Lyn Robinson

Adam sat up by the lake with a lot on his mind. He had been badly shaken by Tony’s sudden death and it had left him very worried. He had never made a will and didn’t mind betting that his brothers hadn’t considered it either, but he could visualize very difficult scenarios if the three of them let it drift on. He didn’t know how to broach the subject with his brothers, both recently married; it was as though he didn’t trust his new sisters. Adam spent several hours walking up and down by the lake, trying to think everything through so he could be clear when he talked to his brothers, but he knew that he wouldn’t sleep without talking things over with them. It was a very odd feeling to be nervous of talking to them and he didn’t like it one little bit and certainly wasn’t going to try and sleep on it.
Carole was puzzled as Adam pushed his food around on his plate barely eating and she wasn’t surprised when he said that he wanted to go and have a talk with his brothers; that something had come up. She could see that he wasn’t going to relax until he had seen his brothers and smiled slightly at the almost apologetic look on his face. She knew her husband so well and he was feeling guilty that whatever was wrong he needed his brothers first and not her. She insisted that she had some sewing to do and didn’t want to go out and left him to ride over on his own. Adam kissed her and, promising not to be too late, he headed out to the stable saddled Blackie and headed up to the main house.
When Adam went in he found everyone round the fire and they were surprised to see him on his own and obviously with something on his mind. Adam had to wait for a while as Hoss and Sue were playing Joe and Nita at whist but he couldn’t settle, sipping brandy and staring out of the window, he answered his father’s queries almost haphazardly and Ben gave up and returned to his book.
As the game finished Joe came over “What’s wrong Adam?”
“Nothing, not wrong, but I have to talk to you and Hoss.”
“What’s stopping you?”
“Not here. Either come up to my room or come for a ride.”
“Secrets?” asked Ben
Adam rubbed the bridge of his nose a telltale sign of the headache he had developed as he worried about talking to his brothers, “Not really Pa, just something the three of us ought to task over. Easiest on our own first.”
None of them understood what was worrying him but he was obviously very tense, uptight about something and Nita turned to Joe “You might as well go for a ride you haven’t been out all day.”
Sue nodded and murmured quietly to Hoss “Go on he’s worried about something, go calm him down.”
Hoss went to get his coat and with his brothers either side of him Adam rode up to the lake in absolute silence, not knowing how to start. Neither Joe nor Hoss could understand his mood but seeing the tension in his body and the tell tale signs of a bad headache they went along. As they dismounted and walked up to the point, Joe said, “You’ve got to come to the point sometime Adam. It can’t be that bad and we won’t bite, promise.”
Adam frowned and looked at his little brother “You may feel like hitting me but I’d be grateful if you’d hear me out.”
Hoss put his arm round his brother’s shoulders feeling the tension, “Not like you Adam, why just us and not Pa or the girls? What’s up? Or are you just overtired?”
Adam shook his head, “No I’m okay, but it’s not easy.” Adam fell quiet for a minute, staring out over the lake. “It was Tony dying, so young, so sudden, how often have each of us been close to doing the same?”
Hoss frowned “So we take risks, we’ve survived, I guess we’ll carry on doing just that, Joe’s got a sore arm and you’re bruised but….”
“It’s not that Hoss.” Adam pulled away from his brother and he turned to face them “We’re all married now. I’m at fault I should have acted years ago but it wasn’t until today that it struck me. I haven’t made a will. Have either of you?”
Whatever they had expected that wasn’t it and his brothers both considered him in blank astonishment, Joe shrugged “No, but what’s the urgency?”
Adam could only tell them the truth straight out but he couldn’t face them and swung back to stare out over the lake. ”By law any of us die, everything we own goes to our wife, provision for any children. That’s in the absence of a will.”
Joe frowned “What’s wrong with that? None of the girls would cause any trouble and anyway why so pessimistic all of a sudden?”
Adam sighed “I told you, Tony’s death, it could so easily have been one of you, he died trying to protect me. How often have you done the same and been hurt?”
Hoss said, “I’m with Joe, why shouldn’t Sue have what I own?”
Adam bit his lip. “We’re all very rich. I’m not saying you shouldn’t leave most of it to your wives, but it’s the ranch.”
Joe frowned “Just explain.”
“It’s not a nice thought, especially when you’ve just got married, but if anything happens to any of us, I think we would hope that in time…. That she’d remarry.” Adam straightened up and met his younger brother’s gaze “Look Joe if you were killed tomorrow, Nita’s a young woman and just as you found fresh happiness in time, so might she. None of us would object but its at least possible that her second husband wouldn’t fit in with us, not even want to, yet as things stand he’d own a quarter share of the Ponderosa. He might pass it onto children, who don’t have your blood, maybe never even seen the ranch, Even Carole could remarry bring up my children far from here, I don’t think she would but if she loved someone as much as she loves me, she would fit in with his wishes. Until we married the Ponderosa was tied up so that no outsider could touch it but that’s not true now. I should have done something when I got married but it’s only now that I’ve thought about it.”
The prospect of their wives remarrying after their own deaths hit hard at both Joe and Hoss, only recently married, but Adam had a point. They would leave very wealthy widows and if it should happen while thy were still young, why shouldn’t the girls look for new love and happiness. For fully five minutes they walked along the shore line in silence, oblivious of each other as the younger brothers thought it through in their own way. At first the mere idea infuriated Joe and he was cross with his eldest brother but as he considered what might happen he could see Adam’s point. The last thing any of them wanted was to lose control of the ranch and in years to come, when much as he hated the thought their father was gone, an absentee landowner could cause havoc.
Adam had seen the fury in Joe’s eyes aimed at him and he wasn’t surprised, but Hoss didn’t seem cross, just rather stunned by a problem that he hadn’t considered. Eventually it was Hoss who broke the silence “What are you suggesting we do?”
“Basically all make wills. Perhaps like Beth make some arrangements for charities that’s up to you, but in some way safeguard the Ponderosa itself. I want to arrange guardianship of my children; I want them brought up here on the ranch just as we were. It’s not that I don’t trust Carole, I do. I love her but people make mistakes, I’ve made plenty. I want to ensure that no mistake can hurt the twins or Marie.”
Joe bit his lip, “I think I need some time to consider this. You’re right of course and I’m sorry I was cross with you.”
“Expected it Joe, as I said not easy. Especially as I did nothing, never even considered it until you two were married. It isn’t that I don’t trust Su and Nita, just as much as I do Carole but ....”
Hoss smiled “We know that Adam, take it easy. You are right we have to protect the ranch. We can do it?”
“Sure, lots of ways, leave it direct to our children, held in trust until they are of age or leave it to our wives with reversion to the family on remarriage. We have plenty of other property to leave them outright, make them wealthy women anyway.”
Joe straightened his shoulders,“Chances are it never happens, but I agree we take precautions.”
“Same problem with Marie and any other girls we have. I haven’t thought that one out yet.” Adam said and to his surprise his brothers both burst out laughing. Joe explained “She’s not a year old yet! I think you have plenty of time to work out how to protect her from fortune hunters.”
Adam relaxed and smiled, “Of course. It was just ... I needed to talk it over with you two. I shall be drawing up my own will in the next few days and with your permission I’m naming you two joint guardians of my children with Carole and leaving my share of the ranch in trust for them, again with you two as trustees.”
Joe nodded “Sounds straight forward enough, Are you going to tell Carole?”!
“Oh yes. I don’t have secrets from her and I think she’ll understand. What you two do is of course up to you, but if I can help you know I will.”
His brothers both nodded, they would want advice but felt the need of time to consider all the possible problems first. Seeing Adam was still tense and uneasy, Joe forced his brother to stop and look at him. “Will you relax Adam It came as a shock. Odd idea, but you were right to bring it up. Let things slide and some of us could end up paying heavily in the future.”
Hoss added his support, “Stop worrying, we both know you ain’t getting at us or Sue or Nita.”
“That’s alright then.” Adam smiled, “Timing just seemed wrong but once I’d thought of it I couldn’t settle. I hope you both know that I’m very fond of my new sisters.”
Hoss rested his arms on his brothers’ shoulders “We’re so very lucky, good friends and the girls all fit in so well. Guess there ainn’t many families with so little arguing, especially living so close.”
Joe said, “Talking of that, I’ve been thinking about houses. I’ve promised Nita we’ll build our own place this summer, somehow, even if it is hard to fit in with all the rest going on. Will you design it Adam? Can you find the time?”
“You know I will Joe, relaxation really, I enjoy it.” He hesitated “Where are you thinking of building?”
Joe smiled, “Not that valley. There’s nowhere except for the ledge and that was Marie’s house, she was so thrilled. It was lovely, a pity in some ways that it will never be built.”
“I told you then that I could design something totally different that would fit equally well.
“I know Adam, but that’s Marie’s, I can’t take Nita there.” It was Joe’s turn to hesitate, remembering something his brother had said when Carole was kidnapped which had made a deep impression on him and yet not wanting to remind Adam of those terrible hours. Picking his words carefully, Joe said, “Once you said that it was a pity that you’d built so far from the main house, sort of isolated even though it’s only half a mile, I was wondering about a site further down the valley. There are two or three possibilities but if you don’t want anything so close just say. I won’t take offence and I haven’t even mentioned it to Nita yet.”
Hoss was puzzled as he felt Adam tense and his brother lost colour but Joe moved and gripped his brother’s arm “I’m sorry Adam I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“It’s okay, reasons then are still valid, I think I’d feel a lot happier when I was away if there were more houses in the valley, your’s and Hoss’ too if he wants. People close at hand in case .....”
Hoss still didn’t understand but he decided to check with Joe later, for now he changed the subject slightly to find out his brothers’ opinion, something he had been meaning to do anyway. “Assumed you’d move out Joe, like you meant to with Marie, but how’s Pa gonna take it if’n I do too? Leave him all alone in that big house.”
Adam and Joe met each others eyes and Joe smiled slightly but it was Adam who spoke, “Haven’t you got things a bit upside down old son? The important person to you in this must be Sue.”
“Well yeah, I know that. Guess I never really expected to leave Pa.”
Joe grinned at his brother “I’m sure Sue must want her own house, same as any other woman. The main house is comfortable and easy but she can’t change it round, make it her own. Probably wouldn’t choose to have Pa’s collection of antique guns all round the walls. Anyway why should you stay with Pa anymore than me? If it comes to it you married first.”
Adam relaxed as he considered something different, “I think you’re making a mountain out of a molehill. Pa expected us all to move out and it isn’t as if we’re going very far. Whenever he wants company it’s only a short walk and if he was ill, he could either move in with one of us or one of us can move back. We’ve done it before. Pa’s used to being alone there, during the summer most of the time we are working away somewhere and the main house will remain the centre of work unless there’s a particular reason to work elsewhere.”
Hoss frowned, “You saying Pa expects me to move out too?”
Adam nodded, “I’m sure he does Hoss. It isn’t fair on Sue to consider anything else and I am sure that Pa would tell you the same.”
Joe added his agreement and Hoss relaxed, pleased both his brothers were so sure and willing to take their word on Ben’s feelings. He looked questioningly at Adam, knowing what his brother’s answer would be but equally aware just how busy Adam was going to be that summer. However his face was far too expressive and Adam’s eyes sparkled, “If you two will decide on sites, I’ll design two houses and leave you to start arranging the road to the west shore.”
Joe laughed “Getting too good at finding excuses to avoid work!”
“Good teacher in you little brother.”
Hoss still wasn’t sure, “Gonne be mighty pushed Adam.”
“Shouldn’t be too bad for once. There’s plenty of labour with the railroad finished even good carpenters from the trestles, already hired several.”
“I didn’t mean the building, I meant you.”
“Told you I enjoy it, just you get together with Sue, find a site and tell me what you want.”
“I ain’t got no idea.”
Adam smiled, “You may just find that Sue has and anyway at the least I need to know how big a house you want, how many rooms, what stabling, things like that.”
Joe slapped his eldest brother on the back, “Thanks Adam but your biggest problem is gonna be Nita. She has fixed ideas about what she wants; problem is I don’t understand what she means.”
“I’ll trust you to control her.”
Joe laughed “You must be joking! Anyway I don’t know about you two but I’m frozen, I think we’ve all got plenty to think about, talk over, let’s get back to it in a day or two when we’ve had a chance to think.”
That seemed sensible to his brothers, but Adam refused to go back with them he was tired and he wanted to talk to Carole so he’d go straight home. Hoss unconvinced how fit he was offered to go along to see to Blackie for him but Adam just laughed at him. In fact Adam didn’t go straight home, he considered the valley near his home. He could see three possible sites, although drainage would be needed, but it had to be his brothers’ decision. With vague ideas of houses which would fit both the sites and with each other and his own home he had calmed right down by the time he reached home. Carole was glad to see it and just insisted on an early night.
The next day Adam had to tell Carole what he intended doing about the ranch in the event of anything happening to him. It wasn’t easy to explain, however he put it, it sounded as though he didn’t trust her, but it was the law which was forcing him to act. The law which gave any second husband rights over her possessions which she couldn’t contest. Carole was surprisingly unworried about it, he could do what he liked and she understood why, but she was confident it wouldn’t be needed; he would be around long after his own sons were grown and able to take their share of the ranch. Adam pulled her close and hugged her, he should be used to her understanding and backing but each time it came as a fresh miracle and he hadn’t the words to thank her.
Neither Hoss nor Joe had mentioned the wills to their wives, for now they wanted time to think and there was plenty to discuss with the new houses. Ben listened as they argued the advantages and disadvantages of living close together, although as Joe said if they chose the two sites he had in mind, each house would be well separated, barely in sight of each other although within shouting distance.
Ben proved to Hoss that Adam had been right, his father had taken it for granted that both his sons would build their own houses and he liked the idea of all three being close together. In facte with Adam’s the furthest away, the nearest house would be barely a quarter of a mile from him. The one thing that puzzled him was Adam’s reaction; it that was all that his son had wanted to discuss there was no need to drag his brothers off to talk in private. Adam must have known what his reaction would be. Eventually as Nita gave up on trying to explain to Joe what she wanted and started to try and sketch it, ordering him away so that she could concentrate, Ben got his youngest son on his own over by the desk. “That can’t have been all Joseph. What was wrong with your brother?”
Joe smiled; his father knew them all so very well, “It wasn’t, only came up sort of by the way.” Joe perched on the desk ad dropped his voice so only Ben could hear and very briefly outlined Adam’s sudden fears for the ranch brought on by Tony’s death, scared for his brothers and his suggestions for covering it. Ben hadn’t expected that but he could understand his son’s concerns, they had crossed his own mind on occasion, He studied Joe, “What do you think?”
“I was furious at first. Only just married, I guess it was the idea of Nita finding someone else, stupid isn’t it considering that I’ve done exactly that. But once I calmed down I realised he was right, as usual.”
“Thanks for telling me Joseph. Now to revert to houses, how did Adam take the idea of you four invading his privacy?”
Joe bit his lip and Hoss having heard the question joined them. “Yeah what was that all about? Adam went white as a sheet yet he seemed keen on the idea.”
Little Joe smiled faintly, “Very simple really. That night we trailed Carole and lost the trail, Adam was blaming himself for building so far from the main house, where noone but Kam Su was on hand when trouble hit. I thought he would like the idea of us moving closer but I couldn’t avoid reminding him of that night and even now with Carole better.....”
Neither Hoss nor Ben needed any further explanation. Adam was over the worst but he would never forget that night in hell. All of them had too many memories none of them pleasant and they split up, Ben poured himself a drink while his sons rejoined their wives. Nita’s drawing was no clearer than her verbal effort and she gave up, maybe she could make Adam understand even if Joe didn’t.
Both Sue and Nita were very excited and despite a dull cold morning insisted on dragging Hoss and Joe out to consider sites, as soon as they had had breakfast. Ben sat back amused at his sons’ futile efforts to delay the start and they weren’t even allowed to take their horses, Sue proclaimed some exercise would do them all good and Nita agreed it would be easier to see what they wanted on foot. Ganged up on Hoss and Joe submitted and Ben didn’t expect them back until late, guessing that they would stop at Adam’s for lunch to discuss what they had in mind. He wasn’t sorry to have a few hours peace and quiet, needing to get on with the outline plans for the summer; a move would have to be made soon, even though the weather wasn’t good, they had a lot planned. Even so Ben was toying with an extra job, a new sawmill. Once logging became well established on the west shore of the lake, their existing facilities, even with the extra saw, were going to be very stretched. He hadn’t even talked it over with his sons yet but he prepared a tentative costing for it and two possible sites before stretching, ready for a break. As he got up he was suddenly caught by a cramping pain, low on his left side. The pain was so severe that for a moment he couldn’t stand up right and had to lean on the desk for support. It slowly passed and Ben straightened up, rather worried but it had gone and he just wiped his face, probably just cramp from sitting for too long in one position.
Adam had been up early and decided to get some breakfast in town. He wanted to see Jess and had some business at the bank. Carole made no protests, the bruising was easing off and Adam was beginning to move much more easily. The younger brothers and their wives arrived at the house soon after eleven as it had been surprisingly easy to settle on sites. There were only three possibilities and each pair had fallen for a different one, which simplified things. Joe wanted a similar view of the mountains to the one Adam had, like his eldest brother he had always loved that view, his room looking up to it all his life. However Hoss’ room had always faced the other way so he wasn’t concerned about the long view, he wanted the little waterfall and trout stream as an outlook. All of them were surprised to find Adam absent and even more so when Carole said that she expected him back in an hour or so. Carole laughed, “With little ones we are guaranteed an early start and Adam was going to get some breakfast in town. He’ll be back soon.”
The four newcomers made themselves at home and once the brothers had warded off their nephews, given them the obligatory attention, Joe turned to Carole. “We were talking about the house that Adam designed for Marie and I before. Do you know where the sketches are? I gave them back to Adam and I’d like to show them to Nita.”
Carole said rather dubiously, “Well they are in the study. Just where I can only guess. Give me a hand, Joe you know his system as well as I do.”
“System!” grunted Joe “Its non-existent.”
Carole grinned “Nonsense it’s very logical Adam always say so.”
“His logic, no wonder none of us can ever find anything,”
“He always can, eventually.” Carole smiled broadly as she led the way in. After five minutes they found the file in the bottom of a drawer and for a minute Joe stared at the sketches remembering so vividly just how excited Marie had been. He wasn’t unhappy, just lost in thought, and when Carole offered him a drink he shook his head, “No I’m fine. You know these are even more striking than I remember, seems a pity it’ll never be built.”
Joe took the file out and showed the drawings to Nita and Sue. Both knew that Adam had designed his own house and that their husbands had asked him to do theirs but these plans were so different from Adam’s own house that they were stunned. Sue was the first to react “They are astonishing. Adam designed this?”
Joe nodded “I told you once that he’d drawn up plans for a house for Marie and I, a valley back a little way in the hills. I just wanted you to see what he can do when he puts his mind to it, I’d guess he’d come up with something equally different if you leave it up to him.”
Nita was still studying the sketches “He’s a very fine artist apart from anything else.”
Joe laughed “Landscapes and houses maybe but his horses look more like cows and as for his people!”
Hoss grinned “Joe’s right but then he’s usually only doodling and at least they look like people, more’n can be said for Joe’s efforts.”
Joe punched his brother but the twins flew to Uncle Hoss’ defence and soon had Joe on the floor begging for mercy. Hoss egged them on until he saw Joe wince as he banged his right arm. Hoss had forgotten Joe had taken a bullet, even if it wasn’t serious his arm was inevitably sore, so Hoss bodily removed the twins.
Half an hour later Adam got back, he wasn’t hungry he’d eaten in town and Jess was much brighter so he could give a good report on his friend. Adam had spent half an hour with Jess, who was propped up on his pillows, not allowed to talk much and still in pain but pleased with the success of their fight and remarkable cheerful. Sure now that Jess was going to be fine Adam felt much better and left his friend to rest while he got on with his business. Having drawn wages from the bank, he delivered long lists of supplies that they needed with spring approaching. Some he could order at the store and others he had to telegraph their orders but he got all he wanted confirmed before leaving town. He wasn’t surprised to find his brothers and the girls at his house, it was one reason he had headed in early. He was able to give them hopeful reports from town before settling down with coffee and a pad to make notes on exactly what each pair required.
Sue and Hoss were the easiest as they had no preconceived idea and were quite happy to give Adam a free rein, especially since Sue had seen the other house he’d designed. Adam tied them down to how many rooms they wanted upstairs and down and Hoss had a vague idea that he fancied a verandah but he wasn’t sure. Hoss hadn’t even considered stables but under Adam’s questioning he made up his mind what he wanted. Adam made full notes but as he said there would be plenty of time for changes in the next couple of weeks until he started the detailed plans. He would do sketches and rough plans as he had for Joe and Marie and not until they were agreed would the real work start.
Then Adam turned to Joe and Nita. “Do you know what you want yet?”
Joe shrugged “I want a view of the mountains and we know what rooms we want, even stables!” he grinned at Hoss as he added that. Then settled to outline them in detail and Adam wrote it down. Joe wanted a slightly bigger house than Hoss or the one he had asked for before but all of that was clear enough. Then Joe got to his feet “Up to you Nita. I don’t understand what you want maybe Adam can make sense of it.”
Nita blushed slightly and Adam grinned, “Come on Nita let’s go into the study and perhaps we can sort it out, without rude comments!”
Having seen his designs for the other house as well as his own beautiful house, she began to feel embarrassed at putting her own ideas forward; but Adam laughed at her, she was going to live in the house, who had a better right to say what it should be like. Slowly she gained in confidence and tried to explain the image she had in her mind. She showed Adam her sketch even though it didn’t really match what she wanted. Adam encouraged her to talk describe her dream house and as she did so he began to sketch the house he thought she had in mind. After a quarter of an hour he passed the sketch over, “Just a first outline but is it anything like what you want?”
Nita stared at the sketch in disbelief, it was almost exactly the same as the picture she had in her mind, “It’s just right just what I meant.”
Adam smiled “Your descriptions are clearer than Joe gave you a credit for.” Adam came and perched on the arm of her chair. “I think it might look better if we brought this out, here.” He sketched in very lightly the changes he thought necessary and Nita could see almost at once, how much more elegant Adam’s concept was than her own, She made no comment and Adam said “It’s entirely up to you I’ll do whatever you want.”
“No Adam, that’s so very much better. I’ll leave it to you as Joe said, you’re the architect. Having seen that design you did for him before, I don’t need telling you’re a very fine one, I should think you could have made an excellent career at it.”
Adam laughed, “I doubt it, insufficient patience for patrons and an architect relies on them. I can control my own brothers or at least tell them to get lost if they start fussing, Why not call Joe in and see what he thinks of it.”
Nita nodded and opening the door called Joe over. Joe studied the sketch and grinned “You mean you understood her?”
Adam smiled lazily “Some of the family have brains.”
Joe punched him, grinning broadly “These lighter bits are they in or out? Looks much better with them in.”
Nita linked arms with him “They were Adam’s ideas, they’re in.”
Joe kissed her forehead “If you like it, suits me.” In fact he was slightly disappointed, this was much more orthodoxed than the unusual house Adam had designed him before, like many in San Francisco, if rather more elegant. Adam could read his little brother like a book and he smiled “It’s only a first impression Joe, leave it with me for a week or so. I’ll stick to this as a basis and we’ll see what happens.” Then he firmly put his papers away. “Let’s join the others, if you want me to design houses there’s a road to be built. Bring the map will you Joe.”
The three brothers pored over the map laid out on the dining room table. Adam had already decided exactly where the main camp for the west shore gang was to be and huts needed to be erected there and a road driven through for delivery of supplies, even if the lumber was going to be rafted across the lake. He’d also planned the best route for the road although both Hoss and Joe had arguments about certain sections, a couple of which Adam accepted. They went over it in detail, the probable problems and how much could be done now and what would have to wait until the weather improved. Joe took copious notes and agreed to tackle the job while Hoss covered the ordering and stocking of the west shore camp along with his own.
Adam wasn’t sorry to leave that to his brothers, he had to help his father finalise the work plan for the year and with two houses to design he was going to be very busy. Although he wouldn’t admit it he didn’t feel like any hard physical work yet, so very stiff and still easily tired, not having regained his stamina.
He didn’t want to start work on the designs yet, letting his ideas simmer for a few hours before putting anything on paper. He was sorting out some of the papers from town when he was surprised to see his father ride in with Dan. Dan had wanted to see one of the Cartwrights and had been annoyed to miss Adam in town so he’d decided to ride out to the ranch. Ben had suggested that they join the others at Adam’s house before Dan explained in detail.
Dan was always a very welcome guest and Carole went to fetch coffee and cakes while the twins came to say hello. Adam joined his father, who was rather quiet and looked slightly under the weather “You feeling alright Pa?”
“Of course. Why?”
“I’ve seen you look better. Sure there’s nothing wrong?”
Ben smiled “Just a headache, maybe starting a cold. More likely just reaction to all the trouble. Don’t worry about me.”
“You don’t mind Hoss and Joe moving out?”
“Expected it but you’ll be busy with two houses to design, I presume you are doing both?”
“Of course. I’d have been disappointed if they hadn’t asked, but no rush I want to think about it first. Thought we’d clear the outline summer work plan first.”
Ben nodded “Be glad of your help, I’ve made a start. Now let’s hear Dan’s story.”
Dan wandered over to the fire, leaning against the mantelpiece as Dan started his complicated story. Although he couldn’t prove anything and many of his informants wouldn’t be quoted he was sure of his facts. What he had heard tied up two of the stories Adam had heard in town and he listened quietly with all the rest of his family as it unfolded. Dan had spoken to Jones who had had more than enough of being a senator he’d come back to town to find himself much more unpopular than he’d expected. He knew that he hadn’t achieved much but he didn’t think that his friends realised the problems in doing anything. Senators didn’t count for much in Washington, especially those from the uncivilised west and he’d had no support from the more experienced Stewart. In fact as far as Dan could discover Sharon had the Senatorial recommendation from the Nevada legislature so tied up that nothing anyone could do would affect it. Ben shook his head in disgust “I suppose we’ll have to put up with it. If he does no more than Jones I guess he won’t do much harm. How has he managed it?”
“That brings us back to the Ophir stock.” said Dan and got everyone’s attention. “Seems Sharon has convinced Ralston and virtually all the Nevada legislators that the Ophir has the same bonanza in its lower levels as the Virginia. Told each one in confidence of course and as one buys the price rises, bolsters all of them. The stock is rising and one man told me that Sharon assures him it will go to at least $300 a foot. He owns a large block himself, as they can see on checking the register so there was little reason to disbelieve him but its noticeable that he isn’t buying any at current prices.”
Ben whistled softly “That’s ridiculous the Ophir isn’t worth anything like that, very doubtful if it has the same ore in its depth.”
Dan grinned, “You don’t need to convince me but Sharon has them hoodwinked and noone is going to believe us.”
Adam went and poured a brandy “This could make the stock collapse we had before look small. Sometime the bottom is going to fall out of the Ophir and the panic can carry the rest of the stock with it.”
Dan nodded, “One reason I wanted to warn you. When news of your new bank reaches Sharon he may well do something foolish.”
None of them were surprised that Dan knew about the bank, little went on in town that Dan didn’t know about. Ben queried exactly what Dan had heard but Adam slipped into his study to check their current holdings of stock and consider what he’d heard. He wasn’t surprised to find Sharon behind the Ophir stock manipulations, he was always the first suspect in such things, but Adam intended to have plenty of liquid cash before the crash arrived.
When he went back out the discussion had changed back to the pipeline. In the absence of organised trouble with a three of the main trouble makers sacked from the labour gangs on Barnes’ word, things were going very smoothly. Harv was still very upset and pushing hard burying his memories in work and Dan had heard how the trench was getting on, faster than they’d expected.
Adam didn’t revert to the stock market until Dan had left. He was grateful for his friend’s warning but Dan was still a journalist and he had no intention of letting Dan know what they were planning, Ben was of the same mind and as Dan left he turned to his sons, “Right we have to decide what to do. It isn’t just the Ophir stock which will be affected.”
Joe shrugged “No rush surely. If Sharon is tipping Ophir stock to the legislators he‘s not about to upset the applecart until his election has been certified to the federal government and that won’t be for nearly two months yet. Even if he does have the election tied up.”
Ben nodded “Fair enough as far as you go Joe but even if we have several months that isn’t very long, or we might end up depressing the stock prices ourselves. What do you think Adam?”
“I think we want to get some extra cash on hand. I’m going to give a sell order on my Ophir stock when it reaches $250, sentimentality only goes so far and I reckon I’ll be able to buy back much cheaper when the stock reaches a realistic level.”
Ben nodded “About what I thought but I think we’d better go through our joint portfolio, sell off gradually now get the cash spread around I’m going to do the same for my own stock.”
Hoss grunted “Ain’t we running scared on mighty little evidence?”
Adam shrugged “Maybe but it can’t do much harm to cash in at least in part. The market is reasonably buoyant. As long as we move slowly we shouldn’t cause any trouble.”
“We’ve got a pile of cash on hand anyway.” Hoss protested “And with the extra dividends from the two mines be even more, don’t know what to do with it now.”
Adam smiled “Doesn’t so any harm to let it just sit around for a few months Hoss. I know that’s heresy to any respectable banker but I foresee trouble and with liquid cash, we’ll survive and maybe help a few more to do so. It’s the same argument as last time. Someone is going to make a fortune and most of them will take the money out of Nevada At least we can use it here.”
Ben nodded “And with our own bank we can use it to advantage. Maybe not get a high return on the money but as you said Hoss we don’t need it, Joseph you’re very quiet, what do you think?”
“Sell out as you think fit, we’re too closely involved with the mines for my liking really, Except for the Virginia and the California of course. I like my dividends.”
“Couldn’t afford your orphanage without them.” teased Adam and Joe coloured as Nita looked questioningly at him, he hadn’t told her about his monthly donations. Adam realised he’d let the cat out and sighed “Sorry Joe.”
“No matter, Come on Nita lets go home and I’ll explain. No secret, just hadn’t got round to telling you.” When Joe did explain Nita was delighted, glad of the added proof of just how different her new family was from her old. Not that Leland Stanford didn’t contribute to charity he did, but with the biggest possible fanfare and publicity.
Over the next week Adam worked with his father on the summer work plan. They were going to be stretched with houses to build and the new saw mill but Adam agreed that was necessary. It would mean Adam handling the west shore operation on his own and even though the pilot scheme had indicated the main problems, it was bound to be difficult with the first full scale operation. Ben would have liked to give his son one of his brothers to help out, but with various contracts to be arranged the other lumber operation, the horse contract and building, apart from the normal running of the ranch and their commitments in town, he didn’t see how to do it. Adam just laughed at his father he had no intention of dragging either of them so far from their new wives and never had considered it, once work really got under way they would see little enough of Sue and Nita anyway. Ben wasn’t surprised at his son’s attitude and they were all going to be very busy but he hesitated at Adam’s proposals for marking up, which would have to be started soon.
Joe had been out a fair amount, starting the road for the west shore but Hoss had been mainly around the house, arranging for supplies and equipment able to take Sue along on trips to town to order what was needed and beginning the long job of repairing the damaged sections of pipe, Adam didn’t feel too guilty at dragging Hoss away fro ten days to mark up in the high country for his main operation, As Hoss would as usual run that one it only made sense foe him to go along. However despite Ben’s arguments Adam flatly refused to take either Hoss or Joe to help him mark up on the west shore, He intended taking three hands with him but, although that would give him help on the mechanical side of measuring and blazing, it would be no help in the multitude of decisions and the mass of paperwork involved. Adam just shrugged off his father’s worries, the job would take a little longer but he would manage.
Ben tried to point out that he wasn’t being fair to Carole but he got no support from his daughter-in-law. Carole knew just what Adam intended and although she would miss him she was in full agreement as she told her father-in-law. Hoss and Joe had rearranged their plans to fit in with her often enough, ensuring that Adam could stay with her when she needed him.
Adam had been grateful for that and he hadn’t forgotten the extended honeymoon that he and Carole had taken back East while the ranch was still recovering from the effects of the fight with Addison. His brothers hadn’t wanted to go away for various reasons but they still deserved as much time to themselves as possible. Ben laughed at his son, Adam seemed to be forgetting how badly hurt he’d been at the time, barely back on his feet he couldn’t have worked anyway. Adam shrugged “I could have done the paperwork, freed you. I didn’t and neither then nor now do I feel guilty about it, but I will do my part now.”
With both of them so adamant Ben let Adam do as he wanted, knowing when it was impossible to budge his son. Everything else seemed to be running smoothly the pipe was progressing slowly but only the weather was holding it up, the necessary enabling legislation for the Bank of Nevada had been passed and if Sharon had heard about it he hadn’t reacted so far. The stock they had agreed to sell was slowly being unloaded at good prices and Ben, in consultation with his sons, had arranged for the cash to be spread around various banks trying to avoid speculation for as long as possible. Both his younger sons seemed very happy with their new wives and the girls fitted in well. A lot of time was spent with catalogues deciding what would be needed, both to build and furnish their new homes. So far Adam hadn’t produced any sketches but he had spent time on both sites drawing the backgrounds and had taken to locking himself away in his study for odd hours. In fact it seemed everything was going well, even Jess recovering fast. The only small cloud on Ben’s horizon was the pain in his side. He had felt it badly twice more and a few times there was a nagging ache. Luckily so far he had been alone when it hit and he was able to hide it from his family. He had thought of having a word with Doc but decided he was making a fuss about nothing, he’s had odd pains before maybe a strained muscle or cramp and he did his best to forget it.
Several of the family had thought Ben looked a little peaky on occasion but as he’d had quite a bad cold and the weather was still miserable it wasn’t altogether surprising and noone was really worried not even enough to discuss it between themselves.
The outline plan was just about finished although it would have to be altered according to events as it was every year. With two houses to build they would be slightly extended but, provided not too much trouble originated from town, they could cope and be less stretched than when building the new flumes. For once they had plenty of labour and Adam decided that Peter Curtis would do a good job as foreman of the carpentry gangs for the houses and Tom Seton could handle the new sawmill at least for the time being. Both men had been foremen on the railroad project and Ben had been delighted they’d agreed to join the Ponderosa. Ben wanted at least one of the men to join Adam on the west shore there were few enough around who were willing to take responsibility. However there’d be time to consider that later when perhaps the sawmill was sufficiently far along for it to be left.
Adam disappeared into his study on Friday and warned Carole he didn’t want to be disturbed. He was going out with Hoss to mark up on Monday and he was determined to get the rough designs for both houses down on paper so that he could discuss them with his brothers on Sunday and hopefully get their approval, then he could work on the detailed plans during the evenings as they marked up. Hoss was the easy one, he had no constraints and by Friday evening he had the various views and plan of the building drawn. A very clear idea of what he wanted in his own mind, exactly what was needed, before he sat down. He just hoped that Hoss and Sue liked it. It was mid evening when he finished Hoss’ house but he began doodling around the basic design Nita wanted, well aware of Joe’s reaction to it. There was a glimmer of an idea in his mind but be couldn’t get it clear and it had been annoying him for several days. About eleven Carole came in to see if he was coming to bed, but Adam knew that he wouldn’t settle and told her to go on up and not stay awake waiting for him he might be quite a while. With a quiet week and not working too long hours Carole knew her husband had about fully recovered and even begun to rebuild his stamina so she wasn’t worried, he was doing a job he enjoyed and so just suggesting he come up quietly Carole let him be.
Adam doodled for another hour and then decided he needed another look at the site and he slipped out, saddle up Blackie and rode over to it, considering it from all angles and then as an idea came to him he went up to the lake to consider it. He walked along the shore but for once he wasn’t even aware of the magnificent scenery there, he could see the site that Joe had chosen in his mind’s eye. Slowly his ideas clarified and he knew exactly what was needed, he went back to Blackie and rode home amazed to find it was nearly six and Marie was already awake burbling to herself in her cot. Adam put some coffee on and then hearing Carole get up he went up to wash and change, so obviously pleased with himself that she didn’t even comment on him staying up all night.
Adam couldn’t be bothered with breakfast, just eating a couple of biscuits with his coffee as he began the drawings. Carole popped her head round the door two hours later to say that she was taking the children over to the main house for the day as she would get no sense out of him. Adam grunted and then looked up “I’ll be finished today love, I know I’m not much company but....”
“You get on; just make sure they are as nice as ours.” Carole kissed him and Adam got on, grateful for her support. Noone was very surprised at her arrival knowing what Adam was like once he got down to a job but with everything going smoothly they settled down to enjoy themselves. After lunch Ben and Hoss were running over what was needed from the high country to complete their contracts and Joe was checking some supply lists. Sue and Nita had got Carole to help, advise them on the best way to order and arrange delivery of the furniture they had chosen. Marie was asleep but then Mark came in and went over to his mother, he was crying and Carole picked him up and calmed the little boy down, trying to find out what was wrong. She wasn’t worried especially when she realised he was upset because he couldn’t find his brother. She called for David, but there was no answer and as it was obvious that Mark wasn’t going to settle until they’d found his brother the three women had a look around. At first casually, then slightly annoyed as they couldn’t find him, thinking that David was deliberately hiding from them. When a systematic search of the house failed to find him Carole began to get worried. Thinking about it none of them had seen David since lunchtime. The three men and Hop Sing had joined in by now and yet there was no sign of the child. Every cupboard, box, under every bed had been searched and Carole was sure David wouldn’t have stayed hidden deliberately, not for so long, he would have got bored.
Hoss and Joe went outside to see if any of the hands had seen the little boy and get help to check all the outbuildings. Carole was very pale, scared for her son, he was such a little boy, not quite three years old. Ben tried to calm her down, by that same token he couldn’t have gone very far. He suggested that she tried to talk to Mark, maybe he had some idea what his brother had intended to do, and he would go and fetch Adam. Probably they would have found David before he even got back, but she’d feel better with her husband by her side.
Carole was fighting to retain control, everything Ben said made sense, the little boy couldn’t have gone far, but why couldn’t they find him? She sat down to talk to Mark desperately wanting Adam’s calm strength.
Joe and Hoss soon found that none of the hands had seen David but they had one hundred percent volunteers to search the buildings and the surrounding area. Joe had the same idea as his father, maybe Mark knew something and leaving Hoss to organise the men into search parties he went back in.
Mark could see that his mother was upset and thought that she was cross with him so he wasn’t making much sense. Carole knew that she wasn’t getting anywhere and when Joe brought her over a large brandy and suggested that he try and talk to Mark she nodded wordlessly. Nita said “Pa has gone to get Adam.”
Joe nodded “All the men are searching outside, probably find David before Adam gets here. Try and take it easy Carole.”
Sue moved over to Carole while Joe took the little boy over to the seat by the window and sat down with Mark on his knee. He started out by trying to reassure the little boy that noone was cross with him and Mark snuggled close to his favourite Uncle and calmed down a little, but all he could say was that David had gone and he couldn’t find him. Joe tried to ask questions but he wasn’t getting anywhere, the child was too young to make sense. Joe persevered still sure that Mark knew something if they could just find the key to it.
Adam had been working hard all day and was delighted with what he had finally achieved. It was close enough to Nita’s original design to suit her but he thought his brother would like it. He was just putting the finishing touches to the internal plans when his father rode up. He had been about to collect all the papers together and take them over anyway and he grinned at the sight of his father dismounting in the yard, Ben had timed it well, he had just about finished all he could do until he had spoken to the four prospective owners.
Ben had ridden over slowly, knowing just how impossible it was to break the news gently to his son, trouble coming out of the blue, with absolutely no indication where the little boy could have gone. He had kept a close watch in case David had decided to go home for some reason, maybe collect a favourite toy, but there was no sign of him. Ben could remember as though it was yesterday the long hours when he’d had the whole countryside out hunting for Little Joe, when they had lost him. Joe had been very young but at four and a half considerably older than David. The terror and pain he had known in the hours before they found Joe on Eagle’s Nest were as real to Ben now as they had been then and he didn’t know how much of it was memory and how much fear for his grandson and to a lesser extent for Adam and Carole. Ben kept telling himself that the child couldn’t have gone far, even now it was only three hours and a young child didn’t get far in that time, no wild animals came that close to the houses and the weather hadn’t been hard enough to drive them down; with so many men looking he must be found soon.
Ben let himself into the house, the front door handle was too high and stiff for the twins and the only way that David could have got into the house was through the kitchen. A word with Kam Su ruled that out, he had been in the kitchen since before lunch and hadn’t seen the little boy. There was nothing that Ben could do but go and tell Adam, hard as it was, and he went through to the study.
Adam was packing up his papers and straightened up, grinning, “Timed it well Pa, I’ve just finished.” Then as he took in the expression on his father’s face he let the papers drop and gripped the edge of the desk, licking suddenly dry lips, “Tell me.”
Ben moved over to his son and gently forced him into the chair “Easy Adam, it may be nothing, we don’t know but we can’t find David. He seems to have disappeared but he can’t have gone far.”
Whatever Adam had expected that wasn’t it and he stared at his father in utter disbelief. Ben went and poured a large brandy and passed it to his son but Adam, suddenly angry, pushed it away, “How? How can a little boy disappear? There were six of you, seven with Hop Sing. Couldn’t you look after a child?”
Ben put his hand on Adam’s shoulder but Adam pulled away “How long?”
“We’re not sure. None of us have seen him since lunch, about three hours. He and Mark were playing. It’s about an hour since Mark came in, in tears, because he couldn’t find his brother.”
“Pa he’s only two, how?”
Ben shrugged “I don’t know. At first we thought he was just playing, hiding from us, it wasn’t until we’d all searched the house and found nothing that we began to worry. Hoss has every hand searching they may have found him by now, he can’t have gone far.”
Adam bit his lip so scared, the shock hitting him hard, especially after a sleepless night but he knew that Carole needed him. He straightened his shoulder “I’ll borrow Buck go to Carole. Will you check around here in case he tried to come home?”
“Of course son, we’ll find him try not to worry.” Ben knew even as he said it that it was impossible for Adam not to worry, but after the first few seconds he had seen his son fight and win control of himself.
Adam went out to his father’s horse. It was hard to believe that the little boy could have disappeared with so many people around but it wouldn’t help to blame them although that had been his first reaction. As he rode over he saw more than twenty men searching the woods and the area between the two houses under José’s direction, Adam knew that if anything at all had been found they would tell him so he didn’t waste time with questions. The shock was clear on his face and none of the men bothered him, all able to imagine how he was feeling and they continued the search with renewed vigour.
Adam got down and Kirk was there to take Buck from him. The old cowboy patted his shoulder, “We’ll find the little’un. Take it easy, it ain’t noone’s fault.”
“I know that Kirk, thanks.” Adam took a moment to get control of himself before he went in to join Carole, sure that Kirk would have checked every possible hiding place round the year noone knew the outbuilding better. He had been with them as they built the ranch, since the days when there was only the house and a single barn, not even a proper bunkhouse.
As Adam walked in Carole ran to him, desperately worried and upset, blaming herself for not noticing that David wasn’t around. Adam could read how she felt, written all over her face and he just took her in his arms, holding her very close and murmuring softly to her reassuring her that it wasn’t her fault, assuring her of his love and his belief that it would be alright. He was sure that she wasn’t taking much in as for the first time Carole gave way to the tears which had been threatening for the last hour. Adam held her close burying his face in her hair, not wanting to let Sue and Nita see the fear and despair that he couldn’t hide.
Joe looked up as Adam came in but Carole needed his brother and the best thing he could do to help was to keep Mark calm. Mark had tensed up again seeing his Mummy and Daddy upset. Joe turned away to the window and with Mark on his knee he began tickling the little boy and making him giggle, Mark relaxed and tentatively began playing with Joe’s hair. When he wasn’t stopped he began enjoying himself, curling the hair round his little fingers, the curly hair so like his own. Joe made the obligatory protests that the twins liked but most of his attention was on his brother. Adam’s face was hidden but Joe knew him so well that he could see the despair in the very way that Adam stood. Joe was very glad when their father came back in and for the first time Adam raised his head, doing his best to hide the agony of mind for Carole’s and Mark’s sake, but unable to hide the expression in his eyes. Joe wanted to go to his brother but he concentrated on Mark, at least their Pa was there.
Ben gripped Adam’s shoulder “José is at your house, he’ll keep the search going round there as well as I could.”
“Sure Pa, I saw them searching the route.”
“Hoss has the rest of the men searching in circles round the house. David can’t have gone very far.”
Adam asked, “Did he have his coat and boots on? It’s very cold.”
Carole nodded, “First thing I checked once we’d realised he wasn’t in the house, but there’s no sign in any of the outbuildings. Hoss and Joe checked with all the men.” she shivered “I should have watched him more closely.”
Adam pulled her closer, “Don’t be silly darling, noone is to blame. The twins aren’t still for a minute and there’s no danger to them either here or at home. We’ve always given them freedom to run around, there’s got to be some simple explanation.”
Carole was glad that her husband didn’t blame her but she blamed herself bitterly, where could he be, such a little boy. Sue came over “We were all here Carole, not just you and none of us noticed he wasn’t around.”
“David isn’t your son.” Carole shut her eyes, close to hysteria and panic, but she knew that wouldn’t help anything and kept a measure of control. Adam looked over at Nita “Two brandies please.” Then he gripped Carole’s arms and forced her to look at him, “The only one who might know what David was planning is Mark. Joe has him calmed down and we have to question him. You’re his mother, you know him best. You might pick up a hint that means nothing to us, but unless you calm down we’ll get nowhere.”
“He doesn’t know anything he’s not even three.”
“They are twins, together all the time, he at least knows where he last saw David, probably what David was thinking, but we have to get it out of him. Calmness and patience are the only things that can help. There are nearly a hundred men out there hunting, one or two more will make little difference. I can do more good here, if we can get some hint from Mark we’ll know where to concentrate the search.”
Carole looked up at him “Suppose....” She broke off, scared to put it into words. Adam, puzzled by the expression on her face, handed her the brandy Nita had brought over drained his own in one, and then led her into the dining room. Ben stayed by them scared, for both of them, knowing they wouldn’t mind his presence and might need his support. Adam took a deep breath fighting for calm and then said “Go on.”
Carole bit her lip and gripped his arm painfully tight. “He’s such a little boy. I can’t understand how he could have got far enough away not to have been found by now. Even if he’d gone straight after lunch and that isn’t likely. I can’t see Mark waiting two hours before missing him.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“You’ve said it before, rich a prime target. Suppose someone has taken him?” Carole looked down not even able to face Adam, remembering her night in hell. “Or even a madman, who wanted him, a young child. You hear of such things.”
Adam swayed as though physically hit, he hadn’t even considered such a possibility. Ben steadied his son but Adam wasn’t even aware of his father staring at Carole, unable to find any words to reassure her. Ben looked round and catching Nita’s eye asked for another brandy, Nita brought it over and Ben ordered his son to drink it in a tone which brooked no arguments. Adam downed it and then said “If there had been any strangers around, someone would have seen, the hands were out in the corral, Kirk in the barn and he doesn’t miss anything.”
Carole nodded “I know but you hired so many new hands and many of them are still around the house. We don’t know anything about them and one of them might have grabbed David, he’s too young to make any real protest.”
It was at least possible and Adam couldn’t deny it but he fought for control “If he’s been taken for ransom then we’ll hear and there’s no reason not to let him go, he’s too young to give any real description, no threat.”
“And if?”
“I won’t consider that. I talked to everyone, nobody odd. Much more likely he’s just wandered off, maybe it is a kidnap and if so we’ll pay, but Hoss could find him any minute. I’m going to talk to Mark. You drink that brandy, stop imagining the worst and calm down. Then you can help. It doesn’t do David any good to panic.” He kissed her gently “ Try praying darling, God has never let us down yet.”
He straightened up and somehow hid his fears, “Pa stay with her.”
Ben nodded, “of course and really Adam I don’t think you need fear kidnap, or ....”
Adam couldn’t answer and for a moment shut his eyes and breathing deeply got control of himself, Sue had seen how he’d hidden his feelings from his wife when she was ill but even so she was surprised at how effective an act he put on and Nita was astounded as Adam went over to join his brother and Mark.
Mark didn’t really understand what was going on, but he could sense the tension in the room and felt that everyone was cross with him apart from his favourite Uncle. Marie sensed it too and was crying so Nita picked up the baby, glad of something to do. Mark stared suspiciously at his father as Adam sat down next to Joe. What he saw reassured him and he scrambled across onto his father’s lap, glad to get away from Joe, a guilty conscience telling him that his Uncle would be cross if he knew what they had been doing. Mark snuggled into Adam’s shoulder “I’ve lost David.”
Adam held him close, “I know that Mark, we’ll have to find him won’t we. Do you remember losing your woolly bear a few weeks ago? We couldn’t find him anywhere until we went back over what you’d been doing and found him, because you remembered putting him behind the stove to keep warm.”
“Course I do.”
“Well we’re going to try and remember what you and David have done since lunch. Will you help me?”
Mark looked guiltily at his Uncle and muttered begrudgingly “Suppose.”
Adam forced himself to smile at the little boy, “You want to find David?”
“Oh yes.” There was no hesitation in that but it was obvious that the little boy had done something that he shouldn’t and was feeling guilty, Adam and Joe exchanged glances, both aware that until they found out what was worrying him, probably Mark wouldn’t be able to remember anything to help.
Joe grinned at the little boy “When I was a little boy like you, I was always getting up to mischief and your daddy used to tell me off. He was much older than me, but he never stayed cross long, especially if I owned up to what I’d done.”
“You were naughty?” Mark asked uncertainly.
Adam hugged his son “Much naughtier than you are Mark. You might as well tell us what you’ve done. We won’t be cross, promise. We just want to find David. It’s nearly teatime and he must be hungry.”
“But I don’t know where he is.” objected Mark
“You didn’t know where Bear was until we checked back where you’d been.” Adam pointed out.
Both Adam and Joe were sure that he remembered something that he didn’t want to tell them. It might not help at all in finding David but all they could do was to keep trying and with infinite patience they talked to the little boy. Getting him to talk as they often did and occasionally slipping in a relevant question. Carole had taken Adam’s words to heart, panic wouldn’t help anyone, although as time passed and it grew dark it was increasingly difficult to avoid. She came over to join the brothers and Mark slowly relaxed, enjoying the undivided attention of his three favourite adults. There was no way to rush him or they would be back at the start and they all knew that there was no real evidence that Mark knew anything to help but with so many men already searching it was the most useful thing they could do. The brothers extracted from Mark that the twins had gone out to the barn to play with the kittens after lunch and had both returned to the house. They hadn’t been able to find Hop Sing and had gone upstairs as everyone was busy. Carole couldn’t help blaming herself at that, but the brothers saw the guilty look the little boy cast at his Uncle at that point. Before Adam could say anything Joe lifted his nephew up and holding him at arm’s length said “You went in my room didn’t you, the pair of you?”
Mark hung his head in a very clear admission of guilt and Joe kept a straight face with difficulty, despite David’s predicament Mark looked so woebegone. “I’ll tell you what Mark, I’ll do a deal with you. You come up to my room now and show your father and I exactly what you and David did and I won’t be cross.”
Mark frowned “Not cross?”
Joe hugged him, “I promise Mark I won’t be cross.”
Adam smiled, “It’s your Uncle’s room, if he isn’t cross I shan’t be.”
Mark scrambled down at that and ran over to the stairs with Joe after him. Carole sighed “What’s the use we know David isn’t there, we’ve searched every room.”
“Easy my love. I still think that Mark has some idea what David intended to do, if only we can get him to remember.”
“It’s almost dark Adam and hunting with lanterns what chance do they have?”
“Every man is doing his best darling.”
“I know that. But it’s so cold out there; a little boy all alone will die of exposure before morning.” Carole was calm now, but so very bleak that Adam didn’t know how to help her.Sue came over, “Go join Joe, Adam, she’ll only upset Mark again. I’ll look after Carole.”
Adam nodded, kissed Carole’s forehead but his wife seemed unaware of him. As he went upstairs he prayed for his son’s survival and in almost the same breath gave thanks for the support of all his family, Sue and Nita as much as his blood relatives, without them he didn’t know what he’d do. As he joined Joe, he found Mark had got out a beautiful picture book, one of the early one he had provided for Marie when she was learning to read. Joe had let the little boys look at it on occasion but it was much too good to let them have without supervision and the twins knew they weren’t supposed to get it out on their own. That was what Mark had been trying to hide, not wanting to get into trouble, but it didn’t exactly help them to find David and Joe was at his wits end, scared for his nephew and knowing how hard Adam and Carole would take it.
Adam wasn’t prepared to give up yet and he sat down on the bed and smiles at his son “Right we’re not cross but will you try and help me Mark?”
Mark nodded slowly and Adam elicited the fact that David had been with him when they got the book down and had gone out leaving Mark looking at it. That was the last time he’d seen his brother and it wasn’t until he’d finished looking at the book and put it away that he had gone to find David and couldn’t. Adam tried to get Mark to remember if his brother had said anything about where he was going, but Mark just didn’t know. It seemed a dead end and then Joe said, “Do you remember which picture you were looking at when David left?”
Mark nodded and jumped up from Adam’s knee and ran over to the book, very carefully turning the pages until he stopped at one. “That one, Uncle Joe.”
Joe stared at it, a picture of a field of spring flowers. “Are you sure Mark?”
The little boy was very sure and Joe sighed hopelessly, he’d hoped the picture might give some hint of what David had in mind but it seemed the little boy had just got bored. Adam came over to stare at the picture, it wasn’t like anything David could know, but he couldn’t give up, the only possible clue was in this tiny boy’s head, if they could just find the key to unlock it. “What did David think of the picture Mark?”
“Said it was pretty.”
Adam rubbed his aching eyes looking out at the black night not even a moon, thinking of the scared little boy lost out there in the bitter cold. Then to his surprise Mark said, “It was to be a surprise for you Daddy ‘cos you were working so hard.”
Adam knelt down by his son, “What sort of surprise Mark?”
“I don’t know David didn’t tell me, He said you didn’t have time to do it so he’s surprise you, do it for you.”
“Do what for me?” Adam urged but Mark shook his head, close to tears again as he couldn’t answer and Joe picked him up and cuddled him “There’s a clever boy remembering so much.”
“David didn’t say he just went out.”
“It’s alright Mark you’ve done very well.” Mark burrowed against his Uncle and Joe looked at his brother “I don’t think he knows anymore.”
Adam knew that his brother was right and he patted his son’s back “Good boy Mark, are you hungry?”
Mark nodded and Adam went on, “Uncle Joe will take you down to Hop Sing, you have your supper and we’ll find David so he can have his.” He kissed his son and let Joe take him out. Adam stood staring at the field of flowers trying to think himself into the mind of a small child, what on earth had David wanted to do for him. The mere thought that David was lost, maybe dying, because he’d wanted to help his father hurt so much that Adam couldn’t seem to think straight. After a minute or two he got a grip on himself it just made it that much more important to find his son. Maybe one of the others would have an idea and he went down taking the book with him.
Hop Sing was looking after Mark in the kitchen and Nita had taken Marie out to feed her. Joe had just finished explaining to the others just what Mark had said. Even Hoss was back the men well organised were continuing the search by lantern light but he felt as though they were getting nowhere and had needed to know what was happening. Adam didn’t even query Hoss’ presence, knowing that if they had found the slightest sign he would have been told. Carole was crying quietly, with Sue’s arm round her but Adam was calmer than they expected. He joined them by the fire, putting the open book on the table. “A field of flowers what could it mean to a child. Answer that and I think we’d know what he was trying to do,
All of them stared at it in silence for several minutes and then Carole sat up suddenly, brushing her hand across her eyes, “Flowers. Adam you were talking about flowers the other day.”
“I was?”
Carole shut her eyes and tried to remember and then it came back, she’d only come in on the tail end of the conversation. “I don’t know why, you and Hoss were talking. I just brought in some coffee.”
Adam still couldn’t remember but Hoss did, “Yeah you’d been up to the Lake, something about how bare Beth’s grave was now the flowers had died that we’d have to place something on it when we had the time.”
“Was David there?” Joe asked.
Neither of his brothers was sure but Adam got to his feet, “It all fits and David is usually hanging around Hoss if he’s there, good chance he was.”
“He can’t have got that far.” Sue protested.
Hoss shrugged “I wouldn’t be too sure he’s a good walker and an obstinate little mite. Come on let’s go have a look. Joe get some lanterns.”
Ben hesitated “Do you think he’d know the way to the Lake?”
Adam and Carole both nodded and Adam answered his father “Been up plenty of times and he has a much better memory for directions and trails than Mark.”
Carole wanted to go with her husband but Adam insisted that Mark needed her there. If David was near the Lake he and his brothers would find the child. The search hadn’t got that far as noone had thought that a young child could go so far, even though he’d been missing a long time now. Adam couldn’t wait to search and told Hoss and Joe to follow slowly and look for sign, he was going straight to the Lake to see if there was any hint that they were right, It seemed to fit but they were building an awful lot on a few words remembered by a tiny child. It didn’t take him long to reach the lake and there on Beth’s grave, lying on the frozen earth was the proof that they had been right, a small bunch of wilted dying grasses, leaves and wild flowers the sort of offering a young child might well collect. Adam knelt down by it touching the bundle with almost a sense of awe that his son had come so far, but there was still no sign of David and the frozen ground left no trace of his passing
For a moment Adam stared at the silent lake in sudden fear and he couldn’t breath, a tight band round his chest, as he thought of all the places where a small child might slip and fall and like the man he had lost the previous year, the Lake might retain his body for eternity. So very scared Adam couldn’t move nor think, the cold seemed to permeate through his thick clothes and the tiny boy hadn’t his resilience. Adam didn’t realise how much of the cold he felt was from shock and came from within him. He was still kneeling there, unable to see David and not knowing what to do next when his brothers joined him. They didn’t need telling the meaning of the small posy Adam was clutching or even why he was staring at the lake and knew they needed to help him. Hoss got down and helped his brother back to his feet, “So he got here, stubborn little kid, true Cartwright ain’t he?”
Adam couldn’t answer and Joe moved between his brother and the Lake. “Cheer up Adam. Carole has it so well instilled into the twins not to go bear the edge, I don’t think there’s any chance David would have done so.”
Hoss nodded, “Joe’s right, David didn’t come up here to be naughty, he was trying to help. He wasn’t about to go breaking rules.”
Adam wasn’t sure, sensing neither of his brothers were as positive as they were trying to sound, in which he was right, but neither would they admit the possibility until everything else was ruled out. Adam bit his lip. “Where is he? If he was on the way back we’d have found him.”
Hoss frowned “Maybe he tried to go straight to your house. I’ll check the route back to your place, you and Joe hunt around here. Long walk for a little mite, he may have curled up and gone to sleep. I’ll send some more men up to help out.”
Adam could only do as his brother suggested he didn’t seem to be able to think and let them plan for him. It was slow work; the lanterns threw limited light and just deepened the surrounding shadows. There was virtually no moon due even when it did ride and Adam knew that Carole was right; his son would die of exposure before morning if they didn’t find him. They searched wordlessly and hadn’t got very far by the time Hoss got back half an hour later.
Hoss dismounted and came over “No sign on the trail but I have men strung out all along it, searching, same on the trail back to the main house. Be another half a dozen up here to help us in a minute. You tried calling for him?”
Joe nodded “We both have but no reaction. Its so damned dark.”
Hoss put his arm round Adam’s shoulders, feeling the tension in his brother. “You remember when you were a kid and the house got burnt, where did Pa find us?”
“Under a bush, it was so cold; I took you under it for protection from the wind.”
“That’s what I thought, Look I know you were a lot older, all of six, but David’s a sensible little fellow and I think he’s heard that story, I don’t mind betting he’s curled up under a bush sound asleep.”
Joe added, “He don’t like prickles, fusses a lot more than Mark if he gets stabbed, maybe limit his choice.”
Adam lent his head against Blackie for a minute, glad of the horse’s warmth, trying to hide his feelings as few hands appeared. Joe gripped his brother’s shoulder in mute sympathy, not speaking, knowing the tightrope that Adam was walking in his attempt to stay calm.
Ben had wanted to go and join his sons when word arrived back, via Hoss and José that they were sure David had reached the Lake but that there was still no sign of the child. He knew that there was nothing he could do out there that wasn’t already being done but he also knew all too well the agony of mind Adam must feel and he wanted to be with his eldest son. One look at Carole had made his mind up for him, she was as desperately worried and unhappy as his son, without even the chance to do anything and he would serve his son best by looking after Adam’s beloved wife. However friendly the three women had become Carole had only known her new sisters a few months, while over the years she had grown very close to her father-in-law, not surprising with Adam so like his father. Now in Adam’s absence she clung to Ben, gaining the strength from him to remain in control. Sue and Nita had put the other children to bed and Sue sat with Mark until he was sleepy, the little boy missing his twin brother. Then all they could do was wait feeling so inadequate and useless.
Up by the Lake Adam forced his brain to work and telling Joe to get the men started on a detailed search spreading out from the graves, he decided to take up Hoss’ suggestion. Each of them knew the area like noone else could and in his mind’s eye he could plot all the possible bushes in the vicinity. Confident his brothers could do the same Adam asked them to take an area each and just check the bushes, maybe shortcut the detailed search which could take all night and still be incomplete. They didn’t need explanations and the three brothers separated and began to search. Adam took the area back towards the main house, while Hoss headed towards Adam’s house and Joe up closer to the Lake, There weren’t very many bushes with sufficient leaf cover to give any protection and most of those were very prickly, Not risking his brother being wrong about David avoiding the prickles Adam searched those too, tearing his gloves to shreds and scratching his hands badly but barely noticing. He wasn’t aware of the time as he searched, moving mechanically concentrating on missing nothing.
Then suddenly there came the three shots which was the signal something had been found. For a moment Adam just stood still not able to move, not even realising he was holding his breath. There was no way of knowing what had been found and if it was David himself, whether the child was alive or dead. Then telling himself he had to know he swung up on Blackie and ignoring the paths urged the horse straight through the trees towards the sound of the shots.
Hoss searched thoroughly, praying wordlessly for the little boy who meant so much to him and for his brother and Carole, but as the evening drew on and even he was feeling the cold, he was very scared for the little boy, As he lifted up the lower branches and looked under yet another bush to see a tiny figure curled up in a ball, for a moment he didn’t believe it. He stared at David for a moment, hardly daring to touch the child in case he was dead. Then knowing he had to find out, he pushed more branches away and moved in closer until he could reach the body. He felt of a pulse first and it was there. It seemed fast but it was steady and Hoss knew that children tended to be faster anyway. He lifted David out and although he was cold as Hoss felt inside his clothes, the little boy wasn’t as bad as Hoss had expected. Hoss undid his own coat and cuddled the little boy close to him and then drew his gun and fired the three shots. The noise seemed to wake David and he stirred opening his eyes. He recognised his Uncle and put his arms round Hoss’ neck “It got dark and my feet hurt. I’m glad you’re here.”
“We’ll soon have you home young man. You hungry?”
David nodded, “And cold.”
Hoss tucked the coat closer round his nephew, warming the little boy with his own body heat. “Snuggle up close to me, your Daddy will be here in a minute.”
In fact Joe and three of the hands arrived first and Joe didn’t need to ask what condition David was in, it was written all over Hoss’ expressive face.” Joe lent against Cochise as he got down, “Thank God.” He straightened up as Blackie arrived and went over to Adam as he swung down, hovering by his side as Adam went over to Hoss. Adam could see the truth as well as Joe and he murmured a heartfelt prayer of thanks as he moved to Hoss who passed David to his father. David hugged his father so very pleased to see him, “Wanted to surprise you.”
Adam swallowed hard, “You did David. Come on lets take you back to Mummy, get you some food.”
“Daddy are you cross?”
“No son, but we were very worried. Never mind we’ll take about it later. It was a very kind idea, noone’s cross,” Adam swung up on Blackie still holding his son, unable even to thank those who helped to find his son, not daring to give way to his feelings yet not wanting to upset the child. He looked over at Hoss and Joe and Hoss smiled, “Take him home, we’ll sort everything out, call off the search.”
“Try and thank everyone for me.” Adam said and then not trusting his voice any further he kicked Blackie to move on. Nita was standing over by the window and saw Adam ride in with his precious armful. She turned round “It’s Adam and he’s got David.”
Ben put his arm round Carole, scared she’d faint, but she could only stare at the door, not daring to ask the only question that mattered. Nita couldn’t see as Adam had his coat round the child but as soon as he came in, the expression on his face told them all they needed to know. Carole ran over to take her eldest son and held him very close, fighting hard for control not wanting to upset the child.
Sue went to get some food for the little boy and Carole well in control for now, drew him over to the fire, “Its way past your bedtime so we’re going to stay here tonight, Mark’s already in bed. Get your nightshirt on while we get you some food,”
David looked up beseechingly at his mother, “Can’t I have a bedtime story, please. I didn’t mean to be so long but my feet hurt.”
Carole kissed him “I’ll tell you one while you eat your food.” That satisfied the little boy and Carole rubbed him until he was warm and then got him into his nightshirt in front of the nice warm fire. David was hungry and ate up all the stew Hop Sing had for him and three cakes, seemingly none the worse for his escapade. Ever since Carole had taken the child Adam had stood by the mantelpiece, leaning against the wall, oblivious of everyone but his wife and child, Ben had offered him coffee but his words hadn’t even penetrated to his son and he let Adam be. There was almost reverence in the look on Adam’s face and not until David was ready for bed did he move, then he went forward “I’ll take him.”
Carole led the way upstairs and between them they tucked the little boy in, in the bed next to his twin brother. David was asleep almost at once and for a time they stared at the child they had been so scared for, unaware of how long they stood there, very close together not needing words. Suddenly everything caught up on Carole and she turned to Adam, buried her head on his shoulder and gave way to the tears which had been threatening. Adam carried her through to his room and let her cry out her fears, not making any attempt to stop her, sure she’d feel better for it. He didn’t feel any urge to join her, just drained, his head aching so badly he was having a job to focus, very thankful David was seemingly unharmed, at the worst he could end up with a cold. Eventually he persuaded Carole to get into bed and said that he’d bring her up some hot milk and she was to get some sleep. It was all Carole felt fit for, but she was worried about Adam knowing that he’d had no sleep the night before. Adam managed a smile, “David is home safe, I’m fine. Just so very thankful.”
He called down to his father asking for some hot milk with laudanum in it and took it back to his wife, he sat by Carole until she went to sleep and then got up and stretched, looking out of the window at the view he loved. Even that didn’t seem to mean anything, almost as though he was looking at it one step removed, He went back to his children and stood looking down at them, all three sleeping peacefully, he bent to kiss their foreheads as Ben came in having heard someone moving around. Adam straightened up; his eyes glittering with such a bad headache, Ben took his arm “Come downstairs Adam, you need a drink and some food.”
“I don’t want anything.” Ben didn’t pay much attention and led his son out. Adam went out, not wanting to disturb the children by staying to argue in their room. Both his brothers were back and Adam tried to thank them, without Hoss’ idea for a short cut with the bushes and Joe’s idea of the picture book they might not have found his son until it was too late. He was very disjointed, not making much sense, and Hoss took his arm and forced him into a chair while Joe poured out a brandy. Adam didn’t want it, “I’m alright, stop fussing.”
Joe perched on the arm of the chair and put his arm round his brother’s shoulders, “When you start talking and not making sense you’re far from alright! Do as you’re told and drink it.”
Adam sipped the brandy, “Just impossible to say thank you.”
“No need neither.” Hoss commented, “One of the best sights I’ve seen in my life, that little boy curled up under the bush. Especially when he put his arms round my neck.”
Adam shivered and put his drink down “Trying to help because I was too busy and he’s not three.” He buried his face in his hands, not able to face any of them, determined not to break down, there were too many people around. Sue caught Nita’s eye and motioned upstairs and Nita got up, “Come on Sue help me with that order form please.” Sue jumped up but Adam pulled himself to his feet “Don’t go on my account, I’m going for a ride anyway.”
Ben couldn’t help himself protesting “You haven’t eaten not even had any coffee. You’re frozen.”
“I’m okay Pa, Carole will sleep but I can’t settle yet.”
“Carole said you were working all last night, you’ll make yourself ill.”
Adam forced a smile “It’s hardly the first time I’ve missed a few hours sleep Pa. David is fine I just need to ...” He broke off unable to put it into words and draining the brandy he went over and put on his gun and coat. Hoss and Joe didn’t need the looks from either their father nor their wives and they grabbed their coats. Adam hesitated, “You two have already done more than enough. I’m okay.”
They ignored him and as he looked over at Sue and Nita Adam realised they didn’t mind. He couldn’t face talking but he didn’t really want to be alone so he made no further protest.
Neither of his brothers was surprised when Adam rode back to the Lake. Adam tied Blackie up and going over to the graves picked up the small bundle of dying foliage. For a moment he just looked at it and then he walked up to the point. Hoss and Joe had also dismounted and they looked at each other, unsure whether to follow or not, worried about their brother sure he was bound to have some reaction. Joe shrugged, “We might as well join him; he didn’t make much protest at us coming. If he wants us to clear off he’ll speak up quick enough.”
Hoss agreed and they went on up to join Adam. Adam was staring unseeingly over the lake trying to find the words to thank God for his mercy, the tiny posy held tightly against his shoulder. For a moment he wasn’t aware of his brothers joining him but then he sensed their presence and moved closer to Hoss, leaning against his brother’s warm strength and half smiled at Joe, who gripped his arm and said “Take it easy.”
“I’m okay. I told you, so much to be thankful for.” Adam was quiet for several minutes slowly relaxing as the peace of the lake reached him helped by his brothers’ presence. Then he pulled away from Hoss and smiled “I shall have to talk to that young man of course, but he’s a real chip off the old block isn’t he? Trying to help and finding his way right up here on his own and he’s not yet three. Even enough sense to take cover. Silly isn’t it but now he’s safe I feel proud of him.”
“With every reason.” Hoss agreed, “Bright little fellow, they both are.”
Joe nodded in agreement “Yeah not many young kids could have given sensible answers like Mark did.”
Adam gripped Joe’s hand “Not many Uncles would have had the patience to extract what he knew from him or like Hoss know their nephew well enough to guess what he would do. You know how I feel, I can’t tell you, there aren’t the words.”
Both his brothers grinned broadly seeing Adam relax and Joe said “I reckon you’ve done a pretty good job of finding the words. Will you come back and get some rest now?”
“I couldn’t settle, not yet. Tell you what, come back to my study. I’d just finished the outline designs when Pa came over. See what you think before we show the girls.”
“You ought to head for bed, or at least have something to eat.”
“Later, but I think I fancy some coffee now, cold out here. Thank God we found him.”
“Amen to that.” Hoss added and the three brothers headed down to Adam’s house, Kam Su already knew exactly what had happened and he was surprised to see them but he had coffee on the stove and on Joe’s orders he went out to prepare a light meal for Adam. It didn’t seem possible to Adam that only a few hours had passed since he’d begun collecting the design together, so pleased with himself. He felt as though he’d lived through a week in hell since then and for the moment he couldn’t reoriented himself.
Joe went and poured himself a whisky, he needed one even if Adam didn’t want. Hoss nodded “Get me one too.” Adam only wanted coffee, badly shaken on coming in to see David’s favourite bear on the settee. The bear he normally took to bed with him, too tired tonight to miss it, but Adam knew how close David had come to never needing it again. He told himself to get a grip and wouldn’t drown the pain in brandy, everything was alright, they’d just had a few anxious hours. He had known much longer anxious times, with David himself much closer to death, but the pain at the thought of what might have happened was still very real.
Slowly Adam got control of himself and he went over to his desk and began glancing through the drawings. His brothers let him be, seeing the renewed tension and anyway feeling that they had earnt their drinks. Slowly as he looked at the designs Adam regained a little of the thrill of achievement he had felt earlier on finishing the drawings. He didn’t know what his brothers’ reactions would be, but he felt both these new houses were as good as his own, or the one he’d done for Joe and Marie. Slightly less orthodox than his own house but he felt the three would blend in well. He made two piles of papers, in each case he’d drawn three views front back and side an impression of the house in position on the chosen site and internal plans both upstairs and down so there were several sheets of paper, Suddenly he was nervous about his brothers’ reaction and he was glad they were on their own. “I’ll have that brandy now please Joe. Don’t forget, anything you don’t like just say. I can always change things start again if it doesn’t suit. Not started any real work yet.”
Hoss grinned “I do believe you’re nervous big brother.”
“Just a bit, stupid isn’t it.”
“Very! Come on hand them over; let’s see what you’ve dreamt up this time.” Hoss put out his hand and Adam passed over the file, giving Joe the other one in exchange for the brandy. Then leaning back in his chair he stared up at the painting of the lake. Adam couldn’t look at his brothers and time seemed to stand still as the silence of the room was broken only by the occasional; rustle of papers. Neither Hoss nor Joe commented for fully five minutes. Hoss hadn’t known what to expect but in some ways Joe was worse of because he’d thought he knew what Adam was doing. Indeed the basic design was still there but this was as far removed from the rough sketch Adam had shown him as Adam’s own house was from his father-in-law’s.
When Adam finally plucked up the courage to look, his brothers were both down on the floor with all twelve drawings spread out in front of them, the artist’s impression of the final house on site at the front and they were just beginning to consider each other’s set. As they both had their backs to him Adam couldn’t tell much. He sensed their surprise but whether it was pleasant or horrified he wasn’t in a fit state to tell. Suddenly everything seemed to crowd in on him, the long hours of work, the energy he’d expended on the designs, hours of sleeplessness trying to bring the ideas he had together, the tension of wondering about his brother’s reaction and the nightmare of the last hours, the fear for his son. The room began to go round and Adam buried his head on his arms, feeling thoroughly sick and faint. His sudden movement caught Joe’s eye and he turned quickly as he saw his brother rest his head down, seeing just how pale Adam was all of a sudden. Joe got up and went over to his brother, saying urgently, “Hoss get some water, I think he’s gonna faint on us.”
Adam tried to protest that he wasn’t just very tired, but although the words formed perfectly in his mind, he didn’t seem able to get them out and he could only let Joe wipe his face for him. Hoss brought over some water and fed a little to his brother and then he carefully picked up all the drawings before lifting Adam over to a more comfortable chair, Joe went and fetched a tray with a light meal. “Small wonder you’re on the verge of fainting. Kam Su said you had no lunch and only a couple of biscuits for breakfast and I know that you were up all night.”
“I’m alright.”
“For five minutes but you won’t be if you don’t eat. Get on with that grub and Hoss and I will endeavour to give our considered opinions on these designs.” Joe grinned at his brothers, “If he’s any more capable of it than I am. Frankly Adam I’m amazed, delighted but amazed.”
Adam had been able to see Joe’s delight on his face as soon as he’d calmed down and now he looked over at Hoss. Hoss grinned “Don’t see why you should be little brother, I’m not. You’ve seen this house often enough and that one he designed for Marie, so why be surprised? I’ll join you in one way though, I’m delighted. It’s gorgeous Adam. Didn’t know what to expect, what you had in mind but it looks as though it was always there, Fits so well I can’t imagine anything else. Tell you what does surprise me.”
“What?" asked Joe impatiently.
“These two, both very different and both different to this one and yet the three seem to fit together. Real odd when they’re so different.”
Adam had calmed right down and was even beginning to eat with real appetite. “They were meant to Hoss. Won’t be very close but close enough to jar, on me at any rate. Still goes though I can change anything, no detailed plans yet.”
Joe frowned as he stared again at the artist impression of his house. “You got that sketch you showed me before Adam?”
“Yeah on my desk, folder marked Joe and Nita.”
Joe fished it out and put it down next to the view of the house on the site. “See why I was so surprised Hoss.”
Hoss came over and studied the two drawings. “It’s the same but so very different and I don’t even see what you’ve changed. I mean I know this one is sorta rough and all that, nice enough but ordinary, now...” He whistled softly and examined them more closely, seeing some differences in proportion and shape but still unable to tell how Adam had made it so very special. Adam wasn’t much help, not really sure himself. The first one had been a hodge-podge as far as he was concerned and he’d just worked on making it into a uniform whole, something which satisfied him. Well pleased with his brothers’ reactions to all his work, he suggested that they take the designs home and talk it over with their wives, but neither would hear of it. They had watched Adam relax and he was almost asleep where he sat but they weren’t leaving him alone. Joe went up to pack clothes and toys for the children for the morning and collect his brother a change of clothing for the next day. Adam was coming back with them to join Carole where someone would be on hand if, as was all too likely, he was bothered by nightmares. Then in the morning he could show Sue and Nita his own work. Both were very sure that their wives would be delighted and Adam had earnt their immediate excitement. The pleasure he gave was the only payment he’d get for all his hard work and that at least he should have. With both his brothers ganging up on him Adam was far too tired to be bothered arguing and just went along with them, letting them organise everything. When he got back to the main house he felt fit to drop and went straight up to bed, but Ben could see that he was much calmer.
Leaving his younger sons with their wives Ben headed for bed too. He had found the day a very great strain, so scared for his grandson and able to do so little to help. He wasn’t surprised when Adam came out in his dressing gown to go over to the children’s room for one last look at his children, to reassure himself that they really were, all three, fit and well. Ben joined him as Adam looked down at the twins and his son linked arms with his father. “We’re so very lucky Pa. David safe and well, thanks to all the help I had. How many families would be close enough to be able to give that help?”
“Not too many I guess. I only wish I could have done more.”
“But don’t you see Pa, ultimately you did it all, if you hadn’t brought me Hoss and Joe up to be so close they wouldn’t have known my children, maybe none of us would have chosen the wives we have, who fit in so well. You set the pattern for this family. I just pray I’m as successful with my own and there’s no way any of us can ever really say thank you.”
Ben felt tears smarting his eyelids and he had to swallow hard before he could answer, but he knew his eldest son meant every word and it meant more to him than he’d ever be able to say, so he just smiled, “I think you just did Adam.”
Both men went to bed to sleep more peacefully than they would have believed possible. Adam went to sleep almost immediately, so very tired and despite the time he’d lived in his own home, this room was still his and it never felt strange to return to it. It was much later when he started muttering in his sleep, troubled by a nightmare, hunting hopelessly for his son, seeing David under a bush but unable to reach him, all his efforts forcing him further away from the child, Carole was still asleep under the effects of the drug and despite Adam’s restlessness she didn’t stir.
Joe woke almost as soon as Adam started murmuring, subconsciously he’d been listening for his brother, aware he would probably be troubled by nightmares. He was out of bed putting on his dressing gown when Nita sat up in bed, “What’s wrong?”
“Go back to sleep darling, just Adam, nightmare by the sound of it.”
Joe was heading over to the connecting door but Nita protested, horrified, “You can’t go in!”
Joe just grinned “Carole won’t mind, chances are she’s asleep, Adam gave her some laudanum. I won’t be long.” Joe came back and kissed her and then slipped through the connecting door. He saw at once that he was right, neither of them were awake. Adam was very restless and Joe sat down by the bed and held his brother still talking quietly to him. He wasn’t aware of Nita coming to the doorway to stand and watch him for several minutes. As Adam lay still Joe took his hand and reassured his brother that everything was fine, David asleep with his brother. Adam stopped murmuring but not really waking gripped Joe’s hand “Little Joe?”
“Right here everything is fine, go back to sleep. David is fine.”
Adam said “Mmmm” and slid back into a peaceful sleep and after five minutes Joe was satisfied that he would be alright and went back to his own room. Nita had returned to bed pulling the blankets round her. She knew that Joe hadn’t even noticed her but even though she had grown accustomed to the closeness of the brothers, she had never seen it so clearly demonstrated, She had seen the compassion and love so clear on Joe’s face as he spoke to his brother, in a way he would never reveal in the light of day, and the way that Adam had relaxed accepting his brother’s help even though he wasn’t really awake. Nothing could have demonstrated more clearly to her that Adam had been truthful when he explained how much he relied on his brothers.
Nita cuddled up to Joe as he got back into bed and he was glad of her warmth, it was very cold. “I didn’t mean to disturb you darling.”
“That’s alright darling. You’ve done it before haven’t you, gone into your brother?”
“Before his marriage but I guess it’s a habit, hard to break. After that Indian raid when both Hoss and I were hurt and Pa was away, Adam came into both of us as soon as we stirred. He was tired out, still weak from loss of blood and the tension of negotiating a truce, but Carole said he was out of bed before she even woke up if either of us murmured, and yet he’d sleep through the children chattering. Habit engrained over the years, with Pa often away, it was usually Adam, came to us during the night, He’s a light sleeper, not like Hoss who sleeps through anything.”
“And you went to him?”
“Guess it started when he was badly hurt in a run in with Cochise, shot in the gut. It took him a long time to get over that one and not long after he was back on his feet, he was caught in the middle and had to kill his best friend, I told you that story. For a while none of us could help but eventually he seemed glad to have company for a few minutes, and would then go back to bed. Really formed a habit I guess.”
Nita was fascinated and as they were both wide awake persuaded Joe to tell her some more details of what had happened over the years. She shook her head “No wonder you said that Adam was indestructible.”
None of them were up very early the next morning but the children had Carole and Adam up before the others. David was seemingly none the worse for his escapade, no sign of a cold, and as full of energy as ever. He was telling Mark all about his adventure, rather proudly, and Adam intervened. He took both his sons on his lap, one on each knee and explained why they must never run off like that again, how worried everyone had been and just how many people had been searching for him. He didn’t tell David off for the basic idea, it was a very nice idea to try and help his Daddy, but next time if he wanted to help and keep it a secret he could tell one of his Uncles, either of them would help but keep it quiet. The little boys listened solemnly, but they seemed to understand, and promised never to go out of the yard either here or at home without telling one of the adults so that Daddy would know where to find them. That made sense to the little boys and they were just glad Daddy wasn’t cross. Then as Carole had Marie dressed the whole family headed down to breakfast. Carole had been amused and impressed at just how accurately Joe had collected what she needed and with the few things she always kept at the house she managed fine.
Ben was down early too, pleased to see both Adam and Carole calm and cheerful. He had wondered if they’d have some reaction and it was still possible but as they willingly agreed to stay, at least until the evening, Ben relaxed. If there was any reaction he’d be around to cope and he was very amused as David came up to tell his Grandpa that he was sorry to have worried them all and that he wouldn’t do it again. The little boy was so solemn, having taken his father’s words very seriously and Adam looked so proud of him that Ben couldn’t help the smile as he picked David up. The child was getting heavier and it made his side hurt but Ben buried his face against David for a moment and it quickly passed, so he bore David off to the kitchen in search of breakfast.
In fact neither Adam nor Carole had missed the sudden tension and Carole said quietly, “Do you think Pa’s alright, he looked, I don’t know as though a pain caught him? He hasn’t been looking as well as usual just recently.”
Adam shrugged, “Probably just picked David up wrong, he’s not exactly a light weight now and Pa’s not getting any younger, I do know what you mean, queried it with him but he insists he’s fine. He’ll brighten up as the weather does, like an old bear coming out of hibernation.”
Ben heard the final comment and shook a fist at his son, “Who are you calling an old bear?”
Adam laughed and they settled down to breakfast, Joe joining them a few minutes later, leaving Nita asleep. Adam wouldn’t get out the designs until both girls were down but he wasn’t sorry to have a chance for a quiet chat with Joe, wanting to know just how they stood on the road to the west shore. Joe had been held up by the weather and although he promised to have it finished before Adam had finished the marking up on the west shore it wouldn’t be done for him to use for trekking in for the marking up. Joe ran over in detail the current position. Then he asked “When are you going out anyway, Easter is very early this year you’ll barely be back from the high country for it.”
Adam stared at him in sudden horror, “Easter!”
Joe puzzled, laughed at the expression on his brother’s face, “Yeah. We usually have it in the spring, Good Friday is the 25th, just over two weeks.”
Adam looked over at Carole “I did tell you about Johnny Sutherland?”
“You did but when is he due?”
“That’s what’s worrying me. He said ‘Easter’ and apart from that I don’t know. I can’t even remember what I did with his letter.”
“Did he give a date?”
Adam shrugged, “I don’t remember. So much has happened, I had completely forgotten about him coming until Joe said Easter.”
Ben and Joe were openly amused at the expression on Adam’s face as he tried to remember what he’d done with the letter... Carole wasn’t sure whether to be amused or annoyed. She had forgotten about their guests too but she would have to arrange everything and she wasn’t even sure how many people were coming and although Johnny was very free and easy, he had made them very comfortable in London and she wanted to reciprocate. Adam was pacing up and down, knowing that Johnny must already be on his way and sure there should have been a second letter after he’d telegraphed his welcome of the acceptance of a standing invite. He hadn’t seen one but letters did get lost and there was no way now to contact Johnny.
Ben took pity on his eldest son, “You got the original letter here before Joe’s wedding, maybe you left it here.”
“Of course.” Adam grinned as he remembered and hurried up to his room to collect the letter which he’d put in his desk. He reread it as he went down, almost walking into Hoss, as he did so. Hoss steadied his brother as Adam slipped on the stairs, “What’s so interesting?”
“A delayed reaction to a letter. Johnny Sutherland is due on the 20th, just a week and I’d forgotten all about it. I can’t understand why he hasn’t written again to confirm arrangements.”
Hoss frowned, ”We won’t be back by the 20th. You’ll have to leave me to finish up.”
Carole shook her head, “No need Hoss, as long as Joe could meet them for me, I know Johnny and his ménage quite well enough to cope for a few days and Joe knows them too.”
Hoss wasn’t sure but even though Johnny was now an Earl, he remembered the excited young man who had visited them before, revelling in the wild open space of the Ponderosa and fitting in so easily with the working ranch. With Adam and Carole both sure he went along and Joe was more than happy to meet them for his brother. He’d got on very well with Johnny, closer to him in age than Adam was.
Ben had been looking through a pile of mail, which had arrived late the previous afternoon, and with all the upset of David’s disappearance been neglected. Included amongst the letters was the one whose absence Adam had been querying, or at least a letter from London in a familiar hand. He passed it over to Adam and his son made himself comfortable by the fire fended off the twins and began to read. It was indeed from Johnny and confirmed his arrival date. Somehow in London he had learnt about the completion of the railroad and he intended making his way with his party to Virginia City. Apart from his wife and three children there was a nursemaid, his brother and sister-in-law and two close friends, Adam hadn’t known how many to expect, but they were all people both he and Carole knew well, and he was glad of the opportunity to repay some of the hospitality they had received in London.
Nita and Sue were down by the time Carole had read the letter too and while the girls had breakfast Joe and Carole filled them in on the visitors. Adam was very quiet and Sue murmured to Hoss, asking if his brother was still upset over the previous day’s events.
Hoss grinned broadly “Nope, he’s just nervous, worried about your reactions to his designs. He even got nervous at showing Joe and I last night.”
“I wish you’d told me what to expect.” Sue complained but Hoss shrugged “Couldn’t put it into words even if ‘n I wanted to. You’ll be able to see for yourself once you finished eating.”
Ben grinned “I wish you’d both hurry up, neither Carole nor I have the faintest idea what he’s come up with either.”
Nita pushed her plate away and drained the coffee “Well I’m ready to see. Come on Adam don’t keep us in suspense any longer.”
Adam had both the files over on the desk and he went over to it and picked them up. “These are just preliminary designs, anything you want changed, it’s easy done, until the detailed plans are drawn up. If you don’t like it I’d much rather you say so, won’t be offended or anything.”
As he still hesitated Joe went over and took the files, “Come on Adam, you know they’re good, calm down.” He handed one file to Sue and took the other over to Nita. Joe helped Hoss clear room on the table and the various plans and views were spread out. Sue couldn’t help the gasp of surprise, it was so different from both the design of his own house and the one that he’d done for Marie. She looked up at Hoss with such a glow of excitement in her eyes that Hoss beckoned his brother over, “Don’t reckon you need to ask Sue’s reaction Adam.”
Adam smiled at her obvious delight and she put her arms round him and gave him a big hug, unable to find the words to explain how she felt. She had never dreamt of anything so perfect and found it hard to believe it could be hers but, having seen the job Adam had made of his own house, she had no doubt about the brothers competence in turning this picture into reality. Adam was more than repaid for the hours of work he’d already put in and the many more tedious hours it would take to prepare detailed plans for the workmen, it was worth every minute to see the glow in her eyes and the sheer delight on his big brother’s face as he considered both the plans and his lovely redhead.
Only then did Adam turn to Nita, who was staring at the design as though mesmerized. Adam bit his lip, unsure of the expression on her face “I know I’ve changed a few things Nita but as I say we can always change them back, just say the word.”
Nita looked up, almost fiercely “No! Not a line.” She picked up the view on the site “I just don’t believe it Adam. I wanted something that was the best I’ve seen in travelling around and when you sketched it before you’d got it, even improved on it. Now this.”
Joe put his arm round her “It’s still very similar.”
“No it isn’t, I don’t know why but it isn’t. It’s in a different class, it has elegance, something I don’t know what. It’s just so much better.”
Adam relaxed “You like it?”
“Can you doubt it?” Nita smiled, “Maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised having seen your own house, the other designs now this. All so very different but something in common, proportion, symmetry, but its more than that. I come back to elegance as the nearest I can get I wish I knew how to say thank you.”
Adam smiled broadly “Just so long as you like them, that’s all the thanks I want.”
For the next half an hour all of them examined both sets of plans and Adam, a little embarrassed at the praise, went to play with his sons by the fire, just telling them to decide on any interior changes that they wanted. The load bearing walls were marked in red but anything else could be moved as long as they decided today as he was proposing to start the detailed plans while they were marking up.
Leaving the four to argue over that while Carole removed Marie to feed her, Ben joined his son by the fire, “I won’t embarrass you further Adam, just let me say they are superb. Maybe you should have taken up a career as an architect, improved some of our new cities.”
“I don’t think I’d suit the popular taste Pa. Black marble stairs and seventy foot high glass domes aren’t exactly my forte.”
Ben grinned “Maybe a few more people see the elegance you can get with simplicity, maybe only with it, and public taste might change.”
“The Palladian style isn’t exactly new Pa, vulgarity still attracts public attention and those who want to display their wealth need it. Anyway its fun for a change and with a free hand but I’d never retain patrons I had to be polite too!”
Adam was thrilled by the reaction to his design, all of them seemed equally delighted and having shown them to his brothers alone first he could be sure that they weren’t pleased just because their wives were. He sat back and watched as time after time one or other went back to pick up one of the drawings, check something or just reconvince themselves that the house was as good as they remembered.
Ben joined Carole over by the window as she watched her husband, both seeing the pride and delight in his eyes as he watched the others. Ben said quietly “He’s made a superb job of them.”
“I know but he’s getting his reward right now, just look at him.”
“I have been it’s impossible to put thanks and congratulations really into words, just embarrasses him but he can see it all around him. I think he’ll about burst with pride.” As Carole glanced up Ben grinned, "There should be two words. Pride so often means over proud but I don’t mean that, satisfaction at a job well done only rather more.”
“Its okay Pa I know exactly what you mean, Couldn’t have come on a better day after yesterday’s....”
“Are you alright young lady?”
Carole looked over at David and Mark carefully building a farm for their carved animals from bricks, squabbling reasonably amicably about which went where, “I’m fine, Very thankful and very lucky, with such a family and a merciful God what more could I want?”
“You aren’t going to see a lot of Adam this summer, even less than usual, according to the work plan.”
“I always realised that, with Hoss and Joe so recently married, he had to try and leave them as close to the house as possible. It’s a working ranch. I’m used to it, got to try and break Sue and Nita in gently.”
“Will you be nervous on your own?”
Carole shook her head, “With two new houses being built I hardly think I can be classed as being on my own.”
Late in the afternoon with arrangements made for Hoss to come over and collect Adam early the next day, Adam took his leave of his family. He ensured Joe knew just what to start ordering, what to do on the road and when to meet Johnny. Joe laughed at his brother “You’ve already told me three times, go on take your brats home, see you at Easter.”
Adam went to get his coat while Carole finished dressing the kids and first Nita and then Sue came over to him, to give him a big hug and try once more to say thank you. Adam was sorry to have to leave Carole so soon after the scare of David’s disappearance but she seemed quite calm and he had his father’s promise to keep an eye on his wife
Once reaching the high country he had no time to worry about any other details. With Hoss he worked from early morning until the light faded and then Hoss got food while Adam worked on the detailed house plans. During the evening Adam worked on, leaving most of the paperwork to Hoss, Hoss might not like it very much but he was perfectly capable and refused his brother’s assistance. Adam was doing the plans of his house and this way they both got some sleep. In fact with Adam determined to get the plans finished before his return so that he could take a few days off with his friends, he was working very late anyway. He wouldn’t take any shortcuts or risks, even if he was aware they were fairly minimal, his brothers were having the very best he could give them.
Often after Hoss had settled down and was asleep Adam relit the lantern and did a further couple of hours work, but he still insisted on doing his share of the physical work during the day although still a little low on stamina. The hard work was beginning to show by the end of the week and Hoss managed to unobtrusively keep the hardest part, the worst of the clambering and climbing for himself but there was little else he could do. Adam had noticed and was glad of it but he made no comment as Hoss obviously wanted none. By the time they were almost finished with about half a day’s work left Adam looked very drawn and tired, although Hoss wasn’t much better, but he had the satisfaction mid-evening of tying up all his plans, work schedules and lists of supplies for both houses. The job was finished from his point of view; the rest could be done by workmen under competent supervision. He had pegged, measured and assessed the necessary levelling, drainage and foundations while he was doing the designs and Joe was finishing off that work so there was no reason for hold-ups. Hoss had the paperwork up to date so that both brothers took the chance of an early night, with a start at dawn they could finish up and hope to be home around midnight.
Hoss was up first and packed up as much as possible before Adam woke to the smell of breakfast. They worked fast and got away even earlier than Adam had hoped, a day ahead of schedule. Both were well satisfied with their work but it had meant hard concentrated work which had taken it’s toll and the two brothers rode home almost entirely in silence. They were both very tired and the hard work was catching up on them as they relaxed, the jobs done. It was a companionable silence, they didn’t need words. Hoss knew his brother was very tired but he’d seen Adam look a lot worse and considering what they’d achieved Adam wasn’t too bad. He was obviously well on the way to regaining the stamina sapped by injury and tension earlier in the year.
As they got close to home, both brothers perked up at the idea of seeing their wives. They separated close to the house eager to get home, with the pleasant prospect of a break over Easter and in Adam’s case a chance to see some good friends. Adam rode off with a wave and Hoss headed home with the delightful prospect of a loving wife waiting for him, something he had never really expected, certainly not with anyone as beautiful as Sue.