A Slow Recovery
Lyn Robinson

The three stood looking down at their father, sleeping peacefully and without thought moved slightly closer together, as always getting support and comfort from their siblings. Adam drained his brandy and slipped his arm round his younger brother’s shoulders, “I hear that you are lucky in another way too little brother.”
Joe looked at him puzzled and Adam grinned, “Nita.”
Joe shook his head frowning slightly, wondering how his brothers had heard, knowing that Paul wouldn’t have said anything but his brothers just smiled at him and Hoss added his congratulations.
Joe bit his lip and looked down at his father. “Pa didn’t know but even so he was trying to help me. Reassure me that Nita is so very different from Marie. He was in pain, we all thought he was dying, especially Pa and yet he tried to help, remembering how scared he was when you were on the way Hoss.”
Adam felt the renewed tension in his brother, “Easy Joe. It’s not that surprising, Pa has spent more than 35 years worrying about us and trying to help. He’s right too, Nita will be fine.”
“I’m alright at least for now though I’m not offering any guarantees when she gets near her time.” Joe looked from Hoss to Adam, unsure whether to try and explain but then convinced that they would understand, he went on, “I was worried not sleeping too well but Marie....” He broke off not able to put it into words and seeing from their faces that at least with his brothers he had no need to. Both knew how close he still felt to his petite first wife, they had been very much in love. Joe might not speak of it often but both had known times when they were sure he felt her presence close to him. Adam smiled “I’m glad Joe, its not surprising, Marie loved you very much. You know that if we can help, if you want to talk, anytime, we’ll be around. You helped me so much before the twins were born, anything I can do to repay the favour.”
Joe relaxed “I’ll ask. For now you ought to go and get some sleep before you’ll be fit for anything.”
Adam knew that his brother was making sense, Ben no longer needed all three of them and there was a lot of work to be covered too. He tried to get his thoughts organised with limited success, Joe was right he needed some sleep. “Okay Joe you’re reasonably rested so if you look after Pa. Hoss can you send word to José, anyone else who ought to know, word will have spread, Pa has lots of friends. Ask Doc to come out again, no rush. Get some food first. I’m going to bed; use a spare room for now. Leave you to let the girls know that Pa will be fine.”
Hoss and Joe were pleased to see him being sensible for once and Adam didn’t tell then that he was only intending to allow himself three hours sleep. He knew if he told himself to wake up after that time then he would, a knack he’d had for years, often useful when they were busy. Relaxed he was asleep as soon as he lay down and although it was only a few hours he felt much better when he awoke.
Sue had bullied Hoss into getting some more sleep when he had had some food and sent off all the messages and Nita had gone to join her husband by Ben’s bedside, so when Adam came down only Sue and Carole were there with the children. Adam hadn’t risked going in to see his father, knowing that his little brother would hit the roof but Carole had just taken up some fresh coffee and was able to confirm that Ben was still sleeping peacefully.
While Hop Sing got him some breakfast, Adam played with the twins who had missed their Daddy, but once he’d eaten he settled down to try and readjust the work schedule. He had to allow for his father being of very little, if any, use over the summer. At the best Ben was only going to be able to give a little help on paperwork. Adam had a very clear idea of just how much the operation had taken out of his father, it would take him a long time to regain his strength and rebuild some stamina. Adam remembered just how long it had taken Joe to recover, he’d had a long wearing journey and much more pain and fever but he hadn’t been in shock for as long and he was much younger. They were very pushed with houses and the sawmill to build, two large timber contracts both well away from the house, contracts to be arranged in both San Francisco and Sacramento along with the usual work connected to the horse herd, the cattle and the farming to be organised. In addition there might be problems from town; they were directors of mines, the pipeline and the Bank with the responsibilities that went along with that position. Adam also felt very uneasy about the way the stock market had been moving recently. It had been difficult enough to work things out split four ways but how he was having to juggles things around, try to split it three ways and still allow his brothers to see as much as possible of their new wives. It didn’t help matters to have all three girls pregnant and even Adam was loathe to be away too much, but he saw very little choice.
Adam had been working for about half an hour and had just confirmed that it was going to give them all virtually impossible tasks for some of the time when Joe came down to get some fresh coffee, leaving Nita to watch his father. He had wanted to stretch his legs for a minute. He stopped dead seeing Adam working at his father’s desk and turned to Sue who was by the fire. “How long’s he been up?”
“About three quarters of an hour.”
Joe sighed heavily, “He’s impossible!” He went over to Adam, “Less than three hours sleep hardly compensates for two nights without any.”
Adam looked up and grinned “I knew you’d fuss! I’m fine Joe and I will go up after dinner and get some sleep so that I can cover the early hours but somehow we have to reorganise the work. Pa’s going to be out of action for a very long time.” Then very serious he considered is youngest brother “A hell of a lot is going to fall on your shoulders Joe, one of us has to stay with the west shore operation, this year of all years, and we need it to complete our contracts.”
“We all knew it wasn’t going to be easy and with Pa out it’s bound to be worse, can’t be helped. We’ll manage. Thank heavens we’re not building flumes and we do have plenty of labour. Anything I can do now?”
“Finish sorting out the pay packets. Pa was doing it when he was taken ill.”
Joe collected the account books and the money and took them, along with coffee, back up to rejoin Nita. As he worked with Ben still asleep, Nita, who was rather restless, asked how she could help. Joe already knew that she had a good head for figures and he enjoyed showing her some of the peculiarities of their accounts system. She picked it up quickly and helped him make up the pay packets and enter it all up. As they finished Joe sat back and considered her, “Until we move into our house and the baby arrives you’ll have quite a bit of time won’t you?”
Nita nodded “Especially as you’re going to be even busier with Pa ill. Why?”
“You’ve picked this up very fast; can take a lot of time. Do you think you can help me, perhaps handle some of the accounting, just until Pa’s stronger?”
Nita was thrilled to be asked, “Of course I can. I’d love to, much better than sitting idly by and watching you work yourself into the grounds.”
Joe kissed her. “Watch Pa. I want a word with Adam.” He hurried downstairs to find Adam, up to his ears in papers and quite willing to abandon them for a minute and get some coffee, He couldn’t understand why Joe looked so pleased with himself, “Pa awake?”
“No but very peaceful. It’s not that. I was thinking about the work and maybe we’re underestimating one part of the family, Nita has been helping me with the accounts and is very willing to carry on doing so. Don’t forget the three girls.”
Carole came over at that. “Joe’s right. I am sure we can all help, cover some of the routine paperwork at least.”
Adam looked from her to Sue. “You have the children, sowing for new houses to say nothing of nursing Pa.”
“The children are in bed during the evening and even during the day I have Kam Su to help. There’s no need for you three to work yourselves into the ground while we have time on our hands. A lot we can’t do but none of us are dim. We can help.”
Adam pulled her close and kissed her soundly, “Okay accepted gratefully, there’s going to be plenty for all of us, especially if things blow up on the stock market as we suspect. I’ll work on the basis that you three can help.”
Joe was quiet having got his own way, an idea that had first come to him the day he got engaged and then he had forgotten struck him forcibly but before he could explore the possibilities of his idea, Doc arrived. Doc had been amazed when Hoss’ message reached hi that Ben was recovering but they would like Doc to come and check him over, advise them on the best treatment over the next few days. Doc had been so sure that Ben was dying and even knowing the resilience of the Cartwrights he was staggered but delighted and he passed word round town before he left. Many of Ben’s friends had read Doc’s belief in his eyes and he wasn’t often wrong.
As Doc came in Joe and Adam moved over to greet him. Doc smiled “I have never been so pleased to be proved wrong Little Joe. Your gamble did pay off. I’m just so glad that you forced me to take the risk.”
Joe grinned “Well I’m glad we have such a fine Doctor. You saved him.”
“With a lot of help from God and you three.”
Noone was arguing and they all went up to join Nita. As Doc took Ben’s pulse, he stirred conscious of the movement round him and opened his eyes. Doc smiled, “Don’t try and talk, you’re doing fine.”
Ben relaxed as Doc checked the wound, all perfectly healthy and although his old friend was very weak he was far better than Doc had dared to hope even after Hoss’ message. Adam left his brother to feed their father and went down with Doc to get his report. Doc didn’t hide his surprise and told Adam of the first moments when he’d been so sure Ben was dying and his brother had held him by sheer will power. Paul couldn’t tell Adam much that he didn’t know; it was going to take a long time to build up his father’s strength and Adam knew as much as he did about nursing an invalid, with Hop Sing very experienced in producing the best possible food. Ben would sleep most of the time for the next few days at least and Doc promised to come out again in a few days. With an older man it was bound to take even longer than Adam or his brothers would. Adam accepted that and simply asked Doc to make it clear to Jim Fair, John Mackay and a few other business partners that nothing was to be referred to his father until further notice. Any problems could be sent to him or one of his brothers, Ben wasn’t to be worried under any circumstances. Adam had little real faith in his father’s ability not to get involved if he was tempted. Doc promised to make it very clear to all of them just how ill Ben still was.
Once he’d gone, Adam settled to the work schedule again. If the girls could help he would pile rather more paperwork on Joe, leaving him based at the house. Hoss would have to take the main timber contract as they had planned while Adam himself got the west shore operation running smoothly. Then Hoss would have to take over on the west shore, leaving Johnny to run the main operation with visits from Joe while Adam went to handle things in San Francisco. How they were to manage the main drive and a smaller one due in two months Adam couldn’t imagine, but he’d worry about that when the time came, by then maybe his father would be better than seemed likely at the moment. For now Adam didn’t dare think further than a month ahead. He was leaving a lot of the ordering for his wife to do. Carole had helped him in the past and Joe would be around if she needed advice. He intended to ask Jess to help out sending the telegraphs and arranging for the actual collection of goods.
Eventually Adam went up to join his youngest brother and between them, they made a long list of all the things they were going to need cash for. Adam was proposing to go into town and collect it and get a letter of to Will requesting his assistance. He was going to ask his cousin to arrange a few early meetings collect some information and arrange shipping for him so that he would be able to get through his jobs in San Francisco as quickly as possible. He knew that Will would be happy to be able to help. Adam knew that rumours would have spread far and fast and he intended to send a telegram confirming Ben’s survival with more details in the letter to follow. Joe considered the schedule and couldn’t see any way to improve it, it would push them all hard but it was possible. Adam promised that he would swap jobs with Joe for a while if Joe found his task too impossible. The west shore was equally hard but a different type of work. Adam didn’t like having to push so much onto his little brother even though he knew that Joe was eminently capable but with communications so bad he had little choice. He had hoped to survey for flumes on the west shore but that would have to wait until the following year, he wasn’t taking on anything else for now, or at least that his firm opinion until dinner time.
Ben awoke mid-afternoon and Adam went up to feed him, reassuring his father that everything was under control. Hoss was up again and he went up to sit with his father after an early meal, Sue going with him. Carole, with Nita’s help was putting the children to bed and for the first time that day Adam and Joe relaxed slightly by the fire and Adam poured them both a drink. It gave Joe the first opportunity he’d had to fill his brother in on his latest bright idea. It had seemed ridiculous to Joe that, with trouble, it was so much easier to reach Hoss well over a hundred miles away in Sacramento than to reach Adam here on their own ranch. Adam shrugged, he knew the basic fact was true but he was too tired to understand what Joe was getting at. Joe saw the blank look “It was something I said months ago, the day I got engaged. I told Kam Su not to spread it around before I had a chance to tell Pa, that once he or Hop Sing knew anything the whole ranch seemed to know it, I asked if they had their own private telegraph. Forgot about it with so much happening but why not?”
Adam stared at Joe as though his little brother had taken leave of his senses. He had never thought about such a thing but slowly more and more forcibly he found himself echoing Joe, why not? Joe didn’t press him, it was obviously a completely strange idea and especially with his brother overtired he knew that he had to let Adam get used to it. Adam knew enough about stringing telegraph to understand the technical difficulties but they were nothing like as severe as in many problems they had tackled without hesitation. A telegraph spanned the nation and had done for some considerable time and although there were times when bad weather caused breaks with posts blown down, that left the no worse off than before it was built and it was usually repaired rapidly. They could do the same for their own line. It would be so very reassuring to be able to contact the house directly and indeed to connect the four houses once they were built. Even if at first they were slow it wasn’t difficult to operate the equipment and learn the necessary Morse code. Plenty of their men were capable of it, some might already know how, from army or railroad experience. If there had been telegraph he could have been back with his brothers in half the time and been able to check what was happening en-route. Adam stared into the fire, finding he had already accepted Joe’s novel idea and the really odd thing seemed to be why they hadn’t thought of it before. He could see great advantages in a telegraph the length of each flume for instance so that they could be notified more quickly when something jammed as occasionally happened and he was strongly attracted by the idea of contact from the west shore. Not only to be alerted if there was trouble at home but just generally running the whole operation would be so much easier with situation reports from the far side more immediate than was now possible and a way of ordering needed stores. In time Adam could visualize a string of lines so that José could report without wasting half a day on horseback when they were busy and men could alert them to any trouble across the ranch.
Joe had to speak three times before he got through to his brother than dinner was ready and it wasn’t until they had finished the stew that Adam was ready to talk. Joe could pretty well see his brother’s opinion of the scheme and he wasn’t surprised when Adam said, “It’s brilliant Joe, the only thing that puzzles me is why we haven’t considered it before!”
“We’ll have to start in a smallish way we’re extended enough as it is but I think we’d all be happier with better communications to the west shore, even when the road is finished it’s many hours at best.”
“Could make it a lot easier to run the whole operation too, keep a check on arrivals at the flume. Shouldn’t be too big a job to arrange it. We can get equipment ordered this week. Both of us know enough to train a couple of hands or maybe your friend Frank in town could help.”
Frank had worked in the telegraph office until he managed to crack the code used by one set of share manipulators. He had acted accordingly and become sufficiently wealthy to set up in business for himself, running a gun shop. He was an old friend of Joe’s, they had grown up together, and Joe knew that he would train some men for them.
The brothers got out a detailed map of the ranch and taking their coffee over to the desk, they pored over it, tracing out the best line. It would follow the road Joe had been building most of the way. They became more excited and began planning whole series of wires, vying with each other in seeing new exciting possibilities, while Carole and Nita sat back watching them, much amused. It wasn’t until Hop Sing brought in fresh coffee that Joe noticed the time with a jolt. “You were going to bed after dinner.” He told Adam accusingly.
Adam looked hard done by “All this wasn’t my idea little brother! What did you expect?”
“Well okay but sleep on it for now. I’ll fill Hoss in and we can decide exactly what to do now, later.”
Adam couldn’t help yawning heavily as he thought about his bed and glancing at the clock which said ten to nine, he said “Alright I’ll go on up.” He went in to see his father but Ben’s temperature was barely up and Hoss said that he was fine and promised that he would ensure Joe had a reasonably early night. Adam said that he’d take over at 2, let Hoss get some sleep. Hoss tried to persuade him not to bother, that he would doze by the bed, but he got nowhere and eventually gave up, just telling Adam not to waste time talking now.
Adam spent some time making a long list of jobs to do in town, while he was sitting with his father in the early hours. He planned things to get through as fast as possible. He included the list of telegraph equipment to order, if both his brothers agreed that he should start things going the next day without further discussion. He hated the idea of leaving his father so weak but he knew that he didn’t dare wait more than another day or so before he headed back to the west shore. He was going to be very pushed there anyway with the marking up still not finished. Until the telegraph was completed he was still a good twelve hours away from news. Adam stared down at his father not too worried about him, sure he would recover, but there was always the possibility of infection or a sudden relapse and he knew he would be continually uneasy cut off from news. It wasn’t very likely they had never had any real trouble with infection and basically Ben was strong and healthy or he wouldn’t have survived. Adam remembered pacing around uneasily sure something was wrong before the message reached him, standing looking over the Lake to the point where their loved ones were buried. Adam smiled to himself as he thought of a much older form of communication. If he asked Joe to put a large white cloth in the trees close to the Lake in the event of an emergency, then he could start back immediately, meet a messenger halfway for more details. In the absence of the cloth he’d have peace of mind, knowing that nothing disastrous had happened with a messenger en route to him. He knew it would be hard on his little brother to have to decide to leave the message but he didn’t really expect it to ever happen and he knew Joe would agree to do it if it made his brother feel easier.
Before breakfast Adam went to find Jess and asked him to make his way into town at his own pace, taking three men with wagons along with him, so that they could collect some of the items he expected to be able to get in town. He arranged to meet Jess at Cass’ store at ten.
Over breakfast his brothers and the girls added considerably to his list, nobody else was going to be able to get into town in the near future. It would mean Adam carrying a lot of money and he promised his brothers that he wouldn’t come back alone. Ben was well enough for his sons to be content to leave Sue with him, although she was under strict instructions to call them as soon as he stirred. Hoss and Joe had a lot to discuss as they went over the work schedule that Adam had adapted, Joe had found Hoss as enthusiastic as Adam about the idea of a telegraph on the ranch and they got down to the practical details of planning it in.
By eight thirty Carole was uneasy Adam had had an early start and even with the lists he had, she had expected him back by now and he was carrying a lot of cash. It wouldn’t be too difficult to predict that with Ben ill one of them would be in collecting money to cover all contingencies. Joe tried to reassure her, Adam had promised to take precautions, he wouldn’t be alone and anyway any number of things could have held him up. Ben had a great many good friends in town and the most likely thing was that they had all wanted a quick word to see how he was getting on. Joe knew from experience that such interest could waste hours. Carole had to admit that it was all too likely and she calmed down. However as the evening slipped past, still without any sign of Adam, even Joe became uneasy. Hoss had gone to bed with Sue, proposing to sit with his father in the early hours and Joe was with Nita working by his father’s bed, but more and more frequently he wandered down to see how Carole was dong. She was sorting out orders for blankets and stores although she found it hard to concentrate. By eleven she gave up and Joe was definitely uneasy. Nita smiled at her husband “I’ll watch your father. You’ll only worry him if he should wake again, I’m sure Adam’s okay, he had an awful lot to do.”
Joe tried to feel as convinced but at the very least his brother must be nearly exhausted, he’d been up since 2 a.m. Joe went down to join Carole, “Do you want me to go and look for him?”
Carole shook her head “No way to know which road he’ll use to come home. Might have been up to the Lake or even come via Washoe Lake as he’s carrying money. Just in case of an ambush attempt. He’s done it before.”
Joe knew that, it was why he hadn’t already set out and he poured himself a brandy, Carole refused. Joe sat staring into the fire, sipping his drink, tired himself not really thinking, just letting himself feel. He looked up after five minutes much calmer. “You know he is alright. I’m sure of that. Tired and harassed at a guess but there’s nothing really wrong, he’s not hurt or in any danger. I would know if he was and don’t ask me how because I don’t know.”
Carole didn’t doubt him, she’d seen the closeness between the men all too often although she couldn’t remember any of them as it were deliberately trying to tune into one of the others, but she accepted it and calmed down.
It was gone half past eleven when they heard a horse and Joe hurried out but it was only Jess. He looked absolutely exhausted, nowhere near fit yet. Joe turned to tell Carole and then going over to Jess he helped him down from his horse and just tied it up. Jess went to explain but Joe took his arm “Come on bed for you and then you can talk.”
“My horse.”
“I’ll see to it in a minute, you’ve had it.” Jess wanted to protest, he couldn’t leave one of his bosses to see to his horse but he had to lean heavily on Joe to get to the bunk house. There, with Kirk’s help Joe got Jess settled in his bunk before allowing him to talk, surprised that his brother had let his friend do so much. Joe could see there’d been no real disaster, Jess was cross and very tired but not really worried.
Jess felt much better once he was lying down and had some coffee but he was quick to defend Adam seeing Joe’s opinion written all over his face, “Adam wanted me to stay over but I knew you’d be worried,”
“What’s he up to?”
“Sorting out all sorts of problems. First it was that damned pipeline something about the pumping station and then some teething problems with the Bank of Nevada. There’s been trouble I don’t know the details but Sharon is being awkward. Adam was going to prepare some sort of legal document, threatening Sharon with trouble if he continues to be obstructive. Adam ain’t in no trouble, pretty tired and not in the world’s best temper but okay. Roy promised to ride out with him when he’s finally finished. Might still be quite awhile.”
“Inevitable.” Said Joe bitterly “One of these days I’ll tell Jim Fair exactly what I think of him. Thanks for all you’ve done Jess, get some sleep you’re exhausted too.”
Joe saw to the horse and then went in to try and persuade Carole to go to bed; there was no point in all of them being exhausted. He was going up himself with Roy’s promise to see Adam home. Carole agreed unwillingly, but she was very tired. Hoss filled in on his brother’s non-return was furious but promised to get him straight off to bed when he finally appeared. Trusting in Hoss and Roy, Joe, Nita and Carole went to their beds.
In town Adam had, as Joe surmised, been held up by so many of Ben’s friends wanting to know just how his father was, Adam kept things as short as he could but despite his need to get on he couldn’t be rude. Wherever he had business whether in stores, the bank or the stockbrokers, questions had to be answered first before he could get to work. He was also collecting requests to visit various business associates and he couldn’t avoid them either.
Adam was quite glad to settle to the sheer technical details of the pumping station and the pipeline. Harv was so wrapped up in his own project that he didn’t even seem to have heard about Ben’s illness, a man he had only met casually. While they were working John MacKay came in to see if Adam would join him and Jim Fair for a working dinner. Adam warned him that it would be at least another hour before he was finished but Mackay was willing to wait. Knowing that he would be out of contact for a while and that Joe was going to be very busy Adam felt that he ought to find out the current position in more detail and although tired he agreed. It didn’t take him long to regret his decision. Over dinner there were all too many minor points from the mines, legal details any competent lawyer could have dealt with and Adam had ensured that each mine had a very competent lawyer on retainer. There were also routine queries on the various Ponderosa contracts but none of them were particularly important and Adam was too tired to care about them. He agreed to the next phase of the exploration contract in his family’s name but with the four Irishmen combined they didn’t need Cartwright agreement to move on. It was only over coffee when Adam thought he could finally get away that Jim Fair brought up Sharon’s obstruction with the Bank. Adam cursed under his breath but he’d have to at least find out the details. He excused himself for five minutes to go and tell Jess to get himself a bed for the night, and to clear his own head and stretch his legs.
Then very tired he had to concentrate and extricate the details of Sharon’s behaviour out of Jim before drawing up a writ to warn Sharon off. He knew basically what he needed but he had to check carefully taking no chances with Sharon. It was nearly 2 am by the time he had finished but even then Jim Fair had business for him, a whole pile of teething problems in the organization of their new Bank. He wanted them sorted and needed the Cartwright input as they were major stockholders. Adam cursed him but he did want to have some say in how the bank was run and knew initial decisions would become fixed in stone and it would be far harder to change things later. As Jim pulled up a large pile of papers from under the table, Adam felt like throwing them at him but if he didn’t deal with them it left an extra burden for his brother. For more than two hours he ploughed through the papers until his eyes felt like red hot stones and his eyelids were seemingly lined with grit. Eventually he finished the pile of papers and stretched, “Right that does it, I must get home. Any queries in the next few weeks you’ll have to get a lawyer in town. Anything needing our consent check with Joe.”
Jim Fair looked shocked “Little Joe!”
“Pa’s ill, Hoss and I will be out of contact, working up in the high country. Joe will be at the house, he has full authority to speak for the Cartwrights.”
“Come on Adam you can’t be serious.”
“Jim you have accepted my word for the whole family since well before I first went to Europe, I was considerably younger then than Joe is now.”
“Little Joe isn’t you.”
“Right he’s not a lawyer but he’ll still pick up most mistakes one makes and in other ways he’s just as competent as I am. We all trust Joe to speak for us so you’ll just have to accept it.”
“Can’t we have him send things up to you?”
“Take five or six days to get an answer and frankly unless its vital I don’t want to be bothered, I’m going to be very busy and I have full confidence in my brother, even if you don’t. If Joe thought it was beyond him, he’d send it on but that’s his decision. Don’t try bypassing him, it’ll just waste time because I’ll send it back for Joe to deal with.” Adam, well overtired, was on the verge of losing his temper and John moved in swiftly to make the peace as he had to on his partner’s behalf, all too frequently.
Adam went slowly down to the jail to collect his money belt from Roy’s safe. He tried to dissuade Roy from riding home with him, it was so late that any ambusher would have given up and gone home hours ago. Roy had been sleeping and he wasn’t going back on his word, his old friend looked absolutely exhausted and for other reasons it made sense to ride along.
Getting nowhere Adam accepted Roy’s insistence and half dozing in the saddle he made his way home. In some ways he’d be glad to get back to the west shore, away from paperwork and finicky details. He knew they had to be settled but sometimes, like Joe, he yearned for the old days with limited paperwork the only large contracts on cattle and horses when they had ridden the roundups themselves, They had prospered so much in the past years, becoming ever more closely tied to Virginia City, all multimillionaires, but that very fact interfered with their freedom, forcing them to so many meetings and work whatever they wanted personally.
Hoss had been waiting anxiously for his brother’s arrival. Sue had joined her husband around 3 a.m. and she had sensibly insisted that Adam would have got a room in town as it was so late. Hoss could only agree that it would have been sensible but he was equally sure that Adam wouldn’t have done it and his brother was either on his way home or even worse, still working. After very little sleep for several days previously Adam had now been up for more than twenty four hour and Hoss knew his brother must be exhausted, He finally heard horses at nearly 5.30 and leaving Sue with his Pa he hurried out. Roy was holding both horses as Adam wearily dismounted. Seeing Hoss, Roy said, “I’ll see to the horses in exchange for breakfast, get him to bed he’s asleep on his feet.”
Adam forced a grin “I’m okay just tired.” But he was glad of his brother’s supporting arm and made his way to one of the spare rooms, Hoss pulled his boots off and took the money belt but Adam was too tired to undress and was asleep before Hoss even finished tucking a cover round him. Hoss put the money in the safe and went back to join Sue. He was used to his pigheaded brother driving himself into exhaustion and he reassured Sue, Adam would be fine, he’d sleep off the worst of it. Then Hoss went down to see Roy, promising the sheriff that he could see Ben after breakfast, just for a few minutes, but he tried to warn Roy just how weak his father was. Roy would think he’d aged ten years and Ben must have lost thirty pounds or more in the last weeks, although in itself that wasn’t a bad thing he had been getting rather too heavy.
Even with Hoss’ warning Roy was shocked to see his old friend, only now did he realise just how close Ben had been to death despite Doc’s words. It was obvious after five minutes that Ben was exhausted and Roy didn’t need Sue’s warning glance and took his leave of his old friend, promising to come out again in a week or so once he was feeling better. Sue tucked Ben in and let him doze again, it was all he felt fit for.
Joe and Carole weren’t too surprised to hear Hoss’ report, they both thanked Roy for escorting Adam home and laid their plans to combine and try to persuade him to delay his return to the west shore until the following day. Despite the time he got to bed and his near exhaustion, Adam was too aware of what needed doing to waste too much time on sleep and to everyone’s disgust he was down soon after nine, still looking very tired but proclaiming his need for breakfast. It wasn’t worth arguing and Carole settled for persuading him to have a hot bath after it. Adam filled Joe in while he ate and then relaxed in the bath, chatting to his wife. By the time he was dressed Ben was awake again and Adam went in to see his father. He didn’t try to hide from his father that they were going to be very pushed over the next few weeks. Ben might be weak and ill but he knew the ranch too well to be fooled. Adam explained that much as he disliked leaving his father, he would have to in a few hours now that Ben was so much better. He’d trust the girls and his little brother to look after Ben; they would do a fine job. Ben didn’t want Adam to leave but he knew the work that was required and knew his eldest son had no choice. He still felt terrible, his stomach and side so sore but Adam was right he was getting better. Adam promised to come and see him again before he left if his father would get some more sleep now.
Adam was very quiet as he went downstairs and he wandered over to the study standing staring at the map of the ranch, the impressionistic map that somehow caught the majestic sprawl of the ranch, his father’s pride and joy. Joe came over seeing the tension in his brother’s shoulders “Are you alright?”
Adam turned and perched on the desk, “Sure, just a bit tired and so very thankful. Joe....”
Joe frowned puzzled by the expression on his brother’s face and waited as Adam collected his thoughts. Neither of the brothers were aware of Hoss or their wives, who had been attracted by something in Adam’s voice. Adam reached out his hand and gripped Joe’s “I once said you’d have the strength to pull the men back from that canyon, prevent a massacre. I relied on it getting that truce but you’ve never proved it so clearly as the other night. There aren’t words Joe, Hoss and I owe our father’s life to your strength and we both know how much it took. I’m trying to say thank you but I don’t know how.”
Joe’s eyes glistened with unshed tears and he didn’t know what to say and Hoss moved forward and put one arm round each of his brothers, “You know Adam is speaking for me too Joe.” He smiled “I guess we don’t really need words between us three.”
Joe returned Adam’s grip, so very moved by his brothers’ attempts to thank him, he couldn’t find words but Adam could see that insufficient as his words seemed to him they were enough for Joe to know how he felt, Hoss was right they didn’t need words.
Nita was in tears seeing the closeness between the brothers and remembering how a few months back she had bitched at Adam, feeling he underestimated her love. Carole calmed her down and suggested they go and get coffee. All of them were grateful and after it Joe helped his brother collect what he needed for the west shore with only token protest. The three men were returning with Adam as before and a full crew with stores would begin to move out on Monday, Joe tried to warn Adam to take it easy but Adam knew of them all his little brother had the hardest job, with all the detailed organisation Joe would never be able to say he was finished for the day. Adam could only trust in Nita and his own wife to see Joe got enough sleep to manage. He’d explained his idea for a signal if anything disastrous happened and Joe had promised to do it but both were determinedly cheerful it wouldn’t be necessary. As far as possible Joe promised to keep him informed and he’d cope, Adam grinned “I have no doubts on that score. Look after Pa.”
Ben promised his eldest son to take it easy and do as he was told, not to worry Joe and then Adam kissed his father’s forehead “I’ll see you in a few weeks. God be with you Pa.”
Ben watched Adam leave, so weak his eyes were moist. He had so nearly given up, only Adam’s anger forcing him to try and now he was well enough for Adam to leave him, knowing his son wouldn’t do it unless he was certain of the outcome.
The next day Hoss had to head out too to set up his main operation but he could hope to get back at least once a week, the long ride well worth it to see his lovely redhead and check on his father. Joe promised to send up daily reports, they had plenty of men for once with the railroad built and a surfeit of labour, Then Joe had to settle to the million and one details, a massive job even with the girls helping as best they could, only Carole was really familiar with her jobs and although Nita and Sue were quick to pick up what to do he had to spend hours showing them, hours he could ill afford and he was lucky to get five hours sleep a night. He spared as much time as he could for his father, the only one of his sons there and Ben was too weak to hide his need for his sons. The girls were very good and he was fond of them, especially Carole, but it wasn’t the same. Joe managed to hide his growing exhaustion from his father but when Hoss return the following weekend he wasn’t so easily fooled. His little brother was working himself into the ground, the all too familiar symptoms, Joe could only argue that he had little choice, he didn’t dare let anything slide, with Adam due to go to San Francisco at some stage, things were going to get worse not better.
Hoss couldn’t do much up at the timber camp, he was pushed anyway trying to get it into a condition where Johnny could cope but he forgot about the quiet day he had promised himself and settled to help his little brother. He was content having Sue close at hand and at least his father looked much fitter still too weak to stay awake for long, he was at least able to sit up unaided and feed himself. Hoss could see a great improvement, not so obvious to Joe who had seen him every day. Hoss stayed overnight, leaving at dawn not abut to miss the chance to hold his wife close, She was fit and happy, barely noticing her pregnancy, none of them being troubled with morning sickness or anything else. She was kept busy nursing Ben, planning and ordering for her new home and helping Joe where she could. Although she missed her big husband very much, she accepted it, knowing that the Ponderosa was a working ranch and Hoss’ forte would never be the paperwork, which would tie him to the house. In fact Nita was very little better off, she might have Joe there but he was so busy often completing work as he ate that he might as well not be, falling into bed exhausted each night.
Carole had worried at first wondering how the spoilt San Francisco beauty would take to being ignored. However Nita loved her husband and she wasn’t about to make his job more difficult by demanding attention. She was repaid by the few words of thanks and the swift hug and kiss, which kept Joe sane as he dealt with the mass of detail.
Adam wasn’t getting anymore sleep than his brother. He’d had two messages from home to reassure him that his father was recovering and he trusted his family, with no real time to think or worry about him. At least he was sure that Joe must be too busy to worry about Nita’s pregnancy. After a week Adam had half the remaining marking up done and he had the first trees cut, men building two necessary roads and a second flume into the lake and platforms from which the rafts of timber could be made. He was very pushed although the small project had showed up many of the problems the previous year and he had in some cases several possible solutions to try. All too many problems pushed at him every where he looked and he spent most evenings trying to catch up with the paperwork, getting to bed in the early hours. He utilised Hoss’ system of giving fortnightly long weekends to half the crew but he couldn’t afford the time to take a break himself. He had to get things in smooth working order before he handed over to Hoss. This was his idea, his pet project and after two years of work it would now start to pay off. Slowly it was becoming more organised and he was well satisfied with the way it was going but with marking up still to be finished and planned in, he was tired out. He wasn’t helped by the continual need to go into the lake. The weather was dry but the sun hadn’t much power and the water of the Lake was bitterly cold. Often soaked to the skin, although he had plenty of spare clothing, he didn’t have time to go and change and ended up letting the clothes dry on him. He could hardly complain when he ended up with a cold as several of the men didn’t hesitate to tell him. Each one had tried unsuccessfully to tell him to go get changed on various occasions. Adam didn’t complain but got on with his work, despite streaming eyes and continual sneezing, along with a very bad headache. It had the effect of slowing him down and he found it hard to concentrate especially by late evening, He forced himself to carry on and not surprisingly his cold got steadily worse, until some of the men with him began to get really worried. Especially some of the men, who had been around the ranch for a long time and knew how he had nearly died from pneumonia a few years back. Adam cut off all concerned comment curtly, he knew it was well meant but he had no choice but to carry on and very tired his temper was suffering as he tried to cope feeling increasingly ill.
Adam wasn’t the only one who had a cold. Joe had picked one up from somewhere but at least he had the comforts of a warm house and hot drinks whenever he wanted. He avoided going out whenever he could but he had to keep the work going and despite everyone’s refusal to call him in the morning he had begun to develop Adam’s knack of waking when he wanted and was too aware of what needed doing to sleep in. If he was slightly later down he just worked later in the evening until Nita gave in and called him as he asked. Joe wouldn’t go and see his father while he had a streaming cold, the last thing Ben needed was to pick up an infection. Ben was slowly recovering but still very weak, Sue backed Joe up and explained his absence to his father, doing her best to reassure Ben that it was just a cold and although tired Joe was working quietly by the fire with Nita looking after him. Ben had to accept that he would only make matters more difficult for his son if he insisted on seeing Joe, add another worry for his son. Sue promised to make sure Joe took it easy and gave her word that if he did get any worse she would tell Ben, not try to hide anything from him.
Hoss came home again on the Saturday and he was outraged by how ill and tired his little brother looked. He had already greeted his wife and now went straight over to Joe and took the papers away from his brother. He sighed heavily “Joe you belong in bed!”
“I’m alright Hoss. Just a cold.” Joe said rather hoarsely, his throat very sore.
Hoss felt his brother’s forehead, “You’re feverish.”
“Just sitting in front of the fire. Don’t fuss.”
“I’m not.” Hoss said. “I’m just taking over. Have your supper and get to bed.”
“I have to finish....”
“Nonsense I’m not helpless, I can do it. Twice as fast as you at the minute, you can hardly see straight the way your eyes are watering.”
With Sue and Nita backing Hoss, Joe surrendered, it was all he really felt like doing. He wasn’t even hungry and went straight up to bed even though it only twenty to eight. Nita went up to check on him half an hour later and found him fast asleep. She came down and kissed the big man’s cheek “Thank you Hoss, its what he needs, to sleep the clock round.”
Hoss had some food and then as Sue told him Ben had awoken he went up to see his father. He was able to reassure Ben that Joe was okay and that he’d persuaded his little brother to rest. Then he sat back and chatted, filling his father in on everything that was going on round the ranch. Ben relaxed with his big son’s company and slowly dozed off again.
The next day Joe was late down, heavy eyed with sleep but feeling much better for more than twelve hours sleep. His headache gone at least for now. Hoss had cleared a fair amount of routine for his brother and Joe was very grateful. The brothers worked together for the morning clearing quite a lot of the backlog and after lunch they relaxed for a couple of hours with their wives, Carole and the children. They were all laughing at the twins antics as the little boys wrestled for supremacy with the two dogs gently nudging them apart every time they got too excited, when the door went. Hoss went over to find Jackson there. Jackson had come back to collect some stores that were needed but he was sufficiently worried about Adam to feel his family ought to know, although he knew Adam would be furious.
Hoss was surprised to see Jackson but invited him in. Jackson was ill at ease, hearing the women’s voices and the children’s laughter and so Hoss moved out to join him on the porch. “What’s the matter? Did Adam send you?”
“Only to get stores. I wanted a word but don’t wanna worry his wife.”
“What’s wrong?”
“Adam’s not well, filthy cold all week and its getting steadily worse. He ain’t giving into it at all, in and out of the Lake, soaking wet most of the time and that water is still real cold. He’s got us worried Hoss but he’d hit the roof if ‘n he knew I was here.”
Hoss frowned “How is it going apart from that?”
“Beginning to get into a routine, sorting out some of the problems but it’s still more than hectic. The marking up is nearly finished although the detailed marking is only a couple of days ahead.”
“Not in a state to be left without one of us obviously.” Hoss frowned wondering what on earth to do. “Alright Jackson, thanks for letting me know, I’ll get out somehow see what needs doing.”
Jackson was just glad to have passed the responsibility onto someone else and went to collect the stores while Hoss lent on the hitch rail wondering what to do, he had no intention of telling either Joe or Carole about it, not yet. Joe needed at least two or three days peace and quiet to confirm the results of his long sleep, get over his own cold. Hoss had already had a word with Jess and got some of the paperwork redirected to him for the next few days but if necessary that would have to wait. He decided to get back and mark up in detail for the next week and then rely on Johnny to keep things moving while he went to join his brother. He intended to try and persuade Adam to come on home if he was as bad as Jackson implied.
Having made up his mind what he needed to do Hoss took a couple of minutes to calm down, just considering the horses in the corral, two youngsters mock fighting for supremacy. It wasn’t serious yet but in another few months they would need to separate the pair as both were being kept for breeding. Then Hoss headed back in and got Sue off on her own, letting her know his plans and why he was going. Sue promised to keep it to herself and look after his brother if Hoss managed to send him home. She made no comment when Hoss left an hour earlier than he had originally planned. The others were surprised but Sue just said that Hoss had a couple of jobs to do for her and was clearing them first. They all assumed that it was something to do with her new house and didn’t press questions to her relief. She soon slipped away to sit with Ben.
Adam had found it increasingly difficult to keep things going, let alone plan ahead, but he didn’t see that he had any choice. He wasn’t about to give into a stupid head cold, not even a cough, even though he did feel like death warmed up. By the weekend he had a continual headache and couldn’t even seem to settle to sleep when he did finally reach his bed. He knew the men were concerned but kept the talk firmly to work, pushing them hard but pushing himself even harder. At least by Sunday evening he had the satisfaction of getting the preliminary marking completed, but he still couldn’t settle. He was trying to plan the following week’s work cold and shivery, despite the fire and having his blankets draped round his shoulders, fighting against admitting he was feverish.
The hands were very worried but none of them knew him well enough to really say what they thought, though whether Adam would have listened to Jess or José was doubtful.
Hoss had got back to the main timber camp after dark but with the aid of three men and lanterns he worked all night and marked up for Johnny. He had explained to Johnny why he needed to do so and Johnny was quite prepared to take over for a few days as he would later in the year, knowing how generous the Cartwrights were, paying him well for the extra responsibility. Hoss promised to be back by the end of the week to complete the next lot of detailed marking up if not to take over again. Then after a very large breakfast even for him, he headed for the west shore. There was a good road nearly all the way now and with Chub fresh, Hoss pushed hard and reached the West shore camp at lunchtime.
Adam wasn’t hungry and hadn’t bothered to come back into the camp. He was checking the morning’s work and the tyings on the raft before it headed across the Lake, working knee deep in the water.
As Hoss rode in, several of the men came over to him very relieved to see him, Jackson wasn’t back yet and they didn’t know that he’d been to see Adam’s brothers but with Hoss there they all surrounded him, all wanting him to know how sick Adam was. Hoss quietened then down, he knew about it and he’d see Adam in a minute. For now would someone cook him some grub and tell him where he could find his brother. With food being organized Hoss made his way down to the Lake and seeing his brother out on one of the pontoons, he hurried over, not wanting to yell in case Adam lost his balance.
Adam heard someone approaching and turned to see who it was, seeing his brother approach for a moment he swayed, so scared Hoss’ unexpected visit meant more trouble. Hoss was close enough to grab his arm and steady him and he could see Jackson had underestimated if anything. Adam was exhausted and feverish but he could see the fear and concentrated on that first. “Easy Adam no trouble. Come on back to the fire where we can talk.”
Adam relaxed a little and followed his brother back to the fire, glad of the warmth of the coffee Hoss poured him and only then did he query why Hoss was there if there wasn’t any trouble. Hoss led the way into the tent Adam used to work and sleep in and he gently pushed his brother down onto his bedroll and felt his forehead, “You’re running a temperature.”
“Just a head cold.”
“How long has it been going on?”
“Oh I don’t know, week or so. Never mind that, why are you here?”
“Two reasons rumour spreads round this place, heard you were under the weather. Joe’s much the same, filthy cold too, I reckoned he needed some help back at the house and you needed some home comforts. Thought I’d come and take over for a few days. Got it all arranged for Johnny, he can cope for a few days.”
Adam frowned looking at his big brother, not sure what to do, he had so much to organize before he really felt it was ready to hand over to his brother and yet the idea of going home to Carole and his children, a nice warm bed was very tempting. He was exhausted and he knew it, he couldn’t carry on as he had been doing. Hoss could read the changing expressions on his brother’s face very clearly and he moved closer to Adam putting his arm round his shoulders felling him shiver. Adam lent back against him glad of Hoss’ warm strength. Hoss smiled “For once you don’t have no say in this. You’re exhausted and maybe it’s only a cold but you carry on as you have been and it’ll be more serious. I came to send you home anyway and you’re a darn sight worse than I expected. I can manage here least until the weekend, I know your habits on marking up and keeping track so you’re gonna get changed into dry clothes, have a meal and then go home with Wilson before I have to send you back in a wagon.”
“Hoss I’m alright.”
“You’re a liar, just be sensible. We can’t have both you and Pa out of action and the way you’re going it’s gonna end up in pneumonia or something. Anyway as I say Joe is getting snowed up and he ain’t too fit either. Update everything at home, and relax a bit, the pair of you will be fit and we can carry on as planned.”
“Pressure on you.” Adam hesitated but his brother just hugged him, “Fool, why should it be any worse for me than it is for you? The main camp is well under control Johnny is getting to like the independence.”
Adam gave way, feeling too ill to do anything else if he was truthful, and he let Hoss bully him into changing and eating while Blackie was saddled for him. Hoss wasn’t letting him go alone and asking Wilson to go along make sure he was okay and deliver two letters, one to Sue and one to Joe. Adam was ready by the time Hoss had finished writing the notes “You sure you don’t want me to explain what we’re...”
Hoss interrupted him “Go home brother I can manage, the men will help.”
Adam smiled the first one in days, “Thanks Hoss, thanks for coming. You’re right I needed help.” He gripped his brother’s hand and then swung up on Blackie only wanting to get home. With day light for the rough early part where the road wasn’t finished yet, they made good time. The road had been extended considerably since he had headed out to the camp. Despite being very tired and feverish Adam pushed hard and reached the house just after ten. Adam was assuming that Carole was still at the main house with the children, helping out, so he had headed straight there. Only as the house came into view did he start wondering what reaction his arrival would cause. He could see lights still on downstairs and Wilson said he’d take care of the horses so Adam dismounted stiffly and went in, very tired, almost feeling light headed.
Nita had been trying to persuade Joe to call it a day for the last hour but had got nowhere. Carole had already gone to bed but Sue was sitting sowing half expecting Adam to arrive if things had gone as Hoss intended. Ben was sufficiently recovered for them to leave him over night, always leaving the door ajar for him to call or ring the bell on his table if he needed anything and Sue checked fairly regularly.
Joe was trying to concentrate through a bad headache and didn’t even notice when the horses came in but the girls did. Nita looked puzzled but Sue began packing her things away and as Adam came in she went over to him. She could see his utter exhaustion and that he was running a temperature. Joe looked up in surprise but Sue was practical. “Get Hop Sing to bring some coffee Nita and then have him warm a spare bed for Adam.” As she spoke Sue poured out a brandy and passed it to Adam, “Here you look as though you need it.”
Adam slowly took off his coat and gun, everything was too much bother and he let Sue bully him. Joe came over “Do you want food or just bed?”
Adam forced a smile “Bed but only on condition you go too, you look the way I feel.”
“Well maybe, but I’d like some explanations first. What’s going on?"
“Hoss is taking over. He’s on the west shore, got Johnny organised this side and sent me home. As he put it you could do with a hand and I need some home comforts this week at least.”
Joe caught Sue’s eye, “You knew?”
Sue nodded, “One of the men came by. They were worried about Adam and Hoss was concerned about you. I knew what he wanted to do, seems to have managed it. Now I’ll take over I’m the nurse around here and you both need your beds and try to sleep in in the morning. With two of you here you can manage everything easily.”
It was all either of them felt fit for and Nita took Joe up while Sue made sure Adam had all he needed and once he was asleep she tucked him up more warmly. He was feverish but not too bad and she was confident that a long sleep would drop it considerably. Glad her husband had done as he wanted Sue headed for bed herself. She awoke when the twins did and went in to warn Carole about her husband’s arrival and the reasons for it. Carole looked in on Adam but he was sleeping very peacefully, although lines of strain and tension were clear on his face. Carole felt very gently but his fever seemed to have dropped and she left him to sleep,
Neither of the brothers were down until nearly ten, with Joe relaxing knowing help was on hand, and both of them looked a lot better for it. Once Adam had been reassured how much better Ben was, he was content to sit by the fire with a stream of hot drinks and work through the stacks of queries from town which Joe hadn’t had time to get to. He didn’t really want food but he relaxed with his family round him, the children so pleased to see him and warm and comfortable he could nurse his cold and work quietly. Like Joe he was staying away from his father until he was over the worst of it but Ben heard his voice and the twins delighted yells of Daddy. Worried about his son’s return, scared it meant that Adam was seriously ill, he was getting so tense that Sue decided it would do less harm for Adam to go up and see his father provided he stayed well back from the bed. Adam was equally eager to see his father and he needed no persuasion, it was one thing to have everyone assuring him that his father was better but he felt the need to see for himself.
Adam went up, staying over by the door but searching his father’s face. What he saw made him smile broadly “You look a lot better Pa. How do you feel?”
“Weak and derned useless, this lot bullying me won’t let me do a thing.” Ben frowned “You don’t look too good,”
Adam sneezed and then smiled “Just a head cold, I wouldn’t have come back but Hoss had it all arranged just too tempting. I’ll take over again at the end of the week, help Joe clear the backlog of paperwork not that it’s too bad he’s been doing a very good job.”
“How is he?” Ben demanded
At that Joe pushed his brother aside, reckoning if Adam could risk it so could he. “A bit better than Adam but we’ll both be fine in another couple of days, just don’t want you catching it.”
Ben smiled relaxing seeing his sons weren’t seriously ill “Fed up ding my work already?”
Joe laughed “You could say that Pa, Sooner you’re back on your feet the better we’ll all like it.”
Adam put his arm around his brother’s shoulders “You may complain at being bullied Pa but you look very much better than I dared hope. Keep it up and you’ll be handling all the problems in no time and Joe and I will take it easy.”
Then deciding his father looked tired, he went on “I’ll join the rest, bully you. Get some sleep and I’ll pop up later and fill you in on the west shore operation.”
“Deal.” Said Ben relaxing now he’d seen his sons, Hoss was right they both needed a few days relative quiet in comfort to stop colds becoming more serious, but they were not that unwell and between them they would cope easily.
By the weekend both Adam and Joe had thrown off their colds and were much better Adam had been into town and collected some extra cash, while Joe went to check with José finding that as he expected the cattle were well under control. They had been lucky with the breeding stock of horses; all the foals were fit and healthy with two exceptional colts again. With both of them and the girls helping the paperwork was completely up to date and even where possible ahead of themselves. The telegraph posts were beginning to span the Ponderosa and they had been lucky enough to find two men, who had helped build the transcontinental telegraph before drifting into railroading and then ended up on the ranch. The men had come forward and offered their expertise and knew exactly what was required. Although it would take another month or so the west shore was well on the way to being in communication with the rest of the ranch.
Will had written a long letter to his cousins very glad to be able to help. He had arranged all the meetings that Adam had asked for and the shipping was booked, all the details included. Adam had booked a train seat to go to San Francisco the middle of the week after next, hoping to be able to return after about five days but he hadn’t booked a seat yet, knowing how many things could occur to hold him up.
Hoss returned on the Saturday, glad to see both his brothers looking so much better. He spent an hour filling Adam in on exactly what he had achieved on the west shore; at least being familiar with the operation would make it a lot easier for him when he took over again in ten days time. He had checked upon on his own operation on the way home, it was up on schedule and he’d given everyone a long weekend, planning to restart on Monday. By the time the brothers had finished their discussion and were sitting over coffee, Doc arrived. He had been out several times to check on Ben and was pleased with how his old friend was recovering, even if it was far too slow for Ben’s liking.
Adam went up with Doc and they found Ben easing himself up in the bed. Ben had been dozing but he heard Paul’s voice and he was determined to get Doc to let him out of bed.
He was very much better and Doc sat on the bed and chatted for a few minutes before checking the incision. It had healed well and Doc decided it didn’t even need a dressing now. It looked perfectly healthy and Ben insisted that it didn’t hurt as Paul prodded round the scar. Adam bit his lip sure his father was stretching the truth, seeing the slight tightening round his mouth eloquent of at least discomfort if not pain. Doc smiled equally aware that Ben wasn’t quite accurate but he spoke to reassure them both. “All fine, take a while for the muscle deep in the scar to join up again, but otherwise fine.”
Doc checked his patient carefully and Ben seemed to be making a remarkable recovery for a man of his age. He had already shed years from the days before the operation, looking much more himself. Ben had to admit that he was still weak, he could only read for a short while before he found himself dozing off, even with light novels, but he didn’t feel too bad otherwise. Paul could see the light of battle in his eyes and knew what Ben was going to ask. He considered it as Ben talked and meeting Adam’s eye he grinned “I suppose you want to get up Ben?”
“Yes, I’m sick to death of this room.”
Adam protested “Pa you read a dozen pages and you’re nodding off, even chat for half an hour and you’re exhausted.”
Ben ignored him, looking at Paul, “What harm can I do?”
“A lot if you’re foolish! Hoss is here today but Joe can’t manage your weight alone.” Doc sighed. “Alright Ben but get one of your sons to help you dress and at the most you walk down to a chair by the fire and sit quietly.”
Adam looked worried, “Pa don’t you think you ought to leave it a little longer. The kids are bouncing around, very noisy. We can keep them off you but they are bound to be tiring. They have been complaining about not being able to see you, bound to be excitable.”
Ben just looked stubborn, “I want to see them too.”
Adam glanced over at Doc but he just shrugged. “You can get him dressed, get Hoss to carry him down. I shouldn’t argue it’ll be a waste of time.”
Adam laughed ruefully “I suppose your right. Okay Pa get some sleep now, eat your lunch and then Hoss and I will help you downstairs this afternoon.”
Ben was pleased to get his own way and very tired he was happy to settle down but he queried “When did Hoss get back?”
“About an hour ago. He’s been filling me in on what he’s been doing on the west shore. No trouble. I’ll fill you in later.”
Content with that Ben settled down and Adam went out with Doc wanting to get his opinion in private. He looked so worried that Doc grinned, “You ought to be used to your father, he’s no worse than you are! Just where do you think you, Hoss and Joe got your pigheadness?”
Adam had the grace to look sheepish and Doc went on “Just comes hard for you to be on the receiving end for once.”
“How is he?”
“Recovering very fast. The scar is perfectly healthy. It’s just a case of recovering his strength and frankly he’s doing so twice as fast as I expected. It will be a month or more before he dare risk going outside, even on a warm day. He is so very weak that for now at least his own physical condition will take care of things. If he is tired he will just doze off. Don’t worry too much.”
Adam relaxed and went down to fill the rest of the family in while Doc enjoyed the scones and coffee that Hop Sing had waiting for him. Adam called his three children to him and lifted them all up on his knee. He talked very quietly to them, explaining that Grandpa was coming downstairs after lunch but he was still not very well and they had to be very good grownup children, not to jump on him or pull at him and to try and keep their voices down. Carole watched amused as Adam almost hypnotized the three children. She wasn’t at all sure that it would last but they seemed to take it seriously for now.
The brothers cleared all outstanding work between them during the rest of the morning and after lunch Adam and Hoss went up and between them got Ben dressed, daring him to do anything to help himself. Ben was rather amused at their fussing but he let them do as they wanted and Hoss carried his father downstairs and got him settled by the fire with a coffee, laced with brandy. The three little children came over hand in hand with the twins holding the little girl between them, all very solemn, looking up wide eyed at their grandfather. Ben caught his eldest son’s eye and queried it. Adam came over “They promised me not to tire you Pa.”
Ben put out his hand to David, “You mustn’t sit on me but I’d like to know what you’ve been doing the last few days.”
David looked up at his father and Adam nodded, “Just try not to out shout each other, talk quietly.”
With Daddy’s permission the two little boys began talking and Ben rested back in his chair quite comfortable, half listening to their prattle and watching his family, his three sons all sitting with their arms round their lovely wives. He had thought that after a few weeks he was going to lose all of it, content that although his sons would grieve and miss him, each had a wife with children on the way all he had ever wanted for them, and they had each other. The close family life for which Adam had tried to thank him. Now he had been spared to see the new houses Adam had designed for his brothers, the three new grandchildren who would join these three, watching his family Ben thanked God for his mercy.
For all the adults it made everything seem so much better just to see Ben downstairs, still very weak but content and no longer in pain, the lines of pain on his face slowly fading. Adam wasn’t the only one who, looking around at all his family, found a lump in his throat. After an hour Hoss took his father back to bed promising to carry him down again for a while after supper if he’d sleep now. Knowing that none of his sons were leaving until the next evening Ben gave way, admitting to himself that he was very tired.
Once Hoss came back down Sue stretched, preparing to go and help Hop Sing, she smiled “Pa is remarkable even when he survived I wouldn’t have believed he’d recover so fast.”
She could see the doubt on the other faces, all so aware of how very weak Ben still was and went on “He’ll begin recovering his strength more quickly now and in three months we can forget it ever happened and you can take it from me that is remarkable and would be even for a man ten years younger than Pa.”
Ben came down again in the evening just talking quietly to his family, finding out what they were planning to do over the next couple of weeks. None of them tried to hide anything even if they did gloss over problems emphasising how much the girls were helping and for the first time Ben learnt of the new telegraph round his ranch. He was fascinated by the idea and he congratulated his youngest son. For a while enjoying himself Ben didn’t feel tired but slowly his weakness took effect and he fell quiet his eyelids feeling heavy. Adam had been fairly quiet, letting the others talk but he’d been keeping a close watch on his father and going over to him he took his hand, “I think its time you went back to bed Pa, settled down for the night,”
“Maybe you’re right.” Adam carefully lifted his father up and Joe followed him up stairs and helped him get Ben into bed and tucked up warmly. Ben was asleep almost at once and his sons stared down at him so very thankful that he was recovering, meeting each other’s eye they had no need for words.
The next day Ben again came down twice, insisting on walking down in the afternoon, just leaning on Joe for support. He seemed to take no harm from it and was obviously pleased to be up and around. Soon after he settled for the night Adam and Hoss took their leave of their wives and headed out, together for the first few miles before Adam cut off towards the west shore. Hoss worked hard for a week leaving Johnny to continue running the day to day work while he got the detailed marking up completed well ahead to carry Johnny for the week or so that Adam would be away. Hoss wanted it to be sufficiently under control so that at most Joe would only need to come up once. Hoss was well aware how pushed Joe was without spending hours riding up to the timber camp.
Adam was working equally hard, ironing out the remaining problems that Hoss hadn’t been able to solve, and by the end of the week everything seemed to be reasonably smooth and he took advantage of the weekend to update all the paperwork and get his own ideas of what should be covered and where he had done the detailed marking up down on paper for his brother. He went home via Hoss’ camp to give him a brief outline of what he had done and what needed doing. Hoss found it clear and promised to keep things moving. He had some paperwork to go back to the house and asked Adam to pass it over to Joe and tell him that barring emergencies Johnny was alright until Monday week. Johnny would continue to send paperwork back to the house as usual. Adam was pleased he was hoping to be back before then. Hoss had some messages for his cousin, Laura and Meg and warned his brother not to overdo things, to get at least some sleep, he’d be no good back early if he’d made himself ill over doing things. Adam punched his brother lightly “I’m fine you just keep things moving on the west shore. I’ll see you next week”
Adam rode on home but didn’t have very long before he had to leave to catch the train. Long enough to placate his children and spare a few moments for his father. Then with his arm round his beloved his wife he caught up quickly on the current position with Joe. As Joe was very busy Adam took some of the outstanding queries with him, there was no reason he couldn’t work on the train. Joe felt there was some fallacy in that argument but even with the girls help the paperwork was building up on him again and the queries on the Bank and from the mines had been pushed aside he didn’t have time to sort out what the problem really was, often not clear from Jim Fair and the others. Adam took a long report from Harv on the pipeline to read as well, all Joe knew was that everything was going as planned and for now that was all he cared about. Joe was keeping his head above water, even if only just and Ben was slowly recovering and moving around the house, although still not fit enough to help even though he wanted to. Joe handed things over and let his brother have a few minutes privacy with Carole before he had to head out.
Adam was satisfied with the way things were at the ranch; his brothers had things well under control, the two new houses beginning to take shape, looking like houses now. He worked hard on the train journey clearing all the paperwork he’d brought with him, oblivious of the interested looks from two attractive sisters fresh out from New York. They were fascinated by the tall good looking cowboy with a gun on his hip who was working through complicated looking documents jotting down figures occasionally, not at all what they had expected. About an hour out of San Francisco Adam finished Harv’s report and packed up his papers. He sat back watching the scenery slip by as he tried to place exactly where he was. Then he tried to relax, having had very little sleep for several days and let his mind go over the jobs awaiting him in San Francisco.
One of the girls asked, rather timidly, “Do you know how long it will be before we reach San Francisco?”
Adam took in their presence for the first time and smiled “I don’t often come by train, but near as I can remember it’s less than an hour from here.”
Having got him talking they asked several questions about the City and Adam couldn’t be rude. When they arrived he helped them get their things into a cab. As he straightened up he saw his cousin striding towards him and instantly forgot the girls. They watched the two men greet and wondered hopefully if they were typical of the males in the west. Adam had to try and answer all the questions Will had for him, taking a while to reassure his cousin who was very fond of his Uncle. Then Adam had his own questions, things that Will had been finding out for him. Will had fulfilled every request that Adam had made and Adam was very grateful and tried to make that clear to his cousin. Laura was very pleased to see him although she thought he looked tired and Adam made it clear that he would have to push very hard over the next few days and get back, as he’d left his brothers a nearly impossible job.
Laura could only try and ensure that Adam ate well and keep the children from bothering him too much, all very fond of their Uncle Adam. Adam’s reputation and ability as a lawyer stood him in good stead, none of the men he was negotiating with tried anything and he went from one meeting to another with things going far more smoothly than he thought he had any right to expect. It only worked because he had everything well prepared in advance and Adam worked virtually all night for the first three days, allowing himself a couple of hours sleep before dawn. He was used to missing out on sleep when necessary and remaining efficient and with things going well even his temper remained equable. He was well pleased with the contract he had already achieved and the rest was going smoothly, The only thing that worried him was the frenzied interest he found in some of the mining stock, especially the Ophir and the rather rude comments about Ralston and the Bank of California. For now all he could do was make a few notes to consider later and concentrate on his own work, He had already booked his seat back for Sunday and he was catching that train even if it meant no sleep between now and leaving town. He had a final meeting over breakfast on the Sunday to sign the second contract and had spent the previous night working on it, not finishing until gone six in the morning. Laura promised to pack his things for him and Will would bring them along and collect him from the meeting and take him to the train. Adam had barely seen them during his stay and apologised for using their home as a hotel, just for sleeping. They weren’t going to be able to get out during the summer either as Will’s business was picking up and he was busy. Adam had tried to apologise but Laura just kissed him, she could understand his need to get back. She had written a long letter with all their news to Carole and there was one from Meg too, who was very happy as she was now pregnant.
All Adam’s hard work paid off as his second contract as signed with hardly a word changed and he had it all put away ten minutes before Will was due to pick him up, The businessmen tried to pick his brains on the stocks of the various mines but Adam was very cagey. The only mines he was prepared to back whole heartedly, his own mines, had no stock available on the market. He was glad to see Will arrive and excused himself he had a train to catch.
Laura had packed him up some lunch and she passed it over with an order to catch up on his sleep on the journey or Carole would never trust her to look after him again. Adam kissed her and thanked his cousin again before heading home. Relaxing he did feel a little sleepy but he still had a fair amount of paperwork to complete and he concentrated on doing that first, finishing as they pulled into Sacramento. Then he ate the food Laura had provided before dozing uneasily until they got to Reno. He couldn’t really settle, overtired and not wanting to miss his stop. Being Sunday he would have to wait for a connection to Carson City but in fact he found it wasn’t as long a wait as he’d feared and after two large brandies and some coffee he was ready to head on home. He was in luck; a man he knew vaguely was travelling on the same train with his wife and promised to wake Adam before they pulled into Carson. With that Adam went off into a deep sleep although when he woke he had a severe headache but ignored it just collecting his luggage as they pulled into the station. He was relieved to see Jess as he got off the train. Will had sent a telegram saying which train he was on and Carole had worked out the connections and sent Jess with Blackie to meet him, knowing just how little sleep he’d had to get through so fast. Jess was feeling very much better although noone would let him do any heavy work yet and he was pleased to be able to help out where he could. Jess was shocked at how exhausted his friend was “Do you want to stop for a drink first Adam. You look whacked.”
“No I’m okay. Let’s get home, how is everything?”
“Joe is complaining your Pa is feeling better and insisting on helping and Joe says he can’t control him.”
Adam grinned delightedly, he knew it would be a problem for the next few weeks but he was glad to see it. He would have been worried if his Pa wasn’t restless. As they rode home Jess gave him a brief outline of other news from round the ranch, nothing too crucial and all three girls fit and well, the new houses progressing fast now the roofs being put on although the internal finishings always took a long time. Carole was planning to move home with the children in a few days, with Ben so much better there was no need for her to remain and she could continue to help with the paperwork. She had been back to her own house most days but she still missed her own home. That proved to Adam that his father was recovering well or Carole wouldn’t be thinking of leaving but he was still eager to see for himself. He collected his thoughts together as the house came into sight and tried to hide how tired he was as they rode into the yard. Jess said “I’ll bring all your things in and see to Blackie, go see your family.”
Adam wasn’t about to refuse that offer and he hurried inside to be attacked by two excitable little boys. Adam swung one up on each hip and then turned to see his family. Joe was at the desk with Nita, Sue sewing by the fire while Carole had been calming Marie who’d bumped her head. His father was in the chair by the fire, account books on his lap and with more colour looking much brighter than when Adam left. Carole lifted Marie up and came over to join her husband not missing his near exhaustion but not commenting on it, knowing he’d had little choice. Marie hugged her Daddy, bump forgotten and Adam was so pleased to see them all he wasn’t even aware of his tiredness; he had expected the kids to be in bed and said so. Carole shrugged “We knew you would be here about now so as a special concession I let them stay up. They are all ready for bed and I’ve committed you to a bedtime story.”
Adam put the twins down and kissed her firmly, “Fine, let me just get my coat and hat off and I’ll take them up.”
“Do you want coffee or something first?” Carole asked slightly uneasily but Adam just grinned “Bring me one up while I’m telling them a story, He went over to his father still holding his daughter. “You look better Pa.”
“I am, news once you’ve seen to your children.”
Adam gripped his father’s hand for a moment and then took his brood of to bed. It wasn’t often that had their Daddy to put them to bed, not in the summer and they were making the most of it clambering on him and all insisting on their own favourite story, Carole brought up coffee having put a stiff slug of brandy in it on Joe’s advice. Joe hadn’t bothered his eldest brother but he’d seen just how tired Adam was despite his attempts to hide it. It was fully half an hour before the three kids were tucked up and the light off; Adam took one last look, Marie and Mark already asleep. “They’re brats.” He said fondly and Carole put her arm through his, “You ought to go to bed too you know.”
“Later my love. Apart from anything else I’m hungry.” Carole knew it wasn’t worth arguing and just kissed him, “Come on then.” Adam had been glad of the brandy but above everything else he was just glad to be home. Ben firmly sat on any detailed discussions of work, that could wait until tomorrow. Adam had got the contracts they wanted at a good price and Joe had the rest under control, details could wait. Ben was staying down for meals now although Sue still insisted on him having a nap after lunch and going to bed early. Joe had largely given up trying to control his father, leaving it to Sue. She insisted on having things her own way, in the nicest possible way and after years of nursing was used to awkward patients. To the amusement, especially of Joe and Carole, Ben found himself edged into doing what Sue wanted.
Over dinner Adam relaxed and exchanged news with his wife and his brother, eating hungrily and glad of the wine Joe had gone to fetch once he’d seen his brother. After coffee Ben had to admit that he was tired and Joe helped him up to bed and got his father settled while Adam enjoyed a brandy with is wife curled up next to him. Despite Carole’s best efforts when he got up to get a refill he gravitated over to the desk and began looking through the papers to get a better idea of the current position. Joe frowned as he came down “You belong in bed.”
“Look pretty exhausted yourself little brother, are you coming up too?” Adam queried,
Joe looked faintly sheepish, he had been working very long hours himself. “Alright let’s run over things quickly, nothing too urgent,” Just under an hour later he pushed the last paper away and stretched, his brother was now as up to date as he needed to be. Adam yawned, “You’ve done a great job Joe I think I’ll sleep on that lot before we go any further. Come on Carole bedtime.” As she put her sewing away Adam asked “Is Hoss coming back?”
Joe shook his head “Not until you go out to take over.” Adam accepted that and saying good night he went on up trying to sort out priorities in his own mind, not that he got far, falling asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.
Nita bullied Joe into following his brother up and Sue was left alone. She had been sewing but gave up and sat staring into the fire, missing her big husband and knowing that she would see little of him for the rest of the summer. However things were arranged Hoss wouldn’t be at the house, the detailed paperwork was not his forte. He had tried to get back most weekends but wasn’t able to this time and Sue missed him.
Adam knew all too well how hard and draining the continual petty detail could be, although it was essential and he thought it was beginning to take its toll of his youngest brother. They had to arrange a drive south in another week or so, José was already collecting the cattle together, just a smallish drive of quality stock but José couldn’t be left to handle the drive alone over an unfamiliar route. One of them ought to go along and Adam decided to see if Joe wanted the job or would prefer to take over the west shore camp while Hoss went on the drive, leaving him free to update the paperwork, a couple of legal queries already awaiting his attention. Adam wanted to find out the position on the west shore, push it ahead a bit, but he’d left things running smoothly and wasn’t worried Hoss was even more experienced at running a lumber camp than he was.
Adam was right about one thing, the continual paperwork was getting to Joe, Two days earlier he had gone out to the horse herd and worked off his frustrations by the hard physical exercise of breaking some horses, having found he was beginning to take it out on the girls.
The next morning Adam stayed long enough to ensure he knew the exact position around the ranch and to spend time with his father filling him in on the details of the negotiation in San Francisco, he felt much better for a long sleep but he only told Carole exactly what he was planning to do Adam took the two most urgent legal queries with him but the rest could wait for a week or so and he had other priorities. Adam stopped off at the new houses not needing the plans to check the structures and he spent half an hour at each dealing with some minor queries, well pleased with the way that they were taking shape even faster than he had expected. His next stop was at the new sawmill which was just operational with the inevitable teething problems and Adam spent a while discussing them with Jack Catfish and making a few suggestions of ways round the hold-ups but Jack was confident he could have it all running smoothly in a few more days. Once Adam had satisfied his old friend’s concerns about his boss and the other news from the ranch, he was free to move on. His next stop was the main lumber camp where Johnny was expecting someone. Johnny was quite prepared to carry on as he had been for another couple of weeks as everything was running smoothly, although he needed some more detailed marking up completed and planned in. Overall they were ahead of schedule and Adam was delighted to see it, and made that very clear. Over the years Johnny had taken increasing amounts of responsibility and handled the camp well, even if most of the paperwork ended up back at the house to complete. Adam knew that they paid him well for doing it but it still seemed insufficient thanks. Johnny who was saving for a place of his own was well satisfied.
Adam got down to the job of checking the current position and marking up for the next ten days according to Hoss’ master plan. He worked steadily using lanterns when the light went and barely stopping for food, entering the details on the plan as he ate. It was very late by the time he’d finished, but there was a good moon and road all the way to the west shore, so he was determined to head on. Johnny could cope and Adam promised to be back himself the next week and that once his brother got back from the drive they’d arrange a long weekend in town for Johnny, longer if he wanted it, he would have earnt it.
Adam made good time to the west shore riding in just before dawn. Noone was awake and he saw to Blackie before putting on some coffee. By the time that was ready Hoss was awake astounded to see his elder brother, wondering when he’d arrived. He could see from Adam’s face that nothing was wrong and apart from lecturing him on riding all night when he looked tired Hoss didn’t bother. They chatted over breakfast catching up on news and Hoss filled his brother on so that he could take over. Adam made a few notes everything was running smoothly and they had deliberately not scheduled too much for this first large scale operation and were well up on schedule, The main remaining problems of delays in getting stores and hold-ups at the top end of the flume should both be eased when the telegraph was completed, which with luck could be in a week or so.
Everything was peaceful until Adam brought up the subject of the drive. Hoss had been thinking about that too but with Johnny’s cooperation they could cope. Like his elder brother he could well imagine that Joe would like a break from the paperwork and taking the drive, even if there were other problems to face, would probably suit Joe best. Adam shrugged “Same could be said of you, different problems, maybe you need a break from timber camps.”
“I’m okay.”
“Sure Hoss. Anyway talk it over with Joe, decide between yourselves who handles this and who the drive. It’s probably time I cleared some of the legal details at the house, they are beginning to pile up.”
Hoss sighed “Easy to say talk it over with Joe but the drive goes out Friday and by the time I’ve finished checking and marking up for Johnny....”
Adam interrupted casually “Oh I’ve done that, all under control, that’s why I was a bit late getting here, got back on Sunday.”
Hoss frowned, knowing just how much work was involved and Adam went on, “Go home, give Joe a hand see how your house is getting on and spend a bit of time with Sue for a day or two, Whichever job you do you’re going to be away from the house and I think she’s missing you.”
“I can’t.”
“Why not? Everything is under control, Joe could do with a hand and Sue deserves some consideration, she is pregnant and she’s seen precious little of you and that isn’t likely to improve. Take the chance while you’ve got it.”
Hoss was very tempted, he’d missed his wife equally as much as she’d missed him but it didn’t seem fair. “Carole’s seen no more of you, rather less in fact and she’s pregnant too.”
“Yeah but she’s more used to both that and me being away and anyway from the weekend I’ll be working at home for ten days or so. Do stop arguing Hoss you’re just wasting time, start now and you’ll be home for dinner.” Adam grinned at his big brother “Go on.”
Hoss didn’t stop to argue anymore, maybe he’d have a few twinges of conscience, but Adam had worked hard to make it possible and he wasn’t throwing his brother’s gift back in his face. He hauled himself up, emptied his mug of coffee “Okay Adam and thanks brother.”
Adam watched his brother ride out and then settled to work, promising himself an early night. Hoss made good time passing the telegraph crew not much more than a mile from the camp. Nearly all the way home he could see the wire and it was a satisfying thought that in a few days he would be able to contact the house from anywhere along here. Joe had ordered some light weight units to cut into the line, all it would need was a tree to climb or in some cases Hoss could reach from horseback. The units could be carried as routine and would be there in the event of trouble.
Sue was amazed and delighted as Hoss came in, she had only just managed to get to her feet before he was there enveloping her in the big hug she loved, the one man to make her feel small and helpless. Joe and Ben looked at each other and both looked at Carole they could see she at least had expected it and neither of them needed Hoss’ explanation that Adam had arranged it and sent him home for a couple of days.
Joe went to warn Hop Sing but as usual there was plenty of food and over dinner Hoss caught up on the news. All three girls were showing signs of their pregnancies now, although Sue showed least being such a large woman, and they were all in very obvious good health and good spirits. Ben looked much more like himself and although still too weak to work for any length of time, he was able to stay up longer and had even ventured outside, although not so far been on horseback. For once Ben decided everything could wait and when Joe gravitated back towards the desk he found his pen confiscated and the file closed. “Tomorrow” said his father “Relax for now Joseph, you’ve earnt it and Nita could do with some company as well as Sue.”
Joe grinned and for once did as he was told without argument. Carole was taking the children home the next day and once Ben retired for the night about nine she went up to pack all the things that had migrated over, leaving the two pairs of newly weds sitting round the fire. Hoss had Sue on his knee and Joe had migrated to his usual position sitting on the hearthrug, leaning back against Nita’s legs enjoying the feel of her hand as she almost unconsciously played with his curly hair, winding it round her fingers, The four of them enjoyed each other’s company, hardly talking some of the time, just very relaxed and content. It was gone midnight before anyone noticed and not wanting to break the spell Joe went and poured nightcaps all round and delayed bed for another half an hour, Once he was in bed with Nita in his arms, not so tired that he was asleep instantly, he began to wonder why he’d put of going to bed. The baby might show but it wasn’t enough to be inhibiting yet and Nita came to him as passionately as ever.
Across the corridor Hoss was uncertain not wanting to risk any damage to his unborn baby, the miracle of his own child but Sue laughed at him. She was the nurse and she wouldn’t take any risks but she wanted him. Later as she slept Hoss rested his hand gently on the rounded mound containing his child. He had never felt the need for a wife and child that Adam so obviously had and maybe only now that he had the one and the prospects of the other, did he let himself realise that his need was just as great but he hadn’t dared acknowledge it. So scared that a big ungainly man he’d never find someone to love him for himself and determined not to be married for his money. He still found it impossible to believe sometimes, she was so lovely, more so now than when he’d first met her. Her shyness had vanished on finding herself loved and in this family of large men she was no longer conscious of her size all the time and relaxing was much more graceful.
With Ben taking a little of the work back and Hoss to help all of them were able to take it easy the next two days. Hoss wasn’t worried by handling the timber operations and he’d seen how tense Joe was. His little brother liked the cattle and horses best and the drive, despite all its problems, was the medicine he needed. Joe made no protest, he didn’t like leaving Nita alone while pregnant but it was early days yet and she was so very fit that he accepted it. Anyway he would only be gone for ten days or so, not much more, although with top quality breeding stock they couldn’t push them. Ben just made sure that Joe would have plenty of help even with a small herd he sent a full crew. For once labour wasn’t a problem this year and it only made sense to take advantage of it.
Carole was glad to get home and spent two days getting everything straight but she took the children out in the buggy to see Joe start the herd out. Sue and Nita went as well in Sue’s buggy. Hoss was about to ride back to the west shore, but before any of them could leave the house, the telegraph clattered out it’s first message, rather slow and hesitant as Adam wasn’t used to handling the equipment. Between them they sorted out the unfamiliar Morse as Adam sent “West shore now contact house.”
It seemed strange but they were all delighted to know that from now on they wouldn’t have the long hours before contact could be made in the event of trouble. As the message finished Ben grinned “We’d better reply, let him know it works. Up to you Joseph, it was your idea.”
Joe grinned and taking the key answered in rather better form, after learning how years earlier from his friend Frank. “Loud and clear. Hoss relieve you. Am taking herd Joe.”
Adam at the far end took down his brother’s message. It seemed odd to get news this way, but it was very useful and he sent again “Up on schedule. Meet Hoss main camp check Johnny.”
Joe passed the key to Hoss who looked at it as though it might bite him, but rather tentatively confirmed that he’d meet Adam after lunch at the main camp. Then they heard Adam ask for a situation report from the top of the flume, It came through in rather better style than the brothers had managed and Joe grinned “Maybe we’d all better go and see Frank get some training!”
Ben laughed “When the herd is delivered or have you forgotten with your new toy?”
Joe startled grabbed for his coat, he was going to be later than he had intended. Once he had it on Ben slipped an arm round his shoulders. “Good luck on the drive Joe, no risks we can cope here now, and Joseph, congratulations on that.” Ben gestured at the telegraph “It was an excellent idea and its going to prove useful in so many ways.”
Joe hugged his father “Thanks Pa. You just carry on taking it easy and do what Sue tells you.”
“I’ll be fine,”
“Sure you will Pa, You’re marvellous now, just don’t overdo it.”
Ben watched his sons and their wives leave, Hoss cutting off from the others going via his house to the camp. He’d been over the day before but this was the first time he’d seen it on his own and for several minutes he sat his horse just looking at it. The outside was all but complete, the windows in and the roof on with the men building stables out back and working inside. It was even more impressive as a building than he had imagined from the sketches Adam had drawn and Hoss was immensely proud of his elder brother. This house was fit for a Queen and would be just right for his beloved Sue. He went in to check a few details and then rode on past Joe’s house, equally impressive but so very different. Then he cut up to the road to the camp passing several wagons of stores for the two camps, but apart from a casual greeting Hoss hurried on. He wanted to be there as he’d arranged, the first arrangement over their novel telegraph, it somehow seemed important not to be late.
Adam had been equally intrigued at being able to arrange to meet Hoss and it was undeniably useful to get reports from the flume. Highly delighted at its success and on his way to see his wife and children he was in buoyant mood as he cut across to the main camp. The road was well travelled now so very much better than when he and Hoss had had to move their little brother home, taking four long pain filled days days neither of them would ever forget. Adam shook the thought away, Joe was fine, fit and healthy, happy with his new wife and even his father was recovering well. God was still with them giving them so much more than they deserved; looking round at the magnificent scenery, the land they’d made their own, Adam’s heart was so full of thanks, he couldn’t put it into words, but God would know and he felt at peace with the world.
Hoss rode in about ten minutes after Adam and over a meal they caught up with news and then shared the work of keeping Johnny busy until the middle of next week. Working well together as always it only took them just over two hours, barely having to discuss what needed doing, so familiar with both the work and each other after years of large timber contracts. Then they separated with the added knowledge that for the first time Hoss would be able to contact the house very quickly in the event of any trouble. It was a very nice thought, very conducive to peace of mind, as Adam commented to his brother just before taking his leave.
Adam was happy to leave his father alone at night, knowing that Sue was there in the event of trouble. Ben was so much better anyway that the real problem was to stop him overdoing things, Adam had barely seen his own home recently and he took work back each evening to his own study. He was able to spend some time with the children first thing in the morning and before they went to bed and had Carole’s company while he worked. It was enough and despite the piles of work that Joe had had to leave him he was very content and at his efficient best.
Midweek he had an unexpected visitor; he’d barely seen Harv since Tony died; the older man had buried himself in work pushing the pipeline ahead. By now it was well onto Ponderosa land and Harv intended moving a crew up to Lake Tahoe after the weekend so it seemed only polite to come and tell the Cartwrights. Adam was pleased to see him and joined him by the fire while Carole fetched coffee and cookies. Harv had finally caught up with the news of Ben’s illness and how pushed that had left the rest of them and he apologised for disturbing Adam. Adam smiled, “Pa’s much better and we have everything under control, I hope. Anyway I’ve been meaning to come and see you, find out how it’s going and when you hope to complete, so you’ve saved me a trip.”
Harv hesitated “I wouldn’t like to give a definite date.”
Adam poured more coffee “Just us Harv not a date that I’m going to tie you to. Just some idea of when it will be done. There will be celebrations in town that night for sure so they’ll need a few days notice.” He laughed “Come to think of it they won’t need much, twenty four hours will probably be plenty or we’ll get some of the longest and worst speeches ever written!”
Harv relaxed, he had forgotten how free and easy Adam was, so very different from Jim Fair, whom he had been dealing with recently. Any queries had had to be sent second hand to the ranch and had usually been dealt with by Joe, he couldn’t make promises but with luck another three weeks should see the pipe finished and then would come the moment of truth as they awaited the water. Adam was pleased Harv had done a faster job than he had expected and Joe would be back to join in the celebrations so it would work out well. There were a few points Harv wanted to check and he asked about the best camp site. Adam showed him on the map and promised to have stores taken out for them and to come out himself and check on the actual point for breaking through into the Lake. It was defined within a few yards but Harv was uncertain about the exact point and how far out to take the pipe from the shore. He fancied some advice and maybe wanted to share the responsibility.
Once Harv left Adam tried to settle back to work but he was restless, He would be glad to get the pipeline finished, it would be one less job to worry about and once it was working a brief monthly report would be all that was necessary. Eventually he gave up and walked down to his brothers; new houses to check how they were progressing, very satisfied by what he saw he went back to work refreshed.
Little Joe had had no real problems over the first part of the drive. It was early in the year with plenty of grass and water and he had plenty of help. There was one large dry stretch on the final part of the drive to Yuma and Joe found it very hard. With small numbers of animals he had managed to pack enough water on spare horses to give everyone of them a drink but once they settled Joe found it impossible to do so. He was standing staring out over the desert, his coffee cup forgotten hanging loosely in his hand, the coffee absorbed instantly by the dry ground.
José came over to join his friend, “You should get some sleep Joe you were up last night arranging the water bags.”
“I’m fine it hasn’t been that hard a drive and it should be easy from here.”
“Sure. What’s the matter then, memories?”
Joe looked at him in surprise and José stared out over the desert careful not to meet the younger man’s gaze. “Many years ago, I’d guess you were eighteen maybe nineteen, you all four came down here to buy horses.”
Joe tensed and turned to study José’s face but he didn’t say anything and the foreman went on. “All pretty quiet when you came back and Adam was out with me at the herd. It took four nights, and I don’t reckon he slept more than one hour a night in those four, before I could persuade your brother to talk. He was feeling real guilty.”
At that Joe did react, “What on earth did he have to feel guilty about?”
“You should know Adam, he can always find a way to blame himself, in this instance for letting his little brother go to fetch a white stallion and getting into danger.”
“But it was all quiet when I went, it should have been easy. Anyway Pa wanted him and Hoss to judge the other horses, he told me just to stay at the fort. I was the only one who could go.”
“I’m sure that was how Adam felt when he agreed to you going but it was different when the Apache attacked. He told me about the long search and finding the dead stallion and finally you more dead than alive.”
“Slight exaggeration mind you I was mighty pleased to see Pa, five more minutes and.... It was Emiliano, he loved that horse gave up his life to give me and the horse a chance. He had been with the Comancheros once, but he was a kind man, who knows what any if us would have done in his situation....” Joe broke off lost in his memories.
José gripped his shoulders, “You all four came back safely and this man lives on in your memories, not a bad epitaph to be remembered as a kind man.”
Joe relaxed a little and managed a smile “A long time ago. Let’s go get some more coffee.”
He did feel better for talking and watched affectionately as his foreman, went to collect the coffeepot. Joe could understand how José had managed to get Adam to talk; it was a trick he’d pulled on all of them over the years and one of the reasons why he meant so much to the Cartwrights, apart from his efficient handling of the vaqueros.
Adam had found himself equally incapable of settling that evening and he had decided to give Blackie some exercise and headed up to the Lake. He found himself thinking about Joe and then worked out whereabouts his little brother would be. This time Joe wouldn’t be on his own, he had an efficient set of men with him, all very capable of holding their own if it came to trouble and anyway the Apache had been quiet for several years in that area. Adam could well imagine his brother had memories of his own of those days when Adam had called himself every name under the sun for letting his baby brother take such a risk, as they hunted in fear. The words of the soldier that there wasn’t a white man alive ringing in their ears. When he had finally ridden up to see Joe alive in their father’s arms, Adam had had to hide tears, busying himself with water and getting Joe onto a horse, so very grateful. Only later had he heard Joe’s story and how Emiliano had saved his little brother. He could remember Joe sitting staring into the fire in the living room as he relived those days. Now he could almost hear Joe’s voice in his head. Eventually he felt as though Joe had calmed down and that calmed him too and with a final prayer of thanksgiving for God’s mercy all those years ago and for his continued protection, Adam headed home to bed.
Joe spent three more days delivering the herd and was glad that all the animals were in good condition and would preserve and augment the reputation for high quality stock which the Ponderosa had built up all over the west. They provided almost as much breeding stock as they did animals for slaughter these days as he had on this occasion. The rancher who accepted the delivery was delighted and pressed Joe to stay but he was eager to get home. As word of his father’s illness had spread even to Yuma, Joe was able to use it as an excuse although he stressed the fact that Ben was recovering well. Joe intended to push hard and get home as fast as he could and he was leaving José to bring the men, remuda and wagons. José was perfectly willing to do that, just warning his younger friend to be careful on his long ride, Joe mounted Cochise, a bank draft in his boot and free from all responsibility for a couple of days at least, After all the hours he had been working the last months it felt like a weight off his shoulders to be clear even for a short time and he danced Cochise as he started home. It was a beautiful clear day and he enjoyed the solitude but the scenery wasn’t as beautiful as his home. Still it slowly improved as he made his way north into the mountains and he revelled in it.
Ben was very much brighter and gradually taking back part of the work from Adam, dealing with the accounts, feeling better for being able to do something to help, although he still tired easily. Adam relied on Sue keeping him under control and not wanting to worry his son or the three pregnant women, Ben was more sensible that was his wont. Adam was grateful for his father’s help and so very pleased to see him recovering fast even if it was going to take some considerable time for Ben to rebuild his stamina.
Adam had been out twice to the main timber camp and kept Johnny busy. He had kept in at least daily contact with Hoss on the west shore, the telegraph proving its worth. Hoss was well up on schedule and with every thing going smoothly had decided to take the weekend off. He had some stores he needed to collect, including two new saws which had arrived in town. Joe was due back and Hoss wanted to catch up with the news and even more to see his wife and his family. He was leaving Sven and Wilson to pull in the cut timber and get it off to the flume. They were quite capable and very willing. Hoss had used the telegraph and arranged to meet Adam in town on Saturday morning. His brother had several jobs to do including drawing some cash.
Adam headed in early straight from his own house. He no longer felt the need to check his father every day, trusting Sue and Nita to let him know if anything was wrong and sure that Ben was well on the way to recovery, he completed his business at the bank first and was on the way to John Marye’s his stockbrokers, when word was brought him that Jim Fair wanted to see him. Adam promised to go over later and then spent an hour dealing with the routine paperwork which needed his signature. Most of the stock that they had decided to dispose of was now sold and Adam had dispersed the cash around a number of different banks not even trusting it all to their own Bank of Nevada. He was determined that whatever happened the ranch should be safe and sufficient money for taxes and running expenses available. Apart from that it was important not to let people know what they were doing or they might just precipitate the very problems which they foresaw. By the time that he had finished with Marye Adam was vaguely watching for his brother, but he had to get on and handing in long lists of stores he left word where he was going if his brother should enquire. It had been a hectic spring and Adam had had little chance to relax, this weekend with both his brothers home and things at least reasonably up on schedule he had every intention of taking it easy and let everything slide for a few hours once he had finished in town. Adam slipped into the Palace for a minute in case Hoss had been there. He joined Dan in a beer but noone had seen his big brother, Adam assured Dan that he wasn’t worried it was still early Hoss could barely have reached town yet even setting out promptly but they’d had to leave meeting vague, unsure what needed doing, Dan promised to tell Hoss where his brother was if he came in and Adam headed up to the Consolidated Virginia.
Jim Fair and John Mackay were waiting for him and had a few routine questions on contracts and the Bank but then Jim, grinning broadly announced that he had something to show Adam in the mine, down on the 1500 foot level, Adam hesitated and asked if the cage went down that far yet. Jim shook his head, “No but we’ve got a better shaft and ladder.”
“Still going to take a while. I’ll leave it until after lunch if you don’t mind Jim; I’m supposed to be meeting Hoss,”
“Won’t take that long.”
“I’ve been up a long time Jim and I’m hungry. Anyway Hoss might want to see too. I presume the passage way is big enough to take him now?”
“Sure but he don’t know nothing about mines.”
Adam glared at Jim on the verge of losing his temper, “You insist on underestimating my brothers.”
John stepped in “Go get some food Adam. You’ve been working hard. We’ll meet you back here at 2, okay?”
Adam nodded and headed out feeling the need of some liquid courage before he could face the 1500 foot level again, remembering the last time he felt vaguely sick. He went back to the Palace and was pleased to see Hoss talking to Dan. Hoss had completed his business before coming in search of Adam and was just about to drain his beer and go looking for Adam when his brother came in.
The brothers went over to the Washoe club for lunch and at first Hoss didn’t notice Adam’s strange mood. Adam had just said that he had a couple of things to finish after lunch before they could head home and then enquired how things were going on the west shore. Hoss filled him in and checked on the news from the house but slowly became aware that Adam was doing little more than push his food around on his plate, hardly eating anything although he’d had his full share of the bottle of wine he’d ordered. Hoss hesitated but as he asked several questions and either had to repeat them or got a very delayed answer he decided that something was wrong. Adam pushed his plate away, hardly touched and ordered coffee and brandy. Hoss waited until the waiter had gone and then lent back staring at his brother “Right what’s wrong Adam.”
“You’re a liar.” Hoss said gently “You say everything is fine at home and all work on schedule, no major problems so what’s driving you to the bottle at this hour of the day?”
Adam toyed with his glass but his brother knew him very well and his hatred and fear of the mines was hardly news. He sipped his brandy and then smiled “Okay Hoss, nothing wrong, Just need some Dutch courage, Jim wants to show me something down on the 1500 foot level; in the Virginia.”
Hoss nodded slowly, remembering his father’s report on the awkward shaft and passage, he also knew about his brother’s claustrophobia. He sipped his coffee not commenting for a minute and then he said “I’m curious. Enough room for me to come along?”
“You don’t have to Hoss, its no worse than usual, you know I hate the mines but I can cope.”
“Never doubted it brother but like I said I’m curious, I haven’t seen this rich ore. Only thing is how big’s the passageway? From what Pa said it was a tight fit for you two.”
“Enlarged since but still no cage down.”
“How come you know?”
Adam sipped his coffee, looking sheepish, “I asked, said you might come along, but that was just momentary panic. I’m fine now. I can cope.”
Hoss grinned broadly “Think I’ll come along, just in case,”
Adam made no further attempt to dissuade his big brother glad of the moral support. However foolish his fear of the mines was he couldn’t talk himself out of it, even though he was ashamed of it. It wasn’t his brain affected it was always his stomach which started churning until sometimes he found it hard to keep control of his senses. The best he could do was to hide it from outsiders and sometimes even that was difficult, easier with support such as Hoss could give him.
The brothers headed up to the mine to find Jim waiting for them, two boiler suits ready for them to change into. He made no comment about Hoss’ presence just saying that John would join them in a while, he’d been held up. Jim wasn’t prepared to wait and suggested that they get on and now he’d made up his mind to go Adam just wanted to get it over. The three men went over to the cage and Jim let the brothers go ahead down to the 1400 foot level, the bottom of the shaft at the moment. As they stepped out of the cage the heat of the mine seemed to hit them like a solid wall and Hoss was momentarily short of breath and coughed. As the cage went back up for Jim, Hoss turned to his brother, “I’d forgotten how hot it was down here. Don’t reckon I’ve ever been so deep. Fancy working down here, ain’t there anyway of making things better?”
“Sutro’s tunnel will if it ever gets built but you say anything to Jim and he’ll look blank and wonder what you’re talking about. Same with the other miners they just don’t seem to notice it.”
“I know you can get use to a lot of things but...” Hoss sighed and wiped the sweat from his face. Then Jim joined them bringing two big lanterns and led the way to the shaft down to the 1500 foot level. Wanting to get it over Adam didn’t bother with samples from the working areas he could get them on the way back. Just as they reached the shaft one of the foremen came up to Jim with a problem. He frowned but he had to deal with it and turning to Adam he said “Why don’t you go ahead you can’t get lost, apart from enlarging the passageway and the end room its still the same. You’ll see what I want you to look at and I’ll join you in five minutes,”
Adam nodded and Jim headed off. Hoss insisted on leading the way down the shaft hoping his brother wouldn’t feel so bad if he was ahead. It had been enlarged but it was still a stiff climb and both brothers were glad to reach the bottom. There Adam made Hoss wait a minute and direct the light from the big lantern to the shoring, He didn’t have to explain why extra pieces had been pushed in in places to support others which showed signs of splintering, Hoss hesitated “Think that’s what Jim wanted/”
“Doubt it. Some of these extra pieces have been here quite awhile. It’s been done on a temporary basis not built properly,”
“Will the square set take the pressure at this depth?”
Adam nodded “I checked when we first talked of this level, might need thicker timbers to be sure, but there’s quite a margin of safety anyway but this isn’t properly built. Whatever Jim wants I’ll speak to him about getting this done properly before we have an accident.”
Even having seen the timbers the brothers didn’t expect trouble as Hoss led the way along the short passage, stooping almost double as it was still less than five foot high, although considerably enlarged from Adam’s previous visit. Whether in fact the big man did brush against one of the supports or what caused the collapse they never knew but as Hoss emerged into the main room and straightened up there was an ominous crack. As he turned to Adam just behind him Hoss’ left arm was numbed by the blow from a collapsing timber and then he was thrown across the room by the force of the collapse. The lantern was blown out and Hoss fell against the wall banging is head and passing into oblivion. Adam barely had time to register that something was wrong when he was knocked down by falling timbers and with a crash the whole place seemed to cave in. It was absolutely dark once the lamp went out and it seemed to take forever for the noise to cease. Then it wasn’t only dark but silent, ‘silent as the grave’ the expression ran through Adam’s mind and he couldn’t even seem to find his voice for the moment. Then fear for his brother forced his panic down and Adam called for him, but his voice just seemed to echo back from the walls mocking him “Hoss, Hoss, Hoss.” And the only answer was a few more falling stones. Adam buried his face on his arm and for a moment shut his eyes, the pitch dark wasn’t so apparent then. Scared for his brother and for himself, buried 1500 foot underground seemingly cut off from all human contact, Adam was closer to panic than perhaps he had ever been, almost at screaming point. He could feel the screams welling up in him but somehow he retained sufficient control to know that wouldn’t help and indeed might start another fall.
How long he lay there fighting for control Adam never knew but he was still alive and somehow he had to get clear, had to find his brother. He couldn’t just give up he had too much to live for, too many responsibilities. He felt a horrible sense of deja vu, as once before he was trapped by heavy timbers across his back and legs. Then he had lost the use of his legs for weeks whatever the cause, and with his back weakened by injuries over the years Adam was scared of the results this time. He pushed the fear of ending in a wheelchair out of his mind for now he would settle for getting out of the mine alive and for Hoss being alive too. His big brother had only come with him because of his irrational fears and now his kindness might have cost him his life. Adam again tried calling for Hoss but he seemed to be alone and all he could do was pray and try not to think of the 1500 foot of earth pressing down above him.
Something in his fear and near panic had the ability to cross the miles and out on the ranch Carole found herself thinking about Adam. For no apparent reason she was convinced that something was very wrong. She tried to talk herself out of it Adam had only gone in on routine business and he was meeting Hoss, it was senseless to worry but as the afternoon slipped away her fear grew and she could no longer push it away. Eventually she got the children settle to an early tea and asked Kam Su to go and find Jess for her. Even to him she couldn’t explain just saying that unless Adam had returned, as soon as the children were in bed, she wanted to go to town and asked for his escort. Jess could see that she was worried but didn’t push questions at her just agreeing to what she asked.
Carole wasn’t the only one who was uneasy, both Joe and his father sensed that something was wrong. Joe was in a better position to find out as he rode into Virginia City with the bank draft before going home to his wife and family. Joe had been excited most of the day, it was a wonderful feeling to have Nita waiting for him, to be eager to get home again as he had when Marie was there, something he’d missed very badly. Then soon after lunch as he rode through the Washoe valley it had all gone and he’d been left with a feeling of impending doom, bad trouble. He’d almost changed his mind and headed straight home but something drew him to town and gradually his feelings clarified and he knew it wasn’t his wife or his father but either Adam or Hoss was in trouble. Too often these feelings from out of the blue had proved right and Joe pushed Cochise on, promising the pinto a good feed when they got to town.
In the mine Jim Fair had been thrown down with everyone else as the shaft collapsed, the whole area seeming to move under them. Knowing where Adam and Hoss had gone he got back to his feet and hurried along to the shaft only to find it was no longer there, the sides caved in, the ladder gone and just a sunken pile of rubble left to show where it had been. For a moment Jim was too stunned to think clearly but as other men came running up, he said, “The Cartwright brothers went down five minutes back. Start clearing the rubble, be careful don’t bring any more down.” Then he ran for the cage, to head for the surface and find John, call in all the available expertise signal a cave-in. As soon as he did so he knew every mine would make all their facilities available for him, any manpower he needed or equipment. When tragedy struck the mines combined to salvage what they could. Jim was trying to think how long Adam and Hoss had been gone before the cave-in. If they’d been caught in the shaft they had no chance and the passage had probably gone too but there was a chance that the main room cut out of solid ore was intact. Badly shaken he couldn’t think straight and was very glad to see his partner in the yard as he emerged. At first John found it hard to accept that of all people Adam and Hoss should be caught but the truth was obvious on Jim’s face and waiting only to send word to Philip Deidersheimer at the Ophir to ask for his help, not even bothering to change John hurried down to see for himself.
Jim’s words had been overheard and quickly spread around town and a number of people converged on the Virginia to check the truth of the rumours. Dan was amongst the first as was Roy, but although the basic fact was confirmed; noone had any idea if either of the brothers had survived or the chances of getting them out if they had done so. At first stunned Dan and Roy just stared at the mine but then they had to face the problem of letting the rest of the family know. Both had seen Ben and knew that although much better he wasn’t fit enough for this sort of shock or the inevitable long hours of worrying until they knew one way or another. Neither was sure where Joe was and Roy tentatively suggested going to see Carole. Dan was an old friend of Carole’s, even before her marriage, and he slowly admitted he ought to go and give her what support he could. However by the time he had decided the situation had changed.
Joe rode into town and went straight to the Bank. He had just finished paying in his draft, slightly easier as Harris said that he’d seen Adam that morning and everything was going well. He was still worried, too conscious of his feeling of trouble, when two men pushed in full of the latest rumour. Not even recognising Joe they were surprised as he pushed past then and almost threw himself on the pinto outside. Harris explained who Joe was and the men felt guilty but they only knew of the Cartwrights as rich important men of the area. Joe hadn’t even queried the man when he said the Cartwrights were trapped down the Virginia, it fitted too well with the way he felt and all he wanted was to get there. He pushed Cochise recklessly through the traffic, cursing a wagon which couldn’t get out of his way and edging the pinto up on the sidewalk to get past to the disgust of one of the ladies from the church, until Mr Cass explained why Joe might be in a hurry to her. Then both watched the pinto out of sight with great sympathy for the Cartwrights.
Joe pulled Cochise to a skidding halt in the yard of the Virginia and seeing Roy and Dan he dismounted and hurried over to them, leading Cochise oblivious of the crowds. He was so pale that for a minute Roy was scared he’d collapse. Joe couldn’t find his voice and Dan took his arm “Easy Joe we don’t know anything much yet. Adam and Hoss went down alone to the 1500 foot level. The shaft to it has caved in. That’s all we know.”
“Fair, Mackay?”
“Down at the 1400 foot level, trying to see what to do.”
“Arrange for Cochise to go down to the stable for me.” Joe requested “I’m going down to join them.”
Roy moved in front of him “Maybe you’d better have a drink or something first Joe, shock.”
“Not exactly Roy. I’ve known for the last three-quarters of an hour that something was wrong.” Joe managed a smile “They aren’t dead, I know that. Still alive so all we have to do is get them out.” With that he hurried over to the cage leaving Roy and Dan staring at each other, Roy shrugged “I hope it’s not just wishful thinking.”
Dan frowned “Remarkable, according to what we’ve heard, the cave-in was almost exactly three quarters of an hour ago. How did Joe know?”
Joe didn’t bother changing and got in the cage sending it down to the bottom. He could see lights, hear voices and made his way over, only to stand stunned as he saw the caved in shaft, trying to hang onto his certainty that his brothers were still alive. John Mackay was the first to recognise him and he came over and took Joe’s arm “Easy Joe, we’re so very sorry. Don’t know what happened.”
Joe let himself be led over to the wall and lent against it glad of the support. For a moment he shut his eyes and fought for control and then straightened his shoulders as Jim Fair came over to join them. Joe asked “What are the chances?”
Jim sighed, “God knows.” He knelt down and sketched a map of what was below then in the dust. He put his finger on the room, “That might be intact, if they’d got that far.”
Joe said “They are alive I’m sure of it. We have to work on that. How long to reach them?”
Jim looked over at the shaft, men were doing their best but it was narrow no room for more than two side by side and they had to cut fresh holds and be careful not to bring down more, “Be at least twenty four hours Joe and no guarantees there’s anything to find.”
Joe glared at him and then made a conscious effort to read his brothers by sheer will power. He got an overwhelming sense of fear and pain from Adam but Hoss was alright he was sure of it. Knowing Adam’s claustrophobia, his brother might not be badly hurt and at least Hoss was with him to calm him down. Joe wiped his face “They are alive and I don’t think Hoss is even much hurt he’ll look after Adam.”
“You can’t know Joe.” said Jim disbelievingly.
Joe smiled bleakly “I do. I always do. I don’t know how it works, I knew there was trouble before I even reached town. They must be in that room. Jim how big is it? Will the air last out until we reach them?”
Jim shrugged, it was a question he’d been asking himself but he just didn’t know. Joe stared at him in growing terror, seeing his two elder brothers, so close he felt he ought to be able to touch then, knowing that there was no quick way to reach them. He was so scared, all his life he’d relied on them and then there were Carole and Sue, the children, two more on the way. In less than twenty four hours they and the ranch might all be his responsibility, Joe shuddered his imagination giving all too vivid pictures of his brothers trapped and dying as the air ran out He felt thoroughly sick but that wouldn’t help anyone and he forced his numb brain to work. “Jim you know where the room is, can you find a point on this level, directly above it?”
Jim nodded slowly but he argued, “We dig straight down Joe we’ll just bring it down on their heads, if it is intact.”
“Sure if we try to dig a tunnel big enough for them to get out, but what about a narrow pipe, just enough to let air in?”
“Don’t know.”
“Is Philip around? He mentioned something about a long drill. Do two holes, pump air out of one and it’ll be drawn in the other, or pump it in.”
“Might work.” Said John “I’ll get Philip see what he thinks the risks are.”
Joe, almost to himself, said “Might be able to let them know we’re here that we are trying to do something. Must feel terribly alone and cut off. Dear God help them hold on, just a few hours.”
Jim opened his mouth but then seeing the near despair etched on Joe’s face, he shut it again. Joe wasn’t his favourite member of the family but at last he could accept Adam’s point that his brother wasn’t a child or a light weight. For the first time he recognised the similarity between the brothers. Joe had fought and won control, he could see the fear and yet Joe was thinking straighter than he was and just maybe had come up with a practical proposition.
Adam couldn’t move beyond lifting his head and with the dark so completely impenetrable there was little incentive to even do that. His back and his leg were hurting but he was almost glad of the pain, the only proof that he was still there. He couldn’t even seem to pray, so scared for Hoss and thinking of his little brother and all he would have to cope with but sure he would. All the time Joe lived Adam at least knew his wife and children would lack for nothing, at least in so far as an Uncle can replace a Father. Adam tried to push the thought of how deep he was from his mind. It really made no difference whether he was 1500 feet down on 200 feet as he had been in the Ophir, but although his mind knew that his stomach couldn’t agree and he felt sick and faint. Even though he couldn’t hear anything he was sure that men would be trying to reach them, just unsure how extensive the cave-in was. If the 1400 foot level had gone then there was no hope. Logic only carried him so far, all alone in the dark and so very hot, thirsty and uncomfortable, it took him all his control not to scream and once he did cry quietly on his arm, as yet again Hoss didn’t answer him. Mourning his kind gentle big brother he tried to tell himself that Hoss was just knocked out but he couldn’t hear him breathing and Adam was too tense and scared to be able to come to any clear conviction of his brother’s presence. How long he lay there Adam never knew, he would have welcomed the oblivion of unconsciousness but somehow he couldn’t give way, listening for any sound that would indicate either his brother was alive or help was on its way, Unfortunately too little of his concentration was on that and too much kept reminding him of the sheer weight of earth pushing down on him. Adam kept some slight degree of control if only be telling himself that screaming wouldn’t do any good or make him feel better. Then after an interminable period of silence broken only by his own voice, never knowing whether he was speaking aloud or whether it was sounding in his head, he finally heard a faint moan. Adam immediately called out “Hoss, Hoss are you alright?” hope flaring in him that his brother had survived too.
At first Hoss was only aware of a blinding headache and very painful arm and shoulder. He was vaguely puzzled why it was so dark wondering where he was and for a minute scared that he’d lost his sight, as both his brothers had temporarily. Then he heard Adam call him. The panic still clear in Adam’s voice reminded him very forcibly what had happened and as he tried to sort out his impressions he didn’t realise that he hadn’t answered his brother. Adam called to him again in rising fear, scared he’d imagined the noise and this time Hoss said “Okay Adam, give me a minute.”
Adam couldn’t help the sob of relief just to hear another voice and to know that his big brother wasn’t dead. That more than anything else gave Hoss the strength to get a grip on himself and he felt around for the lantern. “Easy Adam, where are you?”
“End of the passage, Can’t move. Are you alright?”
“Sore head and I’ve done something to my left shoulder and arm, but not too bad. Think I dare risk lightning the lantern?”
Adam longed for a light but he knew it would use up oxygen they depended on. On the other hand without a light they couldn’t tell their position. “Risk it Hoss, just for a few minutes.”
Hoss lit the lantern and for a minute as their eyes adjusted to the light neither of them could see anything. Then Hoss moved over to kneel down by his brother, two timbers were trapping Adam but wedged against the wall they had kept quite a lot of rock off him and Hoss had to move that first before it could do further damage. Not speaking Hoss began moving some of the rocks, working one handed ignoring the stabbing pain in his left shoulder, Adam could only watch, seeing the signs of pain, the blood from a cut on his brother’s head. Slowly Hoss cleared the first timber and lifted it off Adam and then used it as a lever to ease the second timber up. Ease the weight of Adam’s legs and once they were clear told his brother to get out. Adam’s legs were totally numb but using his arms he managed to pull clear. Then as Hoss let it go there were a few crashes as the rocks settled but eh brothers were oblivious as they clung together, just glad to be alive. Adam’s trouser leg was sodden in blood, but as Hoss checked, the wound seemed to have clotted so he left it alone. Adam was almost sure that Hoss’ shoulder was dislocated but it had been done too long and was well swollen. He knew that without help and no leverage from the bottom half of his body, which was totally numb, there was no way he would be able to put it back.
Adam was the first to speak as he looked round the room, bigger than it had been but still not very large, with no fresh air coming in and he looked at the light, loathe to lose it, “We’d better put it out, conserve the air don’t know how long it’ll be. I can’t put your shoulder back without help.”
“Know that. How bad are you hurt?”
“I’m not sure; it’s all numb, nothing to be done anyway. Put it out.”
Hoss bit his lip, seeing the panic clear on his brother’s face but knowing that Adam was right they had to buy all the time they could. He moved closer to his brother and then blew it out, feeling Adam shudder as the blackness descended on them again. Hoss gripped his brother’s arm not knowing how to help, feeling sick and ill himself, so very scared even without claustrophobia, unsure whether there was any chance with no sound at all of men working.
Adam was slightly more in control, at least Hoss was alive and after a minute he said “I’m sorry Hoss.”
“Whatever for?”
“Getting you into this, you only came because I’m such a coward.”
“Not in my book brother. So you hate the mines, with reason. Second time you’ve been trapped like this yet you still go down them when it’s necessary. Face up to it, that’s the opposite of cowardice.”
“Whatever Hoss, you came to help me and now....”
“Hardly your fault, you were gonna tell Jim about that shoring. Anyways we can maybe help each other, we’ll get out.” Hoss tried to sound more confident than he was but Adam knew him too well. Still Adam relaxed fractionally glad his brother didn’t blame him, even though he continued to blame himself. It was so hot and both men were very thirsty and fell quiet, There was nothing to be gained by speculating on their chances but it was very difficult to think about anything else. Occasionally one or other made a comment, long explanations weren’t needed between them and when Hoss said “Be hard on Joe but he’ll manage.” Adam could only reach for his brother’s hand and pray Hoss would survive to see his firstborn. He knew just how much the idea of his own child meant to his brother. Then almost puzzled Adam said “I think Joe is here, somewhere close.”
Hoss tightened his grip on his brother’s hand “Sure he is and our little brother is real good at organising, he’ll pull us out.”
Adam tried to believe that but the walls seemed to be closing in on him and despite Hoss’ presence he was biting on his knuckle to stop himself screaming. He’d edged away from Hoss not wanting to upset his brother but Hoss knew him too well and could sense the tension in his brother’s breathing. Despite the heat, Hoss put his good arm round Adam’s shoulders, feeling the tension, “Easy Adam it’s gonna be alright.” Slowly as Hoss talked softly to him Adam fought back to control and for a moment buried his face against Hoss’ shoulder. Then he straightened up “Alright now, thanks brother.”
“How’s your back?”
Adam stretched but at least he could move his legs “No real harm done, just sore. Numbness has gone off and I can move okay.”
“Thank God.” Hoss said, he’d been visualising another long painful fight for his brother. Adam shrugged “Just pray they get here in time for it to matter.” He wasn’t even aware he’d said it aloud he hadn’t intended to, but Hoss responded “God ain’t never let us down yet, he’ll help Joe get us out.”
Time went very slowly for both of then and if Adam was close to panic, Hoss was only a little better off, worried about his beloved wife, wondering if he’d ever see her again. Without water the heat was hard to bear and although they wouldn’t admit it, both were aware that the air was deteriorating without any sign of help. Both were scared that the whole of the 1400 foot level, or even more, had been affected in which case there no hope but neither would put it into words. Without even paper and pencil in the boiler suits there was noway even to leave a message for those they loved if the worst happened. All they could do was wait and try to retain their control not make it worse for each other and pray both for their own survival and if not for those they loved. Praying that they would have the strength to find happiness again, build a good life for the children both born and unborn.
Above then Joe had, with Philip’s help, started drilling two fine holes through the floor into the ceiling of the room below, as far apart as they dared. It could only be a relatively minor effect but Philip agreed with Joe that it was worth trying, it might make the difference between life and death and they had to try everything. The rock was hard and progress slow but Joe knew he couldn’t do anything else which would help more, the experienced miners would do a quicker job of clearing the shaft than he could. Joe knew that everyone was doing their best; many were old friends and had come for a word to try and encourage him. He wished that they had stayed away, seeing just how slim they considered his brothers’ chances, despite their optimistic words. With plenty of volunteers to help the men worked hard for twenty minutes and then gave way for a fresh man but even so progress was desperately slow. When Joe went to check it he knew complete despair, all their hard work seemed to have made hardly any impression. Mainly he worked in silence, grateful for the ice and the drinks John brought him, but unable to avoid the thought of how much his brothers must need them. Philip stayed with him, as did Jim, and several men helped as they pushed the pipes down, praying that they might prove a lifeline for the brothers.
Adam and Hoss would have been glad to have some reassurance that someone was working but both clung to the belief that Joe was there close at hand and would rescue them. Unfortunately it was very obvious that the air was worse now and when they did speak it was in broken words gasping for air. Adam couldn’t rid himself of the blame he felt for risking Hoss’ life too and again tried to apologise, weakened by loss of blood, the heat and the strain he was close to collapse. Hoss realised that and did all he could to calm his brother but it seemed pitiably little. In fact Hoss was very little better, so worried about Sue and beginning to accept just how slight their chances were. Neither of them had any idea how long they had been trapped, it felt like an eternity. Adam had sunk almost into a stupor, so close to panic, unable to think clearly anymore. Hoss was sure that his brother would go first, with Adam’s claustrophobia maybe that was a mercy but he felt sick at the idea of waiting for his own death with only his brother’s dead body for company. At first as he heard noises coming from his left he thought he was imagining things but as it persisted he tried to rouse Adam and tell him. Failing to penetrate to his brother Hoss pulled himself to his feet and swaying slightly he used the wall for support and made his way towards the noise, For a minute he stood staring into the darkness and then to his surprise he realised it was coming from over his head. He stood wondering about it and then slowly it dawned on him that it might not be too sensible to stand directly underneath if they were trying to tunnel through the roof. He backed off and finding a wall, sank down to en against it, wondering what was going on, with the heat and bad air the pain and such a bad headache he couldn’t seem to think, every thought took a long time to form and he couldn’t make sense of what appeared to be happening.
At first Adam hadn’t realised Hoss had gone but slowly he realised his brother wasn’t there and he called for Hoss in sudden panic, too scared to even hear his brother’s rather hoarse reply. Hoss made his way back to Adam stumbling on the rough ground, guided by his brother’s voice as Adam moaned, unable to think, so scared that Hoss had died. Hoss knelt down by him and held Adam close but it took him several minutes to calm Adam enough to make him understand that something was happening. Adam just clung to Hoss, he had believed Hoss dead and that thought made him shiver uncontrollably despite the heat. Hoss with infinite patience calmed him down more by holding him then the murmured words of reassurance, almost indistinguishable, Hoss throat was so dry with the heat. Eventually Hoss felt his brother relax fractionally and Adam made a great effort to get back in control and pulled away from Hoss to sit up, just resting his hand on his brother’s arm as though to reassure himself that Hoss was still there, Only then did Hoss explain why he’d moved and Adam concentrated on the noise, now distinctly coming from two places. Hoss asked “What....they....doing....?”
Adam couldn’t think, “Don’t....know....least....try.”
A few minutes later the drill broke through to be followed a short while later by the second, Philip had been busy and he had a long length of piping which they forced down through the hose and then set up the pumps and began pumping air down. Adam had gone over to the pipe hearing it land, dragging his sore, weak, right leg behind him. He felt the air and realised what they were trying. The air pushed through the pipe felt cool and Adam rested his head down for a minute, letting it play on his face and then much more in control knowing something was being done. He told Hoss what was happening and Hoss joined him both feeling better for the fresher air, their lungs not having to fight so hard for the oxygen.
Meanwhile Joe had had men working on a third pipe. He wasn’t sure of the effects of the acoustics, whether his brothers would be able to hear him, but he’d seen voice tubes in England and it was worth a try. Joe hoped that they might even be able to pour some water down the pipe; sure his brothers must be desperately thirsty. Philip had agreed that it was worth a try especially as the first two pipes had gone through with no hint of trouble. All of them had been buoyed up by finding the room just where it should be, the pipes hitting no obstructions. Joe didn’t realise just how much everyone was leaning on his certainty that there was something to find, not daring to believe him but infected by his faith. Joe was still sure that they were alive but even he felt better for some confirmation. The third pipe wasn’t far behind the others and Adam and Hoss were still sitting by the air flow, taking in the implications when a small fall of rock heralded the entrance of another pipe near the passage. Philip had suggested using some sort of tin to try and magnify his voice and Joe took him up on it. At first his voice seemed to boom round the lower room and his brothers couldn’t make out what he was saying, even his voice was barely recognizable, they just knew who it was. Joe just called for them “Adam, Hoss are you alright?” He repeated it three times waiting for an answer in between each try but there was nothing Joe gripped the pipe in utter despair fighting for control, not wanting to break down in front of strangers but for the moment he was devoid of hope. Philip moved to hide him from the rest, realising just how close he was to breaking down and gripped his shoulder “Easy Joe, it’s been quite a while air must be bad, it’ll take them time to react. Try again.”
In fact Adam and Hoss were feeling around, trying to locate the pipe, neither had much voice and couldn’t be heard from above. As Joe repeated himself again, Hoss found the pipe and as Joe finished he said “Joe we’re okay.”
Joe recognized Hoss’ voice although noone else could have said who was speaking and weak with relief he found it hard to reply but managed to say “Hang on we’ll get you out.” He had spoken more quietly and it was much clearer to his brothers. Adam had joined Hoss now and gripping his arm he took the pipe, “Well done Joe. We’re only bruised. Room’s fine it’ll serve. Air improving.”
Joe grinned broadly “Thank God Adam.”
“Speak quietly Joe, easier to understand.”
“Sure. We are clearing the fall but the shaft has caved in and it’s going to take a while.”
“How long?”
Joe bit his lip not wanting to tell his brothers but they had to know, “May be as much as 24 hours.”
Adam couldn’t answer letting the pipe fall, shaking, unable to help himself. Hoss took it back, “Okay Joe, know you’re all doing your best. No serious injuries we’ll be fine.”
Hoss thought for a minute “What’s the time now?”
Joe pulled his watch out, it was nearly 7 p.m., they had been trapped for about five hours. He told his brother and then said “I’m going to try pouring some water down this pipe. Guess you could do with some.”
Hoss grinned ruefully in the darkness “Good idea Joe.”
Joe didn’t dare pour too fast and at first only a trickle came through. Hoss had torn off the lapel from his boiler suit and he soaked it in the water and then wiped his brother’s face, knowing just how hard Joe’s news had hit Adam. Adam was puzzled at the dampness but as Hoss forced him to the pipe he drank greedily and then moved away to let Hoss drink. Both of them felt a lot better for the drink and for washing their faces. Then the water stopped and Joe’s voice came again “Was that any good?"
Adam felt much better for a drink and knew how hard the last hours must have been on Joe and he wasn’t going to make matters worse for his brother. “Thanks Joe feels much better.” His voice was stronger and even Philip and Jim recognized it. Adam went on “With water and air available we can hold on a long as necessary. Don’t worry.”
Joe knew just how hard it must have been for Adam to say that confidently and his eyes were moist. He blinked hard, “Any time you want some more water just say. I wish I could do more.”
“You’re doing fine Joe, providing the essentials, we’re okay.”
Hoss added his own support and Joe relaxed a little and promised to move things on as fast as he could, although in fact word that they were alive had given all the miners added incentive to work fast. Hoss hesitated and then said “You’ll have to tell Pa and the girls. Jim and Philip will keep things moving here. Don’t frighten them, we’ll be fine.”
Adam added his own backing to Hoss “Hoss is right Joe. Go tell Pa he’ll be worried we were all to have dinner at the main house.”
Joe didn’t want to leave his brothers but he knew their father was still weak and it would be easier on him if Joe told him, to say nothing of their two wives, both pregnant. He promised to reassure them all and then come back as fast as possible. Joe went along to check the shaft, some progress had been made but it was obviously going to be a very long job. Joe bit his lip but the men were doing their best and so he got in the cage and headed up to the surface. To his utter surprise as got out of the cage he saw Carole and Jess standing over by Dan. Carole saw Joe and hurried over to him, very pale and obviously pregnant and Joe ignored his dirt and sweat, taking her in his arms. “Easy Carole, easy. They are alright. I have been talking to them, just a matter of time.”
Carole pulled away slightly to study Joe’s face and what she saw reassured her. She lent her aching head on his shoulder, “I made Jess bring me, I knew something was wrong.”
Joe led her over to the office and pulled out a chair for her, Jess and Dan had followed and he smiled at them. “We’ve made contact, pushed pipes through. They are both okay, bruised and worried but okay. The room they’re in is solid and we’re replenishing the air, able to get water to them. The miners are clearing the shaft and the passage, No reason we can’t get them out,”
Jess gave a sigh of relief and went with Dan to get some coffee and brandy for them. Carole asked “How long?”
Joe took both her hands in his, “They can’t hurry, there’s so little room to manoeuvre, it may be twenty four hours yet.”
Carole pulled her hands away and covered her face as she visualised her husband bruised and sore, in the dark, deep in the earth as in a nightmare. She knew exactly how he must be feeling and she couldn’t help the tears, Joe took her in his arms and just let her cry, doing his best to reassure her, admitting that Adam would hate it but at least Hoss was with him. Slowly Carole calmed down “I’m sorry Joe it’s just that I know how he feels.”
“So do I, but trust Hoss he knows Adam was well as we do.”
Carole nodded but then puzzled she considered Joe “Why have you left them?”
“They asked me to come and tell you and Sue and to break it to Pa.”
“I can do that. Pa will be happier if you are with them and ready to send word.”
Joe frowned he didn’t want to leave his brothers and he wouldn’t let Carole down the mine, it would only worry Adam even more, especially as she was pregnant but it seemed hard to ask her. Carole forced a smile “I’m alright now Joe and I can do it.”
Joe kissed her “Thank you. Look get Jess to take you home, tell them what’s happening. Make sure Pa wraps up warm and then bring him to town, John Mackay will be pleased to have you all and his wife will look after you. Close to any news.”
Carole nodded, it made sense and she knew that she wouldn’t be able to keep Pa away, especially as she had every intention of coming back to town herself. “I’ll break it as gently as I can and Pa’s a lot stronger now.”
Joe smiled “Just hang onto your own certainty that Adam will be alright and that Hoss will look after him and Pa will see it. I’ll go back to them.”
Carole nodded “You’ll tell Adam.... tell him I’m fine and that I know they will be, that I love him very much. Tell Hoss that I’ll look after Sue and Pa and we’ll all see them as soon as the passageway is cleared.”
Joe calmed down a little seeing Carole was under control “I’ll do all I can for them, try not to worry too much.” Then as Jess and Dan came back he quickly drank a coffee with a slug of brandy in it, unable to ignore the thought that his brothers would love one too. Then asking Jess to look after Carole and reassuring him that everything would work out he kissed Carole and headed back down the mine.
Hoss and Adam both agreed that Joe had to go home and see their wives and their father but they felt very cut off when he left. Even though they knew that Philip and Jim were above them and John working with all the miners at the fall moving things on as fast as he could, Adam moved away from the voice tube, back to the fresh air scared he wouldn’t be able to keep his fears to himself. Although he didn’t care about his brothers knowing, he hated the idea of it becoming common knowledge to outsiders. Hoss joined him feeling his brother shiver as he tried to accept the idea of being stuck there for another 24 hours. Adam told himself that logically he should feel much better they were in contact, air better, water available and knowing the extent of the trouble, but since Joe left he felt deserted and was so very conscious of the 1500 foot separating him from the surface, knowing Joe had gone up to it. He was close to break down but determined not to upset Hoss and he fought for control. Hoss knew him so very well and came over to kneel by Adam, gripping his arm. “Easy Adam we’ll make out, you ought to try and rest.”
“And you.”
“Yeah nothing either of us can do. Not easy.” Hoss laughed ruefully, “Funny how much happier I felt knowing Joe was there and yet he’s no miner. Philip, Jim and John are the experts, good friends too so they care.”
“He had to go.”
“I know, won’t be easy on any of them but Joe will help them.”
Adam calmed down a little; it might be too dark to see anything but his brother’s touch was as firm as ever and he could feel Hoss’ calm presence. Hoss was scared too, worried for Sue and his father but he knew how much Adam was relying on him and deliberately kept things calm, not letting his brother break down, not yet. Later it might help but they had a long way to go.
Joe knelt down by the voice tube and he smiled at Philip who looked worried, “No problem.” He called down “Adam, Hoss I’m back no trouble.”
Neither of his brothers could understand how he was back so fast and wondering what was wrong went back to the tube. Adam had a better sense of direction even in the absolute darkness and reached it first, “Joe why? What’s wrong?”
Joe kept it deliberately conversational, “Seems it’s catching. Carole knew something was wrong, got Jess to bring her to town. I’ve filled her in, reassured her and she’s going home with Jess and Dan to look after her.”
“She’s strong Adam you know that, anxious of course but calm. She said to tell you that she’s fine and she knows you both will be. Probably most important she loves you very much and she’ll look after Pa and Sue for us. They are all coming to town to stay at John’s house, close to news, be here when you come out.”
For a moment Adam was more worried about his wife than himself, “She is alright?”
“You know Carole, she is fine and she’ll stop Pa worrying too much, they’d all feel happier if I stayed here close to you. Not that there’s anything I can do that others aren’t, everyone is working their guts out.”
“So many friends.”
“Sure and they are making progress now. I’ll either be here or at the shaft, if you want me just say.”
Adam couldn’t find his voice and Hoss took the pipe, “Thanks Joe, rough for you but feels better knowing you’re there. Can we have more water?”
Slowly the hours passed Joe checked the shaft from time to time and kept his brothers up to date with the progress but most of the time he sat by the voice tube, sometimes alone sometimes with company. The miners including Philip, John and Jim took breaks from the overpowering heat but Joe wouldn’t join them. His brothers had no choice and he was staying with them. He was grateful for the ice which John kept coming and Joe sent the melted ice water down to his brothers at regular intervals, it all helped a little.
Most of the time the three brothers were silent not needing words to reassure each other and eventually Hoss weakened by the blow on the head and the pain of his shoulder fell asleep, despite his efforts to fight it knowing that Adam needed him. For a while as his brother snored softly or was almost reassuring for Adam to know someone was calm enough at that great depth to sleep, but hen he began to feel very alone. The room was closing in on him driving him back to screaming point. At first unsure how many people could hear him he wouldn’t call Joe but he couldn’t disturb Hoss knowing his big brother was in pain. Eventually he had to accept that he couldn’t cope alone, feeling the weight of the 1500 foot of earth almost as a physical pressure, he was fighting for breath. He left Hoss sleeping peacefully by the air line and going to the voice tube, gasping for breathe he called “Joe...Joe.”
Joe could hear the panic in his voice, sense his brother’s feeling and he fought to keep his voice very calm “It’s alright Adam. Relax. Breathe deeply, slowly. You can do it. Easy. I know how hard it is but you must relax, everything will be fine. I’m right here.” Over and over Joe repeated similar words very conscious of his brother’s uneven breathing but slowly Adam calmed down a little. Joe wasn’t even aware of Philip standing behind him, nor of how strained and tense he was as he tried to calm his brother, having only words, wishing he could reach Adam, put an arm round him. Joe fought hard not to let any tension show in his voice that wouldn’t help his brother. Slowly he could hear Adam’s breathing ease, so very aware of every movement his brother made and eventually Adam said “Okay Joe I’m alright now, sorry.”
Joe gave his brother some water and then as Adam again tried to apologise for his panic, Joe shushed him but he couldn’t hold back the question, where was Hoss. Adam said “Sleeping, earnt it. Got a bad shoulder, dislocated I think. Too swollen for me. I was trapped couldn’t help.”
“Easy Adam we’ll deal with it when we get you out. How about you?”
“Just cuts and bruises. Hoss got me out. Yet I can’t.....”
“Don’t start blaming yourself Adam. It’s hard enough on you anyway. Hoss wouldn’t want that.”
Adam slowly relaxed as Joe talked to him and it was obvious enough in his voice for Joe to relax too. Only then did he notice Philip who passed Joe a brandy, commenting very quietly, “Pity we can’t get Adam one.”
Joe was very defensive, “He’s hurt, it’s hard to be cut off, so deep in the dark.”
“You don’t have to explain to me Joe. I know how much Adam hates mines. Don’t forget last time I was trapped with him. I know he has claustrophobia, it’s always amazed me that he can come down at all.”
Joe managed a smile, glad of the drink, Philip was a good friend and he’d known them all a very long time. Then he turned his attention back to his brother, all the time Hoss was sleeping Adam needed the reassurance that someone was around.
Carole had made good time back to the ranch. Dan and Jess did their best to take her mind off Adam’s predicament but although she kept up her end of the conversation, nine-tenths of her mind was with Adam. She loved Pa too and knew he wasn’t strong enough for shocks and that more than anything kept her calm. It was still only eight o’clock when she reached the main house but everyone was on edge. They had been expecting Adam, Carole and Hoss for a meal over two hours earlier and were scared there was trouble. Ben had tried to reassure the two pregnant girls. Joe could be back any time now; they knew he had successfully completed the drive. He might well have come home via town and if he’d met his brothers, things could easily have taken them longer than they expected. He tried to convince them but he didn’t believe it himself, sensing trouble.
Carole asked Dan and Jess to get a surrey harnessed up while she told Ben, preferring to do that alone. Then she went in to find all three sitting waiting by the fire. As soon as the door opened Sue was on her feet but seeing something in Carole’s face, she sank back into her chair. Carole went straight over to them, forcing herself to smile, “Take it easy all of you, there is trouble but nothing too serious.” She sat down on the sofa next to Ben and took his hand, “Try not to worry, Adam and Hoss are trapped down the Virginia, They aren’t hurt and the room they are in is untouched, just the access to it is blocked, Joe is with them, in contact, he has forced pipes through replenishing the air, able to talk and even get water down to them.”
Carole patted Ben’s hand and then leaving them to take in what she’d said while she poured three brandies. Nita was the first to speak “When did Joe get back?”
“I’m not sure, sometime after the cave-in. he was paying in the bank draft when he heard. Adam and Hoss wanted him to come and tell you, but they need him more, reassurance that everything is being done and I told Joe I’d come out.”
Ben licked his dry lips and swallowed hard “How did you know?”
Carole shrugged “I just knew that something was wrong so I put the children up early and made Jess take me in. He and Dan escorted me back they are harnessing the surrey and Sue’s buggy. John Mackay will put us up overnight ready to be there when they come out.”
“How long?”
Carole couldn’t meet her father-in-law’s eyes, “Might be 24 hours.”
“Oh God.” Ben buried his face in his hands, knowing how hard it would be, especially for Adam, but for all three of his sons. Carole knew how he felt but her attention was equally on Sue, who hadn’t said a word yet. She said, “Hoss will help Adam and they have the essentials, they will be fine.” Aware that Ben hadn’t heard a word for a moment she concentrated on Sue, “Joe has talked to them Sue, said Hoss was more worried about you than himself. He’ll be fine. I know he’s bruised and sore, doubtless very uncomfortable and scared. He wouldn’t be human otherwise but it’s only a case of waiting. They will be fine.”
Sue got a grip on herself “I’m going to town.”
“Of course we all will.”
Nita hesitated, “Would you rather I stayed Carole, looked after the children?”
Carole shook her head, “Joe’s been under a strain too, he’ll need you. I’ll get Hop Sing to go over and join Kam Su, they’ll look after the children.”
“Joe won’t leave his brothers anyway.”
Carole smiled the spoilt San Franciscan beauty knew her husband very well and made no objection to him doing what he needed. “True Nita but he’ll feel better knowing you are there and he’ll need you when they come out.”
Nita gave way she only really wanted to go in with then and she went to help Sue collect coats and rugs. Ben had got control of himself and he turned to Carole, “Adam?”
“Joe says he’s reasonably calm, he has Hoss with him and Joe close enough to talk to. I know he’s tense and scared I can feel it but he’ll cope.”
“Where are they and why did Hoss go down he rarely does?”
Sue joined them, she had been wondering that too. Carole looked at her and then went and got herself a brandy. “I guess in a way its Adam’s fault. Hoss went down to help him. Jim wanted to show Adam something on the 1500 foot level, still no cage down, just the shaft.”
Ben remembered his previous trip and how hard it had been for Adam. His younger sons had known and he could understand why Hoss had gone along. This time knowing in advance what to expect he could imagine how tense Adam had been and he closed his eyes momentarily, before looking at Carole questioningly “Is that where?”
Carole nodded “Yes, the passage and the shaft have caved in, that’s why it’s going to take so long. Joe has pipes through the roof from the 1400 foot level, that’s where he is.”
Sue put her arm round Carole “Why should it be Adam’s fault?”
Carole smiled, realising that neither of her sisters really understood. “When I said help I didn’t mean work. Adam hates mines, the dark, being hemmed in. It’s called claustrophobia. He is scared specially so deep, that’s why Hoss went.”
“But then.....” Sue broke off realising how hard it must be for Adam to be trapped.
Carole said, “I’m sorry Hoss is trapped in one way but I am very glad he is with Adam. He’ll help keep the panic at bay so will Joe.”
They were all quiet on the way to town. Ben had been slightly surprised to get no argument; he hadn’t been so far before. He was glad of the rugs and his thick coat, cold from the shock and worried about all his sons but especially Adam. Ben sat next to Carole on the way to town letting Dan drive; he was glad of her calmness, she was so close to Adam, if she was calm his son couldn’t be too bad. Dan headed straight to John’s house refusing to go to the mine first. They all needed some warmth and a hot drink and could get the news almost as fast. Doc was waiting for them having promised Joe that he would check his father after the shock and the long drive. Doc had seen Jim about twenty minutes earlier when the miner was taking a break and passed on Joe’s request but there was little real news, progress was slow but it was inevitably slow.
Jess went up to the mine and headed down to join Joe and tell him that his family had arrived. Joe wasn’t surprised to see him but tried to persuade Jess to come up with him. It wasn’t all that long since his lung wound and the heat down the mine would do him no good at all. Jess refused he was staying by the voice tube until Joe got back, in case his friend wanted anything. Jess had a fair idea how Adam felt about mines. Joe gave way knowing how fond Jess was of his brother. Joe spent a couple of minutes telling Adam where he was going, promising not to be long and trying to reassure Adam, telling him that Jess and Philip were there if he wanted anything. He even tried suggesting Adam should wake Hoss and see if he had any messages for Sue but Adam could see through that. The only reason Joe wanted him to wake Hoss was for his company and his big brother needed to rest. “No need Joe you know what to say for him.”
Joe could only reiterate that he’d be back soon and he hurried along to the cage and up to the ground. The cold night air after the heat of the mine almost took his breath away but he ignored it and everyone who wanted to ask him what was happening and jogged down t John’s house as fast as he could. Nita was watching for him and had the door open as he approached. Joe put his arm round her but after a quick kiss she pulled away, “Come and tell us what’s going on. Reassure Pa and Sue.”
Joe followed her into the living room but he wouldn’t sit down, filthy from the mine. He did his best to look relaxed and unworried. “They are both fine, hot and uncomfortable but Hoss has even been asleep, we can hear him snoring. Just a matter of time.”
Ben couldn’t believe that he could see the tension in Joe, feel his eldest son’s fears, clearer now that he was here in the warm. “Adam?”
“Under control Pa. He’s tense, nervous of course but he can always talk to me or Hoss. He’ll make out don’t worry, He’s more worried about you and Carole at the moment.”
“I’m alright.”
“Sure, look a lot better than when I left, but still not really up to shocks, so try and take it easy.”
“And you Joseph?”
“I’m fine now we’re in contact. I was scared for a while, sure they were alright but I seemed to be in a minority of one and I couldn’t be sure how safe they were. Adam’s had the light on and checked, the room’s firm and we’re getting air and water in. Progress is a little faster than it was. John and Jim organising things. Might be through soon after dawn with luck.”
Joe gripped Sue’s shoulders, “You try and rest Hoss said to tell you that he loves you so very much. That he’ll be fine and you are to take it easy, look after that baby and not to worry.”
Sue forced a smile “I’m alright. You aren’t hiding anything are you Joe?” She searched his eyes and Joe made no attempt to break away, “No Sue, Hoss is bruised, a dislocated shoulder which Adam couldn’t put back without help. By the tine he was able to see it was too swollen but otherwise Hoss is fine and we’ll deal with his shoulder in the morning. They are safe I promise you.”
Ben asked “Joseph have you eaten?”
“No Pa but I’m not hungry. I’ll get back to them, they’ll both be waiting to hear you are alright. I’ll get someone to bring something down later. I’ll send progress reports every hour and any news, but I’m going to stay with them.”
Ben nodded, wishing he could go down too but knowing it would only worry and upset his sons, “I’ll look after the girls, you see to your brothers.”
Joe hurried back. He had only been away a quarter of an hour but it had seemed much longer to Adam. He had been touched by Jess’ insistence on staying and his friend had helped a little but it wasn’t the same as having his brother there. Once Joe had reassured him that their father had taken no harm from the shock or the drive in, Adam relaxed a little and had a drink. A little while later Hoss woke and rejoined him, feeling a little better for a sleep, but all they could do was wait. Despite the air pumped in, the air in the small room was not good and both brothers had severe headaches and at times almost slipped into a stupor. Even Joe found it telling on him after hours deep in the Earth.
Just once Adam broke down, unable to breathe, only half conscious, he was only aware of the wall’s closing. Even Hoss’ firm touch didn’t reach him as he half sobbed half gasped for air, unable to breathe. Unable to reach him with words or touch Hoss got Joe to send him some water and soaking the lapel again he began washing his brother’s face, holding him and ordering Adam to breathe deeply. For long minutes it didn’t seem to do any good and Joe could only sit above on his own and pray but eventually Adam began to breathe a little more easily and buried his face against his big brother. Weakened by loss of blood and strain, Adam felt the tears running down his cheeks but for a minute or two he made no attempt to stop them and Hoss just held him. After ten minutes Adam pulled away and had a drink before trying to apologise to his brothers, but they refused to admit that he had anything to apologise for.
Half an hour later Joe was able to tell them that the shaft was finally clear, the men were making a start on the passageway. For a while that news buoyed them up and they could even hear the noise of men working but as the time slipped by both Adam and Hoss sunk into a stupor close to unconsciousness as the air deteriorated. Joe, unable to rouse them, was thoroughly scared but he wouldn’t tell his family and all he could do was pray.
Work was progressing as fast as possible, everyone seemed to have a sense of urgency and it was only just after 5 a.m. when Jim came up to tell Joe that there was only a couple of feet to go.
There had been no word from his brothers for more than an hour, so leaving Philip in case they asked for water Joe went back with Jim. He could talk to them through the remaining fall if necessary.
Joe edged through the temporary shoring, men were putting up better behind them and continuing to clear the rock but the main efforts were being concentrated on forcing a passageway through for air at least. It could be enlarged later to get the brothers out. Despite his long hours under ground Joe had the strength to move rock he wouldn’t normally have been able to touch, strength born of fear. Eventually he pushed two rock through to hear them fall on the floor and then wriggling hard he managed to get through the hole at the cost of some skin from his elbow.
The inrush of fresher air had roused Adam slightly but unable to think clearly he was still trying to work out what was happening when Joe got a light passed through to him. Adam closed his eyes against the sudden glare after so long in the dark and rested his arm across them. Joe saw his brothers lying close together over by the air pipeline where they had retreated as the air got worse, but before he could go to them he was bent double by a coughing fit as the air was so bad despite the passageway. Hoss heard that and moved to steady Adam only to find his brother wasn’t coughing and then he realised he wasn’t imagining the light. “What?” he asked hoarsely. Joe hurried over to kneel down by them, putting the light behind him, guessing it was dazzling them. “Just me, take it easy we’ll have you out soon, just got to enlarge the hole.”
Hoss reached out to grip his brother’s hand “Joe”. For a while he’d doubted he’d ever see his little brother again. Joe was so thankful they were both alive, he wasn’t taking in anything much for a minute but slowly he searched their faces seeing all the signs of pain and tension. Then he said “Hold still I’ll get some bits,” He hurried back to the passage collected a canteen, a brandy flask and some medical supplies before returning to his brothers. Hoss was sitting up but Adam still lay back, shading his eyes, trying to work out what was going on.
Very gently Joe washed their faces and then let them both have a drink of weak brandy and water, Adam choked on it but it seemed to help and he forced himself to sit up. Joe left him to get control and swiftly examined Hoss, The only real damage was a cut on his head and that was clotted so Joe left it for Doc and the dislocated shoulder. Hoss’ arm was very bruised but not broken. Joe said, “I think it’s best to leave it until we’ve got you out of here Hoss. I’m going to strap your arm to your chest okay?”
Hoss nodded and let his brother do as he’d suggested, it gave some relief to the injured joint
and Hoss felt rather better but then his attention was drawn to his eldest brother. Somehow Adam had reopened the wound on his leg at least once and the blood on the boiler suit was still red. He said “Joe best see to that.”
Joe followed his brother’s gaze and knelt down by Adam. He cut the material away; it was stiff with dried blood sticky from the fresher, sodden all the way down and a small pool of blood lay under Adam’s leg. As Joe reached the wound he could see it was still bleeding sluggishly and as gently as he could Joe tried to sponge the blood away to see what was wrong. A large boulder had smashed against Adam’s thigh and for more than nine inches the flesh on the outside of his thigh was torn and bruised bleeding from several small cuts and two deeper ones, all dirty and a mess. Joe knew it needed to be carefully cleaned and at least two of the gashes would need stitching. For now all he could do was pad and bandage it and leave it for Doc. He told Adam but his brother didn’t seem aware of what his brother said and apart from one sharp indrawn breath he made no fuss as Joe did what he could to at least stop him losing anymore blood. It was hardly surprising his brother was so close to collapse.
All the time Joe had been working men were busy clearing the passageway to get Hoss through. After a few minutes Jim called over, “Reckon it’s big enough for Adam.”
Adam spoke for the first time “No I won’t go, Hoss first.”
Hoss gripped his brother’s hand “Don’t be daft, I’ll follow in a few minutes, you go on let Doc see to that leg.”
“No. You came to help me. I won’t go without you.”
Joe sighed but he knew when it was a waste of time arguing, “Finish up Jim, we’ll all come together.”
Adam having got his own way was shaking and Joe made him have a drink of neat brandy. It helped a little and they didn’t have long to wait before Jim came over “Okay room enough as long as we’re careful. Can you two walk?”
“Sure.” Said Hoss, “No way to get stretchers down here so I guess we don’t have much choice. Help me up.” Joe did as he was asked and then Hoss pulled away, “I can manage. Help Adam.”
Adam had to lean on Joe as his leg refused to take his weight but as he got to the passage he moved forward on his own leaning against the rock, moving very slowly, watching where he rested his weight, trying to ignore the stabbing pain in his leg. Joe stayed behind him and Hoss waited at the bottom of the shaft, not sorry to have a moment to collect his strength. It wasn’t going to be easy to climb up with one arm out of action. Joe waited until Adam sank down at the bottom of the shaft to rest his aching leg and then turned his attention to Hoss.
“Right Hoss I think we’d better strap you up, have a safety rope. I’ll come up behind you, help steady you. It’s not going to be easy with one arm out.”
“I can manage, stay with Adam.”
“Don’t be daft. Get you up first. Adam won’t let me do anything else.” Joe tied a harness round his brother avoiding his injured shoulder and the attached a rope to it which Jim took up to the top. Then he helped Hoss over to the shaft and each time Hoss reached up with his good arm Joe steadied him. It seemed to take a very long time to get to the top and as Jim and Philip helped Hoss over to the wall to rest Joe sank down shaking all over from the physical strain. Philip passed him first some water and then a brandy and Joe got a grip on himself and went back down, wondering just how to get Adam up with his bad leg. John was standing over by Adam waiting and Adam managed a smile for his little brother seeing Joe was close to exhaustion. Adam had forced himself to consider the problem of the climb as his brothers vanished from sight, not daring to allow himself to think where he was. Joe knelt down by him “Right let’s get you up now; you’ll need a rope too.”
Joe tried to hide his worries about the climb, knowing how strain and loss of blood had weakened his brother but Adam knew him too well. “It’s alright Joe, nothing wrong with my arms I can pull myself up.”
“Sure Adam and the rope will be a help. I’ll be right below.”
“Let’s get it over.”
Joe was all for that just wanting to get both of his brothers out and to the Doctor. It took Adam even longer than Hoss and halfway he had to rest for a few minutes fighting to get his breathing back under control. Joe moved next to him and gave him what support he could, until Adam nodded “Okay” and moved on up. All of them gave a sigh of relief as Jess and Philip helped Adam up over the edge where he collapsed in a heap. Joe sank down next to him little better of, he had taxed his strength to the limit after long worrying hours in the heat of the mine. He just stood back and let others get his brothers onto stretchers and move them along to the cage, glad of Philip’s supporting arm to get there himself. This time Joe was taking no arguments and he asked Jess to take Adam up and he would follow with Hoss.
Adam was weak with relief as the cage went up and barely held onto his senses as he headed towards the surface which for a while he’d never expected to see again.
Word had already been sent to the rest of the family and as they neared the surface Jess lent over his friend and told him that his wife and his father were waiting for him at the top, Adam made a determined effort to get back in control and Jess gave him a weak brandy and water and as the cage reached the surface he helped Adam to sit up on the stretcher. Adam tried to relax as four men carried the stretcher out of the cage and over to a waiting wagon. He made no attempt to move knowing how painful it was and not wanting to worry his family. Ben and Carole were the first over to the stretcher although Sue and Nita were just behind. Adam was well in control and smiled at them as he took Carole’s hand “I’m fine darling.” He met Sue’s eye and went on “Joe and Hoss will be up in a minute just waiting for the cage to go back.”
Adam was filthy, which had one advantage as it hid this pallor and some of the strain but both his father and his wife knew him very well and could see how tense he was even now. Before they had time to do more than hold him close for a minute Joe and Hoss came up in the cage, Sue ran to her big husband, who had dispensed with the stretcher and ignoring his bad shoulder Hoss crushed her to him. He kissed her and Sue touched his face almost in wonder, her hand shaking. Hoss took it in his and kissed her again, “I’m fine, sorry to scare you.”
Sue couldn’t find any words, seeing the pain and tension apparent in his eyes and it was left to Joe to get his big brother up next to Adam on the wagon. Then they headed down to Doc’s where he was waiting for them. Adam had done his best but for now he could only hold Carole’s hand and look round at the open spaces, the sky and the mountains, so grateful for the fresh air. Joe drove them down but he asked Jess to take Nita back to John MacKay’s and collect their belongings and bring them to Doc’s. He knew that his brothers would want to go home once Doc had finished regardless of any arguments.
When they arrived Hoss followed his father in and Adam limped in leaning heavily on Joe, but he insisted that Doc see to his big brother first. Sue was all efficiency now and with Joe’s help she got Hoss out of the filthy boiler suit and sponged him down. Doc examined him rapidly, cleaning up the cut on his head, deciding it didn’t need stitches and then checked his arm. Although very badly bruised, it wasn’t broken and the only real damage was his shoulder. With Joe’s help it didn’t take Doc very long to put it back, although the joint was very swollen. Joe had arranged to have his brothers’ clothes brought over to Doc’s and they left Sue to help her husband dress and fix a sling after he’d had some coffee and a drink. Hoss was glad to be left alone with his wife and forgetting about his eldest brother for a while he concentrated on cheering Sue up, there were plenty of people to take care of Adam.
Carole and Ben had helped Adam strip down and wash the worst of the dirt off. His back was terribly bruised and Ben frowned very worried but Adam smiled “Cheer up Pa, it was numb and I couldn’t move at first but that cleared fairly quickly once Hoss pulled me out, just bruised.”
Ben nodded, his son had walked in, so it couldn’t be too bad and then he gently touched the bandage, “And this?”
The bandage was stained with fresh blood and Adam couldn’t hide how sore it was but he smiled “Gashed, bruised and dirty but not serious. I’m alright Pa we both are. Very glad to be back on the surface, so very lucky. I don’t think I could have made it without Hoss and Joe so close to panic, but its over.”
Ben gripped his shoulder, “You need to relax and get some rest.”
“Try looking in a mirror Pa. Let Doc get my leg cleaned and spread some cream around and we’ll all go home.”
“You ought to rest here.”
“No I want to get home, see the twins and Marie, for a while....” Adam broke off and pulled Carole closer to him and kissed her. He couldn’t put it into words but he didn’t need to.
As Joe came in he met his eldest brother’s eye and Adam signalled him to get Ben out of it but Ben knew then too well and he refused to go. Ben stood back and let Doc move in to undo the bandages and remove the pads Joe had used to show the mess. Ben frowned but didn’t say anything just gripping Carole’s shoulder and moving to support her as she looked at it.
Doc poured out some laudanum and insisted that Adam drink it, from every point of view it made sense. It didn’t knock him out but it took the edge off the pain as Doc began cleaning his leg and it helped him to relax for the first time since he’d been asked to go down the mine. Joe held his leg still while Doc worked and Carole wiped his face. It took quite a while as Doc had to ensure it was all clean and had to stitch several of the worst gashes but eventually Paul had done and he padded it heavily and bandaged it up. Then Paul checked Adam thoroughly but it was just bruising and time was the only cure. Despite the sedative, Adam was still very tense but Doc couldn’t help, maybe his family could. Doc was well aware of Adam’s claustrophobia and knew the ordeal it had been for him in particular but apart from suggesting to Ben that he should get his son to talk he made no comment, not even protesting at the brothers’ insistence on going home.
For once Ben was insistent that the brothers travel in the vehicles, with both the surrey and Sue’s buggy there was room and Joe got Jess to help him pad the surrey well and get rugs for his brothers. Joe spared a few minutes to reassure Philip Dan, Roy and a few other close friends that no real damage had been done and then helped his brothers out and up into the surrey before joining Nita in the buggy, with Cochise tied on behind. Jess had both his brothers’ horses on a long rein and followed on. Joe felt fit to drop as his long worrying night began to catch up on him. Ben driving the surrey, took it slowly on the way home, seeing Adam wince occasionally as the pain knifed through his sore back, but Adam was content, dopy from the drug, his arm round his wife and only really aware of the wide open spaces he loved. Ben glanced round from time to time but Hiss was deep in conversation with his wife, seemingly none the worse for his ordeal, just very tired. Sue was so glad to have her husband there, thankful it was over, she had eyes for noone but Hoss.
Nita sat next to Joe until she saw him swaying the reins slack in his hands and then she firmly took over the reins and Joe looked slightly ruefully at her, gave her a smile and then snuggled down next to her, his head on her shoulder and dozed the rest of the way home. Ben noticed but Nita smiled reassuringly at him and so he entrusted his youngest son to his wife and headed on home. Ben had sent Jess ahead to tell Hop Sing to bring the children over; his eldest son was going to stay, at least for a day or so until Ben was sure there was no reaction from his ordeal. His daughter-in-law was pregnant and she needed her rest too.
Adam made no objection, just glad to see his children. He didn’t want food but settled down to play with them, ignoring the adults, he relaxed as he listened to their childish prattle, Ben had insisted Joe go up and have a sleep and not wanting to worry Nita he agreed. Hoss had gone up too, bullied by his wife and after soaking in a bath he was able to sleep.
Carole tried to persuade Ben that he needed to rest. At first she had no success but once he was sure that Adam was relaxing, the children achieving what the adults couldn’t, Ben gave way and went up for an hour or so. Ben was desperately tired with a very bad headache, not strong enough for shocks and he knew he’d only worry Adam more if he didn’t rest. His physical weakness was enough to release him into sleep, despite his worries about his eldest son.
When everyone else had gone to rest Carole came over to join Adam and curled up on the sofa, watching him as he tried to answer a continual spate of questions from his sons. Adam frowned as he caught her eye “You ought to rest darling. You are pregnant and I know you’ve been worrying. I can look after the kids.”
Carole smiled “I’m alright and Hop Sing will look after the kids. I’ll go up if you’ll come with me.”
“Later, I’m too restless but I don’t need anyone to hold my hand now, I’m not denying I have done all night but it’s over.”
Carole could see he was reasonably calm at the moment but like Ben she feared a reaction, unsure how much was still due to the sedative he’d been given. “I’ll go and have a sleep later when one of the others is up, maybe by then you’ll feel like joining me. Do you want to talk about it?”
Adam shook his head, “Just forget,” He pulled himself to his feet and leaving the children playing he limped over to the desk and tried to concentrate on some of the papers waiting for him. His brain wasn’t working very well but it did at least help to take his mind of the long hours in the dark. Carole knew him too well to waste time protesting and went up as she’d promised when Ben reappeared. Ben had been too worried to really settle and he came down after just over an hour. Ben allowed his son to keep the discussion to work but by the evening meal Adam still couldn’t do more than pick at his food, Joe wasn’t very much better although he had at least had several hours sleep and only Hoss looked anything like himself. Adam made no objection to staying over for a couple of days and allowed Carole to bully him into an early night. He felt better for a long soak in a bath and Carole with Sue’s help had redressed his thigh but even so he couldn’t sleep. At first Carole snuggled close trying to calm him with her presence, but although glad of it, Adam couldn’t close his eyes knowing he’d be straight back down in that room 1500 foot below the ground. Eventually she dozed off and Adam lay quietly watching the moonlight on the mountains. He was so very tired, his eyes felt full of grit and yet he couldn’t shut them as soon as he did he tensed and had to open them again, look around, ensure he was safe in his own room, even Carole’s regular breathing, her hand in his wasn’t enough. Adam knew it was senseless that he would have to sleep that these fears were illogical he was safe escaping unhurt but as soon as he shut his eyes logic no longer mattered and tense scared bathed in sweat he was forced to give way and open his eyes.
Overtired but wide awake Adam reacted instinctively when he heard Joe moaning in the throes of a nightmare. Forgetting all about Nita, Adam went through the connecting door and took hold of Joe’s hand and only as he strove to reassure his brother that he was fine, did he take in Nita sitting up, leaning on one elbow. Adam hesitated but she smiled “Go ahead, I wasn’t getting anywhere.” Slowly Joe settled down as Adam talked to him, not really waking so very tired, but easier in his mind as the brother he was worried about spoke to him. Eventually Adam straightened up and let go of his hand as Joe slipped back into a peaceful sleep, “I’m sorry Nita I wasn’t thinking old habit.”
“I know. Joe went into you once, the night after David disappeared. I was horrified but he insisted that Carole wouldn’t mind and as we were both wide awake he explained a little about your habits, the pair of you.”
Adam smiled, looking down at his little brother, “Too often I’ve lain in bed, in pain or just upset or unhappy and been so very glad to see my little brother come in during the early hours. I did tell you how much I rely on my brother. Maybe never more than last night.” Adam shivered involuntarily and Nita worried about him, sure he hadn’t slept slipped out of bed and put Joe’s dressing gown round him. She slipped her own on “I’m awake now and I think Joe will be alright for a while, I think I fancy some coffee, do you want some?”
Adam nodded, sure he couldn’t sleep and they went out quietly but Sue was awake too and hearing movement came down to investigate. Seeing Adam by the fire she went over to him and asked if he was alright. Hearing her voice Nita brought three cups and Adam found himself sitting between his sisters-in-law, each with coffee to which Sue had added a strong slug of brandy, They both agreed that Adam needed some sleep and Sue tried to persuade hi to take some laudanum but Adam wouldn’t, dreading the nightmares he knew would follow. Nita knew from Joe that Adam was prone to nightmares and guessed if Joe had been bothered than it was likely that Adam would too, so she suggested that he might feel better if he talked it over first. Adam was very touched by both girls’ concern but he couldn’t talk to them. He did relax a little just because they cared and took the opportunity to apologise to Sue for involving her husband but Sue flatly refused to accept there was anything to apologise for. Hoss had as much tied up in the mines as Adam and if he could help of course he had to go along.
They had been talking quietly but Ben was awake having had a sleep during the afternoon and an early night, he just wasn’t that tired. For a while he just listened trying to sort out who was moving around. He recognised his eldest son’s voice but he wasn’t sure if Carole was with him. Eventually making out Sue’s soft brogue he decided to investigate and pulling on his warm dressing gown he went down.
Sue came to her feet as Ben made his way down “Pa you should be resting you were up all last night.”
“And asleep most of the day. I’m fine but I smelt coffee.” Sue followed him into the kitchen and Nita came out to join them. Adam was staring into the fire deep in thought and oblivious of all the others. Sue poured coffee and Nita told Ben how Adam had come in to calm Joe after a nightmare Ben wasn’t surprised but as Sue said “Adam must get some sleep I don’t think he’s shut his eyes yet.” She shook her head “I tried to get him to take a sleeping draught but he won’t.”
Ben smiled “Adam has always hated drugs. Thank you both for looking after him. My sons all chose very wonderful wives,” he kissed them both on the forehead and then said “Go back to bed I may still be weak but I can handle my eldest son.” He sounded so sure of himself and neither of them knew how to help so they did as he asked. Adam wasn’t even aware of them going upstairs or his father coming over and refilling his cup before sitting next to him. Adam stared into the fire but it was that small dark room deep in the earth that he saw, just as it had been an instant before they put the light out. He wasn’t even aware of the throbbing pain from his thigh or his headache, just the feeling of panic of everything closing in on him.
Ben gripped his son’s shoulder “Easy Adam, you’re home and safe.”
Adam half turned to look at his father, “Pa you should be in bed, not strong yet, especially with shocks.”
“I’ve slept half the day; I can’t do much around here yet, let me help now. You need rest and you’re not going to get it until you talk this out, Carole is pregnant and your brothers were too close to it all, probably easiest to talk to me.”
“I don’t think I want to Pa, just want to forget.”
“I know how you feel Adam but I don’t believe you will forget until we’ve talked it out. I know that 1500 foot level, I know how it affected you before. I know what an ordeal you’ve been through, all three of you but especially you.”
“Same for Hoss,”
“Not quite. He doesn’t suffer from claustrophobia it’s a real thing Adam intangible but well known. We do understand,” Adam slipped down onto the hearthrug and lent back against his father’s knee relaxing fractionally. He rested his aching head against his father and slowly began to explain, just how scared he’d been at Jim’s request, the need for Dutch courage and how grateful he had been for Hoss’ offer. The panic as he realised it was caving in and the immeasurable time trapped as he had been years ago but this time with no sound from Hoss, scared his brother was dead and the relief of hearing his voice. The long hours waiting in deteriorating air, leaning heavily on Hoss’ strength before Joe got through to them and then the shock of hearing how long it might take. Just how much he’d relied on both his brothers, unable to avoid panic on several occasions, before finally forcing their way painfully up the ladder and out. Ben listened in silence, not even prompting his son as sometimes Adam fell quiet for several minutes, just stroking his son’s hair and gently holding his shoulder, feeling the tension in him. Finally Adam finished and buried his face against his father physically shaking with tension and Ben said very gently, “Let go Adam you won’t rest until you do.”
A sob shook his son’s body and Ben patted his back “Don’t fight it, let go.” Adam wasn’t even aware of the words just the compassion in his father’s voice and that proved the last straw and he gave way sobbing quietly much to Ben’s relief, Ben knew until some of the tension was released, overwrought nerves given some relief there was no way that Adam could get the rest he needed. He waited until his son was quiet and then easing away, gave Adam a hankie and went to pour him a stiff brandy. Adam had got back into a chair and was massaging his sore leg when Ben brought over the drink and he smiled ruefully at his father. “Thanks Pa. How do people without families manage? I don’t seem able to cope without relying heavily on mine.”
“You carry us all at times, no reason why you shouldn’t lean on us too. When you can’t you always manage, maybe takes a little longer.”
Adam finished his drink and yawned widely, “Come on Pa my eyes won’t stay open, guess I’ll sleep now.” They went back up and Adam was as good as his word, asleep within minutes. In the morning Carole slipped out leaving him to sleep as long as he would and as everyone else was up Adam was alone when the nightmare came, the others at breakfast. It woke him up and he sat bolt upright, hardly able to breathe, soaked in sweat as panic came back full force. Slowly he relaxed forcing himself to breathe deeply and by the time he was dressed he was back in control if still rather pale and tense, but he had come to a firm decision, something he had to do before he could put it behind him. He had no intention of telling his family they had been worried enough.
Adam forced himself to eat some breakfast he’d had virtually nothing since breakfast two days ago and although he was very quiet he looked better for some sleep. All of them were at table apart from Joe. Still on edge Joe had excused himself and ridden up to the lake half an hour earlier. Hoss was going back to the west shore after lunch, insisting that his shoulder wasn’t serious and he could manage, work had to carry on. Ben wasn’t at all sure but as Sue backed her big husband he gave way. Sue had been scathing in private about her pig-headed husband, but he would manage and he’d promised to take it easy. She got her thanks for backing him and easing his father’s worried in the big hug he gave her and the expression in his eyes.
About ten Adam finished his coffee and limping over to the credenza he put on his gunbelt and picked up his hat. Carole looked up questioningly but he smiled “I just want to get out for a bit, I’m alright, don’t worry I may be a while.”
“Is your leg up to riding?”
“It’s alright just sore and a bit stiff.” Adam insisted and Carole assuming he was going to the lake which wasn’t far, didn’t fuss. Hoss went out to join his brother as he saddled up and then seeing Adam wince as he mounted; he said “You go real easy brother shouldn’t be riding with that leg.”
“I’m fine Hoss, just stop them worrying and if I’m not back before you go, you take it very easy. Let things slide and take care of that shoulder. I’ll see you in a week or so.” Adam gripped his brother’s hand and then he smiled “There’s noway to say thank you Hoss, You know how much I leant on you.”
“I rely on you often enough, we got out that’s all that matters.”
“Sure but thank you big brother. Look after yourself.” Adam left the yard but once he was out of sight he cut off from the road to the lake and headed for town. He took it slowly not wanting to tax his leg too much; he had a stiff climb ahead if he was to do what he intended.
Hoss was restless after his brother’s words, just wanted to be alone for a few minutes and he was making a fuss of two colts in the barn ten minutes later when Joe rode in, Hoss moved out to join his brother, “You been up to the lake Joe?”
“Where else? I was restless.”
“Adam make it okay?”
“I haven’t seen Adam.”
“That’s odd. You just come straight back?”
“Yeah, didn’t see anyone. When did Adam leave?”
“About ten minutes maybe quarter of an hour. Shouldn’t really be riding with that leg. Maybe we ought to go look for him.”
“Did he say he was going up to the lake?”
“Well not exactly but like you said, where else? He said he wanted to get out for a bit.”
Joe frowned, sure he couldn’t have missed his brother if he’d headed up to the lake and then as though Adam had spoken to him, he knew what his brother was doing. Light had dawned on Hoss at the same time, “Think he’s gone to town?”
“Never did find out what Jim wanted,” Joe bit his lip, “No need to worry Pa or Carole, I’ll go join him, don’t tell them after all we don’t actually know anything.”
Hoss nodded, “Okay but I ain’t leaving until you’re back.”
“Cheer up big brother, lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place.”
“Maybe but I want to see you both back safe.”
“He didn’t really relax before until he’d faced up to the mine, guess he feels the same now.”
“I can understand but still don’t make that leg fit for climbing ladders.”
Joe couldn’t argue and just swung back on Cochise and urged the pinto on to catch Adam up before he reached town. Adam wasn’t pushing Blackie not really wanting to reach the mine although sure he had to do it and he was still a couple of miles from town when his little brother pulled up next to him. He frowned “I have to do it Joe. Face it now before it gets an even bigger threat.”
“Sure we can understand that.”
“Just Hoss and me. I’d been up by the lake came back a few minutes after you’d left. Hoss had assumed you were going up there, when we realised you weren’t, didn’t take much to guess where you were heading. Hoss won’t tell, leave Pa and Carole believing you’d gone to the Lake.”
“Why did you come?”
“That leg isn’t up to climbing shafts, anyway you let Hoss come with you on Saturday, no reason I can’t come today.”
“You won’t stop me.”
“Not trying to big brother, guess you feel you have to face it but no reason why you shouldn’t have some moral support.”
Adam relaxed a little, maybe he ought to do it alone as he’d intended but with Joe’s offer there he wasn’t about to turn it down. He reached out and gripped his brother’s hand, “Okay Joe and thanks again. I’ll take you up on that offer, all the moral support I can get.”
The brothers headed straight for the Consolidated Virginia offices and they were in luck. Jim Fair was there just about ready to go down the mine. Jim was very surprised to see them especially Adam but he knew them too well to ask questions. Adam said, “I never did see whatever it was you wanted to show me.” Jim just accepted it and got boiler suits for them. As Adam changed and he saw the heavy bandaging on his thigh. Jim did ask Joe quietly if his brother was up to the climb but Joe just shrugged “He’ll cope, let’s get it over with.”
Jim let the brothers go down in the cage first; they went in silence although Joe lightly held his brother’s arm just to let Adam know that he wasn’t alone. Adam broke out in a cold sweat but it wasn’t obvious as all the men sweated in the heat of the mine, Several offered comments glad to see Adam up and around so fast, but Adam left his brother to make a swift comment while he limped slowly along to the fresh shaft. It was bigger than the old one as new footholds had had to be cut after the rubble was cleared, but it was so very dark and Adam trembled violently as he looked down it. Joe moved closer to him, “It’s very soon Adam, noone is going to think anything if you go back now. That leg isn’t up to it.”
“No Joe, It won’t get any easier. If I don’t face it now I don’t think I ever will.”
“You don’t have to. Make them wait until the cage goes down.”
Adam lent on his brother, glad of his warm strength, so scared but very sure he had to do it. “Sure I could avoid it, but if I give in once Joe it’s going to get worse until I won’t be able to get in that cage at all.”
Joe remembered the pain he’d felt at the twins birth, he’d known then that he had to face it at once or spend a lifetime running away. Although such a different context, it was the same effect. “Alright Adam. Just remember I’m right with you and everything is going to be fine.”
As Jim joined them there wasn’t time to say more. Joe suggested Jim went first and got some light below so that they could see where they were going. Then Joe went down directly below Adam ready to steady his brother if Adam’s leg objected too much. Jim had no better suggestion and made his way down followed by the brothers. Joe insisted on taking it slowly, murmuring encouragement to his brother every step of the way. Jim knew none of the Cartwrights liked the depth of the mines but unlike Philip he had no real idea of just how hard Adam found it to force himself down. Word quickly spread that the brothers were back in town and Philip hearing it as he went for lunch, took advantage of the freedom given by mines to other superintendents, in case the brothers needed help.
Adam was shaking from the physical effort as well as the tension by the time he got to the bottom of the shaft and he had to lean on Joe for physical support apart from moral. Joe had his brother’s hip flask and forced Adam to take a drink, telling Jim to wait for a minute and let them catch their breath, Adam just wanted to get it over and after a minute he pulled away from Joe and began to limp along the passage. Only Jim’s presence made him keep control as he did his best to hide his fear but it cost him a real physical effort to walk through the passage and into the room where he had been trapped for so long. His breathing was rough and strained and Joe moved close to him, trying to reassure him “Easy Adam, try and relax, not long now.”
Jim frowned “Do you want to go back Joe?”
Joe shook his head “Lead on Jim, let’s see what you wanted.”
Jim could only do as he was asked and led into the room and over to the far side where fresh work had been going on. Adam forced himself to concentrate, trying to ignore the tendency of the room to close in on him as it has so often in the hours he’d been trapped. He gripped Joe’s arm almost painfully tight but he concentrated on the ore, a pocket of almost pure gold and silver, with several smaller pockets around it, Adam ordered Joe to bore around the pocket to try and find the extent and Joe did some giving him the samples. Then Joe said “Was that all you wanted ?”
Jim nodded, puzzled by the lack of excitement the brothers showed, “What do you think Adam?”
Joe intervened, “That can wait until we get back up to the surface. Come on Adam, it’s done.”
Adam didn’t seem to hear and Joe took his arm “It’s done Adam. Let’s get back up,” he turned to Jim, “Go on Jim we’ll be with you in a minute.”
Jim did as he was told and Joe forced Adam to look at him, “Stop torturing yourself, you’ve done what you needed to seen what Jim wanted, now we can go back up.”
Adam couldn’t catch his breath and Joe put his arm round him “Easy now breathe deeply, that’s it.” He was suddenly aware of someone else coming in and Joe looked round surprised to see Philip. Philip had a canteen and passed it to Joe, “Wash his face, should help. Take it easy Adam.”
Joe did as Philip suggested and Adam won control of himself, “Okay come on let’s get back.” It took quite a while for Adam to edge his way painfully up the shaft and he was glad of Joe and Philip’s support back to the cage and needed their help over to the showers. Joe concentrated on helping Adam wash and dried him briskly, helping him to dress before he changed himself. Adam was very quiet glad to be back on the surface. He had face d it without breaking down, albeit only just. He accepted Philip’s presence without query and slowly calmed down. Joe did query it and Philip explained. Joe already knew that Philip understood Adam’s feelings and he was a good friend so he just thanked him for coming.
Jim was waiting for them in the office and Adam accepted coffee and checked the samples Joe had taken, pure metal just as he had thought in the dark room. Jim was excited over it and it was certainly very valuable but Adam couldn’t really have cared less. He accepted Jim’s proposal that the cage be driven down another 100 foot, promising the lumber needed. The pure metal would more than pay for it and he and Joe could speak for the Cartwrights. Jim had what he wanted but he queried their lack of enthusiasm. Joe shook his head in near disbelief, “My brothers nearly lost their lives in that room a few hours back, you shouldn’t be surprised that we’re rather off mines at the moment.”
Adam was deep in his own thoughts and let Joe bully him back to Blackie, accepting his brother’s help to mount, He had done what he wanted and he was sure he could in the future, as in the past, face the mines when necessary. Having relaxed a little, he felt desperately tired and allowed Joe to force his way through the traffic, relying on Blackie to follow his stable-mate. As they turned onto the road home Blackie moved alongside Cochise and Joe considered his brother anxiously “Are you alright Adam?”
“Yes little brother. I’m very glad you were there. Sorry to make such an exhibition but I know now I can cope as always.”
“You were very good, you need a decent meal and a proper rest, let’s get home.”
“I think maybe I can even fancy some food now. Come on lets move.” Adam kicked Blackie on ignoring the stabbing pains in his thigh, wondering if his family was worried about him, he’d been longer than he expected.
In fact both Ben and Carole were uneasy seeing something in Hoss’ eyes that they didn’t understand but he just said that Adam was okay and Joe was with him. Hoss spent a lot of time with Sue and had told her what he thought was happening. She understood his need to wait until Adam got back to make sure that he was alright.
They sat down for lunch but Carole concentrated on the twins, not really wanting food herself, anxious about Adam. She only took a little and wasn’t eating that. Hoss tried to reassure her that Joe was with Adam and they’d probably be back soon. Carole pushed her plate away and slowly light dawned, “He didn’t go to the lake did he Hoss? He’s gone back to the mine.”
Hoss put his hand over hers, “I can’t be sure Carole but we thought so. Joe came back from the lake and he hadn’t been there so Joe went to join him if he was in town. I reckon Joe would be back by now if he hadn’t found Adam.”
Carole wasn’t surprised and seeing how worried Ben looked she forced a smile, “He’s alright Pa, we’d know if he wasn’t but it does explain why I’ve felt so uneasy all morning.”
Hoss poured his father a brandy but as he took it over he heard horses and looking out the window grinned “It’s them.”
Joe helped Adam down as his leg very stiff and painful barely supported him and Kirk came over to take the horses. In fact Adam felt much better, they had stopped a mile or so back and he’d washed his face and had a long drink of water and a brandy, determined not to worry his father any more. It was less hard to act than he had expected and he was almost light hearted as he saw Carole at the door, limping over leaning on Joe he grabbed her and kissed her soundly.
Hoss said ruefully “I didn’t tell them but Carole guessed a few minutes ago.”
“That’s okay Hoss, she knows me as well as you do, Cheer up love I had to do it, but its done now and I’m fine, thanks to Joe. What’s more I’m starving.” He led her in and grinned at his father, who slowly relaxed as he watched his eldest son put away a meal more suited to Hoss.
Hoss reassured that his brother was over the worst effects of their ordeal began collecting what he needed and headed over to the west shore, leaving Joe to handle the main camp while Adam handled things from the house as his leg prevented him doing anything too active for at least a week or so.
Adam was glad to get back to his own house and with the children’s antics to amuse him he didn’t find it too hard to put the cave-in to the back of his mind with Carole there to help when he had an occasional nightmare. His father was recovering his strength rapidly now and the two new houses for his brothers were nearing completion. Well satisfied with the way things were going Adam found time to relax with Carole and his children, even managing a picnic on the Sunday when Joe came home from the main camp. The brothers watched the twins explore and Joe kept jumping up to stop them doing something they shouldn’t as Adam used his leg as an excuse to laze. Joe couldn’t understand why his father and brother found it so amusing until Adam reminded him of those long distant days when he, as the elder brother, had to stop Little Joe doing the selfsame things. Adam poured himself a glass of wine “Payback is sweet little brother.” And Joe just laughed collapsing next to his brother and stealing his glass, “I’ll get the chance in the future, just you wait and see” and he looked fondly at his wife, obviously pregnant now. Ben watched his sons and revelled in their closeness, the future looked good.