”

“It was something Adam said at the time, when you refused to join us in the water works.”

Adam frowned, “A lot has happened since Jim, I don’t know what you mean.”

“You said that Virginia City couldn’t exist forever on those wells and that sometime water would have to be piped in from the Sierra’s. Well the deeper the mines get the more water we need, the Belcher is almost as deep as ours and as we push down the California and others follow, we must have more water. So it comes down to that comment, is it possible or just a dream?”

Adam lent back at that whistling softly. That was the last thing he’d expected. He had run pipes down from Lake Tahoe to dry parts of the ranch but what Jim was suggesting was on a totally different scale. “I think I’d have liked notice of that question.”

John lent forward “Is it possible?”

Adam said slowly “Lake Tahoe is the nearest source capable of supplying the town and it could certainly supply ten times the water you’d ever need without affecting the Lake.”

“But the pipe?” pushed Jim.

Adam got to his feet “Look I could only give you a meaningless guess. There’s a chance it’s possible, but I’ve never considered the problems in earnest.”

“Would you do it?” asked John.

Ben frowned, knowing it wouldn’t be a single day or even week’s task and Adam was already heavily committed with the paper work from the survey on the west shore.

Adam said “Well that depends.”

Jim almost angrily got to his feet “On what? It’s a simple question.”

Joe had been listening quietly but now he intervened “It may be a simple question but it’s gonna need an awful lot of hours of back breaking work to find the answer. You’re asking Adam to leave everything and do it to satisfy your curiosity. Why the hell should he? We have a ranch to run.”

“You’re the one who said it was the lazy time of the year Little Joe and anyway you all have as much, more invested in the mines than we do. We need the water.”

Joe was close to losing his temper, but Adam seeing that said, “Hold it little brother, you’ll have time to have your say later.”

Joe subsided but he was still simmering and Adam grinned at him and then went on “Two main points, if we built a pipe what then? Just add the water to the Virginia and Gold Hill Company? Sell it?”

Jim and John knew him well enough to be wary at that tone of voice. John said “Not necessarily. What would you suggest?”

“We would be involved the pipe would be over our land for most of the way and it would have its source in our Lake.”

“You don’t own Tahoe.” Jim protested but Adam just smiled, “No but we do own the water rights along the eastern and part of the northern shores. They are tight you’d better believe it. None of the other lakes could support the sort of volume I presume you have in mind.”

“Not thought that far.”

“Well if we laid say a twelve inch pipe with the sort of drop from Tahoe we’re talking about around two million gallons every twenty four hours.” Adam frowned at his scribbled calculations “Do you agree Pa, Joe?”

Jim frowned showing his complete disbelief that they knew anything about it. Adam grinned “We have pipes down for our own use, we all know the basic principles.”

Joe sighed “Agreed but I don’t know how you get over the Washoe valley.”

“Hold that for the moment Joe. I’m not even sure I’m interested yet.”

John sat back “We need water Adam and we need your help. On what terms would you be interested? As you say it would involve the Ponderosa, so we have to listen.”

Adam looked over at Ben, wishing he could discuss it with his father first, but he knew Ben’s opinions on the selling of water at so much a bucket. We’d want to retain all legal rights to the land and the water but we’d consider giving an easement to a new company.”

“You just lost me Adam.” complained John.

Ben decided it was time to help out “Look this is preliminary, a basis for discussion only. We might guarantee a company all the rights it needed to lay pipe and take water. In return that water would have to be freely available to all citizens of Virginia City as individuals, Mines and businesses could pay an agreed yearly or monthly sum according to demand. Adam?”

Adam smiled “About what I had in mind Pa.”

Jim demanded “The Consolidated Virginia and the California?”

Ben shrugged “Maybe special terms but does it matter as long as the water is there? It would depend who comes in as stockholders.”

“Our water company?” Jim asked

Adam spoke up, “No longer necessary, it would go into liquidation.”

Jim frowned at that but although he didn’t like it he knew he couldn’t persuade the Cartwrights to go along with the current charges. “We could drop the price a lot, nominal price per gallon.”

Joe intervened again, “You’d end up paying more to organise it than you’d collect. Anyway it’s the principle. Free water to every individual.”

John sighed, “We’d have to think about that.”

Adam nodded “We’re only outlining a basis of discussion and that’s assuming it’s even practical. I’m prepared to go this far. If you consider what my father outlined as a basis for negotiation with the one firm stipulation as Joe said free water for people as opposed to businesses?”

Jim and John looked at each other, but with little choice both nodded, Adam went on, "Right I’ll make a preliminary survey and I mean preliminary. I’ll try and give you the answer as to whether it’s possible and the probable best course.” Then we call in someone to make a detailed survey under my direction and I want a veto on who we call in, I haven’t time to do it myself.”

“How long would the preliminary work take?”

“Depends on the weather, it’s impossible to do much if there’s several foot of snow covering the land. It will be at least a couple of months I can’t just drop everything else.”

Jim sighed “There’s not much point in going into it any more deeply until you’ve done that.”

Adam grinned “None at all but I’ll warn you now, even if its possible and I can decide a line, you are talking in terms of a year maybe more to get pipe and lay it.”

“We didn’t think it would be done overnight.” John said, “Thanks for going that far Adam.”

Ben said “We would be prepared to pay part of the cost but financing would have to be arranged.”

Jim asked “Any idea how much it would cost, what sort of money are we talking about?”

Adam shrugged “It depends on the line, the distance, subsidiary pumps if necessary, the size of the pipe, whether its standard shape. I can’t possibly guess except that it will be millions rather than thousands.”

Hop Sing brought fresh coffee and the five men sat rather quiet with all too much to think abut. Fair and Mackay son excused themselves, again thanking Adam and left for town. It wasn’t until they had gone that both Ben and Joe turned on Adam. He was a fool to take on even a preliminary survey out of the blue; it would be very hard work. Adam just laughed at them. He’d had a lazy year last winter and this was a worthwhile cause. Ben and Hoss had managed the ranch last year surely they could spare him for a few hours this year and at least he’d be working close to home. Joe sighed, “It won’t be just a few hours Adam and you’re already up to your ears in paperwork on the survey.”

“The back of that is broken and you can give me a hand if you will.” Joe sighed, “Sure I knew I’d get landed somewhere along the line.” Adam just ruffled his hair ignoring his brother’s complaint. “I think I’ll get on home, fill Carole in before she dies of curiosity and sleep on it. Maybe tomorrow we can talk it over. I’d like your advice and Hoss’ if he’s back.”

Ben nodded “Good idea it came rather out of nowhere, we could all do with time to think.”

Adam spent an hour talking it over with Carole. She knew her husband very well and could see he was attracted by this new idea and she knew exactly why. It had taken her a while but she had learnt the depth of responsibility the Cartwrights felt for Virginia City and the people who lived there and round about. It was in all of them, but especially in Ben and Adam who had been involved from the very beginning. Adam was already taking his full share of the decisions although only nineteen when the town was founded, while the younger boys had yet to grow into their rights as equal partners. Adam tried to make light of the work he had let himself in for, but Carole asked too many questions and his wife was no fool. In the end he had to admit it would take a fair bit of time, especially with Joe not really fit enough to help and the other chores more than enough to keep Hoss and his father busy. Still at least he wouldn’t be far from home and he’d be able to get home every night, By the time he had finished Carole couldn’t restrain the laughter and Adam stared at her in surprise, “What’s so funny?”

“You! In another minute you’ll have yourself convinced you only took it on as an excuse to work close to home and be with me every night. You’re an old fraud my husband, you didn’t even think of that until ten minutes ago.”

Adam grinned “Well maybe not exactly, but if it had taken me u into the high country I wouldn’t have taken it on, not just now.”

“Why not? I’m fine.”

“I know and very beautiful, so why should I want to leave you?”

Adam was up very early the next morning and after grabbing a cup of coffee he rode out and quartered the area coming down from Lake Tahoe towards Virginia City. Land he knew so well and yet this morning he was looking at it with a new eye. He couldn’t do more than confirm a few of his ideas and get a vague impression, but it helped to clarify his thoughts. He finally rode back for a belated breakfast. Carole was busy and so he went over to the main house on his own.

Hoss was back and his father, with a noticeable lack of help from Joe, had explained the new proposition. Hoss knew just how much work had been involved in their own relatively short pipelines and was concerned at the amount of work Adam had casually taken on. He had no real faith in his brother’s ability to delegate the detailed survey to an outsider, even one of his own choosing. Ben reminded Hoss that Adam had done it on the main flume, leaving a classmate to finish it while he went to Europe.

Hoss grunted “I don’t want him working himself into the ground, but dadburnit I sure don’t want that alternative again.”

Ben protested “I don’t mean that.”

“I know Pa and I’m quite sure like then Adam will decide to delegate. I ain’t real sure he can do it in practice without a lot of miles between him and the work.”

Joe grinned “At the rate work is building up for next year he won’t have much choice.” He looked over at his father “I thought it would be nice to be rich, but I’m rapidly going off the idea. The more money we have it seems to me the more things we invest in and the more work there is to do!”

Ben knew what his son meant but he could see the laughter in Joe’s eyes. “Is that an official complaint?”

Joe giggled, “No more in the nature of a first warning. Try and remind your eldest son that there’s only four of us and we can’t be in two places at once.”

Ben laughed “He’s just riding in Joe. You can tell him yourself.”

Adam demanded coffee and it was several minutes later before they were all sitting round the fire ready to discuss the latest project. Hoss and Joe were devil’s advocates, but sadly hampered from the start by their conviction that it was something the town badly needed. They were just worried at the work involved in their doing it. An hour later all were agreed, they had little choice the water was needed and only the Ponderosa could supply it. On their land they needed to have the final sayso on where and how. Ben was worried as both questions seemed to fall heavily on Adam as the engineer and again as the lawyer. Joe had learnt a lot from his brother and could help on the first, but Ben had no faith in his ability to persuade Adam to call in another lawyer for the main drafting of the contracts and no real desire to do so. He could trust his son to ensure that there were no loopholes, in what would of necessity be complex document. He could only give him limited help and Adam was already very busy with the new west land apart from the routine legal work. There seemed little point in arguing and so Ben could only plan to rearrange things, so that he with Hoss and Joe carried the rest of the work to leave Adam clear.

Adam got fresh coffee and then asked the others for their ideas of the best route. Al three has been thinking abut it and like Adam they knew every inch of the ground, every gully, every rock, so he valued their advice. It was Joe who really surprised him. Joe had spent the evening drawing a large-scale map of the whole area with, as best he could estimate them, the relative heights of the land. Ben had given him a hand and between them it was remarkably accurate. Adam was most impressed, he knew the hours Joe must have spent on it and it certainly simplified the discussion. For a moment he just stared at it, confirming its accuracy and then he grinned at Joe “That’s excellent. Well done Joe it certainly makes life easier. Looks accurate.”

Joe grinned but in an injured tone he said, “You don’t have to sound so surprised.”

Adam punched him lightly on the shoulder and said, “Right little brother you’ve obviously been thinking about it. Where would you take the pipe?”

Joe put his finger on the Washoe valley “That’s the main problem as I see it. It’s quite a drop and then you’d have to climb back up to town, We’d need heavy pumps and the further we go down the bigger the pump. Unless we build one of those Roman things, you know Adam what were they called?”


“That’s it. Can you imagine one in the Washoe?” Joe’s eyes sparkled at the thought and he giggled, the sound ringing through the house. Seeing Hoss looked totally lost Adam got to his feet and pulled out one of his travel books. He flicked through it until he found the picture he wanted and then passed it to Hoss. “This is what Joe means, That one is in France, but we saw a couple of smaller ones in England.”

Hoss stared at in horror “We can’t build that.”

“We could, it’s no worse than some of the trestles we’ve built, but it would mean bringing in stone and I don’t think it’s very practical. Go on Joe without an aqueduct.”

Joe traced out a route “I think we might be able to skirt south, maybe still need booster pumps but.. That would bring it up to the Lake round here probably.”

Hoss frowned, “That gully is pretty steep Joe, you’ll have to swing north and then swing round it."

Adam sat back watching as his brothers and father heads close together over the map argued and discussed the route. Joe had hit on very much the same line he’d been considering and after a couple of minutes he was drawn into the argument. In some places it was going to be difficult whichever way they went and each had their own views of the relative merits of their chosen route. The discussion got very heated with the three brothers loudly proclaiming their own superior knowledge of the terrain. Ben sat back after a while and watched his sons squabbling. It was a long time since he’d seen it with Adam off in his own home and it brought back many memories. He sat waiting for Adam to quell his brothers; he nearly always did, eventually. Finally Adam told his brothers to shut up, they were both talking at once and trying to drown the other out and they didn’t hear him until Adam yelled, “Shut up.”

Joe and Hoss looked up surprised and Adam said very mildly “You know that’s why I’m spending time doing a preliminary survey to settle just these questions and while it’s interesting to know which of you can shout louder, it won’t move one rock or fill in one gully.”

Ben laughed and brought more coffee “I think we’ve done enough to show it’s probably possible and if it is one of those two routes will be the one. Now it’s up to you Adam.”

“It won’t be easy Pa.”

“If it was it would have been done by now, Let’s leave it for now, I had a telegram from Will this morning. He’s bringing Laura and the kids for Christmas. Can Carole cope or would you rather they stayed here?”

“Carole would hit the roof if I let them Pa. It’s ages since we’ve seen them and she enjoys Laura’s company.”

“Not so long since Meg’s wedding “ commented Hoss. Adam glanced at his brother, still unsure how much that had affected Hoss and then grinned, “Just seems a long time with Joe playing games with tree trunks. No actually I was thinking how long it was since they were here.”

The discussion switched to Christmas and Ben was pleased to see Joe entered into it, seemingly without reservations. It was going to be a different affair from the previous year when he’d missed his sons so much.

Will and Laura arrived two days before Christmas and Adam went alone to collect them. He had been working very hard on the survey, to get as much done as possible before heavy snow covered the ground. He had a mass of paperwork to catch up on, but that could wait for days when the weather wouldn’t let him out of the house. Ben had still refused to let Joe ride out far or do any work, but he made no protest when Joe went over to his brother’s and helped to keep the backlog of paperwork down. Most days Joe spent several hours working in the study before emerging to play with the twins. He was glad to do something useful, but impatient at his seemingly slow recovery. Doc insisted he was doing very well but Joe knew how weak he still was, even if he wouldn’t admit it. He was by no means free of pain from his side either, although he tried to hide it with limited success. Only the night before Adam had tried to console his brother, he knew from experience how long the pain could last and his own unacknowledged fear that it would never leave him, but in time it had. He tried to convince Joe that he too would be fine in time, Joe hadn’t been surprised at Adam’s perception and he in his turn had known that Adam was having more pain than he would admit for a long time. Although he knew that Adam was talking from experience Joe wasn’t convinced, the situation wasn’t identical; he hadn’t taken a bullet.

Will and Laura had heard a brief account of Joe’s accident from Ben and they wanted to know how he was as Adam drove them home. Adam smiled reassuringly “He’s recovering very well. Still rather weak and he lost a lot of weight so you’ll think he looks drawn, but he’s marvellous considering. For a few days Hoss and I didn’t think he’d make it.”

“You look very tired Adam.” commented Laura

“Been busy and I’ve been trying to get ahead this last week, before Christmas.”

Will frowned puzzled, “It’s usually quiet at this time of the year.”

“No need to probe Will. There’s been a suggestion that we run a pipeline from Lake Tahoe to Virginia City, I’m doing a preliminary survey to see whether it’s possible and what the problems will be.”

“Why you?” asked his cousin

“It’s bound to cross the Ponderosa so we’re inevitably involved. Anyway forget it for now, I’ve lived and breathed the blasted survey for the last couple of weeks and I’m going to forget it until after Christmas. What sort of journey did you have?”

They chatted easily and Carole was waiting, delighted to see her friend. They knew she was pregnant and Will commented on how much it suited her, she was blooming. She felt marvellous and that more than anything kept Adam relatively calm, at least in company.

It was the first Christmas for the twins in their own house and Adam was making the most of it. After a large dinner, he sat with his arm round his wife watching the two little boys running around into everything. Mark had found the use of the word ‘Why’ and he was pestering his favourite Uncle unmercifully with continual reiterated questions. After dinner Joe had been a little quiet, remembering Christmas two years ago, but his melancholy wasn’t proof against his nephew. Hoss was being bullied by Will’s twin daughters, Eve and Dawn had ganged up on him, demanding to have a ride and he was down on all fours being a horse. Ben hadn’t escaped either; David was demanding his grandfather’s help with some carved wooden animals that Joe had made for them, and Ben’s attempts to help were perpetually interrupted by questions from Peggy. She was reading a book that Adam had given his father and which she didn’t understand.

Adam sat back amused and catching his cousin’s eye as Carole and Laura chatted, he saw the matching amusement there. Eventually Joe raised his head, having finally pacified Mark, at least for a minute, and considered the scene. His big brother was sweating after a heavy meal but the girls weren’t finished with him and every time Ben bent down to David, Peggy was pulling at his arm, while the other four adults sat back in comfort, Adam and Will sipping brandy. Joe frowned “There’s something wrong in all this.”

Adam grinned “Why? It seems fine to me.”

“It would! How come we do all the work while you four take your ease? They are your kids.”

Adam smiled broadly, showing his dimples, “You enjoy it Little Joe and on Christmas Day I feel generous.”   Joe raised a cushion and Adam held his glass up “Careful Joe.”

“Coward he even hides behind brandy.”

Hoss sat up blowing hard “I don’t care if he hides behind it, if he’ll just go and get me one. Reckon I’ve earned it the hard way.”

Adam laughed as Hoss mopped his face, but he went to do as he was asked. Ben was revelling in having all his sons round him and content, even Joe seemed to be enjoying himself.

The next day Joe enjoyed the usual Boxing Day party even though he wasn’t strong enough to dance as much as usual. He laughed off his father’s queries, he was fine. Several of the local girls had set their caps at him since the summer dances. He was clearly back in circulation and he’d proved he was the marrying kind. In all ways he was quite a catch but Joe wasn’t co-operating. He spread his interest widely, quite willing to flirt but not tempted to go any further. Adam watched with amusement the various enticements handed out to Joe but he couldn’t imagine his brother falling for any of them. After Marie it was going to take a very special girl to attract his brother. As people began to move and head home Joe had a quiet word with Adam; he was exhausted and heading for bed. Adam promised to tell their father and stop him worrying. He thought Joe was being sensible, it would be at least another hour before the last of the guests left and Joe was so tired he was shivering slightly. Half an hour later Adam spared time to pop up and check on his brother. Joe was sleeping peacefully and Adam tucked the blankets a little tighter round him and felt his brother’s forehead. Joe had already warmed up and he was fine. Adam stood staring at him for a while. Living half a mile away, it was a long time since he had popped into check on his little brother and it brought back so many memories. He gently smoothed his brother’s hair back and then went on down not wanting to worry his father.

Ben had noticed Joe leave and as Adam came down, he looked questioningly across at Adam, who smiled and came over. “My little brother is showing some common sense, not before time. He was whacked so he went on up, sleeping like a baby.”

“Is he alright Adam?”

“He’s fine Pa. Just a little low on stamina, after all we weren’t exactly early last night.” Ben heard the words but he got the confirmation he needed from Adam’s eyes and relaxing he went to see Beth off,

Over the next week Adam got up early and managed three hours surveying before joining the others for a late breakfast and a lazy day. He usually managed to get a couple of hours paperwork done while the children were fed and dispatched to bed. Joe came over most days to work with him and once the main chores were done Ben and Hoss joined them. The time went by all too quickly and Hoss took Will and Laura into town to start their journey home as his brother was busy.

With Joe’s help Adam had made considerable inroads into the survey of the Lake. Adam wanted to get the sales negotiated so they could run a pilot scheme during the summer. Ben was planning to go to San Francisco in a few weeks on other business and Joe was going to go along. Between them they would buy the land provided Adam could finish the paperwork for them. Adam would have preferred to do it himself but with Carole pregnant he didn’t want to be so far away and he knew his father and Joe were perfectly capable of handling it. Ben was intending leaving in the last week of January and as Hoss saw Will and Laura of they at least knew they would be seeing two of the Cartwrights in the near future as Will insisted that his Uncle come and stay.

Ben had been very dubious about allowing Joe to come with him but there were several other outstanding pieces of business to clear most urgently their main contract for timber that year. It was signed but several problems had arisen and he needed to be on the spot. Ben couldn’t help worrying about Joe, knowing he was still not completely recovered, but since Christmas Joe had been regaining his strength rapidly and he wasn’t tiring nearly as easily. Ben had talked it over with his eldest son who had been working with Joe and Adam was sure his brother could cope. Eventually Ben gave way, knowing that with the land as well he would need help if he wasn’t to be stuck in Frisco for months. Joe’s delight at his decision had confirmed to Ben that it was the right decision.

For now he left Adam and Joe free to work through the paperwork, the snow preventing any further survey work anyway and Ben himself settled to plan the year’s work in outline. As Joe had pointed out it showed every sign of being a very busy one, but Ben was very content his ranch successful, all other business going well and even more important his sons settled and happy.