San Francisco Trip

by Lyn Robinson


Ben was busy working on the outline plan for the year before he headed to San Francisco with his youngest son. Joe was still working with his eldest brother trying to complete the paperwork, which would allow them to buy the land they wanted on the west shore of Lake Tahoe. Hoss was handling all the routine work at the ranch but despite his moans he had few problems. José and Jess had a number of men in the number one bunkhouse, who opted to stay throughout the year, and Hoss had plenty of help.


Ben was hoping that Joe would be fit enough on their return from Frisco to go out and help Hoss with the marking up, by then Carole would be getting near term and Adam wouldn’t be able to leave her. He had discussed the possibilities with his elder sons, knowing Joe would insist he’d be fine but they both felt that for once Joe might be right and he planned on that assumption.

Adam and Joe made a determined effort to clear the paperwork while Ben ensured they were left free. Working close together in Adam’s study day after day Joe had a chance to assess just how worried Adam was about his wife. At first Joe thought it was an act, both he and his father had expected Adam to become tense and very worried, but gradually Joe came to the conclusion that it wasn’t, Adam was remarkably calm. Slightly uneasy but none of the terror that had haunted him in her first pregnancy, which Joe had expected to hit his brother again after Carole’s near fatal miscarriage. Eventually Joe mentioned the subject and Adam, who’d been surprised himself how certain he was that everything would be fine this time, smiled at his brother. “It’s not an act Joe. I’m just not that worried. Odd isn’t it?”


“I could see that or I wouldn’t have mentioned it, but on past form...”


Adam grinned “I know I should be beginning to climb the walls. I can only think it’s Carole’s own certainty which is rubbing off on me.”


“It didn’t with the twins.”


“I’ve known her a lot longer now, maybe we’re closer. Anyway in my own defence, I would point out I wasn’t exactly fit then.”


Joe grinned, “It didn’t matter, but I’m just glad you aren’t so worried now. If it means anything I’m sure you haven’t anything to worry about.


Little Joe might have been right about Carole but as a general prophet he proved lousy, for within hours both brothers were very worried.


Joe rode home just at dusk and went up for a wash before dinner. Ben and Hoss had gone to town to complete some routine business and collect supplies and Joe expected them any time. He hoped they wouldn’t be long as he was starving but he wasn’t surprised to be home first. The road to town was rough at this time of year and there had been heavy snow, which never helped with a wagon. Joe was just drying his face when he heard José yell to him from downstairs. Something in his friend’s voice chilled Joe and he ran downstairs taking the towels with him.

José knew Joe wasn’t fully fit and didn’t want to shock his friend bit it wasn’t easy to avoid it. In fact Joe was well prepared for trouble by the expression on José’s face “What’s wrong?”


“The buckboard horses just came in, harness broke, still trailing a piece of the wagon. Pretty blown, they’ve run some way.”


“Oh God.” Fear for his father and brother gripped Joe and for a moment he found it hard to get his breath.


José went on “Kirk’s saddling Cochise, the rest of the guys are saddling up and I’ve sent Jess over to tell Adam. Joe nodded; José had done all he could. He went to strap on his gun and get his coat, not realising how white he’d gone; José worried gripped his arm “Are you alright Joe? Do you want a drink?”


Joe pulled away and put his coat on, not even answering, and hurried out to Cochise. José followed all he could do was stay close by Joe and hope that Adam would get there soon to look after his brother. Jess would be there by now he hadn’t wasted his time saddling up, riding over bareback.


Adam was working quietly in his study when Jess burst in unceremoniously and in a few brief words explained. Adam wasted no time, scared for his father and Hoss and to a lesser extent worried about Joe. “Saddle Blackie for me Jess.”


“Sure” Jess hurried out while Adam went to pull on his boots and get his coat and gun. He told Carole what had happened “I’ll leave Jess to help you bring the twins over to the main house. We’ll bring them home unless town is closer, either way I’ll send word, soon as I know anything.” He kissed her and then hurried out to find Blackie ready; as he swung up he said


“Thanks Jess. Help Carole with the twins will you, she’s going to take them to the main house.”

Jess nodded and Adam left at a run, he let Blackie stretch out and the horse responded eagerly as though sensing his master’s impatience. Adam cut straight through to the road from town and as he came out of the trees he saw a dozen men a little way ahead. He recognised Cochise and at a word of encouragement Blackie increased his pace and Adam soon pulled in next to Joe; much to the relief of the others who were scared Joe was on the verge of collapse. Adam took in his brother’s white face and reached over to grip his arm “Easy Joe. Don’t go assuming the worst. We’ll find them soon.”


“I’m fine.”


“Sure you are, just take it easy.”


Joe relaxed slightly with his brother there to deal with whatever had happened. They could see the traces of the runaway horses in the snow and it was only a couple of minutes before the dark mass of the buckboard showed against the snow. Both brothers kicked on as they saw it and Blackie and Cochise surged ahead of the rest. The brothers dismounted almost before the horses came to a stop. One wheel had come off the buckboard and it had turned over. Adam ran to his father who was lying trapped by the wagon, which was across his legs. Ben was conscious but much more concerned by his big son, who had been thrown off as the wagon went over to fall a little distance away and hadn’t stirred since. Joe had gone to Hoss and Ben said, “I’m okay. Hoss?”


Joe called over “Knocked himself out. He’ll be fine, strong pulse.”


Ben relaxed slightly and Adam gripped his shoulder “Easy Pa. Let’s get the wagon off you, see what the damage is.” There were plenty of willing hands and Adam sent one back to the ranch to tell Carole and to collect another wagon with straw and blankets to get his father and brother home. Then he ordered another to go to town and fetch Doc. José had brought medical supplies but it was too cold to do much on the spot. All Adam could do was assess the damage and get them home without causing any more.


Adam pushed some branches in to try and ease the pressure on his father and had the men get ropes round the wagon. Joe left Adam to handle that and rapidly examined his big brother to try and find out what was wrong. Adam slipped in next to his father and checked when he was clear. Then with Jose’s help he lifted Ben clear. José had put thick blankets down and they put Ben on them. The men pulled the wagon upright once Ben was clear but Adam was oblivious of them as he knelt down by his father to try and see what was wrong. He felt his father’s pulse which was strong and steady. Ben’s senses were swimming but scared for Hoss he got a grip on himself




“Joe’s with him. He’ll be fine, now what about you. Where does it hurt Pa?”


“My left knee mainly.”


“Hold on. I’m just going to have a look. I’ll try not to hurt.” Adam told José to hold his father and he very gently felt his father’s legs. The left knee was already badly swollen but at least he couldn’t feel any breaks. It seemed to be badly twisted but Adam didn’t want to risk trying to correct it. Doc would be there soon and it was safer to leave it for him. Hs father had a cut on the side of his head and Adam got a bandage on that to stop the bleeding. From his quick check he couldn’t find anything else although he was sure Ben would be badly bruised and he was certainly very shaken. As he tied the bandage Ben pushed him away “I’m fine Adam. Please go and check Hoss.”


“Sure. José?”


“I’ll stay with him.”


Adam nodded and hurried over to his brothers. Joe looked up “How’s Pa?”


“Badly twisted his left knee, cut on the side of his head, He’s more worried about Hoss. How is he?”


“I can’t find much wrong, couple of cracked ribs and he’s taken a blow on the head. Some rocks here where he landed. He’s out cold.”


Adam felt gently round the bruised and swollen side of Hoss’ head but it felt firm enough “I don’t think it’s too bad. Hell of a knock, no wonder he’s still out, but I don’t think anything is broken.”


“That’s what I made it and his ribs seem to be just cracked.”


“I’ll try and reassure Pa. There’s nothing much we can do except get them both home and in the warm, quick as we can. Doc won’t be long with luck. Where the hell’s that wagon?”


“Give them a chance Adam.”


“You okay Joe, you’re more pale than Hoss?”


“I’m fine now. I was scared but it doesn’t seem too bad.”


Adam nodded and went back to his father, trying hard to reassure him, although he didn’t succeed very well. Then to his relief the wagon appeared from the ranch. Kirk had had it ready in case Adam wanted one and it was exactly what he’d requested. Adam got two of the hands to help him and José and they lifted Ben very carefully between them, Adam concentrating on protecting Ben’s injured leg, However careful they were the move hurt Ben and he broke out in a cold sweat. Adam wrapped blankets round him and wiped his face. “Easy Pa, soon have you home and Doc’s on his way. I’ll go and get Hoss.”


Adam flatly refused to let Joe help lift his brother, they had plenty of help and it was silly to take risks. “I don’t want to be the only fit Cartwright. Go and try and keep Pa calm.”


Joe nodded and went over to the wagon, Ben was trying to see what was happening and Joe held him still, “Trust Adam he’s got it under control.”


“You alright Joseph?”


“Fine. I haven’t been crashing buckboards.”


“My fault I was driving.”


“Hey easy Pa. Don’t start catching Adam’s habit, one in the family is more than enough. Just how is it your fault when a wheel disintegrates? No great harm done with any luck. Just lie still Hoss is going to be fine, he’s always had a thick skull.”


Adam with plenty of help carried his big brother over to the wagon and Joe helped guide his body in to lie next to Ben. Ben felt Hoss’ pulse but it was strong and steady, just a little slow and he let his sons wrap their brother up warmly. José said, “Do you want me to drive Adam?”


“Yes, take it steady.” Adam and Joe sat down and steadied their patients, Adam dealing with his big brother, while Joe held their father. Ben found it very painful but he was determined not to worry his son anymore, sure Joe was not fit, in fact was almost in shock. Adam was equally worried about Joe but there was nothing he could do until they got home apart from wrapping a blanket round his little brother’s shoulders. Joe looked up startled and Adam smiled “Pull it round Joe, you look cold.” Joe hadn’t even realised until then but he was glad for the blanket. All of them were glad to see the lights of the house.


Jess had taken Carole and the twins over and she had helped Hop Sing to get everything ready. On hearing that Adam wanted a wagon and was bringing them home, Carole had got the beds warmed but then she could only sit and wait.


As soon as Jess heard the wagon he went out to help Adam and with José he got in to the wagon. The two friends carefully handed Ben down to Adam, Adam held his father as carefully as he could trying to protect Ben’s injured knee, but it wasn’t easy to get his father upstairs. Adam felt his father tense against the pain and he was greatly relieved to get his father lying down on his own bed. Then he left Joe to help their father get undressed. If it was difficult to manage Ben, Adam contemplated his big brother with misgivings. There was no way he could carry Hoss upstairs without help and he sighed, “Jess can you help me, take his legs.” Between then they slowly moved Hoss up to his own big bed. Jess straightened up “I’m glad we didn’t have to carry him far.”


“Thanks Jess.”


“Do you want a hand to get him into bed?”


“Please, just let me have a word with Carole.” Adam went out to find his wife collecting some brandy. He frowned but Carole smiled “For Little Joe, he looks as though he needs it. Hop Sing is bringing some coffee.”


Adam went over and finished the job of getting his father into bed. Not wanting to take any chances, he cut his father’s trousers away and then he was able to see the extent of the damage. Ben’s legs were badly bruised and cut. Adam did what he could for them and then wrapped Ben up warmly, glad to see Carole insisting on Joe drinking some coffee and keeping him quiet in the chair. Adam kissed her forehead “Stay with them, I’ll see to Hoss.”


With Jess’ help he stripped his brother. José brought some hot water and he bathed a couple of grazes but there was very little he could do, only put some ointment on the worst bruises and wrap Hoss warmly, Joe was right apart from Hoss’ head the only damage seemed to be two cracked ribs. Hoss wasn’t even badly bruised having landed in snow apart from the couple of rocks, which had done the damage. Adam was torn not knowing which of his family needed him most, but trusting Carole, he stayed with Hoss. He could only pray that the bang on Hoss’ head wasn’t worse than he thought. He didn’t have too long to worry as the Doc arrived. Knowing his father’s reaction, Adam took him to see Hoss first. Paul examined him carefully and concurred with the brothers’ diagnosis. Adam was helping Doc to strap up the injured ribs when for the first time Hoss stirred. Slowly the big man opened his eyes and pulled a face. Adam moved quickly to dim the lights and gave his brother a few sips of water.. “Easy Hoss, just relax, you’ve had a bang on the head.”


Hoss felt his aching head, that was an understatement but he slowly relaxed against Adam and then he remembered “Pa?”


“He’s fine, just twisted his knee. Joe’s with him.”


Doc leant over Hoss and checked his vision. Hoss couldn’t seem to focus and he felt a bit sick, aching all over with a splitting headache, but he insisted he was fine. Adam patted his shoulder


“Sure you are Hoss, or at least you will be in a few days and that’s all that matters. For now you’d better get some rest.”




“Don’t you trust me now? I’ll look after everything you get some sleep. Carole will be here if you want anything.”


Hoss only really wanted to sleep but still uncertain, he forced himself to focus on Adam’s face,

What he saw reassured him and he let Adam and Doc settle him down and wrap him up, then he quickly slipped into sleep.


Adam took Doc across to his own room before going to his father “Well Doc?”


“You said it, he’ll be fine. He’s got a bad concussion and he needs to stay in bed and rest for four or five days, then take it easy for a couple of weeks. He’s a big man to take a fall like that and he’s been badly shaken but not serious.”


“Don’t worry Pa.”


“I’ve known your father almost as long as you have Adam. I won’t gloss over it and I won’t worry him, there’s no need.”


“When you’ve seen Pa will you check Joe for me, it’s hit him very hard.”


”Of course Adam. Let’s see your father and stop worrying.” Adam took Doc over and asked Carole to sit with Hoss. At least the twins were sleeping peacefully.  Ben insisted on knowing how Hoss was before he’d let Doc look at him, but once Doc had assured him that there was nothing seriously wrong; that Hoss had come round and was now sleeping, he let Doc check.

Doc probed the cut on his head but it wasn’t too bad and after putting in a couple of stitches, Doc bandaged it up. Then Adam pulled back the bedclothes and Paul smiled “You’ve done a good job between you, no need for me to interfere. Now let’s see what you have done to that knee.”

The lower leg was at a strange angle and the kneecap seemed to have slipped to one side. The whole area being very swollen made it difficult for Paul to determine the extent of the damage. Adam sat on the bed and held his father steady as Paul probed the injury as gently as he could. Eventually he sat back and said “Nothing broken but we’ve got to put it back. I’m sorry Ben it’s going to hurt.”


Adam glanced at Joe wishing he could get his brother out of it, but he knew there was no way, and asked Paul what he wanted them to do. Doc frowned wondering which way to do it but then he made up his mind “Right Adam I want you to lift you father and support him against you hold him steady. Joe you can help by massaging the muscles in your father’s thigh, it helps to minimise muscle spasms, makes it easier to get the bone back. Then I’m going to pull your leg gently Ben so that the bones slide into their right place. If we’re lucky the kneecap will pop back into place on its own as your leg is straightened, if not I’ll ease it back. Okay is everyone ready.”

The brothers did as they were told, Doc moved very slowly as it was so swollen and he knew it was hurting Ben but gradually he straightened the leg and to his relief saw the kneecap move back into position. Ben bit hard on his belt and endured and it seemed to take forever but eventually it was done and Doc told Joe to move out of the way so he could bandage the knee for support. Adam continued to support his father but signalled Joe to get a damp cloth and wipe their father’s face. Ben pulled out the belt but he was still breathing hard as he fought for control, determined not to worry his youngest son.


As Doc finished, Adam eased away from behind his father and settled pillows to support him and pulled up blankets. Ben was white, even to his lips, but he said, “That feels better.”


Doc grinned, “We could all do with a drop of that brandy Adam. Why don’t you go and get some glasses.”


Adam nodded and fetched some and then fed his father two large glasses, glad to see some colour coming back to his father’s lips. Paul considered Ben knowing that his advice wasn’t going to be welcome “That’s a bad twist Ben and it’s going to need time to heal. Stay in bed for the next week and off your feet for at least a week after that. Then I’ll have a look but you won’t be riding for at least a month.”


Ben looked up alarmed, thinking of all they’d arranged but Adam said “Easy Pa, we’ll sort it out when you’ve had some rest. Time you settled down, I’ll be staying for a day or two and Joe and I can cope with everything, so don’t worry.”


Ben nodded and settled down closing his eyes. Adam tucked him in “I’ll leave your door open, if you want me call. Try and get some sleep.”


They went out and Adam took Joe into his own room with Doc following. Joe protested that he was fine but Doc said “Come on Joe spare me five minutes if only to keep your brother quiet. He’s worried enough.”


Begrudgingly Joe agreed and co-operated as Paul quickly checked him over. Paul smiled at the younger man, “Not too bad Joe, you need a good night’s sleep and try to relax, but you’ll do.”


Adam went down with Doc rather surprised at his reaction. Paul smiled “Not really anything to worry about Adam, but get a light meal into him and get him to bed. A small dose of laudanum to make sure he sleeps wouldn’t come amiss. You’re right he’s verging on shock but keep him quiet tomorrow and he’ll be fine, sorry to land you with all three.”


Adam sighed “Its not exactly your fault Paul, we’ll manage.”


“No need to sit up with any of them although you’ll need to check Ben’s lower leg frequently, say every hour to begin with and then every couple of hours to make certain that the circulation is alright. If there is any numbness or loss of sensation, or lack of a pulse in the foot, then you’ll need to loosen the splint slightly. If it’s fine after say six hours, then you don’t need to worry anymore. He may run a slight fever but nothing to worry about.”


“Thanks for coming out so fast Paul.”


“I’ll be out in three days, see how they are. If you’re worried let me know but I don’t expect any problems.”


Adam thanked him and once Doc had gone he had a word with Hop Sing and arranged for food.

Then he went back up to find Carole and Joe. Both Hoss and Ben were sleeping and Adam told Carole to go on down food would be on the table. They would be able to hear if anyone called and he was fairly sure neither his father nor Hoss would stir for a while at least. Then Adam went to find Joe, who was still in his room.


Little Joe had relaxed slightly now both his father and brother were safe in their own beds and despite his protests to Doc, he found himself shaking as he tried to get dressed and he couldn’t stop. Adam saw as soon as he poked his head in the door and went to fetch the brandy. He poured a stiff one and then sat down next to his brother. He put his arm round his brother and forced Joe to drink it. Joe lent against his brother and slowly calmed down but for once he didn’t really argue when Adam said “Bed for you Joe”


“I’m fine.”


“Sure you are but there’s nothing more we can do tonight, Pa and Hoss will sleep until morning, so you get into bed. I’ll bring you up a tray and then you get some sleep. That way you’ll be fit to help me in the morning, when I need help.”


“What about you?”


“Carole and I will be next door, the twins are already asleep. I’ll leave my door open and I’ll hear if either of them want anything. Be sensible Joe it was a shock and you’re not strong enough to take one without some reaction.”


Joe nodded and let Adam help him into bed. He could only manage half the omelette Adam brought but he drank the broth and the hot milk complete with its laudanum. When Adam collected the tray his brother was already drowsy and the others were both fast asleep so Adam went back down to his wife. On his instructions Carole was making out a list of things for Adam to collect so they could stay for a few days. He knew she could cope for half an hour and wanted some fresh air, it had come as a shock for him too.


As he rode home Adam tried to think how to rearrange things. His father certainly wouldn’t be fit enough to go to Frisco for quite sometime, certainly no chance in the next three days and the days events had shown that Joe wasn’t fit enough to go alone, even if he could pass all the work to his younger brother. Meetings were already arranged and would have to be delayed but they couldn’t be put off for long. If Carole hadn’t been pregnant he would have gone himself but he couldn’t just leave her. Adam frantically weighed his various loyalties and the jobs to be done but found himself thinking round in circles. He shook himself he had a lot to be grateful for. When he rode out he had been scared for the lives of his father and big brother and they’d escaped with minor injuries.


When he got back Carole had just checked and all three were sleeping although Ben had a slight fever. She frowned at her husband “Come and sit down. You look as though you’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders.”


“No, just the Ponderosa.”


“It could be a lot worse.”


“I’ve been telling myself that all the way back. Don’t look so worried pet, I’m just tired and I guess it was a shock for me too. More important how are you and the baby?”


“We’re fine, She’s an awkward miss enjoys any excitement and kicks out hard, but I don’t care.”


She took Adam’s hand and held it to her stomach and he could feel the baby kicking Adam smiled “It’s wonderful.”


“You know I’m going to be fine don’t you? You’re not even very worried, not this time.”


“No you are so sure and I guess I’ve learnt to trust you.”


“I’m very fit and you can feel that the baby is healthy."


Adam frowned and studied her intently, “What are you getting at Carole?”


“San Francisco. The baby isn’t due until May. You’d be back by the beginning of March.”


Adam just stared at her and Carole snuggled up close “It’s the only way darling. You might as well admit it and then maybe you won’t lie awake all night trying to think it out. I’ll move back here if it would make you happier. I shall have to the first couple of weeks, to keep an eye on Pa and Hoss.”


Adam hesitated “I don’t know.”


“I don’t see that you have any choice Adam. You’re the only one fit enough to go and it has to be done. You’ll be back before the work picks up here. Jess and José will do that bit more to cover and Pa will be able to organise things from the house.”


“And Joe?”


“The arguments for Pa taking him still hold. You won’t get through by the end of February without him; it’ll be nearer the end of March. Not that it would matter, but you’d be fretting.”

Adam bit his lip “Leaves you with two sick men, the twins, and six months pregnant.”


“Don’t you trust me? I also have Hop Sing and Kam Su on call, to say nothing of a bunkhouse full, with some very good friends.”


Adam hesitated, in some ways her arguments made sense and neither his Father nor Hoss were seriously ill. Carole smiled “I had a word with Doc before he left. He said I’m disgustingly healthy and there’s nothing to worry about. I suggest you put of your trip for one day. See Doc when he comes out and by then Pa and Hoss will be well on the way to recovery. Then you and Joe can go without worrying,”


Adam pulled her close and buried his face in her hair. He didn’t want to leave her for a month or more while she was pregnant even though he had a job to do, but he was more grateful than he could ever say for her insistence that he do his job and not be tied by her. She had always given him the freedom to do his share around the ranch and help his family, but in this, by making his decision for him she had gone even further and Adam was immensely proud of his wife. It wouldn’t be easy to leave her but when she had proved so strong he could only accept it, not throw her gift back in her face. He kissed her “Alright my Love I agree and thank you. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such a clever wife.”


“I’ll look after Pa and Hoss for you.”


“I know that and you’ll look after yourself and our baby.”


“Our daughter.”


“Don’t be too disappointed if you’re wrong.”


“You have no faith Adam Cartwright!” she tilted her nose in high dudgeon but the effect was spoilt as he kissed it. “Come on bed. You must be tired and I know I am.”


Adam checked all his family before going to bed and left both doors open. Three times during the night he got up, once to Joe who seemed to be having a nightmare and twice to his father.

Adam calmed Joe down holding him still and talking to him but Joe didn’t really wake up, just slipping into a more peaceful sleep. The first time Ben was just tossing round and Adam quietened him, turning the pillow and tucking him up without Ben waking, but the second time his father was awake and very thirsty. Adam got him a drink and loosened the bandage on his knee slightly where it was hurting. Adam had put some laudanum in the drink and Ben soon became drowsy. Adam sat by his father until he was asleep and then checked his brothers and his sons before going back to bed himself. Hoss hadn’t stirred all night and although Carole was vaguely aware of her husband getting up, she didn’t really wake up until the twins did the next morning. For once the little boys got almost instant attention as their parents whisked them downstairs, before they woke anyone else.


The twins were fed and Adam and Carole had had their own breakfast before there was any sound from upstairs. Adam went to investigate to find Hoss was awake and very restless. He was slightly feverish and wanted to know how his father was. Adam gave him some water “Pa’s still sleeping. Just relax Hoss everything is fine, I’m going to leave your curtains drawn today.” Adam had helped his brother to sit up slightly and now pushed pillows to support him. Hoss shut his eyes as everything went round on him and Adam steadied him for a moment and gradually Hoss opened his eyes again. “I’m not too sure my head belongs to me. In fact I wish it didn’t.”


“You took a hell of a bang Hoss, bad concussion and its going to take a few days to clear. Couple of cracked ribs and a general bad shaking. I know you ache all over, so just try and relax.”


That about summed it up and Hoss relaxed back and let Adam straighten his bed, he couldn’t remember exactly what had happened, just that his father had been there and he asked Adam for details. Adam shrugged “The wheel broke and somehow the wagon turned over, snow was drifting quite badly. Pa will fill in the details but I haven’t asked him yet, he got off with a cut on his head and a badly twisted knee. Doc has put it back but he’s going to have to stay off it for a couple of weeks, he was trapped by the wagon, you were thrown clear. Unfortunately you found a couple of rocks to land on.”


“He is alright?”


“Exactly what I told you, he was conscious when we got there. It’s really only his knee otherwise he’s a lot better than you are. Luckily the horses pulled free and came home. Now what do you want, coffee, food?”


“Just some coffee.”


Adam went to fetch it and Hoss drank three cups before putting his cup down. “Where’s Joe, why are you here?”


“Joe’s still asleep. Carole and I have moved in for a few days with the twins. Bit of a shock and Joe’s still not strong so I packed him off to bed with a dose of laudanum, just to be on the safe side.


Adam saw anxiety flare and gripped his brother’s arm “Easy Hoss, he’s alright. I expect he’ll be up soon. Trust me everything is under control.”


Hoss shut his eyes, even the limited light was making them ache and his head was throbbing. Within five minutes he’d dozed off again and Adam gently removed one pillow and pulled the blankets up. He was glad to see it, the best thing for Hoss, who would sleep off the worst of his pain, and Adam knew his big brother’s recuperative powers.


As he came out Adam saw Joe opposite, looking considerably better. Joe glanced in and saw that Hoss was asleep so he went down with Adam asking how they were. Adam filled him in, he didn’t expect their father to wake for several hours after the drug late in the night, Joe accepted that and settled to a good breakfast. When he was on coffee he broached the subject of their commitments in San Francisco. Joe had been awake for quite a while before he emerged and had decided that the only way to cover things was for him to handle Frisco on his own. He was slightly on the defensive, not sure that his brother would trust him with so much important business and even slightly doubtful of his own capabilities. “I’ll have to go to Frisco alone. It’ll take a bit longer.”


“No Joe.”


Joe flared up at his brother “Don’t you trust me?”


Adam smiled “You know I do, but you would be very pushed for the same reason Pa was taking you along. It’s a two-man job and you’re not strong enough to take the risk of going all that way alone. It’s a long ride.”


“I could get the stage to Sacramento and then the steamer or even stage to Reno and get the train.” Joe’s side ached at the thought of the stage, he knew how much it would take out of him, even the wagon had caught at him.


“I think you’d be better on horseback. You know how rough the stages are.”


Joe sighed heavily “That’s all very well but you can’t leave Carole and Hoss won’t be fit enough for at least ten days so what choice do I have?”


“More than me it seems. Carole has given me my orders, the only practical solution. I come instead of Pa.”


Joe looked at his eldest brother as though he had lost his mind; “You can’t leave Carole alone and what about Pa and Hoss?”


Adam smiled seeing his little brother’s disbelief “Carole is going to move back here until we get back, We are to wait one extra day until Doc’s been out again, by which time Pa and Hoss will be on the mend and she will keep them under control.”


“But she’s six months pregnant!”

Adam couldn’t help the grin, “I had noticed Little Joe, but as she said we will be back well before the baby is due and she is perfectly fit and able to cope.”

Little Joe sat back astounded that his brother would think of leaving Carole and going so far away, with no hope of getting back fast in an emergency. “You can’t.”


“You try telling Carole.”


Carole had been listening from the kitchen, much amused, and she came in and kissed Joe. “I wish you’d all stop trying to treat me like a piece of fragile china, I’m fine and I shall remain that way. I’ll take care of Pa and Hoss while you two go and get the work done.”


“But Carole..”


“No buts Joe.” She interrupted, “It’s the only way, otherwise the whole year is going to be thrown out of step, that’s bad enough when there’s a reason but I don’t need Adam at the moment, not for the next couple of months.”


Adam snorted “Marvellous. What are you trying to do to me?”


Carole giggled “You know what I mean.”


“Maybe, but it could have been more tactfully phrased! See what I mean Joe, no choice I’m a hen-pecked husband.”


Joe gave way at that, he had been dreading the long journey alone and scared he would find too many problems to manage. As Adam was set on going and seemed not too worried, he accepted Carole’s decision.


Ben woke later, his leg was on fire and he had a splitting headache but his main worry was just how they were going to manage. He blamed himself for the momentary inattention, which had taken them into the drift. He wasn’t too sure exactly what had happened, it was all a blur, but the effects were disastrous. He forced himself to eat some breakfast, not wanting to worry his sons, and drank several cups of coffee more willingly. Joe had offered to tell their father what was planned but Adam knew that he would have more chance of convincing Ben that everything was alright.


As Ben finished his coffee they heard Hoss call out and Joe went over to him. Carole was downstairs with the twins and Adam sat back by his father's bed. "Stop worrying Pa you both got off remarkably lightly.”


“Well at least Joe looks better.”


“Just needed a good night’s sleep, he’s still not got all his strength back.”


“It’s just the timing Adam, especially with Joe not fully fit.”


“I told you to stop worrying. It’s all arranged. I’ll go with Joe to Frisco, we can cope. The pipe survey will be held up a bit, but I can take the papers with me and there’s not much I can do on the ground in this weather.”

Ben frowned, “You?”


“It’s the only sensible thing Pa. after all normally I would have handled it.”


“How about Carole?”


“She arranged it and gave Joe and I our orders. She’s going to move back here with the twins until I get back. Keep you and Hoss under control.” Adam smiled.

Ben stared hard at his son, unsure how he really felt, “You don’t mind leaving her?”


“That’s putting it a bit high. Of course I mind, but she’s fine and Doc says she will stay that way, more importantly so does Carole. I’m not that worried and I know in an emergency you’ll be here. It’s long odds against there being one and I’ll accept them. It’s the only practical solution Pa and we’ll be back before the baby is due. Even if she’s early I’d be here.”


“I’m not sure Adam.”


“I’ve already had this argument with Joe. I’ll tell you what I told him, I have no choice. This is Carole’s decision and I won’t throw it back in her face.”


Ben understood how his son felt and he could hear in Adam’s voice his pride in his wife.


“Alright. We’re all very lucky, you found one very special woman.”


Adam grinned delightedly but then made his father settle down again. They weren’t going for three days so there was plenty of time to sort out details.


Doc was well pleased with their progress when he came back, but he insisted that they both stay in bed for another couple of days, despite Ben’s protestations that he had to get downstairs with both Adam and Joe away.  Paul warned him that he would be in bed for a lot longer than two days if he tried to overdo it too soon, reminding him how often he had forced his sons to be patient. Carole who had been helping out insisted that she could mange and Doc laughed “I don’t doubt it.”


Before he left Paul had a word with Adam, wanting to know where the brothers were going; Adam frowned worriedly “San Francisco. I’d rather wait for a few days but we have business which really can’t wait.”


“How are you travelling?”




“Long way on horseback.”


“Easier than stagecoach, especially for Joe.”


“Its him I thinking of, he’s not strong yet.”


“That’s why we are going tomorrow so we can do it in stages, I know he’s not fully fit but he won’t take any harm will he? Pa was going to take him.”


Paul smiled reassuringly “I shouldn’t think so, just don’t push too hard and keep an eye on him. How long will you be away?”


“Four or five weeks. Carole is staying here.”


“She’ll be fine, you don’t need to worry about her.”


Adam smiled, grateful for the confirmation, “Thanks Doc.”


The next morning Adam and Joe got an early start. They had promises from José and Jess that they would help Carole and keep an eye on the invalids and even though she would have her hands full for the first few days the brothers had complete confidence in her ability to cope. Joe had been riding every day since his father had agreed to take him along, making sure that he had sufficient stamina for the journey. Cochise and Blackie seemed to have got used to each other without any effort from their riders. Joe commented “He’s a derned good looker, pity he didn’t pass it on.”


“Mongrel blood somewhere I guess. Still they say mongrels can be the most intelligent and strong. He's showing every sign of both, very easy to teach.”


“I began to wonder when you’d replace Sport.”


“For a time I didn’t intend to, but there’s no real choice.”


“I know how hard it must have been to shoot him. Do you remember that white Arab we were getting Pa?”


“That’s good few years back. He was a beauty.”


“He carried me so well.”


Adam nodded knowing that his brother knew how he’d felt not that he’d ever doubted it. Joe had had to shoot the stallion when a bullet broke his leg and Adam could still remember the long search for his brother when they’d heard the Indians were on the rampage across his route. Joe had been very young then and Adam had blamed himself bitterly for letting Joe go alone.

Adam had decided to take the southerly route to Frisco via Genoa and the south of Lake Tahoe. It was slightly easier apart from the stretch just south west of the lake, particularly at this time of the year and he was determined not to let his brother overdo things. Ben had intended taking four days over the two hundred odd miles and despite leaving a day later Adam intended doing the same. He had telegraphed Frisco and postponed the only appointment affected by telegram. Joe had insisted that he could do it easily but by mid-afternoon he was tiring rapidly.  They had only come just over thirty-five miles but that included the hard trek over Echo summit so Adam began considering possible campsites. He had brought a small tent along, although he wouldn’t normally have bothered but he needed somewhere dry and sheltered to pitch it. Finally he remembered a small butte just south of the main trail and to Joe’s surprise he said, “We’ll cut south here.”


“That’s not the way.”


“Good camp site, time we thought about stopping.”


“It’s too early. The horses are fine, we can make another ten miles, camp up by the waterfall.”


“The horses are fine Joe, but you aren’t.”


“I’m okay” Joe protested but Adam just grinned, “Sure and let’s keep it that way. It’s a long ride no point in tiring yourself out the first day.”


“We won’t make it in four days at this rate.”


Adam shrugged “Easier going once we are out of the Sierra’s. We can make up time and anyway I can always telegraph ahead if we can’t. Nothing important until the afternoon anyway so if we don’t get there until lunch time it won’t matter.”


Joe was sore and tired, his side aching more than he’d expected and he gave way. Long after Joe was fast asleep Adam sat rechecking the figures from the lake survey and worrying how his brother would stand up to the long journey. In fact Joe seemed fine the next morning and on the lower ground they made better time and managed over fifty miles before Adam called a halt. Despite the longer ride Joe still looked better than he had the previous day.


They rode into town on the fourth day and made their way to Will and Laura’s. Little Joe was bone weary but he’d taken no harm and Adam knew that he’d have several weeks of being thoroughly spoilt by Laura before they had to go back, plenty of time to rebuild his stamina. Joe was too tired to be hungry and Adam didn’t let anyone fuss, just sending Joe off to bed. Will and Laura had seen Joe at Christmas and even though tired out he looked better than they had expected. Laura had been astounded at the change of plans and was very surprised to find how calm Adam was. Adam was just glad to have arrived and over dinner he made them laugh at Carole’s organising the family after the accident and reassured them that neither Ben nor Hoss were seriously hurt. He opted for an early night himself and when he went up to the room he was sharing with Joe, his brother was fast asleep.


The next week passed all too quickly, there weren’t enough hours in the day. Adam went from meeting to meeting with Joe doing little better, fitting in the negotiations for parcels of land as and when they could. Adam was working late most nights trying to keep the paperwork up to date but he insisted Joe get to bed at a reasonable hour. Adam did spare time to go out on the town with his younger brother and joined Will and Laura at a concert.


One morning Adam cursed at breakfast and handed a glossy invitation over to his youngest brother. "We'll have to go damn it. I could have done without.”


Joe, curious, inspected the invitation; it was to a ball in honour of some visiting celebrities that he'd never heard of. "Why do we have to go?”


“Notice the names of those heading the organising committee?”


Joe hadn’t and took another look before whistling softly “Leland Stanford and Collis P Huntingdon.

High powered, two of the big four.”


“Powerful men Joe.”


Little Joe thought about that, the two with Mark Hopkins and Charlie Crocker ran the Southern Pacific and had a virtual monopoly of transport in the west. He had never met either of them although he knew Mark Hopkins, the accountant for the four and the Ponderosa had many dealings with the railroad, indeed they were sorting out a contract for timber with them now. “Since when do we kow-tow to men however powerful?”


“We don’t Joe, but on the other hand we don’t go out of our way to be awkward when there’s nothing to be gained. I know these men, both are oddly insecure, they’ll read insults into nothing and they could make life very difficult. So we make an appearance, we needn’t stay long. Won’t do any harm for you to see them on a social occasion, make up your own mind about them, before you end up facing them across a negotiating table.”


“What do you think of them?”


“Huntingdon is the big boss, not often out here, he runs things from New York, he’ll buy or bully anyone in his way including his partners. Clever good at finding people’s weaknesses. Despises most people and yet he’s easily offended socially. He holds a grudge about as well as Sharon so watch your step with him. Hopkins you know, he’s a nice enough bloke. Crocker won’t be there unless a lot has changed, he’s a bully and I don’t like him, but he’s good at getting his men to work and he’s a good engineer. A bit unimaginative but very sound. Stanford is probably the oddest of all. Unless I miss my guess he takes very much second place to Huntingdon these days but he’d never admit it. Not particularly clever or shrewd, always struck me as slow thinking, but he has one hell of an opinion of himself, very pompous a social climber, Stay on the right side of him and he’s easy enough but dent that ego and he’ll cause trouble. He takes it for granted that we are flattered by this invitation. Trouble with Frisco is that most people will be.”


“It won’t be too bad Adam. I thought you liked a dance.”


“Not like this one, all the middle aged high society of Frisco.”


“Maybe a few daughters” Joe said hopefully.


Adam laughed “You just make sure you’re ready on time. I won’t be back until latish I’m afraid. I have that meeting with the government surveyor at the land office, have to convince him that our maps are accurate.”


“Think there will be any trouble?”


“Not really just tedious. You worry about finding those deeds.” Joe went of on his errand and came home late in the afternoon very pleased with himself, completely successful. Adam had sent word that he wouldn’t be back for dinner but as time passed and he still didn’t appear Joe got anxious. He was dressed and ready and, thinking about his brother’s insistence on them going, he eventually decided one at least had better make an appearance. It was nearly ten o’clock and he asked Laura to pass on a message that he had gone on ahead and would make Adam’s excuses. Laura promised to do so and Joe walked over to the big mansion Stanford had built on Nob Hill. He knew the building, very ostentatious like many of the others and Joe slowed as he approached. He didn’t get to Frisco very often and would know hardly anyone. Without his elder brother’s backing, Joe would have given a lot to turn round and go back to Will’s. He couldn’t really imagine that Stanford would care either way but he did respect Adam’s judgement and his brother had felt it necessary for them to go. At least his months in Europe helped his poise and knowing that his suit bought there would be more than the equal of anything anyone else would be wearing, he made his way in with every appearance of ease. They had a butler on the door announcing the guests and as he went in Joe saw Stanford look over at him, maybe Adam had been right. Seeing a couple of men he knew Joe made his way over to them and then considered the women around, There weren’t very many young ones and he waited for a bit before taking out the sister of one of his acquaintances.


Stanford was watching him when Huntingdon joined him and asked, “Who is he?”


“Youngest of the Cartwright boys, the Ponderosa.”


“I see. Rumour has it that Adam Cartwright is up to something, meetings with some very odd people. I was hoping to have a word with him.”


“I invited him but just the kid arrived. Talk to him instead, he’ll be easier than Adam, that guy is too damned clever.”


Huntingdon frowned “Think the kid will know anything?”


Stanford shrugged “Maybe, Ben Cartwright is supposed to give all three equal say. I only know Adam and he certainly shares in all the decisions, maybe makes some. They’ve done very well.”

“Call him over, we’ll enquire about his brother.”


Joe wasn’t particularly surprised when a waiter came over as the dance ended and asked him to join Mr Stanford and Mr Huntingdon. The two men had cast several glances in his direction. They were standing in a window bay with a very attractive blonde girl, She looked about twenty, obviously bored by the whole proceedings with a rather glazed superior expression spoiling what might have been a lovely face. Joe considered her as he went over, wondering who she was. She was certainly the loveliest girl there, if physical looks were all you went by. Then remembering Adam’s warning he concentrated on the two men. Both were much older and Joe threw in a couple of ‘Sirs’ as he offered his brother’s apologies for his absence as he was tied up in a business meeting. The two men tried to probe what sort of business but Joe side-stepped neatly; claiming that is brother had personal interests, completely separate from the Ponderosa. He was helped as the two men both underestimated him and after five minutes verbal fencing decided he didn’t know anything and excused themselves, telling him to enjoy himself. Neither had spotted the imp of mischief lurking in his eyes, but the girl who had been listening hadn’t missed it.


When they were left alone she looked at Joe with sufficient interest to encourage him and Joe smiled back. She considered him "They were probing hard.”


He grinned, “I did notice.”


“I wondered. It’s easy enough to fool my father but Collis Huntingdon is another matter, he’s very shrewd.”


“Your father? Miss Stanford?” Joe waited to see if she would fill in the name but there was no answer and he went on “I’m Joe Cartwright. What makes you think I was fooling anyone? My brother’s business is his own.”


“I’m not trying to probe. I don’t do my father’s dirty work for him.”


“Fair enough. You aren’t dancing, any reason?”


“I didn’t feel like it until now. I’m here under protests, I usually try to avoid these bores.”


“Will you do me the honour?”


She nodded slowly, trying to work out this young cowboy, as her father had described him, not that he looked or acted like any cowboy she’d ever seen; very good looking in a beautifully cut dark suit and a white lacy shirt with a single gold ring. Anyone who could deal with Huntingdon was no mere kid and bored she decided to play along. “My name is Nita Stanford.”


Joe frowned, “Nita? short for Anita?”


“Not short for anything, just Nita.”


“Unusual I haven’t heard it before.”


“Do you think it suits me?”


Joe’s eyes sparkled, he was used to girls fishing for compliments and she had relaxed now. Interested in him she was much prettier than when he had first seen her, but he wasn’t giving in easily “I don’t know the name, or the girl, so how can I possibly say?”


She smiled at that; it wasn’t only men he could fend off adroitly. “Out of interest do you know what your brother is doing? It won’t be passed on.”


“Shall we say some of it?” Joe parried and smiled down at her “We do have our privacy, don’t always want your brother to know.”


“I neither know nor care what my brother or sister do.” She said rather bitterly and then asked


“Couldn’t you find a better way to pass the evening?”


“We had a royal command, or at least Frisco’s version of it. Anyway I can think of many worse ways.”


“You dance well.”


“Thank you. Do you want to dance again or would you like some fresh air?”


“Let’s walk outside, “ Nita decided “The grounds are pretty.”


“You don’t like the house?"


“Do you?”


“It’s exotic. “ Joe commented diplomatically.


“Do you come to San Francisco often? I haven’t seen you before.”


“Depends on what needs doing, some years two or three times, other years not at all. My father comes more frequently and my eldest brother Adam.”


“What’s Virginia City like? That’s where you’re from isn’t it?”


“Our ranch is a few miles from town and we’ve been there longer than Virginia City. I was born there. It’s a rowdy town, never quiet, half the men working down the mines, dynamiting, stamp mills going twenty four hours a day. The other half playing in the saloons. Violent with men killed in accidents or fights all too often, not exactly the place for sedate balls. I like it and when I’ve had enough I can head back to the quiet of the Ponderosa.”


“I sometimes think that nothing ever happens in Frisco, not the part I’m allowed to see and New York is no better.”


“What do you do?” Joe asked


“Wait patiently for father to find me a husband like my sister, gossip and attend functions like this with the same people getting bored. What does your mother do?”


“She died when I was very young.”


“And no wife?”


“Not any longer. My wife died in childbirth.”


Nita had been probing but she sensed the feeling in Joe’s voice and realised she had found a sore point “I’m sorry I didn’t know.”


“Of course not. No matter it’ll be two years this month, not exactly a new wound.”


“But you still care?”


Joe was surprised that she saw that so quickly and looked at her with renewed interest. “She was my wife and I loved her, of course I still care.”


“My father didn’t, he remarried less than two months after mother died.”


Impulsive as ever Joe said “Is that why you hate him?” Almost as the words left his lips his brain caught up and he could have bitten his tongue off, “My turn to apologise. I’m sorry I shouldn’t have said that.”


“Oh don’t apologise he and I both know it. It’s not exactly unusual, doesn’t everyone hate their father?”


“I guess I’m the exception that proves the rule. I both love and respect mine and I’m not ashamed to admit it.”


“You must be unique.”


“Not me, my brothers feel the same, maybe Pa is.”


“I wouldn’t know how my brother and sister feel, all we ever do is fight.”


“We have fights too, but I don’t do too well. Hoss I can out talk but I can’t even manage that with Adam and as the little one of the family physical fights are asking for trouble. I’m fast with a gun but I’m not sure I’m as fast as Adam. Anyways I wouldn’t want to really hurt either of them, however mad they make me, so on the whole it’s easier to get along.”


She stared at him in surprise. Joe still had some weight to put on but even so he was well built and nearly six foot, certainly not her idea of small “How big are the rest of your family?”


“I’ve been called Little Joe most of my life, still am a lot of the time. Pa and Adam are both about six foot two and around 200 pounds and Hoss is six four and more than three hundred pounds so you see I’m the small one as well as the youngest.”


She was amused at that “Little Joe. I like that, unusual.”


It was getting cold and they went back in with Joe trying to persuade her to come riding the following morning. She admitted she did sometimes ride in the foothills behind the mansion but would make no promises. However she did deliberately mention that she hadn’t been able to get out of a charity ball the following night, in the ballroom attached to the opera theatre, smiling she added “I believe there are still some tickets for sale.”


Then she broke away and went to speak to someone else. Joe was intrigued by her, and although he danced with a couple of others, he kept an eye on her. Then he decided to call it a day and head back to Will’s.


Nita watched him go and was deep in thought as he father said “Did you get anything from him?”


“No and if I had I wouldn’t tell you” she said rudely.


Stanford ignored that; it wasn’t exactly unusual “You were outside with him for a long time.”


“Father I am twenty one, not exactly a child. We were talking. He’s interesting, more alive than the chinless wonders you push at me.” She turned away, wondering what it would be like to have a father who didn’t enrage you every time you spoke to him.


The next morning Joe went out early riding in the foothills but Nita had decided against too much encouragement. She was hoping that he would come to the ball, more attracted to him than to anyone else she had ever met, but knowing very little about him. She had heard of the Cartwrights of the Ponderosa but couldn’t remember anything much, just figures in her father’s conversation on business, which she normally ignored.


Adam had got in very late from his meeting and had totally forgotten about the invitation. He was surprised when Laura told him that Joe had gone on his own, although after what he had said that morning he could understand why. Hoping Joe didn’t find it too big an ordeal, remembering some of his own early ventures under protest into Frisco’s ‘polite’ society. It was too late for Adam to do anything to help and he was exhausted so he headed for bed.He was surprised the following morning to find that for once his little brother had beaten him up, had a very early breakfast and then gone out. Adam was slightly annoyed as he’d wanted to know what Joe had found out the previous day and he had a meeting at ten.


Laura said “Joe left these for you.” and handed over a sheaf of notes. Adam glanced through them as he ate and mentally apologised to his little brother. Joe had spared an hour the previous evening to leave him a written report covering exactly what he needed to know. He collected his papers, for the crucial meeting at the land office, to negotiate the water rights on the west shore. He kissed Laura’s cheek, “Don’t bother with dinner for me, I shall probably be very late again. I’m sorry to just come back here to sleep but I want to get it done and get back home to Carole.”

Laura smiled “You ought to know I don’t mind Adam. Just don’t work yourself into the ground, you look exhausted now.”


“I’m okay, though I admit there is more involved than I expected. Maybe it’s a good job I came instead of Pa, it needs a lawyer.” Adam was pushing as hard as he could, but with Californian law insisting on a separate contract for each section, the paperwork was overwhelming. A lot of it was repetitious and Joe was helping but even so too much was his job, if their title to this new land was to be as watertight as the rest. With other jobs to do as well Adam knew it would be a miracle if they could leave as they’d planned initially.


It was nearly midnight when he got back to learn that Joe had gone out again, to a charity ball. Adam was taken aback, he’d have thought that once was enough for his brother but Joe had done all he had asked and was entitled to enjoy himself. Will had been surprised too, he didn’t enjoy balls and avoided them; from what he knew of Joe he would have expected the same. Adam just shrugged, too tired really to speculate; “Maybe he’s found someone to flirt with. You know Joe.”




“It’s nearly two years. I don’t know whether he’d be ready to get serious again but since last summer he’s been willing to flirt. You saw the girls at Christmas; after all he’s still young. Anyway he can look after himself and I’m tired. I’m for bed.”


Adam went on up, too tired to even think about his brother, The next morning at breakfast, Joe was obviously in a hurry and Adam just outlined what he would like Joe to do and arranged to meet him later. Adam wondered vaguely where Joe was off to, but with a meeting on the timber contract, he had more immediate worries.


This time Nita was waiting for Joe in the foothills and for an hour they rode and chatted. She liked Cochise and Joe let the pinto show off his tricks. In his everyday working clothes Joe looked much more like a cowboy and at first Nita was quiet but she soon realised it was the same man and he was fun to be with. They chatted inconsequentially and arranged to meet the following day.        


Over the next week Joe saw her every morning and three evenings at various functions. He still hadn’t mentioned her to his family, although Adam realised he must be seeing someone. Joe enjoyed the hours he spent with her but Marie was very close to him and he didn’t know how he felt. The last thing he wanted was to discuss Nita. She attracted him more than anyone else had done apart from Marie but Joe didn’t want to be hurt and he knew he’d have to go home in another week, so he kept things easy. The rest of the time, Joe was doing all he could to help


Adam, slightly horrified at the massive task they had undertaken. The one consolation Joe had was that Adam was too busy and too tired to either worry about Carole, or question what his brother was up to. There was a steady stream of letters from the ranch, all saying that everything was fine, but in a way Joe thought they made matters worse. There was a minimum of three days delay from posting and a lot could have happened, although if anything had there was always the telegraph.


With so much to do it was obvious they would have to delay their departure at least a few days and if Adam was unhappy about it, Joe wasn’t. Slightly worried about his eldest brother who looked very tired, Joe persuaded Adam to take an evening off and join his brother, Will and Laura at a carnival ball. Not so formal as most, Will added his persuasions they were good fun, At the last minute Adam tired, and not really in the mood without Carole, tried to back out but the other three wouldn’t let him. He had been working very long hours for weeks and he needed a break. None of them trusted him not to go back to work the minute their backs were turned, with good reason.


Nita had had an argument with her father that afternoon, fiercer than normal. For reasons of his own which even he didn’t clearly understand, he disapproved of Joe Cartwright where his daughter was concerned anyway. Well aware that she had been seeing him every day he had checked up on Joe. The only thing he had been able to find against him was his first marriage, which hadn’t improved his temper but Stanford played that for all he was worth. At first Stanford had just told his daughter not to go around with the cowboy, but Nita had been finding out about the Cartwrights, both from Joe and from her father’s files. She reminded him how powerful he had said the Silver Kings were, men who could rival the railroad Kings of which he was one. Yet the Cartwrights between them owned the biggest share in both mines and long established on the Ponderosa, respectable and respected, they too were powerful men, just the sort her father usually insisted she be seen with. Stanford couldn’t have said why he disapproved, maybe because he couldn’t manipulate Joe as he could other rich men’s sons, living on their father’s wealth. He played his ace and said that he wouldn’t have her making herself the laughing stock of San Francisco, following Joe’s first wife, a pregnant saloon girl when they married. Nita knew that Joe hadn’t thought as far as marriage and if she had she wasn’t letting anyone know, least of all her father, and she just laughed. “I only know one thing about his first wife, she was very much loved, was yours?”


Her father raised his hand to hit her but Nita just sat there, staring down her nose at him, daring him to do it. He turned and walked out, cursing again the haughty young madam that he’d reared, but didn’t understand and couldn’t control. Despite her attitude, Nita had been taken aback by what her father had said. Joe hadn’t talked about his first wife and apart from what he had said that first evening all she knew was that her name had been Marie. Nita wasn’t at all sure how Joe felt but alone in her room as she got ready for the ball and faced the fact that in a couple of days he would be going back to Nevada, she admitted to herself that she was in love with him. For the first time in her life she had met someone where she didn’t have to put on an act, she was perfectly at ease. Hurt in her early teens by her father and her older brother and sister, Nita had retired behind a shell of indifference and noone had succeeded in penetrating it. Over the last weeks, Joe hadn’t just penetrated it, he had torn it away completely and she even found herself reacting to other people more gently. She dreaded him going home, knowing it might well be a year or more before he came back to San Francisco and unsure that it was more than a flirtation for him. As she finished dressing she forced the thought from her, determined to enjoy the evening. She knew that Joe had persuaded Adam to come along and was determined to make a good impression on this elder brother. She had heard, perhaps more than Joe had intended, as they talked about a family life so very different from anything she had ever known. She knew that Adam mattered to his brothers, his opinions were trusted.  


Nita saw Joe come in with a rather taller, dark-haired, handsome man, who had to be Adam Cartwright. The older man looked tired and deep in his own thoughts and she waited for a while until, with luck, he had relaxed and was easier to deal with. Nita knew that even Huntingdon took Adam seriously and it wouldn’t be easy to impress him. In many ways he was more striking than his brother and she couldn’t imagine anyone underestimating him. It didn’t take very long for Joe to gravitate to her side, Adam was already busy with a number of friends who hadn’t seen him for a long time and so far this trip he had always been too busy.


Nita danced with Joe but when he suggested going over to meet Adam, Nita was uneasy and kept putting it off. Joe got her a drink and didn’t push for once, not wanting to make too much of her meeting Adam, who was after all his family, too unsure of his own feelings. In the end it was accidental. Adam had taken Laura to get a drink just as Joe arrived with Nita. Laura got her drink and then Will appeared, there was someone he wanted her to meet and they left Adam alone. Joe grinned down at Nita, “He won’t eat you, he’s really quite harmless.” And with his arm casually round her shoulders he led her over to Adam. “Adam I don’t think you know Nita Stanford, Nita my brother.”


Adam smiled, he’d seen Joe dancing with her ever since they arrived and guessed that she was the one who had been keeping his brother busy the last month. Unsure of his ground, intrigued by the casual possessiveness Joe was showing, Adam kept things light, Nita was trying too hard to impress and nervous she pulled back into her shell as she made polite conversation. Adam was very tired and not feeling particularly well, with another busy day planned for the morrow and he began responding almost mechanically, as she sounded like all the others, assuming that Joe was just flirting. Joe recognised his brother’s mood and knew Adam wasn’t feeling sociable and he soon took Nita off to dance. A few minutes later Adam made his excuses and went home, he had a bad headache and was starting a cold, all he really wanted was his bed.


Nita was uneasy but Joe just grinned, “He’s like bear with a sore head the last few days. He wants to get home to his wife. I told you she’s pregnant.” Then he whirled her off to dance and she relaxed enjoying his company while she could.


It was very late when Joe got home and Adam was asleep. Joe wanted to know his brother’s opinion of Nita but he had the sense not to bother Adam the next morning. Adam woke up with a headache, heavy eyed and feeling under the weather but he ignored it and drank three cups of coffee as he tried to wake up. It was going to be a long day. Adam wanted to finalise all the deals for the west shore land in as short a time as possible. He had all the contracts drawn up and the cheques made out but he didn’t want anyone trying to block the deal if they realised exactly what the Cartwrights were up to. It was a question of timing and, with Joe handling half, he intended to have everything signed and sealed by evening, so that the whole deal would be settled before the cheques went through the Bank and alerted anyone else. Joe ate his breakfast in silence as Adam sorted out the papers and made him a list of people to see. Adam had already outlined what he wanted done and Joe looked carefully over the papers, only needing to ask one or two questions. He thought his elder brother looked very drawn, but once everything was signed the pressure would be off and they would only have to register the deeds. The main legal problems would be behind them and maybe Adam would relax. Once Joe was sure he had everything he needed, the brothers separated and began a long series of meetings. Adam hadn’t wasted his time and everything was organised, so that there were no real hitches in the sales.


Joe was finished about four and only registration remained and that was just a formality, It took him another hour to get home and there he found a stack of signed documents but no Adam. Puzzled Joe went looking for Laura “Where is he now?”


“He left a message for you. He’d finished all those contracts as arranged but then something came up. A problem with the shipping arrangements and he had to go and deal with it.”


“Hell!” Joe shook his head in disgust “I’m sorry Laura.”


“I’ve heard a lot worse Little Joe and I tend to agree with you. He looked exhausted. I tried to persuade him to stay for a meal but he wouldn’t, said that he shouldn’t be long.”


“Do you think it’s more than tiredness Laura?”


“I’m not sure Joe. I have wondered the last day or so but even if we’re right and he’s coming down with a cold, it’s mainly tiredness and I think he’s been getting a bit worried about Carole.”


“On past form it’s a miracle he’s no worse.”


Laura smiled “I know, I could hardly believe it when I heard he was coming.”


Joe ate with Will and Laura but he was on edge, wishing his brother would get home. Joe was worried about Adam but he had arranged to meet Nita, he knew they would be going home in another two or three days and he had to try and sort out his feelings for her. He hung on for as long as he could pacing around until Will said “Go on Joe, you said that you were going to that dance. We’ll look after Adam, make sure that he gets a meal.”


“Thanks Will. I’d rather hang on but I have promised to go.”


Laura kissed him “Don’t worry Adam’s old enough to look after himself.”


“Sure.” Joe went to the dance but Nita found him in a sombre mood and she was very willing to forego dancing and go outside for a walk. Joe pulled her close and kissed her “I’m going to miss you. I’ll be going home in two maybe three days.”


“San Francisco is going to seem dead Joe.”


“I don’t know when I’ll be back, you know that.”


She nodded “There’s times I wish I wasn’t a girl. If I was a man I could visit Virginia City but my father would never agree.”


“If you were a man it wouldn’t matter to me.” Joe commented with a grin, “but I wish you could come. All I can do for now is to write and ask you to reply. Will you? No strings.”


Nita wanted those strings but she wasn’t going to push, realising Joe was uncertain and willingly took what she could get. She hoped in time Joe would be sufficiently over the death of his first wife to build again. She knew he still loved his dead wife and she both respected and admired him for it, but she wasn’t about to give up on the only man who’d ever meant anything to her.

Little Joe was sufficiently worried about his brother to feel the need to get back and after a couple of hours he apologised “I’m sorry Nita but I have to get back. There’s been some problem come up and I can’t leave it all to Adam. He’s exhausted now, just about working in his sleep. He’s my brother and I have to help.”


“I know that. Will you come tomorrow morning,”


Joe kissed her “I’ll come. It depends what is happening, I may not be able to stay long but I’ll come. Thank you for understanding.” Joe kissed her lingeringly and then hurried home, only to find Adam still hadn’t returned.


Joe insisted that Laura went on up to bed the twins would still be up early and he could forage for his brother. Will hung around for another hour but he was yawning and Joe said “Go on Will, no point in you getting exhausted, you’ve got to go to work in the morning. I’ll look after him, if he ever comes home.”


It was nearly 1 a.m. and Will agreed leaving Joe on his own. Joe was pacing around just hoping

Adam hadn’t found real trouble, wondering what on earth could be keeping him. The time seemed to creep past and it was ten to three when he heard the door and going out saw Adam quietly closing the door, “Are you alright Adam?”


Adam turned, grey with exhaustion, his eyes bloodshot “You shouldn’t have waited up.”


“Have you eaten?”


“No but I’m just too tired to bother. Come on Joe bed.”


“Is everything all right?”


“It is now, I’ll explain in the morning, not now.”


“Sure, you look exhausted, come on big brother.”


Adam found it an effort to climb the stairs and was glad of Joe’s supporting hand. All Adam wanted was to get back home, see his beloved wife and forget all the legal nit-picking for a while. His throat was sore from hours of talk in smoke filled rooms and despite his utter exhaustion a nagging cough kept him awake for more than an hour. Twice Joe asked if he could get anything but Adam rather brusquely told his brother to get some sleep, feeling guilty at keeping Joe awake,


Eventually Adam did go to sleep and as Joe realised he relaxed and dozed off himself. Even so Joe was up early the following morning, slipping out very quietly hoping that Adam would sleep in. He hurried out to see Nita having told Laura that Adam didn’t get in until three and to leave him to sleep as long as possible.


Nita was very quiet and Joe thought that she was annoyed because he had hurried off the night before, he apologised for doing so, saying it had been a waste of time anyway as Adam hadn’t got back until nearly three and he still didn’t know what had happened. Nita smiled “Don’t be silly Joe of course you had to go and at least try. Is your brother alright?”


“Exhausted I left him asleep.”


“Never apologise to me for caring for your family Joe. I’d begun to feel noone cared about anyone else, you’ve made me believe in people again, I’m grateful.”


Joe kissed her but she broke away, “Let me finish what I want to say.”


Puzzled Joe let his arm drop and she went on “It’s been fun this last month and you know I like you Joe but you live a long way away. I just don’t want you to think you have to write, a chore to be done. It’s been good but if you’d rather end it now, let’s do it, kiss goodbye and remember the pleasant times.”


Joe stared at her, surprised and asked hesitantly “Is that what you want?”


Nita had been trying to hide her feelings but now taken by surprise she blurted out “Oh no.” Joe smiled as he recognised the depth of feeling behind that cry and realised that she was fond enough of him to leave him free, if that was he what he wanted, and maybe from that moment he began to fall in love with her. “Why should letters be a chore to me, and not to you?”


Nita had won control again and said lightly “I told you. I have nothing to do, you work.”


Joe pulled her close “I’ll enjoy writing Nita. If you don’t want out, I don’t.” he was quiet for a moment, feeling her relax against him and then he tilted her face up. “No guarantees Nita, I don’t know where we are going. I’m fond of you, I like you very much and I want you, but I can’t tell you yet that I love you. Not yet, maybe never. I don’t want to hurt you and if you want a clean break I’ll be very sorry but I won’t ever bother you.”


“I’m not asking for any guarantees Joe.”


“The Ponderosa is so different from anything you’ve ever known and I won’t ever leave it. I love my home, it’s part of me and you don’t know anything about it.”


“You can tell me when you write, your home, your family. But that’s not all is it Joe?”


Joe hesitated for a minute but she had earned the right to ask and he smiled a trifle ruefully. “No. I’m confused. It will be two years in a couple of weeks since Marie died. It doesn’t hurt as much as it did but sometimes I still feel as though she is there with me. You are the first woman I have met since who made me feel alive again, but I must have time to think.”


Nita studied him and then hesitantly asked, “What was she like? Am I like her?” She hadn’t been able to avoid the thought that Joe was looking for a replacement for the wife he had loved so much and that she was just a copy.


Joe smiled “Well you are both blonde and beautiful so you have something in common but that’s about all. You’ll hear hard things about Marie if you stay with me. She was a saloon girl; illiterate until Hoss taught her and she was pregnant when we got married. What you won’t hear, except from my family, is how kind and gentle she was, strong mentally but not physically, and she loved me very much. She wanted me to remarry, even while she was dying she left a message with Adam, for when he thought the time was right, telling me not to grieve too long. She was tiny, barely five foot and so very slender. Adam always said she was ethereal. I only had five months with her and that includes the weeks she stayed before our wedding but in that time all my family learnt to love her and we had great happiness. I’ll never forget her and I’ll never stop loving her but that won’t stop me loving someone else in their own right. I’d never be able to find her again and I wouldn’t want to.”

It was a lot more than Nita had expected and she kissed him gently “Take all the time you need Joe. We both need time, but don’t lets close any doors, not yet.”


Joe held her tight “I know you blame your father for remarrying but I’ve lived with it too. Pa married three times; each of us had different mothers. Adam’s died in childbirth, Hoss’ in an Indian raid when he was only a few weeks old and mine in a riding accident when I was a kid. Yet after more than twenty years Pa still loves all three equally, You can tell from the way he talks about them. My mother never replaced Adam’s or Hoss’ mother in his heart, just joined them. I know one day I’ll find someone else and remarry. I just don’t know when.”


“I told you I wasn’t asking for any guarantees Joe but I would like to try, see what happens.”

Joe smiled broadly “I couldn’t be more pleased, let’s do just that.” He kissed her passionately, “I have to go but I’ll come back tomorrow.”


Nita smiled at him “I’ll be waiting, now go back and see that brother of yours.”

Joe kissed her again and remounted but Nita stayed sitting there, sure she loved him and praying one day he would be able to say the same to her, but knowing she had already learnt a lot from him.


Joe rode back to Will and Laura’s and tying Cochise up went to join her in the kitchen. Laura turned and said resignedly “He’s just finishing breakfast. You try and talk some sense into him Joe. He’s got a streaming cold, but all he’ll say is that he has a meeting.”


“Darn it. I hoped he’d sleep in.”


Laura sighed, “He has a meeting at nine-thirty and a built in alarm clock.”


Joe poured some fresh coffee, “I’ll try, but I don’t reckon much to my chances.” Joe took the coffee into his brother and stared down at Adam “You look terrible.”


Adam glared at him. “Thanks for that Joe, just what I needed to cheer me up.”


Joe perched on the table, “Just what is this meeting that’s so important? I thought we’d finished apart from registering the land and I can do that.”


“You’ll have to “ Adam rubbed his aching eyes. Pinching the bridge of his nose, signs that Joe knew so well indicating that his brother was far from well. He pressed Adam “What is wrong? Is it the shipping arrangements? Will said you were called out for that.”


Adam shook his head “No I managed to straighten that out eventually. They’d double booked, I’ve changed one shipment, just a day, it doesn’t matter. Just took time. No Flood and O’Brien caught me just as I was coming home. I was with them for more than three hours, telegraphs flying back and forward to Jim Fair back home. Sharon is trying to cause trouble at the California. It’s like trying to get blood out of a stone getting facts out of Jim, he just isn’t interested in legal details and O’Brien is no better. Flood seemed to have some idea what was happening but he just kept asking the same questions. Sharon is using an old statute to try and block access to the lower veins. It’s been thrown out of court at least twice recently and I can win in court but for now he’s blocking the whole operation at the California.”


“Is there anything we can do?”


“That’s what I’m trying to find out. I’m seeing Terence Mills in half an hour.”


Joe frowned trying to place the name “Oh, the Bank’s lawyer.”


“Yes. I can cause trouble, depends whether he thinks it’s worth the risk. I’ll try to get down and help you with registering the land if it doesn’t take too long.”


Joe shook his head “No Adam. I can handle that, you ought to be in bed.”


“You’ll be very pushed to finish it today and I want to start home tomorrow.”


“I’ll manage anyone would think you hadn’t been pushed these last weeks, I only wish I could have done more to help. Anyway if you don’t look after yourself we’ll be stuck here for weeks.”


“It’s just a cold.”


“Sure, but it’s a beaut don’t let it get any worse.”


Adam felt rotten and he accepted Joe’s offer, not that it made any difference. When Joe got back just before seven, starving as he hadn’t even taken a break for lunch and with his hand aching from so much writing, he found his brother still wasn’t back. Joe had been well satisfied with all the formalities completed but alarm flared when he realised his brother hadn’t returned. There was very little he could do, not even knowing where the meeting was to take place and Joe settled to eat. Much to his relief Adam came in when he was halfway through his meal. Adam poured coffee but he didn’t want food, he had had an elaborate working lunch and was still full. His voice was hoarse as he filled Joe in, but he felt he’d been fairly successful. Mills was unwilling to overrule Sharon on his own and was contacting other Board members but Adam was reasonable confident that they would so it. He had threatened a hefty lawsuit for compensation if the mine was forced to close over a nuisance suit. Mills was going to contact him when he knew the result of his discussions, either later that night or early in the morning. Joe was outraged “You aren’t going out again tonight!”


“Probably won’t have to.”


Laura came in “There’s plenty of hot water Adam, go and have a bath and then straight to bed, or you won’t be going anywhere tomorrow.”


“You sound like Carole.” Adam complained.


“She trusts me to look after you. Go on you’re exhausted.”


Adam hesitated and Joe gently pushed his brother towards the door “Go on we can take a message if Mills contacts you.”


“You’ll wake me if he sends a message?”


Joe grunted, hoping his brother would take it as acquiescence, although he had no intention of disturbing Adam. Seemingly Adam did so and half an hour later he was fast asleep. It was just after ten when a messenger came to say the bank would withdraw the injunction and wanted a meeting to settle details. Joe arranged it for ten o’clock the following morning and then followed his brother to bed.


Adam was still asleep when Joe went to say goodbye to Nita. Both found it harder than they had expected and too much had been said the day before, so Joe didn’t stay long before going back to Will’s. He was deep in thought as he joined his brother at breakfast, only vaguely aware of Adam. That soon changed as Adam said in obvious temper “Why didn’t you wake me last night?”


Joe had left Laura with a message for his brother and he was surprised at Adam’s reaction. “It’s alright, they’re backing off and it shouldn’t take long to settle.”


“So Laura said. I could have dealt with it last night. You know I wanted to start home this morning. Was it so important to see that girl once more?”


Laura was taken aback by the bitterness in Adam’s voice and she couldn’t stop herself “Adam that’s not fair.”


Joe smiled at her “It’s alright Laura. Take it easy Adam, you’ve just demonstrated why I didn’t wake you and it had nothing to do with any girl. You were exhausted, you needed to sleep. You still do. I know you want to get back to Carole but we’ll do it better if you’re not worn out before we start.”


Adam sipped his coffee, shaken by the thumping headache caused by his burst of temper, and rubbed his eyes. “I’m sorry Joe.”


“Doesn’t matter you still look as though you belong in bed. I don’t know that I could have woken you even if I’d tried.”


“We’re starting home today.” Adam said defiantly.


“I’m not arguing. I’ll get everything packed and when you’ve finished with Mills we’ll have a decent lunch and start home. Okay?”


Adam gave way, cross with himself for lashing out at Joe, even though his brother could understand. When he had left for his meeting, Laura turned to Joe; “He’s not really well enough.”


“If necessary I’ll break somewhere for a day or so but I know when I can’t win and we’ll never stop him. Don’t worry he’s tough.”


“It’s not that long since we nearly lost him with pneumonia.”


“Two years and it was exceptional circumstances.”


Laura could only accept that, Joe knew his brother even better than she did, so she helped Joe collect their things from round the house. She and Will were planning a holiday on the Ponderosa in the summer so it wouldn’t be that long before she saw the brothers again.

Adam was free after an hour and eager to get out of town before anything else happened to hold him up. He wasn’t hungry but forced down a reasonable meal, not wanting to start his little brother fussing again. They were clear of town by early afternoon and settled down for the long ride home. At first Adam could only feel relief at being free from all the petty details and paperwork that he had been coping with. Then Joe commented that it was a good thing that Adam had replaced their father on this trip. Adam shrugged “He could have coped, probably had to call in a lawyer but he’s always managed in the past.”


“I’m not doubting it but he’s as stubborn as you are about getting things done as planned and he’s not as young.”


Adam laughed freely for the first time in days, “Great works me into the ground and he’s just glad it’s not Pa.”


“I didn’t want you to do it either.”


“Not much choice. I tell you Joe is I’d known what was involved I’d never have suggested getting that land. It nearly cost you your life and then all this.”


“Don’t be daft. That accident could have happened anywhere. If anything it shows how badly those woods need controlled cutting and I prefer the way we do it. You’d have done exactly the same, maybe left it a little longer until after the baby arrived so that you weren’t so pushed but that’s all.”


Adam admitted to himself that Joe was probably right, but a fit of coughing caught him and put paid to conversation for the moment. Joe watched worriedly but Adam just pushed Blackie on a little faster.


That night Joe insisted on stopping at a reasonable hour and taking rooms for the night in a hotel. It was drizzling and cold, no weather for camping out. Adam, more tired than he was willing to admit, even to himself, gave way with little argument. He insisted on separate rooms and even through the wall Joe could hear his brother coughing every time he woke. Worried about Adam, Joe was restless and he was up early but even so Adam was down before him, not looking as though he’d had much sleep. Adam insisted that he was alright and at least his cough had subsided for now, so after a decent breakfast they set out.


Adam rode in silence but seeing his brother’s worried glances he roused himself. “Cheer up Joe we’ll be home in a couple of days. You’re a lot fitter after Laura’s cooking. Your side given up bothering you?”


“Just about, though I wouldn’t like to get into a fight just yet. Maybe it’s a good job I am fit.”


Adam hastily changed the subject “Just what have you been up to in Frisco? Or is it prying. That girl you introduced me to?”


“Mmm. What did you think of her?”


“Very pretty.” Adam said almost dismissively


“You didn’t like her.”


“Joe I can’t even remember her name.”


“Nita Stanford. Leland Stanford’s youngest daughter.”


Adam pulled Blackie up at that, totally taken aback and whistled softly “That I didn’t expect. Dangerous games Little Joe.”


“Safe enough. She and her father don’t get along. You still haven’t answered my question.”


“I don’t know Joe. I was tired, with a bad headache, there under protest and I don’t think I was taking much in, just polite conversation like all the others.”


Joe tried to tell his brother about her, her restlessness, dislike of the polite society, but uncertain of his own feelings he didn’t make a very good job of it. Adam feeling steadily worse wasn’t really taking very much in anyway. Eventually Adam put his foot right in it as he commented “Doesn’t sound like you Joe, a poor little rich girl,”


“There was an edge of sarcasm to his voice and Joe lost his temper “She isn’t! Anyway drop it, I may never see her again, so it doesn’t matter.” The tone of his voice was enough to tell Adam that it did matter, but he put it to the back of his mind to think about later and for the fifth time in the last hour reached for a drink of water. They were making good time and stopped for lunch near Sacramento. Adam forced the food down, wanting to get home to Carole. He had already been away far longer than he intended and although all the news was good, he was on edge at least partly because he was feeling increasingly unwell. Within an hour of starting again Joe realised just how often his brother was reaching for a drink and he queried it. Adam laughed it off, just a dry throat with that damned cough that was still bothering him. Not wanting his little brother fussing, Adam did his best to leave his canteen alone. At first Joe accepted what his brother said but he kept a very close eye on Adam and an hour later he caught at Blackie’s reins

“Hold up Adam.”


“What now?” Adam asked irritably.


Joe pulled Cochise in close and lent across to feel Adam’s forehead. Adam swatted his hand away angrily but Joe ignored that “You’re running a fever.”


“Nothing much.”


“It will be if you go on like this.” Joe said grimly. “Folsom is only just over two miles, we’re going to find a hotel and you are going to bed.”


“I’m fine Joe and I want to get home.”


Joe ignored him and firmly led the way into town. He took a double room and insisted that Adam went straight to bed. Adam was tired out and aching in every joint and he couldn’t really face the argument it would take to defy his brother. He was glad to relax in bed and Joe got several pillows to support his brother and help his breathing. Then Joe offered to go and fetch food. Adam shut his eyes as he recovered from yet another bout of coughing and Joe quietly picked up his brother’s boots and trousers and took them with him.


Joe went over to the telegraph office and sent a wire to his father saying that they had been held up in Folsom for at least two days, nothing serious, and they would be back as soon as they could. He took a meal back but Adam barely touched it before pushing the tray away and reaching for some water. Joe went out for a drink and put the horses in the livery, along with Adam’s boots and pants.


Joe joined his brother and got up three times during the night, worried about Adam, who was tossing restlessly and coughing, even in his sleep. Adam slept in the following morning and Joe was up and dressed, drinking coffee. Joe was ready for the battle he knew would come when Adam finally woke up.


Adam felt rather better after a long sleep and pushed back the bedclothes, about to get up. Joe had been sitting over by the window and he hurried over and held his brother’s shoulders “Lay back I’ll get you some breakfast.”


“Don’t be daft Joe I’m getting up.”


“You’re not going anywhere so relax.”


“Stop fussing I feel much better and we still have a long ride.”


Joe felt his brother’s forehead and said judiciously “Better for now, but it’s pouring down and very cold. You won’t be for long if we ride out in that.”


Adam tried to push his brother away, furious at how weak he felt and failing, glared at Joe “Let me up. We have to get home.”


“No. I’ve already wired Pa that we have been held up here for a couple of days.”

Adam stared blankly at his brother and the sheer fury was all too obvious “You’ve done what!” he was more angry with Joe than he could ever remember and Joe recognised the white fury. Joe sat back; it only convinced him that he was right, if Adam lost his temper so easily then he wasn’t fit. “We’re staying here until you’re over the worst of that cold and for today you’re staying in bed.”


“I’m not. Get out of the way.”


“I don’t reckon you have much choice Adam. I took your pants and boots down to the stables with Blackie’s gear and I won’t bring them back until I think you’re better.”


"Go and get them now Joe I’m not in the mood for your tomfool jokes.”


“No joke Adam. We’re staying here, even if I have to tie you to that bed and the state you’re in I reckon I can do it.”


Adam realised his brother was deadly serious but before he could argue any further a fit of coughing left him breathless. Joe risked sitting down on the bed to steady his brother “Adam please be sensible. We are running out of hotels on the way home and it’s bitterly cold and wet. I don’t want to take you back to Carole with pneumonia or something, That would do her a lot more harm than a couple of days delay, which she knows about. I emphasised that it wasn’t serious.”


“I’ve worked out in the wet before Joe, I don’t wilt in the rain.”


“You didn’t have a stinking cold and you hadn’t worked yourself into exhaustion every day for weeks. Yesterday you were on the verge of collapse. It’s not fair on Carole, or any of us, to take stupid risks when a day in bed and one quiet under cover will make all the difference. The weather might even have changed.”


“Do I get the choice?”


“No but I’d be happier if I had your agreement. I think I’ve got you hogtied but you’re too derned cunning.” Joe risked a grin and to his relief Adam smiled ruefully. “As you’ve already wired them I suppose I might as well go along. But don’t you ever pull a stunt like this again.”


Joe got to his feet to go get food “I won’t Adam, well at least only if its necessary.” Joe was out of the door on that parting sally.


Two days later the brothers got an early start, Adam was feeling very much better for the enforced rest and they chatted amicably as they rode. Adam knew he had been very curt about Nita and slowly drew his brother out about the girl, so totally different from Marie. He sensed the uncertainty in Joe but soon realised that his brother was strongly attracted and that Joe was sure she loved him, something Joe hadn’t even put into words for himself. Listening to some of the details of their time together Adam decided that there must be more about her than he had noticed at the ball; not that that meant much the way he had been feeling that night. Still even if this didn’t work out, it was a sign of Joe’s recovery from grief that he had got involved at all.

Adam was pleased and knew Marie would be the first to be delighted, two years was long enough to mourn.


Adam had never been more grateful to see the ranchhouse and as they rode in he threw his reins to Joe and went straight in. Carole, on the look out for them, was on her feet coming to see who had ridden in and Adam took her in his arms. It was six weeks since he’d seen her but although bigger she looked radiant and he held her close, before realising that the twins wanted their share of attention and were pulling at his jacket. Letting Carole go Adam picked them up, one in each arm and grinned broadly, they had grown too. Then finally he noticed his father “Pa are you better?”


“Fine Son, don’t even need a stick, looks as though you had a rough trip.”


Carole was scanning his face, Adam still looked tired and heavy eyed with the aftermath of his cold but he was grinning “Busy and a long ride but we’re fine. I’d better go and give Joe a hand.”


“Stay put Son, I’ll go and help Joseph.” Ben went out leaving Adam with his family, knowing how much Carole had missed her husband. She had been bitterly disappointed at yet another delay in Folsom, although she had done her best to hide it. Ben had been very surprised himself at Joe’s wire, unable to imagine what there was in Folsom to delay his sons. It was one of the first things he asked Joe, once sure that the long trip hadn’t done his son any harm. Joe grinned,


“Adam had a stinking cold and it was rotten weather, so I sent you that wire and then bullied him into staying put until he was over the worst of it. He was very tired, all sorts of extra problems came up and there wasn’t that much I could do to help. He seemed to take the cold very badly, I guess he was just overtired. I didn’t think that it was worth the risk of it turning serious.”




“I had a few arguments. I hid his trousers and boots in the stable.”


Ben laughed “Low cunning. You did well Joe, he still looks very tired.” The two men started carrying all the papers in and grinned at the sight in front of them. Adam was relaxing on the sofa with a coffee, his arm round his wife and the twins playing around his feet. Ben met his youngest son’s eye and they both grinned broadly. Slowly over the next couple of hours Adam and Joe outlined what had happened in San Francisco and caught up with the news from home. Then Ben insisted detailed reports could wait for a couple of days and packed Adam and Carole off home with their twins. They were very glad to be home and Adam didn’t argue. He had relaxed now he’d got home and found Carole fit and well, but as he relaxed his long hard trip was catching up on him and he was exhausted.


Once they had gone Joe poured fresh coffee and filled his father in on the problems, which had extended the trip. He was rather annoyed with their partners in the mines assuming a right to demand his brother’s help, first as an engineer and then as a lawyer. Ben could understand his youngest son’s annoyance and promised to have a quiet word with the four Irishmen.

They all four got together two days later, with Hoss back home too. Adam gave them a complete report on the land he had bought and said that he was planning to go to Carson City to register their title there as well. Joe offered to go instead but Adam just laughed at him, with an early start he could do it in one day. Anyway someone had to go out and mark up; they couldn’t leave that job much longer.


Joe knew that his brother was right but he was dreading the job, not really sure why. He turned and went over to the window trying to hide it from his family without much success. Adam caught the question in Hoss’ eye. Hoss was wondering if Joe didn’t feel well enough and Adam had been with Joe most recently. Adam shrugged, Joe had seemed fine on the way home and he didn’t know why his brother was upset. Hoss grinned at him “I guess I could mark up on my own.”


Joe turned at that “Don’t be stupid Hoss, its a two man job! Sooner we get started the better, it’s going to be a very busy summer.”


Adam had the pipe survey to finish and the workplans to help his father complete, before he could see how to fit in the preliminary trial cut on the west shore. For the time being he wasn’t going far afield, not until the baby had safely arrived.


Joe managed to hide his feelings sufficiently to prevent comment and they arranged to go out to mark up in two days time on the 19th March. It would take them about three weeks. Joe forced himself to tease his eldest brother; it would leave him very quiet to celebrate his birthday next week. Adam grimaced, “I’m doing my best to forget it Joe, getting old.”


“Been searching for grey hairs? At least it’s an easier job than it used to be!”


Adam threw a cushion at his youngest brother “I can explain each one by your escapades!”

Ben settled into routine, going over to work with Adam in his study. The land was all registered, extending the Ponderosa by nearly a quarter. Adam had finished the survey and the plans for the best route and best method to lay the pipe. He was now trying to make up his mind who to get for the detailed survey, In many ways he was glad of the work piling up on his desk. On edge for the arrival of his next child he wanted to go to bed tired out. Still he was much calmer than when the twins were due and able to hide his tension to a large extent. He celebrated his birthday quietly at home with his father and wife. His brothers had both left presents and Kam Su made a cake.


Two days later Ben was up in the high country. He’d been to town to collect the mail and had then ridden up to the small lakes where he had men cutting ice, wondering how much longer they would be able to cut this year. He had camped out up by the lake and although it was the long way home he had decided to visit his sons and see how they were getting on. Ben had seen his youngest son’s unease and he was slightly worried about his son’s physical health, Adam had been sure that Joe was virtually fully recovered, maybe still a little short of stamina but otherwise fit. For once Ben wasn’t convinced, wondering if his eldest son was fooling himself as he couldn’t do the job and Joe had to, placating his over active conscience.


Joe had been very quiet since they moved out and Hoss was puzzled. Still his brother was eating well and didn’t seem to be in any pain, just tired and tense. He knew that Joe wasn’t sleeping well but when he commented Joe had cut him off very abruptly, Hoss didn’t understand but as Joe was getting no worse he left it.


It was early in the evening when Ben rode in to find his sons lazing by the fire drinking coffee. As he rode in both jumped to their feet in alarm. Ben realised their fear for Adam and before he even dismounted he said “Take it easy, no trouble.”


He swung down and Hoss poured him out coffee “Here you are Pa. Why are you up here if there’s no trouble?”


“I was up with the ice cutting gang. Adam has everything under control at the house and it’s a long time since I’ve been up here, so I gave way to temptation.” Ben had relaxed seeing that Joe was taking no harm. His son looked tired but it was hard physical work and after a week Joe was still fine so he finally accepted that Adam had been right, Joe was fit again. For a while they just chatted, catching up on the news but then as Joe went to fetch fresh water for coffee, Ben asked,


“Is he okay Hoss?”


“Seems fit enough but he’s uptight, very tense, not sleeping too well. He won’t talk to me, just snaps my head off.”


“Poor old Hoss, always on the receiving end from your brothers.”


“Just wish I could help.”


“I’m sure you do Hoss, just by being around. He’s a grown man, if he doesn’t want to talk we can’t force him. If we can help he’ll ask, Just make sure that he eats properly. Another couple of weeks and you’ll be finished her.”


“Sure Pa. Don’t worry I’ll keep an eye on him.”


Ben clapped his big son on the back, “You don’t have to tell me that Hoss, you always have.”

Joe came back up the hill then and Ben changed the subject. The next morning he headed home and as Hoss was going the same way for the first mile he rode along with his father. It wasn’t until they were parting that Ben remembered the letter that had come for Joe in the mail he’d collected. He fished it out “Here give this to Joe. It might even cheer him up.”


Hoss frowned at it “Mighty feminine handwriting. Don’t recognise it, do you Pa?”


“No maybe your brother found time to have some fun in San Francisco, it’s from there.”


“Joe ain’t said nothing, neither did Adam.”


“From what Joe said Adam was far too busy to see anything outside immediate problems. I know Joe went to a few dances. Anyway give your brother the letter.”


“Sure Pa.” Hoss rode back to camp glad that his little brother was flirting again. He wondered if Joe had been expecting a letter and annoyed at its non-arrival. At lunchtime Joe joined him and Hoss pulled out the letter "Had a good time in Frisco Little Brother? It's not scented but mighty feminine.” Joe frowned and snatched it from Hoss. "How did you get it?"


"Pa forgot to give it to you last night. Who's the lady?”


“Mind your own business!” Joe walked off into the woods just wanting to get away from his brother. He stared at the letter, totally confused. He had known that Nita would write, but now she had he felt guilty. He stuffed the letter into his pocket unread. He worked hard all afternoon but hardly spoke to Hoss and over dinner the expression on his face was enough to warn his big brother to hold his peace.  Joe couldn’t sleep and spent hours walking around trying to sort his thoughts out with no success. Hoss hadn’t slept much either, wondering what was eating his brother, Then he began to work out the date, it was all too easy to lose track out in the middle of nowhere but he was pretty sure that it was 29th March. Tomorrow it would be exactly two years since Marie died. Hoss remembered how Adam had taken Joe up to the lake on his wedding anniversary, maybe his brother wanted to be up there tomorrow too. Hoss was quite prepared to work even harder for a couple of days if in some way he could help his little brother to regain his peace of mind. He hadn’t been able to avoid feeling cross with Joe, even though something was obviously eating at Joe, but now as he thought of all the memories Joe must have and remembered his gentle tiny sister, all annoyance was replaced by compassion.


At dinner that evening Hoss said, “I can cope here for a day or two Joe. We’re getting a bit low on supplies why don’t you go back to the house collect some.”


The last thing that Joe wanted, in the mood he was in, was to go home. He had read Nita’s letter that afternoon but although it was innocuous he could sense the feeling behind it, which she had strived, perhaps too hard, to hide. It’s arrival so close to the anniversary of Marie’s death had made Joe feel terribly guilty. Just two years and he was attracted to another woman. He knew it was what Marie had wanted but he felt guilty as though even getting a letter from someone else was being unfaithful to her memory and she was so close to him. It was easier to see her face that Nita’s. Here in the high country with Hoss, marking up as he had done in the week’s just after she died, he was haunted by the pain he’d known then, memories of the anguish in the hours while she was dying overwhelming all the pleasant memories. He still loved her so very much and yet he couldn’t forget Nita either. Now cross at his brother he took his own uncertainty out on Hoss. “Go shoot something if we’re low or go yourself. I’m not riding all that way just because you’re so greedy. We brought plenty of supplies.”


Hoss was taken aback by the venom in his brother’s voice but he didn’t have the sense to keep quiet. “I just thought you might want to go up to the Lake.”


“Don’t think you’re not very good at it.” Joe yelled at his brother before storming off into the woods, leaving Hoss puzzled and rather upset. He tried to make allowances for his little brother but he was finding it hard. In the end tired out, Hoss settled to get some sleep, although it took him a long time.


Joe hadn’t meant to hurt his big brother and he didn’t like himself for it, but he couldn’t face talking, too confused. He walked around most of the night and at breakfast he was deep in the past, not even remembering that he owed his brother an apology. Hoss had been furious but seeing how drawn and tired Joe looked his anger faded and he let Joe set the pace. They worked hard all day, but however hard he worked Joe couldn’t escape his memories. It was as though half of him was here and the other half sitting by Marie gradually coming to realise that he was losing her. Mid afternoon he suddenly put down his axe, “It’s no good Hoss, I’ve had it for today.”


“Sure Joe whatever you want.”


Almost for the first time Joe really looked at his big brother and instead of the anger he knew he deserved just saw compassion and he smiled, “I’m sorry for what I said yesterday I didn’t mean it.”


“Shucks I knew that. I didn’t mean to interfere but back in November when you weren’t well Adam and me fought pretty hard to get Pa to agree to you going up to the Lake. You wanted to then, I just thought maybe now.”


“I’ve enough memories Hoss, it’s different I don’t want any more.” The anguish in Joe’s voice got to Hoss and he moved swiftly to his brother and put his arm round Joe’s shoulders “I’m real sorry brother I didn’t mean to upset you.”


Joe pulled away “Don’t Hoss, come one let’s go and get some grub It’s not just that, it’s me I shouldn’t take it out on you.”


“I don’t care Joe, my shoulders are broad.”


“It’s this job. I didn’t want to come.”


“We all saw that Joe, but why?”


“Unlucky time of the year. I’m beginning to hate it.”


“I’ve been thinking about Marie too, don’t seem possible it’s two years.”


“Please Hoss, I don’t want to talk about it.” Joe busied himself collecting all the gear and Hoss waited quietly. They rode back to camp in silence and then Hoss began to make some food, Joe sat in deep reverie staring into the fire and he looked so miserable that Hoss couldn’t stand it any longer. He gripped his brother’s shoulders “Joe I know you don’t wanna talk, but you sure as hell ain’t gonna get any sleep like this.”


Joe looked up at his big brother, he couldn’t talk about Marie and Nita but that wasn’t the only thing that was worrying him. He was scared for his brother and ever since he’d come into the high country he’d got a feeling of impending trouble. It wasn’t sense but he couldn’t shake it off, maybe Hoss could talk him out of it. Slowly he nodded “I’m sorry. I haven’t been much company snapping at you all the time. I don’t mean to but somehow I can’t help it.”


“Don’t matter Joe, I know you too well to really take much notice. I know its hard on days like today.”


Joe shrugged “It’s not just Marie. We came up here on this job two year’s ago, I can’t help remembering.”


“Well it’s a pity Adam couldn’t have come this year but....”


“No, it’s partly Adam anyway.”


That surprised Hoss and he frowned, “I don’t understand Joe.”


Little Joe slipped back against a tree and lent back staring up at the trees. “Remember last year. I had to come tell Adam about Carole.”


“I know how hard it was for you to tell him.”


“Even harder for him. Three days time it will be a year since she lost that baby.”


“They’ve both got over it pretty well and there’s gonna be a new baby soon.”


“That’s what scares me.”


“Carole’s fine, She missed Adam while she was away, but apart from when you stopped in Folsom, she was quite calm. By the way I never did get round to asking you why you stopped. There’s nothing in Folsom.”


“I bullied Adam into stopping because he was exhausted with a filthy cold and I was scared he’d have pneumonia by the time we get home if we didn’t stop.”


“How? Adam ain’t easily bullied.”


“Hid his trousers and boots.” Joe said briefly, but although Hoss grinned he got no answering reaction. “Alright Joe come on explain, what scares you


“The baby is due in a month, sooner than Doc suggested. You know that palomino mare we had, three foals and each time the same.” Joe fell quiet and Hoss stared at him in growing horror. He knew the foals Joe meant, each had had to be destroyed, all with a twisted misshapen front leg. Hoss could see all too clearly the tiny deformed baby and his eldest brother’s face as he stared down at it. Coming back to the present he looked hard at his brother. “Joe you know Pa said Doc had half expected trouble, that it was the fever with that diphtheria which did it.”


“I know. I didn’t say I was being logical, It’s just the last two years something terrible has happened about now and even before, so many times there has been trouble. I don’t know what it would so to them and it’s so soon I keep seeing that tiny baby and Adam’s face.”


“Has Adam....” Hoss broke off wondering if his eldest brother shared the same fear, knowing what it must be doing to him if he did.


Joe was almost angry “Come on Hoss you don’t think I’d even have hinted to Adam.”


“No of course not. I just wondered if he’d said anything to you.”


Joe shook his head “I pray he’s not even thought of it. He seems fairly calm, eager to get back of course but considering everything pretty good. It’s not sense is it Hoss? I’m just being stupid.” Joe’s tone almost pleaded for reassurance, but Hoss stunned by the mere idea couldn’t do it adequately,


“How long’s this been eating at you?”


“Since I faced the idea of coming up here, worse since Pa came, For a minute I was sure he’d brought bad news. Thing’s come in threes and about now seems to have a jinx. I know it’s superstitious nonsense and when Carole has a healthy baby maybe I’ll be able to believe it.”


“They say third time lucky Joe.”


“Sure. Look I’m sorry Hoss, all I’ve done is give you the horrors too, don’t take any notice of me.”


Hoss gripped his arm “I’m sure it’ll be fine Joe. If anything should go wrong, we’d find some way to help but there ain’t much point getting all upset before it does.”


Joe stretched “You’re right. I’m sorry if I’ve worried you, but I do feel better for talking.”


“You ain’t making much sense little brother. Doc ain’t even hinted at trouble.”


“He didn’t before.”


“Yeah but we know him real well and I ain’t seen any signs that he’s worried. I’m sure you’re wrong, it was just the fever. After all she’s had two healthy boys, that mare never did throw a good one.”


Joe nodded, feeling calmer for talking and at least he was able to sleep. Hoss, more scared than he wanted Joe to know, slept too but he was woken twice by nightmares, unusual for the big man. He couldn’t remember anything except a feeling of fear for his eldest brother and knew they were as a result of Joe’s worries. After a decent night’s sleep Joe felt better and he was able to push his worries about his brother and even Nita to the back of his mind. He hadn’t realised just how much the fear of another deformed child had been worrying him until he talked it over, but having done so he was able to see that it was a fairly remote possibility with nothing to be gained by worrying about it now. Hoss recognised that his little brother was in a better mood and a few nightmares was a small price to pay.


Joe was still rather sombre and thoughtful but he found it easier to talk to his brother and the next week went more easily. Both brothers were very glad to have finished their job and to be heading home. At least they would be in closer touch with the house for the next few weeks until the lumber gangs went out in earnest and with luck Carole would have had her baby. Joe was calmer, remembering the message that Marie had left with Adam and how he had told Nita of his father’s love for three women. He had even written a long letter to her, which he knew he would send next time he was in town.


When they reached the house Hop Sing said that their father had gone up to see José but he was due back for dinner. Nothing had happened and Adam and his family were fine. The brothers had opted for a bath before dinner; there would be time to go see Adam tomorrow, not invading when the twins were due for bed to unsettle them. Ben wasn’t particularly surprised to see them back; he’d expected them sometime soon. He quickly brought them up to date with the news; everything was going reasonably smoothly. Two days earlier Adam had had a long meeting with Jim Fair, John McKay and Flood who happened to be in town. He’d given them the report of his preliminary survey, with a tentative estimate of costs and the conditions on which the Cartwrights would go along. He had short-listed four men who could handle the detailed survey and complete the project. He had a firm preference for the first name on the list but was unsure that they would be able to tempt him away from San Francisco. Flood had promised to try as soon as he got home. On Adam’s figures it was possible, although it would be both difficult and expensive. Still the water was vitally necessary and the four silver kings were prepared to go along, with the Cartwrights backing. Ben and Adam had discussed it in detail, sure that Joe and Hoss would agree with them, and promised their backing, on condition. Ben explained exactly what Adam was proposing, apart from details it didn’t differ from the concept that they had arrived at that first evening as they argued about the best route. Joe was interested in the legal safeguards Adam was insisting on for the ranch, but after listening for a while Hoss lost interest and he dozed off. Hoss was snoring softly and as his father and brother heard the soft rhythmic noises they turned to look at him. Joe grinned, “He’s earned it Pa. We’ve been very busy and I haven’t been much company to him.”


“Are you alright Joseph?”


“Better now. Two years ago I went to mark up and she’d just gone. Last year I had to go and tell Adam, about that miscarriage. I was scared that something would happen this year. Senseless but....”


“Is that all Little Joe?”


Joe smiled at his father; “All that matters, don’t look so worried.”


Ben nodded and then lent back in his chair staring over at his big son, dozing peacefully, “Inger took care of Adam when he was sick. He was such a solemn little boy, just four and I hadn’t even realised it until I saw the way she made him laugh.”


Joe watched his father puzzled but Ben seemed to be lost in the past. “Inger wasn’t as beautiful as your mother or Adam’s but she was so kind and gentle, Hoss is very like her, she could do anything with children or animals. I was heading west. Since I lost Elizabeth only my dreams of a ranch and Adam mattered at all, Very quickly Inger came to matter. The only person apart from that little boy who’d got through the shell I built round myself, For a while that scared me I was very close to running away.”


Joe had sat up and he was watching his father intently, but Ben still seemed to be concentrating on Hoss. “Funny Hoss wouldn’t be here now and probably you wouldn’t either if I'd given into that fear and run away, I think it was only the change in Adam which kept me there. She was so obviously good for him.” For the first time Ben turned to his youngest son “You see Joseph, I found myself very attracted to her. I was scared I would fall in love with her and somehow that felt as though I was being disloyal to Elizabeth, making the love we had for each other less than it was. I still loved her then, I do now, but she wasn’t there. All I had left of her were my memories and Adam. I knew Elizabeth would want the best for her son and I let myself fall in love, It took several months before I knew that my love for Inger had no effect on the way I still felt about Elizabeth. I’d done my grieving and I was lucky enough to find love again. Much later when I met your mother, I was just grateful to fall in love again. I knew there was no reason to feel guilty. I still love all three of my wives, still feel the pain of losing them but I was very lucky. I’ve never met anyone else, but three times is more often than most people find love.”

Joe sat there as his father fell quiet, like his brothers his father knew him so very well. “How did you know Pa? Did Adam say something?”


“Your brother hasn’t said anything and I didn’t know. Guessed maybe. Your reaction just now, a letter from some stranger in Frisco. I wondered if she mattered to you. Two years is a long time, even for someone who loved as much as you did. I’ve seen you emerge from the depths, laugh and flirt again and maybe be ready to find love again and I know how confused and guilty I felt, when I realised I was falling in love with Inger.”


“I’m still not sure how I feel pa.”


“It’s bound to take time Joe and maybe it will fade. You thought you were in love often enough before Marie.”


“I have something to compare with now. I once asked you what love was.”


“And I couldn’t answer you.”


“I still can’t put it into words Pa. But we both know and so does Adam, I won’t settle for second best.” Joe was quiet for a minute “I’m not trying to hide anything Pa and I will tell you about her but not now. Suddenly I’m so tired I can hardly keep my eyes open.”


“Take Hoss up with you, you’ve both been busy.”


“Mmm. It’s more than that. I feel more peaceful than I’ve done in weeks. Thanks Pa.” Joe pulled himself to his feet and gripped his father’s shoulder for a moment before waking his big brother and heading for bed. Ben needed no more thanks and long after his sons had gone to bed he sat deep in thought, remembering his wives and the three sons they’d given him, thanking God for their close relationshop which meant so much to him. He was curious about the girl and obviously Adam knew something about her, but he would wait and until Joe felt like telling him, he wouldn’t ask Adam.


Joe felt better the next morning than he’d felt in weeks, he’d slept late and his father and brother had long since finished breakfast. Joe was just about to go and find some coffee when he saw Hoss coming up to his room. Joe felt slightly guilty at the way he’d treated Hoss while they’d been marking up and although he knew his brother was incapable of holding it against him, he wanted to explain and apologise. He called out “Hoss can you spare me a moment.”


“Sure Joe what’s up?”


Joe went back into his room and as Hoss followed him in, Joe shut the door. Hoss was puzzled Joe obviously had something on his mind and yet his little brother looked more at peace than he’d done in a long time. Joe wandered over to the window and stared up at the mountains, the view he loved so much. Finally he started “I wasn’t much company up in the hills, snapping at you each time you spoke, I wanted to apologise."


“Heck Joe we’ve been through that, you were in a state fer Adam.”


“Partly that Hoss but there was something else. I’d like to explain if you’ll listen.”


“Of course I will Little Joe but you don’t have to explain anything,”


“I know I don’t have to, maybe that’s why I want to, Pa was talking about your mother last night.”


Joe broke off and Hoss stared at his little brother rather lost and then he remembered the letter from Frisco and he began to wonder. Little Joe saw faint comprehension dawn and sat down next to Hoss, “While I was in San Francisco I met this girl Nita Stanford. We argued at first but hit it off pretty well. She came riding with me most mornings, I got fond of her and she, well I think she feels the same. We promised to write, she wrote that letter Pa brought out.” Joe sighed and then looked at his brother “I got confused. I still am a bit, but it’s easier since Pa talked to me last night. I’m not in love with her, not yet, but I think I could be. I think she’s in love with me. The trouble is with Marie’s death two years ago and out on that same job I couldn’t help feeling guilty, disloyal to her. I know she’s dead, but I still love her, so how could I even think of loving someone else? I’m afraid I took it out on you.”


Hoss put his arm round his brother; “Marie wouldn’t want you to feel guilty. She knows as we all do how much you loved her, still do, and how much you’ve grieved. But you’re young, you have a long life ahead and she wouldn’t want you to spend it alone.”


“She left a message for me with Adam, said as much. He told me a few days before we went to Europe. Did he tell you?”


“Not in so many words, but I knew Marie.”


“I know what she wanted and I thought I’d accepted the idea, but for sometime in the future, this came too soon. Pa guessed, told me how he felt guilty at falling in love with your mother, only to find out months later that it didn’t affect his feelings for Adam’s. I guess it’s easier for me than it was for Pa. I’ve grown up with the idea that he had three wives all equally loved, Maybe just the timing was wrong, too many memories on that job.”


Hoss could understand how his brother had felt and was glad to see him back at peace with himself, “What’s she like this girl?”


Joe laughed wryly “She couldn’t be more different from Marie! Blonde about Carole’s build, maybe slightly bigger. Lovely when she isn’t surveying the world with a supercilious air, which at first was nearly all the time. Very high n’mighty at least on the surface. She’s Leland Stanford’s youngest daughter.”


Hoss whistled softly, he knew of the four railroad Kings, as did everyone else in the western states. “Flying high Little Joe.”


“Maybe. She hates her father, doesn’t like Frisco, polite society. She’s a strange girl, looking for something, her independence maybe.”


“Virginia City is a mite rough Joe.”


“I know. She may not like her father but she’s always been cosseted. Nothing to do, everything she needs and yet she’s so lonely, As I said a world apart from Marie. Chances are nothing comes of it, God knows when I’ll get to Frisco again and she may not even be there. Her father takes her to New York and other places when he travels. I’ll just have to see. I need time to think anyway,” he turned to Hoss and gripped his brother’s arm “I just wanted to explain and to say thank you for putting up with me these last weeks.”


Hoss grinned “I’m glad you did Joe, glad Pa helped. We’re lucky there.”


“Very lucky, he’s quite a man.”


All three decided to ride over and see Adam. Ben had been able to reassure Hoss and Joe that their brother was keeping reasonably calm but the brothers were anxious to see for themselves. Joe might have used his fears for Adam to cover his other feelings but they were very real and he had infected Hoss with his anxieties. Adam was pleased to see his brothers and, although they could see a slight tension in him, he was fine and they relaxed and exchanged news. Late in the afternoon while Joe was playing with the twins, Hoss wandered into the study to join Adam and asked about Nita Stanford.


Adam was slightly surprised but Hoss explained why Joe had told him. Adam couldn’t help much; she’d made little impression on him the one time he had seen her. From some of the things Joe had said there was a lot more to her than he’d seen but he freely admitted he had been tired and irritable, not in the mood to notice anything so that didn’t mean much. Hoss was sorry, he had a great deal of faith in his eldest brother’s judgement but it couldn’t be helped and he let Adam change the subject.


The brothers went out to join Carole and the rest of the family for a pleasant meal, entertained by the twins’ antics and totally relaxed, as they discussed the next few weeks work.